Piercing Through Millennia: Study Abroad Reflections

At this point in my life, it’s only natural to have moments of self-doubt, feelings of stress about the future, or fear of the unknown (And, many joyful moments among these!). But, I always imagined that upon returning from studying abroad in Athens, I would have “figured something out” about myself. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. Yet, I wouldn’t have traded my semester in Athens for the world. 

First Weekend in Greece (Delphi)

What attracted me most to studying in Athens was the deep connection to the Classical world with its rich tradition, thought, and literature. Although Holy Cross is a liberal arts school, I often feel like studying the humanities is not entirely worthwhile. It feels like there’s this declining appreciation of disciplines that were once hallmarks of intellectual greatness, now just deemed “soft” or even “impractical.” I will admit that there are times that I allow this perception to overcome my passion and fill myself with so much distrust and hesitancy: it’s human nature. 

In my attempt to “figure myself out,” I asked these key questions during my time in Athens concerning my relationship as a Classicist: Why is it so worthwhile to keep learning about the ancient world? What is in these stories that makes them so important to pass on to the next generation?

The Erechtheion on the Acropolis (Athens)

Tough questions. I know. Still, they’re at the root of why I keep studying Classics. While at Holy Cross, I read literature of various genres, including historical accounts, mythological stories, and epic poems in the Mediterranean area. It was extraordinary to see the archaeological sites and ancient towns where these stories were set and written. But, there is one thing that impressed me the most: to allow the natural world to speak to us; among the great mountains of the Peloponnese, the volcanic beaches of Santorini, or overlooking the peak of Mount Olympus, it is no wonder these stories feel so divinely inspired

Marble Room in the Acropolis Museum (My favorite spot!)

And maybe that’s part of why these stories are so important. The natural world, at least in my perspective, does not nearly invoke the same emotions as it did in the past. Now, I approach my work with a freshly inspired perspective, understanding a piece of the ancient world I never expected to see. During my time in Greece, I took a full course load, but I also had the opportunity to volunteer at a local school, practicing English with native Greek speakers. This once-in-a-lifetime experience allowed me to better integrate myself into the Athenian community while making a meaningful contribution. 

The View from my Apartment in Athens

Being in Greece, I constantly found many historical and mythological stories around me. Even when I wasn’t in class, we were able to think about the course in places far from Athens, like healing surrounding the worship of Asclepius in Epidaurus in the Peloponnese or Theseus and the Minotaur at the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete. Everyone can feel connected to these stories because the themes are fundamental to understanding the human condition. Since then, we have been defiant in our literature and culture regarding politics, gender ideology, and basic morality. These things will always remain the same way we can and should continue to explore their meanings in ancient texts. 

In the ever-changing world, I sometimes question if it’s truly important, or even worth it, to keep studying these stories. In my deepest periods of doubt, there often is a moment that makes me remember the universality of these stories – their attention to human relationships, to the role of fate and the divine, to conceptions of justice, or to what we consider heroic – and how we need them if we want to understand our world—these moments occurred standing in the center of Artemis’ temple in Brauron, watching a performance of Sophocles’ Electra in the ancient theater of Herodes Atticus, studying the Parthenon marbles next to the Parthenon itself. 

My Marble Carving Creation

I am genuinely indebted to Athens, and even the entire country of Greece, for fostering me as a student and worldly individual. I am truly grateful to have experienced the beautiful nature of the Mediterranean and come up close to the deep traditions of a timeless culture. I’m back on The Hill now, but I’ll be sure to keep practicing my Modern Greek. Bye for now. Και, ευχαριστώ Αθήνα. 


Metsovo & Ioannina & Meteora, oh my!

I didn’t realize just how mountainous Greece was. Athens is on a hill surrounded by a couple of mountains, but I didn’t feel the overwhelming presence of the mountains. As you get farther away from the city, you begin to experience the natural mountainous landscapes of Greece. And, let me tell you, they are marvelous. Earlier in the semester, I wrote about a CYA-led optional trip to the island of Chios. This weekend, I went on another trip, this time to the mountains of northern Greece: in just three days, we visited the villages of Metsovo, Ioannina, and Meteora.

Metsovo Cheese!

For the weekend, we traded the hot Athenian sun for fall weather. It was needed after weeks of consistent heat and beating sun (I think it’s only rained twice since being here!). When we arrived in Metsovo, we learned about its unique wine and cheese production. We went to one of the leading cheese producers and tried a unique (and delicious) assortment of their finest cheeses. Obviously, this was paired with a glass of red wine straight from the mountains. Coincidentally, next semester, I will be taking an Honors Seminar called “Chemistry of Wine.” I understand that I’ve been doing some serious research during my semester in Greece. 

The next day, we went to the village of Ioannina. At its prime, Ioannina served as the hotspot for intellectual engagement and excellence. Most of our time here was spent talking about Ali Pasha, an Albanian ruler who ruled strictly as an Ottoman Pasha. While learning about his rule and the village’s deep history, we were able to visit Ali Pasha’s tomb and castle.


Meteora was the last leg of our trip. It is home to some of the most impressive Eastern Orthodox monasteries upon naturally magnificent rocks. In the 10th century AD, Meteora had ten fully functional monasteries. More now than ever, many have lost interest in monasteries and they are closing their doors. Currently, there are only six monasteries open for visitors. Despite being breathtaking, the current times simply value different lifestyles. It’s a shame because they are so beautiful.

In Meteora!

Having grown up in the city my entire life, I feel like I’ve missed out on something. During these trips to the mountains, I often find myself feeling small among these creatures of the Earth. They are not threatening, yet offer protection and solace. During the evening hours, the stars embrace us from across universes. I don’t know how it’s possible, but it truly is a transcendent experience every time. I love it here.

One of the Monasteries.


All About Athena at the Acropolis 

Subtle flex: going to the Acropolis to learn about Athena. One of the courses I’m taking is called “Greek Mythology and Religion.” Briefly, it deals with the myths of Ancient Greece, puts them into perspective with the ancient Greeks, and analyzes their reception and possible relationships with our mortal world today. It’s quite an enjoyable course, especially while studying in Athens.

On the Acropolis!

If you don’t know, Athens is named after the goddess Athena, a virgin warrior goddess known also for her wisdom and craft. She is the namesake of Athens following a contest with Poseidon. For those dwelling in the area (soon to be known as Athens), Poseidon produced a spring, but it was salty; Athena produced the olive tree, bearing a multitude of fruits and gifts for the mortals. As you can guess, Athena won this contest. Thus, Athens received its name. 

In the discourse surrounding the goddess, Athena is also known as Parthenos (Παρθένος): virgin. Like the other goddesses, Artemis and Hestia, she was to remain a virgin. If you didn’t know, now it might make more sense how the Parthenon got its name. During our lecture on Athena, the Parthenon, and Athens, we had the opportunity to learn more about the relationship between Athena and the ancient Athenians. We also discussed our opinions and thoughts on the modern implications of this relationship. 

Nina Papathanasopoulou (CYA) giving a lecture on the friezes and pediments of the Parthenon.

I chose to study abroad in one of the places from where my Classics major comes for several different reasons (which I can elaborate on in the future). Of course, being in the spot where the Athenians lived, learned, and worshiped is close to the top. I’d take a lecture on the Acropolis over being in the classroom any day. I feel grateful to be able to learn about the illustrious Athena and her temple while being in its very presence. 

Crete: A Mythological and Political Center

Athens is known for being the birthplace of democracy. Nearly all modern political ideology and institutions find their roots in the political system of Ancient Athens. Down south, on the island of Crete (Κρήτη), I also got a sense of a strong and central community rooted in tradition across millennia. Crete is the largest and most populated Greek island. It is known for its beautiful beaches (arguably more beautiful than those of Santorini), cultural heritage, and, most importantly, one of the most advanced ancient civilizations: the Minoans.  

Wall and Column of the Palace at Knossos

This trip was a mandatory field study organized by CYA, so it had more specific academic objectives than our optional weekend trip to Chios. My field study focused on the mythology and society of the Minoan civilization while thinking about the traditions and politics of modern-day Crete. Each group went to the same sites, just approached them with different lenses. After a long overnight ferry from Athens, we arrived in Crete’s capital city of Heraklion. Our first stop was the Palace of Knossos. The first time I learned about the Palace of Knossos was in my Introduction to Visual Arts course in my first year at the college. From what I remember, it was a massive and mysterious complex. Still, it had a lot of significance during its time. 

Me at the Palace at Knossos!
Hades and Persephone in the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, Crete

The palace was way bigger than I ever imagined from learning about it in class. There are many mythological stories attached to the palace, one being about the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. After exploring the palace for a day, it makes sense why people created such a story. If I weren’t with my group, I would have easily gotten lost: there were multiple entrances, countless rooms, and even more than one story. It’s impressive to see what was left of a civilization so long ago. It makes us think about just how advanced they were back then.

Much of our time was spent discussing the mythological presence in Crete, but we also had the opportunity to learn about modern Cretan (and Greek) politics. We went to the city of Anogia, a mountain village that thoughtfully preserves its deep traditions. I learned that Anogia has a long history of personal vendettas, which are still around today, so be sure not to mess with them. Their village was relatively small, but I could tell it was rich in history, culture, and food. One of the highlights was eating roasted lamb straight off the grill. It was one of the specialty foods of Anogia, and it did not disappoint.

We spent the second half of our trip in a different part of the island called Chania (Χανιά). Unlike most of the time we spent in Heraklion, we focused on the more “modern” aspects of Crete, like its 14th-century Venetian architecture and beautiful beaches. To be fair, we were at the weekend at this point, so after several archaeological sites, museums, and lectures, a beach day was well-deserved. Throughout my travels thus far, I’ve observed such rich traditions and identities. Crete is one of the exemplary places to witness such rich communal identity. It takes a lot of dedication and enthusiasm to have a legacy run so deep it lasts for centuries, even when a small town like Anogia might be at odds, given its size. Overall, it was a very successful trip, and I’m looking forward to the next mandatory field study in the Peloponnese. Γεια σας!

Sougia Beach

The Island of Χίος

School sponsored trip to a Greek island? Count me in. As part of its experiential learning initiative, CYA offers many opportunities for on-site learning. Each semester, students are required to attend two field studies. This fall, we are going to Crete and the Peloponnese. In addition to these thematic trips, CYA offers several optional trips. The first optional trip was to an island off the coast of Turkey called Χίος (Chios). Less than an hour after leaving Athens, we traded the Acropolis for the crystal blue waters of the Aegean Sea. Being one of the Mediterranean’s biggest and historically rich islands, we had a lot to accomplish in the next three days. I could write a book on this trip alone, so I’ll give you a couple of highlights and takeaways.

The Abandoned Village of Ανάβατος
The Abandoned Village of Ανάβατος

Our first stop was up to the abandoned village of Anavatos (Ανάβατος). Established in the Byzantine era, this medieval village was abandoned after the Massacre of Chios in 1822 and the earthquake of 1881. While the village was desolate, much was still to learn about the city. We went up and down the hills and in and out of houses where possible. Even after so much time and destruction, the foundations remained intact; it was pretty impressive! 

The following day, we learned more about the identity and history of the island. From a foreigner’s perspective, Chios takes its communal identity very seriously, as it is deeply rooted in the island’s history. With this in mind, we went to a Mastic farm and museum unique to Chios. Mastic (Μαστίχα) is a type of resin that comes from Mastic trees in a crystal-like formation. In Chios, and Greece, more broadly, Mastic is used to make high-quality products like gum, pastries, bread, beauty products, and a liqueur called Mastika. If you ever come across a product with Mastic in it, you should give it a try! We even had the chance to harvest some Mastic from the trees. Overall, it’s a tedious process and takes a lot of dedication and hard work to keep up with it for the season.

Harvesting Μαστίχα

At the end of the day, we made it to a volcanic beach called Mavra Volia (Παραλία Μαύρα Βόλια). This isolated beach was full of small black pebbles that resulted from a volcanic eruption sometime during the prehistoric era. Without the proper shoes, it was quite tricky to walk on the rocks. It was so worth it! Over the weekend, we went to three beaches, all beautiful in their own ways, but Mavra Volia was by far the best one.

Παραλία Μαύρα Βόλια

Sure, no serious formal lectures were going on, but I still learned a lot about Chios as an island and also a community. There is a lot of deep pride and enthusiasm that speaks for itself. I saw this on the beaches, on the Mastic farm and just by walking around different villages. I also have a couple of friends who come from this island (I know, it’s such a small world); even at home, they constantly talk about their connections to Chios, even when they’re so far away. It was an overall incredible experience, something I couldn’t have imagined doing without this program. Shoutout to Angela, our incredible tour guide, who also comes from Chios! 

Thank you for reading along today, and be sure to anticipate my next blog post about our field study in Crete!

Village of Pygri

Γειά σας from Athens, Greece!

Γειά σας!

Hello everyone from Athens, Greece! This semester I’ve traded in Mount St. James for Mount Lycabettus, and I hope you all will join me on this journey. At the end of August, I moved into my new home in Pangrati, a neighborhood in Athens walking distance from the Acropolis (!!!!). 

Panathenaic Stadium

I’ve been living and learning in Athens for about a month now, and it has already been a rewarding experience. It’s been tough at times, but overall, full of a lot of good energy! I’ll be updating my blog often each month, so be sure to check for updates. There is already a lot to report back about! 

This semester I am participating in the College Year in Athens Program. CYA is an educational institution that is completely geared towards students’ international learning experiences. All courses are taught in English by professors from all around the world, but mostly from Greece. During my semester abroad, I am taking a full Holy Cross course load. I’m taking Intermediate Ancient Greek, Greek Religion, Digital Archaeology, and (appropriately) Introduction to Modern Greek. You can’t do a semester abroad right without attempting to learn the language! It’ll be difficult, but I’m sure it’s worth it.

CYA does an exceptional job at experiential learning outside of the classroom. Mandatory and optional field trips are coupled with primary and secondary source readings, tailored for all courses and interests. Before classes even began, the entire program took a trip to Delphi, right outside of Athens, to visit the Archaeological site of Apollo’s Oracle. It only seemed right to go to his oracle to begin a semester in Greece. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to in my entire life…

Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi

I’ll leave you with this. Be sure to keep checking this blog for more updates throughout the semester. You’ll definitely be hearing from me later this week. To all my Crusaders on the Hill, I miss you lots! 

Bye for now,