Monday, February 9, 2009


It's true. I'm 21 and yesterday I felt homesickness for what I think is the first time in my life. I am typically really good at being away from home, away from my family, and basically being on my own for long periods of time, but this is different for a number of reasons. Allow me to enumerate, but worry not my friends. This post has a happy ending.

For starters, I'm here with nineteen other Americans and they basically all have their own pre-established circles of friends because they're all Architecture majors. Yuck. That makes it harder for me to step in. They're around and I'm sure I could talk to them if I really needed to, but it's just hard to make your way as the new guy in a group of old friends, you know?

What I've also discovered is that everything closes all the time here in Volos. Sundays, Monday and Wednesday afternoons, and every day between the hours of two and five thirty pm, the city just shuts down. They call it siesta, so I suppose I should nap, but most of the time I just sit around and wish things were open. I discovered some coffee shops today that stay open, though! All is not lost!

The thing that I find is the real killer is boredom. I can't speak the language (and most Greeks don't speak fluent enough English to have a conversation) and the other Americans have their own thing going, so conversation (as well as general mindless communal hanging out) is out. I liken it to being forced into monasticism. Like suddenly I've been forced to take a vow of silence, but it's stranger than that. My words here are impotent. They have no meaning, so my silence isn't because I can't or refuse to literally make noise, but rather because I'm not understood if I do.

Normally this isn't really too much of a problem. Normally when I'm alone, which I often am - willingly, I will do any of a myriad of activities. I'll read magazines or newspapers, watch tv, get on the internet and chat with friends, ride my bike, go to the ballet studio and dance, etc. However, all of my stocked up boredom activities are rendered useless here! No ballet studio, all television is in Greek, as are magazines and newspapers, time zone differences make chatting with friends impossible, no bike, no swimming pool. Ah! I'm alone with myself! That is sometimes the scariest thing in the world.

So yes. I spent yesterday very miserable, lonely, and basically feeling sorry for myself and my lot in life. Then I got to have a nice long video conversation with my sister, my brother-in-law, and then both of my parents. I then went to sleep, woke up, and went to class (I love class, for those of you who don't know. Something about feeling like I have a purpose makes me content). Rejuvenation!

After class, I went to the Volos Starbucks and spent about two hours studying Greek, reading a book, and chatting with the local baristas using my broken Greek. They're really nice people and very willing to help me! A good Starbucks is just what I need here. The coffee tastes exactly the same no matter where you go in the world. The music is exactly the same too. And the interior decorating. So if I really work hard at it, I feel like I'm sitting back at my home in Lake of the Ozarks reading a book at my favorite store. It's perfect. (I sent an email to Starbucks corporate headquarters today thanking them for their global presence, which has its perks)

Then, walking back to the academic building from Starbucks, I had an enlightening realization. I'm in Greece on my own! How cool! I'm going to coffee shops by myself and having miniature conversations in a language I don't speak very well! I'm going to clothing stores, restaurants, and markets by myself and holding my own! Realizing that today was very empowering and instead of feeling alone because I'm relatively alone in a country where I don't speak the language, I felt all the more mature and strong.

I can do this. I AM doing this. How cool.


Anonymous said...

It is cool, and these memories will be with you forever.

And Happy Birthday!

Anonymous said...

Being put in a totally different context, location, culture, all of that forces you to become a little more reflective. That or you learn new depths of what it means to sit with your own company.

Embrace all of what your situation has to offer you. While you are learning about Athens and school, you are learning even more about yourself.

-Lady A

PeterAtLarge said...

Very cool, yes. I have found that the things that scare me most--or bore me most!--end up being exactly the gift that I needed. There's a great teaching in everything that happens, if only I have the patience to find it. Good for you, Mark, to be engaged in this adventure!

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, that I interfere, I too would like to express the opinion.