Far away fall thoughts

As the beautifully colored fall leaves begin to whither away and drop to the ground, one thought is often flashing through my mind these days: I need to get away.

Life rarely affords one a better time to travel than in college. When at a job, it’s possible to take a week or two off for a vacation, but rarely is it feasible to think in terms of months off. I was fortunate enough to accomplish such a feat last semester when I participated in the Greece Program at the College. Not only did spending several months in another country give me valuable time to relax, it also taught me a little more about myself and who I am as a person.

The semester began with the frigid temperatures of January, and for the first time in several years I didn’t mind that. I knew that by the end of my prerequisite course, I would be leaving the country in March to spend nearly three months in another land.

The ten weeks flew by, and soon enough I was saying goodbye to my parents and boarding a plane to Greece. It’s simply amazing how much one’s world can change with an airplane flight. I left the sloshy, flat, world of Chicago, bundled up in a sweatshirt and jacket, and emerged in the balmy airport of Athens to see the sun setting behind the Attic mountains.

The Greece Program is unlike most study abroad programs. Whereas many programs aim to pair their participants with a family and have them settle down for their studies, we lived out of backpacks – two of them. These packs were the only truly personal spaces we had for two and half months. The nature of the program couldn’t allow for anything more because we were constantly on the move. Being able to tote one’s only belongings in a country on one’s back is a novel realization; I couldn’t contain all the conveniences of home in zip-lock bags. Even though I missed having a computer at my fingertips, I realized how surprisingly easy it is to function without one. I even rediscovered books. Paperbacks are extremely convenient to pack in small places and actually fun to read! This was a fact I had forgotten after several years of chugging through textbooks.

Urban backpacking (as I’ve coined the term) through a country offers a traveler a different perspective than if one were to live with a family. Since we were constantly on the move, my group probably saw more sights than most Greeks do in their lifetime. Backpacking also taught life lessons, often hard ones. I was on my own to find food and shelter many times, so I often had to face tough budgetary decisions. Was I willing to stay in a hostel in a questionable area if it meant I could eat better later? I learned the answer to that question was ‘yes.’ I was forced to choose what really mattered to me in life.

Those ten weeks in Greece were filled with adventures, stories, drama, and experiences that I could not have had in my day-to-day college routine. I saw temples that were three thousand years old, climbed mountains, stepped on volcanoes, and four-wheeled around a Greek island to find the perfect beach. There’s really no other time I could have set aside that much time to travel except in college. And there’s no other time I could have learned so much about myself. Sitting here as winter rears its chilly head, I find myself wishing I could relive some of those adventures. It isn’t the same living out of a backpack on campus.

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