I've learned so many lessons being here in Greece. But I have recently put my finger on something that I have learned, that I think is exceptionally valuable. And I would like to share it with you.
I always thought that I loved to travel, plain and simple. When I was 13, I went to Spain, France, and Germany with my Dad and I went to Jamaica with him 4 years later. Also, I've been to Mexico three times for service trips. So before my study abroad experience here in Greece, I had already had a taste of travel. And I loved it.
Now, I know.
I do not love to travel like I thought I did.
Let me explain:
The dictionary defines travel as: to move or go from one place to another. I do not like airports, the busyness, the stress, the overhead announcements about not leaving baggage unattended and the 3-1-1 rule of liquids and zip lock bags. I don't really like buses where you find yourself napping uncomfortably and uneasily. I don't like boats that slosh you around and when you get up to use the bathroom you don't walk there, you stumble there. I don't like moving from ONE place to another. The act of travel itself is not enjoyable.
I also don't like traveling to a place for a few days just to see the sites and try the traditional food and do a little souvenir shopping, buying a shot glass or a magnet to prove that I've actually visited that particular country or city.
What is there to gain from that kind of travel? What is the benefit besides seeing a few sites and eating a few thousand calories of different food and buying some consumerist "proof?"
The travel I love, the kind of travel I yearn for is the travel where you go to a country and you immerse yourself in it. When you learn the language and you make friends with the spice man at the farmers market and the cherry guy asks you out for coffee. It's when the people at the crepe stand wave to you every day when you walk by and invite you to their Sunday morning Barbecue. It's when you pick up little mannerisms without noticing because you mirror what you see in your day-to-day reactions with the locals. It's when you try cooking the local food yourself. It's when you find yourself surrounded by not a single American and you feel happy and welcome and warm. That's the kind of travel I love.
Yes, I love seeing pretty things and eating yummy food. But what's the point of going to a place if you learn nothing about the culture? What's the point?! You could look at some pictures in a book of the sites and go find a restaurant downtown with culturally different food. Although those suggestions aren't as authentic as eating greek food in Greece and seeing a Greek temple with your own two eyes, the experience of only sites&food is not authentic either. How can you love or hate or even have an opinion on a country if the only people you talked to were the waiters and the staff at hotel front desk.
That's why I love Greece. I love having lived here for almost 4 months. I love that I have made many friends, at the market, at the local restaurants, at the bakery, and at school. I have gotten to the heart of the culture and I love it here.
Yes, Budapest, Prague, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Turkey, and the greek islands Santorini and Mykonos were amazing, but I don't love them as much as I love Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is a home to me now.
The opportunity to live in a place for months at a time doesn't come along often, that's why I'm so blessed to be here. Yet, I can still love travel without dedicating months of my life to a certain place. The countries I traveled to where I knew someone, made a huge difference in the amount of love I felt for that country.
In Prague, we had GA's friend, Honza with us and he brought his roommate, Justin and Justin's cousin Katerina out with us one night. My love for Prague expanded exponentially when I was around Honza, Justin, and Katerina. I loved asking questions about the culture and getting to know the people and learning the language from them.
When I didn't know anyone, I felt more like... well... a tourist. I felt like a piece of driftwood, just passing through a place. It's an empty experience.
I think, the lesson I learned is: travel where you know people, where you know you will have someone to show you the REAL side of the country. That's when travel becomes travel. That's when travel becomes the travel that I love. If you don't know anyone, meet some people, spend time with them, learn from them.
Stay as long as you can.
Learn as much as you can.
Love as much as you can.
That is what I have learned.