Differences

It has been a pretty quiet week for me here in Greece. Tsiknopemti (Greek Halloween + Fat Tuesday) was Thursday and I enjoyed it by eating lots of smoked meat and dancing traditional Greek dances with classmates at the college. Now these Greek dances are pretty much polka, but it sure seem a lot more fun then polka is. Saturday morning I walked to the nearby town of Thermi and walked around their farmer market and city center. Overall, a pretty uneventful time recently.

Instead of talking about what I’ve been up to, I am going to highlight some of the most obvious differences I’ve noticed between the USA and Thessaloniki/Greece in general.

Shopping – Super Market vs Open Market: Here in Greece there aren’t any Walmarts, Targets, or even Shopkos. No place that you can get literally everything, so going to individual stores for each thing you need is a lot more common. Also, there are massive open markets in downtown Thessaloniki where you can essentially get everything you need in a small area. It’s pretty strange to see fish, squid, meat cuts, and actual pig heads out in the open but I guess the system works here.

Lifestyle – Everything in Greece is much more laid back for both good and bad. Everyone goes out to cafe’s and will drink one cup of coffee over 2,3, or even 4 hours just chit-chatting with no real aim in mind. I’ve also found that if class is supposed to start at 11, it might be closer to 11:15 or 11:20 when everyone shows up and the lesson begins. Deadlines are maybe not as prioritized as in America.

Food – I have not ate one cheeseburger since I’ve arrived in Greece and American food is probably the thing I am most homesick about. I have had the opportunity to eat lots of gyros, souvlaki (kinda like a kebab), spinach ‘pies’, and surprisingly, french fries. Greece has the whole Mediterranean diet going on, but its not so much a diet compared to the norm here. Seriously, can not wait to get home and have Chick-Fil-A and a nice steak dinner.

Agriculture – Being at the American Farm School – Perrotis College, I have had a lot of opportunities to see how Greeks do agriculture compared to Americans. On campus we have several olive groves, 100 dairy cows, a few thousand chickens and turkeys, and lots of smaller garden plants as well. In the nearby countryside there are a lot of grapes and olives, with smaller corn, tobacco, potato, and horticulture farms. These operations are usually no bigger than 200 acres and it is much more common to see less than 100 acres. For animals sheep and goats are common, and chickens are also becoming more normal for many farmers.

Weather – The weather hasn’t been below freezing since I’ve arrived and has consistently been about 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit as of late. I have been wearing a t-shirt to class these last few days and it has been fantastic. As Minnesota is looking at potentially a foot of snow this weekend, I’ll just end with that.

Smoking – Everyone and their mother smokes cigarettes in Greece. Also, it is allowed inside restaurants, bars, clubs, and pretty much everywhere except at the school. The first week was definitely an adjustment to seeing pretty much everyone smoke after being bombarded with how bad smoking is in America.

Crisis – The Great Recession in 2008 was a big deal for the whole world, but for the most part it seems like the USA is over it. In Greece, they are still heavily feeling the impacts of the economy tanking. The unemployment rate is 25% and Greece owes between 200-300 billion euros to the EU from their crash. It is still a really big deal here and most people have a very bleak outlook for the foreseeable future.

Strays – The crisis leads to my next point, stray dogs everywhere. In the middle of the city, at parks, on the side of road, in the middle of nowhere, there are big stray dogs everywhere. With the crisis, Greece can’t afford to neuter stray dogs so the population keeps growing. Fortunately, they don’t bother anyone but it is also pretty sad. I’ve gotten used to falling asleep to dogs barking at each other every night.

Bathrooms – The pipework for toilets in Greece are made much smaller than in the USA. This means that you can’t flush toilet paper in the toilet unless you want to unclog it yourself. There is a garbage can next to the toilet meant for everything you can’t flush. I’ve forgotten that multiple times and have got pretty handy with a plunger. Also, public toilets are not maintained by the city. Most public toilets cost something like .10 to .25 cents to get in. Definitely not the most convenient when you really gotta go!

Classes – My classes here are set up pretty differently compared to the states. At Iowa State, I am used to having class 2-3 times a week and having homework, quizzes, and then a final at the end. Here, we meet for class 1-2 times a week and have big essay and maybe a final or presentation at the end.

Well hope that helps you get a little insight into my life in Greece as a whole. It’s a long weekend coming up and I am heading to Meteora to see the cliffs and monasteries!

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Back to the cold

Hello all, everything is going well here in Greece and I even got sunburnt the other day! Anyways, I’ll jump right into what I have been doing over the last 10 days. I spent my week going to my normal classes, so nothing too crazy there. For our Greek Culture class, the four of us Americans here are also taking traditional Greek dance lessons. The dances we have learned so far are kinda similar to polka in the USA and is apparently still popular for festivals, especially in small villages. I also have been going to some Greek cooking classes to make traditional Greek food. I won’t even attempt the Greek names, but we have made a pie with philo bread with spinach and feta inside, rice wrapped around grape leaves, and a dessert that is similar to donuts. I also had the opportunity to learn how to artificially inseminate cattle, which was pretty interesting but I don’t think I have a real desire to do it back home.

Flying out to Berlin!

This last weekend I took a trip out to Berlin, Germany. The rationale to why we went to Berlin over anywhere else in Europe was simple, it had the cheapest flights from Thessaloniki. 50 euros round-trip to fly 2 hours was a pretty good deal for booking the tickets three days before we left. I went there with two other Americans also studying at Perrotis College. First thing we did once we made it to Berlin was check in to our hostel pretty close to the middle of the city. In my two days in the city we saw most of the major monuments such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag building, the Berlin Wall Memorial, and the Murdered Jews Memorial. The two memorials were pretty sobering in just how much difficulty the city has had in the not so distant past. I also had the opportunity to have some traditional German food and drinks. I much prefer the burgers, bratwurst, and beer from Germany than some of the traditional foods I have had in Greece. My favorite place to eat in Berlin is called the Berliner Republik. All of the drinks change in real time to reflect the demand for each product and there were screens all around the restaurant to show the newest changes. It was kind of like a stock market but for beverages. Our group was able to get a 1.5L pitcher for 2 euros less than it’s original price, so we are basically ready to take on Wall Street now.

The Spree river in Berlin

The only downside to Berlin was that we left nice, sunny 50 degree weather in Greece to be in a windy 25 degree coldness in Berlin. It was fantastic getting off the plane back in Thessaloniki after being back in the cold. Our flight was supposed to get back at 10:10 am Monday morning and we had class at 11 am. In reality, we didn’t even land till 10:30 Fortunately, we didn’t have to go through customs and a taxi ride was less than 10 minutes to campus from the airport. We cut it close, but made it with 5 minutes to spare!

At the Berliner Dom

From the sports side, I was able to find some website that streamed the ISU vs Kansas game. It was pretty fun to watch the Cyclones beat Kansas at the Allen Fieldhouse, even if none of the Greeks I was with cared at all. Tomorrow (Thursday) is Tsiknopemti, which is Greece’s version of Fat Thursday. Lots of grilled meats and everyone will be downtown in the city celebrating. This also happens to coincide with a huge futbol match played in the city between PAOK Thessaloniki’s best soccer/futbol team and German team, Schalke for a European League match. I’ve been told by my professors and peers that if PAOK somehow wins, the celebration will be insane. If they win, about 50,000-60,000 people by the White Tower in downtown and lots of futbol hooligans, doing hooligan things. So hopefully all goes well, but I will let you know next week!

Class is in Session

Hello all, so I have successfully survived my first week here in Thessaloniki. Since I last wrote here I have been able to make it to every class and see what the American Farm School – Perrotis College is all about. The classes I am taking here are Current Issues in Greece, Olive Production Systems, Livestock Management & Production, and Greek Culture. My classes are very different than at Iowa State for two reasons: 1. My biggest class has 22 students and that would be about the same as my smallest class at ISU 2. I don’t have any homework, just one big essay due at the end of the semester.  I also have a two-pronged Service Learning Project focused on assisting refugees in the Thessaloniki community and helping Perrotis College students with conversational English. Hey Mom and Dad here is the proof that there will at be a little “studying” in studying abroad.

Hagia Sophia of Thessaloniki main entrance

I have also went in to the city just about every day last week. It was pretty tiring, but I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the city now. Campus is a 15 minute taxi ride from the city center and about a 40 minute bus ride. Taxi’s usually run between 15-20 Euros, while a bus ticket will get you there for 1.20 Euros. The buses are pretty similar to the CyRide back in Ames, but way more crowded and run much less often. The city is working on a metro system, but apparently hasn’t been able to get much done in the last 8 years since it was announced. There is a lot of construction going on for it, but it is slow going because they are always finding archaeologically significant sites from ancient Roman and Greek times. Apparently some private apartments will do construction during the night time so they can’t “see” the ancient finds in the ground. It makes doing construction in America seem quite a bit easier and straightforward.

View from on top of the White Tower

Thursday night I met up with my friend Maddie who is from Eau Claire and also studying in Thessaloniki for the semester. I joined her group to listen to a Greek band play downtown and also to go to a Waka Flock Flame concert later on in the night. Waka came to Ames earlier in the fall but I was unable to catch him there, so I jumped on the opportunity to see him live in Greece. On Friday, I had class and then my roommate, Nico, took me shopping downtown to get some basketball shoes. I’ve been playing pickup 3-4 nights a week at the gym on campus and desperately needed them. I got an okay pair of Nike’s for only 30 Euros so it was quite the deal. Saturday and Sunday, one of my professors took me and the other 3 Americans to see some of the cultural landmarks around the city. First up was the Hagia Sofia of Thessaloniki, which is the oldest standing building in the city. It was built in 1205 and was used to entertain the Byzantine Emperors when they were in town. Next up was the Hagios Demetrios. St. Demetrius is the patron saint of Thessaloniki and became a martyr and saint when defending Christianity from the Romans in 300 AD. Lastly, we walked the coast and saw the White Tower. The White Tower was used as a prison/torture zone back when the Ottoman’s held the city. It used to be red from all the blood of the tortured, but the last prisoner was told he could be released if he painted the whole tower white. That was over 100 years ago and it is now one of the most iconic landmarks in the city.

Cheesin’ by the White Tower

Thanks for reading and hoping all is well in the US, this week will definitely have some interesting stories to come back with!

It’s All Greek to Me

I have made it to Greece! Since I last checked in here I spent a few days running around London, flew to Thessaloniki, and have been extremely busy here the past three days. I rounded up London by seeing all the big tourist sites such as Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Also, I took a day trip out to Rochester, UK which was a little different than Rochester, MN. This Rochester had a 700 year old castle and a nice more relaxing environment compared to London. Overall, I had a great time in the UK but I was ready to move on to Greece by the end of my stay.

Big Ben in London

My flight took off from London Gatwick early Friday morning and this time I did not make the mistake of taking a taxi. Instead I got an Uber at 4:30 am and it was less than $15 total which was pretty good compared to my taxi experience. The flight to Thessaloniki was about three hours and I was with mostly other students from Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales. They were coming to the American Farm School as well for a week-long program. I would end up spending a lot of time with them this past weekend.  Friday, we walked around Thessaloniki and got a little better grasp of the city. It is very beautiful and is nothing like what I’ve seen in America. I guess to describe it, it has a mix of Turkish and Baltic influences. I’m looking for a photo now, but I guess I forgot to take any pictures of the city! I will add some soon. On Saturday, we took a bus out to Mt. Olympus and climbed in the foothills. It was a really cool hiking trail, but also pretty rough with ice and snow.  My study abroad director here has said that we will take a 2 day hiking trip all the way to the top later in the year when the weather is nicer. We also visited a few traditional Greek villages. From the villages we had a fantastic view of the Aegean Sea.

Mount Olympus from the foothills

Sunday, we visited two different vinery’s. The first was a wine producing vinery and made different Greek varieties of wine. The second made everything but wine from the plants. The primary product was the grape leaves. They used the grape leaves to make traditional Mediterranean foods that were very different than American foods. That night I went to Aigli, which is this 500+ year old Turkish bath house that was converted into a Cafe/Club and the inside was absolutely amazing. It was a fantastic venue and it was really cool to see the ancient architecture on the inside mixed with more modern aspects of a Cafe. So far this week I have had a tour of campus, orientation, and my first class. The classes are very different than at Iowa State. My first class (Livestock Management and Production) there were only two students! It is going to be a little different than the 300+ lecture halls at ISU.

Next week, I should be able to tell more about campus and the classes in general. I also know I will be in the city a bit more, so stay tuned!

Arrival

I have made it safe and sound to the big city of London. With almost 14 million people residing in the metro area, it is just a tad bigger than Austin (25,000) or Ames (60,000). As of this writing, I will have been in the city for the three full days already. I’ve done and experienced what seems like a lot, but I still feel like I am scratching the surface of what London has to offer.

First sight of land at Ireland

On the flight, I was lucky enough to get a window seat with no one in the seat next to me. Even with the good luck I wasn’t able to get any sleep and had a pretty rough start to my trip. I had my first taste of something ‘greek’ on the plane as well. For breakfast one of the sides was greek yogurt but was made in New England in the USA. I’m sure I will get my shot at real greek food soon though. After getting to the airport I took a taxi to my hostel near the London Tower. What I found out was that taxis are ridiculously overpriced and will cost you an arm and a leg. Seriously, I would recommend any other form of transportation because it will be much cheaper for the same or slightly more amount of time.

London Tower Bridge

After getting to the hostel, I was able to unpack and get my bearings a little bit. I walked across the London Bridge and the London Tower Bridge to try and walk off my jetlag. All along the way all I could think of what if the London Bridges really did start falling down like in the nursery rhyme. Fortunately, the bridges held and I was able to manage my way back to the hostel for a nap. (Apparently this was not good if you want to adjust time zones, but oh well I needed it.) When I woke up, the other 7 people staying in my room arrived. Between the 8 of us we had 2 Aussies, a Taiwanese (?), a Mexican, an Argentinean and 3 Americans. These guys and gals were fantastic and I had a great night out with them, whether we were just learning more about each others cultures or dancing at a club.

View of London on the Thames river

On Sunday I did not rest. At least not for awhile. I was up early to start walking around the city and figure out the metro or ‘Tube’ here. First place I went was the Imperial War Museum, where I learned about the British take on the last 100+ years of war. It was very interesting to see the different vehicles they used and they even hosted an old V2 rocket that was to be used in WW2. the WW1 exhibit was also exceptionally good and that was worth the visit by itself. Next, I went down to the Tube and went up to St. International Pancreas station. The station itself is an amazing piece of architecture and absolutely dominants the area. This is near the Kings Cross Station where Harry Potter and the Hogwarts Express take off in the movies. It was very cool to see and I liked seeing a real train station. My next stop was the British History Museum. I could write a whole ‘nother piece on the History Museum, but it was phenomenal. The history nerd in me really appreciated the many exhibits that spanned over 4000 years. I spent almost 4 hours in the museum and I think I still missed a decent amount of it. It was well worth the visit.

Outside of the British History Museum at dusk

Today, I went out exploring the city with an Aussie and an American that were staying at my hostel. We took the tube out to Notting Hill and walked around various parks and went on a mission to find different pieces from the street artist, Banksy. Banksy is a famous street artist that uses his pieces to promote political awareness to various issues. After looking at a few and wandering around we met an actual graffiti artist who gives tours of street art in East London. It was pretty cool to have an insider give the tour because he seemed to know everyone who had done pieces in London. Apparently we also saw some of the tour guides own work, but it is a big no-no to reveal who you are due to obvious legal conflicts. I never have a big fan of graffiti, but going on our earlier walk and the tour I learned to appreciate it when done properly. That is pretty much all I have done in London so far and I still have 3 more days until I leave for Greece. So who knows where I will end up in the next week.

Cheers,

Connor

First Thoughts

Hello, my name is Connor Bollum and I am from Austin, Minnesota. I am a sophomore at Iowa State, majoring in Agricultural Business. I love to play/watch basketball, go golfing, being outdoors, and work with my Shorthorn cows back home. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to different places such as Florida, Yellowstone National park, and Spain in the past few years.

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I have previously studied abroad through Iowa State to Spain for a study abroad program through the College of Agriculture and Life Science Study Abroad Office. With that program I had a semester to learn about Spain and to learn about my classmates that were going across the pond with me. It was a fantastic experience experiencing a new culture and I would consider many of the people that went as some of my closet friends at Iowa State. The program was very structured and allowed us to see many of the highlights from Madrid, the Catalonia region, and Barcelona. Whether we were crossing 2,000 year old aqueducts, visiting snail farms, or trying to find a tv with the Cyclones March Madness game on it was a time I will never forget. I would highly recommend a trip with staff from Iowa State to get your feet wet!

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Studying abroad was one of my goals before entering college and after going abroad for 10 days I knew I had to go for a longer period of time. As soon as  I got back to America I began to research semester-long opportunities. My favorite thing from Spain was the ancient Roman architecture in Tarragona that was about 2,000 years old and I wanted to be somewhere with just as much history. This led me to find a program in Greece or Italy to best enjoy the ancient history. Lucky for me, I found a program at the American Farm School in Thessaloniki, Greece that is associated with Iowa State. I found out that Iowa State has been sending students there every year for summer classes and internships, but no one had spent a full semester there. After speaking with Jodi Cornell at the CALS Study Abroad Office, I knew that the American Farm School would be a great fit for me. After being accepted by AFS and finally buying my plane tickets a few weeks ago it is just beginning to dawn on me that I will be in Greece in less than a month! Being that it is winter break, I have been attempting to learn some basic Greek via Duolingo but time will tell how well that turns out for me. Next time you hear from me, I will (hopefully) made it safe and sound to London as I will spend a week there before I fly over to Thessaloniki.

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I started this blog to help connect with my family and friends from back home, but also for others who are curious about what studying abroad looks like. While in Ames working at the CALS Study Abroad Office I loved telling people about my experience in Spain. Now, I have the opportunity to share my experiences in a more personal manner through social media and this blog. I would like to be an ISU Study Abroad Center’s social media intern, because I have a good track record with improving different channels social media efforts. At the CALS Study Abroad Office, our team of Student Travel Consultant’s helped increase our Facebook pages likes by over 300 last semester and have increased our reach greatly in the same time. Blogging is a cool medium of communication that I can share more stories through writing and photographs, and I am definitely looking forward to taking advantage of it this upcoming semester. I hope that my friends and family stay entertained through my stories and that other students from Iowa State become more excited to study abroad themselves.