Gretchen Mach is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Greece and Italy.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
Out of all of my experiences, I will never forget the time spent in a weekend trip to the Greek island of Santorini. A friend and I were walking along a footpath, when a older Greek man greeted us with a friendly english hello. Since we had learned a small amount of the Greek language, we responded in the appropriate Greek fashion. His face lit right up, and it was immediately evident how excited he was that we made the effort to attempt his language. It made me truly realize how warm and accepting the Greek people are, and how I felt apart of their culture while living in their country. People do take notice and appreciate any effort you make to learn and communicate!
Why did you choose the program in which you participated?
The opportunity to study abroad was not just an experience to broaden my cultural awareness, but to expand my understanding of others and challenge my perceived outlook on life. I longed to make sense of what it meant to be a foreigner and adapt to a different set of cultural norms and customs. Because of this, I immediately knew that the Greco-Roman program would be the perfect fit as a study abroad program. The dual locations provide twice the amount of exposure to history, art and a diverse perspective of western and eastern cultures. The idea of living in a country where the basis of democracy originated while also later being able to walk through the Vatican seemed too good to be true! I wanted to be in a place where I was out of my comfort zone and be in an atmosphere where there was a constant state of change, and the Greco-Roman provided just that.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My experience abroad was an opportunity to learn new things each and every day. Instead of learning about a historic landmark in a classroom textbook, we were able to visit it! You learn so much about yourself and what is important to you. Not only are you able to meet different people across the globe, but you are able to meet new people from the CSBSJU community that you probably would have not met or been close with otherwise!
How has the trip affected you? How are you different for having completed the experience?
The few months spent abroad has completely changed my outlook on life. There isn't a day that I don't reflect on my experiences. Whether taking a ferry to explore the Greek islands, climbing to a summit on Mt. Olympus, eating octopus, riding a donkey, getting lost (and refound!), taking in the view of the Vatican from top of St. Peter's Basilica, or eating real, authentic Italian pizza, my time spent abroad with 29 other people consist of memories I will treasure for the rest of my life. I have emerged with 29 new best friends and better understanding of who I am because of my trip.
What advice do you have for future Study Abroad Students?
Don't hesitate to try new things. Embrace uncomfortable situations - challenge yourself. There will be moments where every thing that possbily could go wrong does, but it are those exact situations that will you will remember and laugh about one day. Never underestimate a good rain coat, bring a good sweater, and once you think you have everything you need packed - take out half of it! Packing light will take off a lot of stress. Remember that you only have so much time in the country you are in and the people you are with, so don't take anything or anyone for granted!