Madison Omtvedt

Major: K-12 and Secondary Education
Class: Senior
Timeframe: Fall 2023
Type of Experience: Study

Overall Experience

During my time in Greece, I was able to make some local friends, do some traveling around Greece and elsewhere in Europe, and I learned a lot about Greek culture. At the American College of Greece, the English department had wonderful professors who really pushed me intellectually and taught me things I probably never would've learned in the United States. It was so wonderful to meet locals, explore our neighborhood restaurants and coffee shops, become familiar with new ways of shopping, eating, and socializing, and overall just be submersed in a place so different from everything I've ever known!

Learning experience

Being in Greece sparked both a live-in-the-present attitude and flexibility in me that wasn't quite there before. In Greece, we had to grocery shop in more frequently, walk everywhere, give more time for transportation, and generally allow life to happen rather than planning every detail. Learning to exist more in the present, allowing life to happen, and experiencing it as it comes, was imperative to enjoy my time in Greece. Even just having a positive mindset regarding trying new foods, going to new places, and trying new things was hard after the first few weeks of amazement and wonder started to be replaced by homesickness and a busy schedule. But now, I couldn't be more thankful for those lessons that allowed me to absorb such beautiful cultural experiences, learn from those around me, and connect to the world in so many new ways I'll never forget and always have with me moving forward.

Memorable experience

My most memorable experience was actually a day cruise I went on with my roommates and some friends in our first few weeks there. It was a beautiful Saturday and we were up early to get from Agia Paraskevi to the port via some walking, a bus, and a tram. Finally, we were there and we got on the big ship at 9 am. It was going to take us to three places that day - three islands - Agistri, Metopi, and Aegina. Agistri was beautiful and we had a few hours to explore the island and be on the beach. Aegina was also wonderful! But, Metopi was actually a small, uninhabited island. We didn't know this before, but we weren't actually stopping on the island - we were actually anchoring in the middle of the sea near Metopi so we could all jump off the cruise ship and swim! As someone who had never been to the ocean or the sea before this abroad experience, this was my first time around a big body of seawater that wasn't the beach. It was the most jaw-dropping experience: the most beautiful teal blue water that the photos just couldn't do justice to show, so clear we could see the bottom nearly thirty feet down. Not a single fish or any wildlife in sight, just us and the water. My friends and I had the best time jumping in and cheering on all the others who were jumping off the boat too! We probably jumped in seven or eight times, each time swimming back to the boat's ladder and getting back on to jump again! It was just a magical experience I will never ever forget.

What did you not expect?

One thing I did not expect was how slow-paced they take their lives. Of course, everyone still shows up to work and school on time. But, when eating meals out, shopping, using public transportation, or other aspects of their culture, there is no rush. People stop and socialize with their waiter for a while sometimes, there isn't a huge rush to get food out or the check to you, public transportation often runs behind, and it is all normalized. Every day there are even "quiet hours" in the middle of the afternoon when most people return home from work to rest before going back. It took some getting used to compared to the very intensely fast lifestyle I and others live in the U.S., but it was something I am so glad I got to experience. Moving forward, it definitely taught me to take my time and look around myself to appreciate the little joys in the world instead of rushing through life. Another surprise -- ALL THE CATS! It's pretty normal for stray cats to surround you in Greece - even and especially on the islands! It is a community norm to care for the cats; most homes and places leave food and water out for them. Most of them are very friendly and always brought me so much joy!

What advice would you give?

My greatest advice would be to plan ahead! Do your research, pack the extra things you think you may need for your emotional and mental health as well as your physical health, and give yourself time to do these things before you leave. This way, when you get there, you can really take your time and experience this new place without the rush of necessity or anxiety of not having something. For me, some things this included were letters from family and friends, tea and items from home in case I got sick, and printed photos of my favorite people and my pets to hang on the wall in my space and make it feel more like home. Personally, I knew that not really knowing anyone who would be there would probably make me anxious and homesick, so I tried to plan ahead. I knew the seven-hour time difference would be hard in the moments I needed my people the most. So, I tried to think of what could make it better in advance. I think doing these things for myself in preparation, ahead of my traveling over there, made a HUGE difference in my ability to sit back and enjoy my first few days without too much homesickness, and I also had a better ability to be flexible and go-with-the-flow of doing so many spontaneous things and exploring because I did/had these things, too. Just remember -- while four months away from everyone and everything you know can feel terrifying, it's true when people say that those four months will give you a lifetime of memories to share with those you missed. It is not always easy, but it is so worth the memories and experiences you will gain and places you will see. You got this!

How has this experience impacted your life?

This experience helped me leave my comfort zone and explore new things! I had never been out of the U.S. before this experience, so it was a whole new adventure for me, unlike anything I'd done before! Academically, it taught me a whole new way of learning and teaching. At ACG, students rarely take on the class load that we do here in the U.S. - in fact, many of them go to school for 4-7 years finishing their bachelor's degree. This slowed-down way of learning ensures students are getting the most out of each class by only taking on what their lifestyle allows them the time and energy for. I found this really interesting and as a future secondary educator, there are many different ways of teaching and learning there that I really want to put into my own classroom one day.

How did you learn about this experience?

Some friends of mine have done other study abroad programs at Iowa State! While it has always been a dream of mine to study abroad, upon hearing of their experiences, it pushed me to explore the study abroad website and look at their programs in Greece! Then, I met with a study abroad advisor and got more information, and the rest is history!

International Connections