There’s something intimidating about being in a new culture. The language, food, clothing, even just the way people act, is all so different from what we’re used to. While we were in London, the difference didn’t seem so bad—everyone spoke English, it was easy to get around, I really didn’t notice much of a culture shock. Then we came to Greece.
The moment I stepped into the airport, things started to hit me. I couldn’t even try to pronounce half of the words around me, because they were written in Greek. It got even worse when we arrived in Porto Rafti; at least at the airport they had English translations. All of the buildings’ names are written in Greek, and I can’t tell the difference between those who speak English and those who don’t. It can all get a bit overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to communicate with the locals.
Our first interactions with the locals was trying to order gelato in Greek for the first time. With the little Greek we had learned that morning, we knew how to say “mia balla *insert gelato flavor here*” which meant that we wanted one scoop (and we all ordered Oreo, because that was the only one in English). That was about the extent of our knowledge of the language.
I think it was the next day when we went to the grocery store down the road. We were looking for simple things like shampoo and conditioner, but even those were hard to find with our language barrier. When I went to check out, I honestly had no idea what the cashier was saying to me; I looked at the price on the screen, handed her money, and didn’t say a word.
Over the past week, we’ve slowly started to learn more and more Greek. We’ve learned the alphabet and how to pronounce it. We’ve learned greetings and when to use certain phrases. And we’ve definitely learned how to order gyros and gelato. Things are getting better; the culture shock isn’t as scary. I still don’t understand ninety percent of what locals are trying to say to me, but usually they give me an understanding smile and do their best in English. Occasionally I’ll hear someone say “geia sas” or “efcharisto” and feel a little proud, because I actually understand what they mean now.
We’ll be learning Greek for the rest of our time here at the Artemis, and though I won’t be anything near to fluent, I think I’ll know how to get around. I’m excited to see how things change when I understand more. I won’t feel so much like a tourist, but like an actual traveler who gets to see how the world works from another perspective. In the short time that I’ve been away from home, that is one thing I’ve learned well already—the best kind of travel isn’t the kind that gets you a bunch of souvenirs, but the kind that submerges you into the culture of the location.
- Destiny Lewis, Junior