Friday, August 9, 2019

From Iced Capps to Frappes: My Summer In Greece

I read the following quote within a notebook at the Benaki Museum that states, “Athens, the city with a thousand faces and many contrasts, is waiting for you to come up with your own special reason to love it. Take a stroll beneath the Acropolis, and hear the stones telling stories and myths. If you are able to find art in every day’s life, to relax with an endless coffee in the bustling centre, to comprehend the worries of a modern-ancient city and start your evening out when Europe goes to sleep, then you will adore Athens. And take notes…” I have kept this quote with me, since the first month that I arrived, because somehow this passage captured what I had imagined my life might be like over the course of my three-month internship.

As a student who is interested in Greek social and political history, embarking on an internship within the heart of Athens allowed me to gain a new and more enlightened perspective on the history hidden within Greece. Visiting multiple ancient sites, museums and monuments as opposed to simply reading about them and seeing their pictures in textbooks was enriching. Being able to palpably contextualize the size and location of certain sites allowed me to view the ancient world through a new lens, and it truly felt like my eyes had developed their own form of virtual reality.
While working at The Canadian Institute I not only enhanced my professional skills, but I learned a vast amount about history, mythology, archiving, living abroad, academia, and even a bit of Greek! The majority of my work consisted in updating and organizing the existing archives. I was able to create an excel sheet that documented the existing electronic archives in a manner that paralleled the physical archives. I also archived a numerous amount of documents myself that dated back to the 1980s. In addition to this, I filtered the CIG website of any inconsistencies that might have existed in both the English and French version of the site. These tasks were rewarding because I knew my work was genuinely beneficial to both the Institute and to myself. It was additionally rewarding because whilst mastering my archiving skills, I also thoroughly understood the detailed history of the institute via the many archived documents I looked through. During my first month, the fellow Barbara and I had also helped with the open meeting which was a pride and honour to take part in.

Thanks to the Institute, I was also informed about many events that took place within Athens with regard to Greek history and archaeology. Attending multiple open meetings, lectures, receptions, and even a Canada Day event at the Acropolis Museum was a huge part of my learning experience. Aside from lectures, I was also able to learn a vast amount of information from the many museums and sites I visited, and even from professors within the community. I also cannot forget to mention darts night, a Canadian Institute tradition where I met many people from the archaeological community in Athens and learned to play darts.
My learning experience extended itself into my understanding of different cultural lifestyles. I learned about the details of local life on different islands (especially local cuisine), the state of the Loggerhead turtles in Zakynthos, Greek mythology via theatrical performances, and the attributes of Greek festivals such as the Miaoulia festival in Hydra. I went on many excursions but a few of my favourites include Hydra, Syros, Zakynthos, Mycenae, Olympia, and Meteora.

On every excursion that I embarked on, I was awestruck by both the artificial and natural beauty of Greece. Meteora, for example, was a place that truly left its mark on my memory. The existence and manner in which the monasteries were built is absolutely amazing.

I was ecstatic to be living in a city where I was able to immerse myself in a variety of cultural and historical experiences, such as eating dolmades beneath the acropolis with the sound of Zorba being played by a band in the restaurant. I am extremely grateful to the Canadian Institute for providing me with this unforgettable opportunity to both enrich my knowledge of Greece and to enhance my professional skills. I can say with confidence that my life has changed quite a bit in the course of three months thanks to this lasting experience, and I am already looking forward to returning to Athens again soon!

Monica Santos
York University intern, summer 2019

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