June 17, 2017

First-time in Europe comes to a close by Bridget Peery

I had never been to Europe before, but on May 8, I took the leap to go to Greece. And I could not be happier with the decision. Carlene Hempel, our professor whose guidance I am forever grateful for, told us that if we could make it in this dialogue – language barriers, foreign environment, crisis stories – then we could work anywhere as journalists.

It’s now, reflecting on it at the end of these five weeks, that I realize even moreso that she was right. And the work was hard. There were pieces I was a part of that make me seriously evaluate how I approach stories, as both a journalist and a human, balancing performing a job effectively and accurately with compassion and understanding. There were wonderful speakers in the program and professors at the American College of Thessaloniki who opened my eyes to another culture, to another part of the world. I was inspired to continue to pursue photojournalism – particularly crisis photojournalism – after hearing from war photographer, Dimitrios Bouras. His lesson resonated with me; that the camera is a powerful tool and when it is used correctly and ethically, it can bring about momentous change for good. And, in fact, all mediums of journalism can be seen this way. A theme that came up again and again was telling the stories of those who could not do it for themselves. No matter hard that may be, it is important work.

There were plenty of challenges. Interviews that were miles away with cab drivers who didn’t speak any english, subjects who didn’t want to be recorded or answer the questions integral to the story. My classmates, who worked tirelessly on their stories, chasing leads, scheduling last minute meetings, finding ways to be adaptive, were an inspiration, too. They did not rest until they had it right. It made me want to be a better journalist right along with them.

There were so many amazing moments, too. We swam in the Aegean Sea, hiked Mount Olympus, saw ancient ruins from centuries ago: the Arch of Galerius, the old walls of Thessaloniki, the Parthenon, the amphitheater in Delphi, the tomb of Philip II of Macedon – father of Alexander the Great. We saw the beautiful monasteries in the sky in Meteora, the view from the Acropolis, beaches of the island of Aegina. We learned a little of the language, ate a lot of the food, and took in as much of the culture and the people as we could. There were genuine friendships I made in Greece that I will hold close to my heart, people who let me in and share their lives without any reservation.

I am so grateful to have been a part of this amazing, truly teaching dialogue. I can say that I come away from it with a much better understanding of this country and of myself.

Every day on the dialogue, I would find moments that I wanted to document. It could be something big like seeing Meteora or something small like blogging in our hotel room (shoutout to Ellie Williams for being an awesome roommate and friend when I needed the motivation). During those moments, I took a video and later clipped it to a second through an app. At the end of trip, I stitched all those seconds together (Rome is also included, I took advantage of being over here and did some traveling alone). Here is a one minute video of what the last month has been like for me. Thank you for following along.

 

Post-trip thoughts by Suma Hussien

My dad and sister told me they were going to be about an hour and a half late from picking me up from Logan Airport. After the goodbyes, I walked back upstairs to departures, found an empty seat, and finally hit pause. Between editing, sleeping, and watching “Get Out” on the journey back, I didn’t really give myself a chance to enter the post-trip reflective mode.

Like most decisions I make, the decision to go on this Greece Dialogue was spontaneous, a decision made in about a week. I was number 18 on the dialogue, last person on the roster. I wanted to go on this dialogue to use my photographic, videographic, and design elements to shape and amplify journalistic stories. Most of the students already had the journalistic writing skills going into the dialogue and some wanted to expand on their visual skills. I was the opposite, hoping to enhance my skills in telling a story.

I learned the most about storytelling from my fellow classmates. I witnessed their persistence and tenacity in chasing a story all the way to completion. Shout out to my roommate Olivia Arnold, who I have the upmost respect for as a journalist. I witnessed her devotion to getting a story right, I witnessed her desire to understand, and I witnessed her compassionate heart as we covered intense situations.

It’s important to celebrate your victories, and I think as a group we have many to celebrate. We covered a wide range of stories, from the economic crisis to the arts, religion, sports, environment, and the refugee crisis. Although, there is only one byline on most of the stories, there was a whole collaborative process behind the scenes. Students helped take photographs, shared sources, and crammed in each other’s hotel rooms to edit one another’s stories under the pressure of a deadline.

My focus on this trip was to use this experience to better understand the refugee crisis. I want to give thanks to the people I crossed paths with who shared their own stories and realizations that made me understand the refugee crisis in new perspectives. I want to thank Leslie Shick who guided us during our short reporting trip to the island of Chios. As one person, I am continuously inspired by all the lives she has helped as a volunteer. And she isn’t stopping anytime soon. I want to thank all the non-profit organizations that I had a chance to spend days with: Amurtel, Blue Refugee Center, Khora Community Center, and Drop in the Ocean. And most importantly, I want to thank all the refugees I got to speak to during this trip. The bravery, courage, and kindness I witnessed in our conversations moved me and I will never forget their stories.

My work is not finished. I feel compelled to continue doing whatever I can to help. I will spend July and August back in Greece to volunteer with a few of the organizations I met this past 5 weeks. This opportunity would never have come about without my experience on this dialogue. I’m grateful for the new perspectives I have gained. Now I hope this new found perspective will evolve into hard action.

 

It’s over by Isaac Feldberg

On the way back from the Greek island of Aegina, I caught this tremendous view. Photo by Isaac Feldberg.

I can’t believe it’s over. That’s the sentiment pounding away at the inside of my head as I sit down to write this, a reflection post about a trip I’ll be coming to terms with aspects of for months, maybe years to come. So when I say this post will be incomplete, I don’t mean that I won’t be putting into it the full force of my heart and head; I simply mean that the greater truths and lessons learned from my time in Greece will appear in their own ways, at their own times. Perhaps I’ll write about them then.

As for now, I can say with a great deal of certainty that my weeks in Thessaloniki and Athens constitute both the most challenging journalistic experience of my college career and the most personally meaningful travel abroad of my young life. I don’t acknowledge that lightly; this trip has stimulated and strained me in ways I wasn’t expecting, and perhaps in ways no one involved in the planning of it could have intended either. Exploring a foreign country while attempting to glean deep journalistic insights about its state is, on paper, a difficult task. In practice, however, it became a consuming one, a completely absorbing, fascinating, and infuriating journey that required of those in attendance nothing short of all their available energies, all the time. That’s not a complaint in any sense – that this Dialogue demanded so much of its participants is a testament to the sprawl of its ambitions.

And what it gave back was valuable enough to justify its stipulations. I emerged from this trip a better journalist and a much richer human being, and for both of those progressions I hold no small degree of gratitude. I was lucky enough to participate in a truly singular trip under the guidance of two remarkable professors – Professor Carlene Hempel, my first and foremost mentor at Northeastern University, and Professor Mike Beaudet, whose Advanced Reporting class constituted one of the most challenging courses I’ll take in college (and whose wit and warmth made it one of the best). I was lucky enough to explore Thessaloniki and Athens alongside friends old and new, many of whom I hope will remain in my life for the foreseeable future, all of whom I left the trip thoroughly in awe of. When it comes to reflecting on this trip, one thing is perfectly clear: I was lucky.

Professionally, I came away from the trip with three strong stories, all of which I’m proud of, as well as photos attached to two others besides that. I produced the first writing of the entire trip by covering a speech given by US Consul General Rebecca Fong then got to work writing one of the trickiest and disturbing pieces I’ve ever tackled: a look at Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-Nazi party that, amid the tumult of the economic and refugee crises, has emerged as the country’s third-largest political force – and unquestionably its most dangerous. Writing this piece came with a slew of difficulties, from the condition that I was not permitted to approach neo-Nazis for in-person interviews (an understandable caveat, given – among other factors – my very Jewish last name and their history of violence against journalists) to translating the Greek in written interviews and attempting to glean from them a real sense of tone and tenor. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I was able to visit the piece online after weeks spent with it – then an ugly, blocky wall of text – in Microsoft Word. For my last piece, I had the sincere, significant pleasure of working with my good friend Olivia Arnold, whose reputation for excellence in all areas is deserved, on a video story I first pitched about slowly progressing plans to open Athens’ first public mosque since Ottoman Empire times. Neither of us had worked in video before, and we’d both separately voiced interest in adding camerawork to our skillsets, so in many respects the project could be called a godsend. But in other respects, it was uniquely challenging, whether we were struggling to shape the piece with limited, usable footage (I picked just about the worst time to inadvertently kick the camera during a key interview, we later discovered) or losing our minds at the cruel machinations of Final Cut Pro. Speaking on camera for stand-ups was, surprisingly, one of the most plainly fun journalistic endeavors of the whole trip.

Working with my friend Olivia Arnold made for the trip’s best partnership.

I could go on talking about the journalistic adventures those stories allowed me to pursue, from visiting the home of an Athens professor whose specialties include both Islamic culture (!) and demonic possession (!!!!) to sitting down with a reformed neo-Nazi and winding up hearing his rather terrifying perspective on the world for three hours (!!!!!!!!). But so many of the meaningful experiences I had in Greece came when I least expected them – that is to say, outside the boundaries of my reporting.

While in Greece, I hiked a significant swath of Mount Olympus, traversing lush forest and rocky caves as I explored one of the country’s most impressive natural wonders. The decision to attend the Olympus hike, which was an added expense on top of the trip, came at the last minute, as I was working on my Golden Dawn piece away from the group as arrangements for it were being made, but I’m beyond grateful to have attended. There’s a mystique and a magic to the area that was accentuated by the arrival of a slow, rolling mist, one that grazed the tips of trees and caressed the outline of the mountain’s many valleys, only enveloping it fully as we descended out of reach.

The grandeur of Mount Olympus speaks for itself. Photo by Isaac Feldberg.

I visited the monasteries at Metéora and found in the area’s wondrous formations, a metaphysical marriage between religion and rock face, a rare kind of spiritual bliss. I’ve written extensively about the unique relationship I have with this place in other posts, so I won’t reiterate it all here, but I’m still processing in many ways how Metéora seemed almost to reach inside my lungs and pull out a four-year-old breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. As someone who still deals with the long shadow of loss and trauma, I’m always happiest in places of tranquility and great, quiet peace – and Metéora was without a doubt one of the most serene I’ve had the privilege to visit. Without a word, it healed.

Just as therapeutic was iftar dinner with Naim Elghandour and Anna Stamou, a married couple whose work through the Muslim Association of Greece has brought Athens close to the opening of its first official mosque. In approaching our story, Olivia and I were invited into their home and enjoyed a lovely evening of conversation that did more to help me understand the unique cultural conditions of Greece than any classroom ever could. Their pride, struggles, and senses of humor were on full display all night – and I felt privileged for having the opportunity to hear them firsthand. I only hope, one day, they’ll visit the United States so I might show them similar hospitality.

Documenta, a city-wide art exhibit, generated some other salient moments. I visited an art exhibit that essentially involved seating strangers at tables and joining them with a complimentary meal. Curious but not all that receptive at first, the setup quickly entranced me, and I made friends at my table whom I hope to stay in touch with. Caught in a hailstorm, myself and Isabelle Hahn (who was actually writing the article on the exhibit) played pick-up sticks with my table and found it far more engaging than I had remembered the game to be in my younger years. Later, I visited a museum in which one exhibit resonated with me deeply – called “The Way Earthly Things Are Going,” and set inside a stone amphitheatre, it was a quiet space penetrated only by a low chorus of voices singing a political hymn discussing race, nationalism, and migration, and the green light of a ticker tape reading out the world stock index. Again, I found in art a form of peace that little of my life in the United States affords me – and that, now that I’ve experienced it, I’m all the more desperate for.

Outside a club in Thessaloniki on a friend’s birthday, I had the strangely cathartic opportunity to barter with the place’s owner, ultimately securing our group a private floor with complimentary champagne and vodka, as well as a striking view of the club’s dance floor, where a dancer twisted between ribbons, suspended in air, to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” sometime around 3 a.m. I grew up watching my dad negotiate seemingly impossible victories out of interactions with shopkeepers, hotel clerks, and just about everyone who attempted to rip our family off while we were traveling, and in a curious way my success in mimicking his approach to bartering signified a coming-of-age moment.

Amid the crowds of Athens Pride there was a palpable sense of solidarity. Photo by Isaac Feldberg.

A face in the crowd at Athens Pride, watching performers sing and dance in euphoric defense of their sexual and gender identities, I felt more welcomed into the city than I had on any preceding day. The jubilant mood of the event was so infectious that I found myself dancing and singing along, even to songs I’d only learned to anticipate the lyrics of through the repetition of a few choruses, and the people I was with – my roommate, Luke Dean, and a handful of good friends – cemented the night as one suffused with universal warmth.

And walking around both cities, either on the hunt for bars or in search of nothing more than fresh air, I had the utmost privilege of getting to know the cadre of remarkable journalists and people on this trip. I’ll always appreciate Olivia’s grace under pressure and wry wit, but her enthusiasm and benevolence shone through on this trip more than ever before. I’m grateful to call her my friend. Luke’s incredible sense of humor and seemingly boundless energy, as well as a keen perception of what’s going on around him that I’m not sure even he fully appreciates as a character strength, has endeared him to me immensely. I’m stunned every time I look back on the sangfroid and sincerity with which Suma Hussien approached every situation on the trip, especially difficult ones she was tasked with capturing through a single photograph. I’m grateful to have met Gwen Schanker, whose shy disposition sometimes hides an incredible mind and warm heart. I’m happy to have gotten to know Isabelle better after having met her a few times over the past school year, and thankful to more fully appreciate now what a talented writer, great thinker, and truly outstanding human being she is. I’m definitely glad to have won over Paxtyn Merten, who admitted I came off as “pretty annoying” the first few times we met (though I’m not sure how much her opinion of me has changed, on second thought. Put an asterisk for “fact-check” next to this one). And I’m at a loss to understand how someone as altruistic as Hsiang-yu Wu is also so achingly funny and thoughtful. I could go on about everyone on this trip, and almost want to, but suffice to say there wasn’t a rotten one in the bunch. I’m incredibly excited to see how all of them progress and persevere through journalism because, after spending this month with them, I know all of them are likely to succeed.

Those relationships are the last takeaway from this trip I want to talk about, and may well be the most important. It takes a certain kind of person to pursue journalism, and after this trip I’m more sure than ever that I want to surround myself with as many of them as possible. It feels to me that we’re all cut from the same moral, ethical cloth – we care so deeply about each other, and about people in general, that how could we not be drawn to a career entirely about sharing others’ stories with the world? This trip broadened my horizons as a journalist and a human being, and it gave me a great many memorable experiences, but more than anything else it confirmed for me something I had been questioning more than usual this past year: that journalism is where my heart is. Exploring Greece, uncovering stories, and working with a talented team of writers to present our findings – that’s the kind of stuff I love. And with this trip under my belt, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

 

The Greek experience by Olivia Arnold

It’s hard to put into words how challenging and rewarding these past five weeks in Greece were.

I doubt there is any other Dialogue of Civilization offered by Northeastern that is more time intensive or demanding. It’s just not possible to give anything less than your whole self over to this reporting program and, at times, that was far from being easy.

Our reporting team enjoying a rare day off at the Meteora monastery.

But in the end, I was left with a profound sense of accomplishment unlike the feeling after any other class or internship. I’m amazed by the breadth and quality of the stories that students covered, all completed under intense time constraints, language barriers and cultural mix-ups.

From this Dialogue, I learned more about myself, both as a journalist and a person. I got to work with incredibly talented students from the School of Journalism, along with professors Carlene Hempel and Mike Beaudet, both of whom have been mentors to me since the very beginning of my journalism career at Northeastern.

Professor Mike Beaudet provided invaluable guidance as I completed my first video story. Photo by Isaac Feldberg.

Professor Carlene Hempel spent late nights editing my stories with me. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

I produced two written stories — one on a “brain drain” of young, college-educated Greeks and the other on the dire refugee situation on the Greek island of Chios. I also filmed and edited my first-ever video story, on the building of Athens’ first public mosque, along with fellow student and friend Isaac Feldberg.

Along the way, I experienced things that I never thought I would, many of which left me thinking in the moment, “I cannot believe this is happening right now.” Most of those moments were because of journalism, which always keeps my life interesting and humble. Those experiences include, in no particular order:

  • climbing Mount Olympus, home of the gods
  • seeing the Parthenon for a second time
  • sitting down for iftar dinner during Ramadan with prominent leaders in the Muslim Association of Greece
  • having coffee in the home of a professor as he showed Isaac and me videos of research he did on demonic possessions in Sudan
  • reporting from one of the most overcrowded refugee camps in Greece
  • having dinner and exchanging emails with two exiled Turkish reporters who were imprisoned for more than a decade for their journalism
  • attending the Athens Pride concert celebrating equality and LGBTQ+ identities
  • feeling a spiritual peacefulness at Meteora, a monastery seemingly suspended in the air

Professor Hempel said at the beginning of this Dialogue that if you can do this (meaning this intense five-week reporting program), then you can do anything. I think I finally believe her.

 

Learning through travel by Paxtyn Merten

Since the year began, I have traveled to four new states and two new countries. I stepped foot on another continent for the first time, and I lived in another country for five weeks. While these are not groundbreaking numbers, my continued exploration has broadened my understanding of people and the world.

Earlier this year I traveled to Canada for the first time. It was also my first time out of the United States.

Living and reporting in Greece, I gained insight into two different populations: Greeks and refugees.

Something that struck me when I spoke to Greeks was that they are very proud of their heritage and nationality. Oftentimes when I talked to someone, whether it was our culture professor at the American College of Thessaloniki or my Uber driver, they would bring up the Greek root to some English word that was said. I found this fairly humorous because it reminded me of the father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who did the same thing. Many conversations with Greeks came back to a discussion of something in Greece’s history. Many people still fight for to remember issues Greeks faced, and fight to preserve their history.

It was also eye-opening to experience a new way of living – a slower way. As an American, I live in the fast-track of life. My time passes quickly, I need things quickly, I get through tasks quickly. So it tested my limits to be in Greece, where people run on slower internal clocks.

A prime example is when I asked a worker at a casual pizza and pasta eatery how long it would take to make a pizza. He said it would take 10 minutes, so I ordered one, but the pizza was not ready for more than half an hour. But the chefs didn’t seem to be rushing at all, or trying to hit that 10-minute mark. Instead they leisurely prepared the pizza and went about their other business in the meantime. It is a stretch to get food in less than an hour anywhere in Greece, which I was completely unused to.

Furthermore, talking with people often took twice as long because I was either speaking with them through a translator or using their very basic English. This made every interview drag on, no matter how short it was purposed to be, and exhausted me constantly. The slow pace of everything exhausted me, and I found myself craving the middle-of-the-day nap that Greeks take at 3 p.m. every day.

On the other hand, I was able to step into the lives of several refugee families and learn about their struggles to get to Greece as well as their attitudes and aspirations. Refugees, I learned, are very genuine, honest and positive people. Despite all they have been through, including family deaths, near-fatal journeys to Greece, living in tents for months in the cold with rain pouring on their heads and having no shower in the hot summer months, they welcome any stranger into their makeshift homes. They offer their limited food and drinks to company and openly tell the stories of how they came to be there. They laugh and smile with guests despite language barriers.

We visited the Almahmod family, who offered us tea and told us about their struggles to get to Greece, as well as their problems in Greece.

A theme that came up over and over again with refugees was that they did not care what country they were relocated to in Europe as long as they were safe and their children could go to school. The most heartbreaking thing for parents was that their children were losing time, missing out on being educated and getting left behind. When you hear these things, you realize that these people are no different at all from any other family. They want the best for their kids, and for their children to be more successful than they were. The children run and play with each other just like any other children. The only difference is that these families were born somewhere it was not safe to stay, and they had to risk their lives to escape and try to find a better life. The only difference is that they are still trying to do this.

Our TA and videographer, Danny, plays catch with one of the Almahmod children.

In traveling and meeting people this year I learned that everyone is very much the same and very much different all at the same time. We all have ties to our heritage and are proud of it, and we all work to make life better for our children and grandchildren. However, we all live in different styles and have access to different needs and luxuries, which change our outlooks on life accordingly. These are things I knew before but that I didn’t truly understand until becoming immersed in another group’s culture.

Given how much my eyes have been opened just by traveling to a European country, where the lifestyle is close to the same as it is in America, I can’t imagine how groundbreaking it would be to travel elsewhere, to countries farther removed from western culture. I hope to be able to get this same immersive experience in other nations so that I might be able to further broaden my horizons and build empathy for those I cannot possibly understand without first stepping into their worlds.

This reporting trip has taught me more than I ever could have imagined, and I will continue to keep my eyes and ears open to what is happening in the worlds of these people I have grown to know so much about.

 

June 12, 2017

An uphill race home by Paxtyn Merten

When I am walking up a hill, I always start to pick up the pace for the final few yards so that I can reach my destination faster. The same is true when I am walking up stairs (as long as there aren’t more than two flights). And the same is also true for returning home after months away. It always seems as though the closer I get to returning home, the more I ache to be there and the more I wish I could run through the hours leading up to my arrival.

A photo of me on some stairs, just to complete the metaphor.

I e-mailed my mom today to call her out for going to see Wonder Woman without me after I saw her in a photo at the movie theater. The photo included a pretty solid girl gang, featuring the top dogs of my high school’s Parent Teacher Student Association. Despite the fact that none of these women have a matching Wonder Woman tattoo with my mother, as I do, I respected her crew and promised to forgive her as long as she promised to take me again upon my return.

My mother took this photo of me while I was being permanently marked. It was truly a bonding experience to have colored needles jabbed into us together.

She got her tattoo on the small of her back so that no one will see it. Well, now everyone who reads my blog can see it (pre-color, of course).

I laughed for full minutes at the first sentence of her reply e-mail: “I told them not to post those pictures…..busted!” The follow up, “I couldn’t resist a girls night out AND wonder woman,” seemed like a weak excuse, but I took it for the price of next weekend’s movie ticket and popcorn.

Minutes later I received an e-mail from my stepfather (I decided e-mail was the easiest medium of communication to explain to the adults in my life) telling me that my brother earned fifth place for firefighter of the year in his firefighting vocational class at our high school. Attached was a blurry photo of him accepting the certificate.

Said blurry photo, featuring my brother (right) a top-notch firefighting student

Little things like these make me miss my mother, my brothers, my home and my town. I haven’t been home since Jan. 5 and these last few days of that six month stretch seem to be exponentially longer than those which have already passed. I cannot wait to take the car out for a drive down the town streets at night, when all the lights stay green and the usually-packed lanes are still. Photos on Facebook make me dream of hitting the freeways to visit the cousins who I have yet to meet, or whose months of growing up I have missed out on.

Athens is an incredibly beautiful city filled with life, energy, good food and fascinating history. And the work I have been doing, while time-consuming, is energizing and exciting. I do not really want to leave Greece, but the magnetic forces pulling my heart, mind and soul home cannot be defied. I am ready to go home.

During one of the few breaks I took this week, here I stand at a rooftop bar near the Acropolis with a great view of the Parthenon and the city. Coincidentally, I am wearing the same outfit as I was in the stairs photo that was taken nearly a year ago.

Regardless of if I break into a sprint or walk at a slow pace, time will move at the same rate and I will be home at the same time. So in my last three days here, I will just have to repress my impulses and take it step by step, enjoying the view along the way.

 

The People behind the label by Suma Hussien

I’m the worst at languages and somehow I spent the majority of this week in a Norwegian language class.

My last video story of this dialogue highlights a Norwegian non-profit organization called Drop in the Ocean. During our reporting trip to the island of Chios, I noticed the organization’s bright blue shirts in Souda – one of the most overcrowded refugee camps in Greece, and I wanted to know what they did.

Drop in the Ocean works directly inside refugee camps regulated by the National Greek Military distributing food, clothes, and non-food items. They also plan and organize different community activities for children and adults in the camp. After doing some research on specific services they offer, I found out about the Drop-in Centre. The Drop-in Centre is available for asylum seekers who have been given relocation to Norway and are interested in getting a taste of Norwegian language and culture.

After a couple days observing and filming at the Drop-in centre, I got a chance to get to know a few of the refugees that will be on their way to Norway. I met Ahmed and his 6 children who graciously invited me to their home for iftar. I met Hussain who had a laugh so similar to my cousin in Egypt. And I met Abbas.

We played a couple crazy card games.

Abbas, 17, is kind, sympathetic, and one of the most resilient people I have ever met. An unaccompanied minor, a refugee from Afghanistan, he started his journey at age 15, with the vision of being granted reunification with his brother in Norway, who has been there for 9 years. (His brother left Afghanistan when he was just 12 years old.) He told me about how he has been taking care of another 10 year old unaccompanied minor ever since they lived together in Chios.

He spent 8 months in Vial, a detention center for new arrivals run by the Greek military. Read a piece he wrote while waiting in Chios. After living in a shelter here in Athens with other unaccompanied minors, he can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. He told me the good news on Friday. On Thursday, he went to a meeting and was granted the exit stamp to Norway after a year and a half of waiting. He is just waiting for the air ticket now.

During my interview with him about his experience learning Norwegian at the Drop-in Centre, he mentioned he has been so active in learning languages during his long wait to Norway because first, there isn’t anything else to do. And second, he wants to be a journalist, specifically a photojournalist. I’ve heard him speak English, a bit of Greek, Arabic, and now he is at a conversational level in Norwegian.

Because of his interest in photography, I asked him if he wanted to take pictures with me at Monastiraki flea market. We met on a Sunday morning, got yelled at by a few Greek men, stumbled upon a hidden circus street in Psirri, and he told me about his best day in Greece at the zoo. I’m so grateful I got to spend the morning looking for little moments in the flea market with Abbas. And I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet the remarkable people beyond the title of “refugee”.

Mirror selfie with Abbas

 

Unexpected acts of Kindness by Olivia Arnold

Blogging can fulfill a lot of purposes—cataloging events, marking down memories, venting frustrations, complaining about annoyances and reflecting on our trip thus far. The past couple days have been filled with a lot of kind acts, big and small, and for this blog post, I wanted to highlight some of them.

The first big act of kindness came two days ago, when Anna Stamou, head of marketing for the Muslim Association of Greece, invited Isaac and me to her home within a day of us contacting her. Isaac and I have been working on a story about the planned construction of the first mosque in Athens (that’s right, Greece’s capital city, with a population of more than 300,000 Muslim people, has no official Islamic house of worship).

Anna is married to Naim Elghandour, the president of the Muslim Association of Greece. They’ve been married for 14 years, have two young children together and are nothing short of an incredible power couple.

Having sources, especially two people as invaluable to our story as Anna and Naim, open up their home to us was a blessing that I’ll never lose sight of. We talked around a dinner table as Naim prepared a salad, with them acting as interested in us—two journalism students from Boston—as we were in them

Me interviewing Naim Elghandour, the president of the Muslim Association of Greece, in his home in the Athens suburb Ilioupoli. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Later on, Anna and Naim, along with their 10-year-old son and three dinner guests, were getting ready to pray in their garage-turned-prayer-room. Praying is something deeply personal, and while I knew that filming the prayers would be great visually for our project, I feared intruding on their sacred time (feeling intrusive or unwanted is often the worst part of journalism).

However, those feelings barely had time to fester because Anna encouraged us to set up our cameras in their prayer room ahead of time. Having Anna welcome us there during their prayers was a relief, and an extraordinary act of kindness as well.

Anna and Naim both gave wonderful interviews, and they also invited us to sit down and eat with them during their iftar dinner (the meal after sunset during Ramadan in which Muslims break their fast). Though we were invaders in their home, they treated us with the utmost hospitality, with Naim pushing us to eat more and more (a cultural norm for Egyptians like Naim, Anna told us). We had other warm moments with their son Ishmael, who wanted to help us film (which probably wasn’t a bad idea, considering he has as much experience with camera equipment as Isaac and I do).

Isaac interviewing Anna Stamou, head of marketing for the Muslim Association of Greece. Photo by Olivia Arnold

Just as we were leaving, after a fulfilling day of reporting, I felt something dripping from my nose. When I instinctively raised my hand up to it, I saw that my nose was bleeding. We were walking toward our Uber, camera equipment in tow, and I asked Isaac if he had a tissue.

“My nose is bleeding, and I don’t have anything,” I told him.

“I have something you can use,” he said, as we loaded our tripod into the trunk of the car.

When we got in the car, it was dark and Isaac reached down into the floor as if fishing for something out of a bag. Instead, he came back with his own sock, which he had just taken off, and said, “Here, you can use this.”

This story has garnered a range of reactions, from “Aw, that’s so sweet!” (Paxtyn/Suma) to “Oh my god that’s so gross I’m going to throw up” (Hsiang-Yu). But in the moment it felt very sweet, because Isaac was willing to let me wipe my gross bloody nose all over his perfectly good sock, and he didn’t even hesitate before handing it over. It felt like a manifestation of that saying about how a selfless person is someone who would give you the shirt off his/her back.

That concluded our first day of successful video reporting on our third and final story. I think the story topic is very important, and it’s just an added bonus that I get to undergo this new challenge with my best friend.

 

Reflections by Isaac Feldberg

Out in the market with Olivia Arnold, reporter extraordinaire. Photo by Paxtyn Merten.

Approaching the end of this Dialogue, it’s been really remarkable to reflect on all the wonderful little adventures I’ve managed to experience under the banner of exploring Greece. Everyone always tells you that studying abroad is highly conducive to random escapades, but it’s difficult to really appreciate what that means until you’re, say, stumbling into the middle of Athens Pride with a massive tripod slung over your shoulder, or realizing that your academic source for an Islamic culture story is an expert on demonic possession (or having both those experiences within the space of two hours, like I did).

It’s my firm belief at this point that all the random, colorful anecdotes I’ve collected in Greece matter just as much as the more structured experiences I’ve had writing stories or touring national destinations.

Lensing the impossible beauty of Meteora. Photo by Paxtyn Merten.

Navigating the halls of Meteora and looking out over a seemingly infinite plain of wide-open air, reflecting on the losses and lives that have shaped me, was a religious experience like few I’ve been lucky enough to undergo – but then again, so was accompanying Isabelle to a Documenta art exhibit wherein a chorus of voices resonated around a shadowy, stone amphitheatre, their low but steady tones complemented by the faithful scroll of a ticker tape, flashing green, reading out a string of world stock indexes in real time. What did it mean? Who’s to say? I’m still not sure I could tell you with any degree of certainty. I was haunted by the cadence of the exhibit’s chorus, even as individual words flitted past me like 3 a.m. thoughts, far too urgent and exhilarated to pause in the name of comprehension. I was struck by the fusion of history and modernity, the impressive otherness of the arena, the rich history imbued in its stone slates, and by the cold distance of the numbers, digital candles meant only to illuminate themselves – not any greater truths about their meaning, nor the meaning of their passage, nor any noticeable impact upon those watching them, waiting, in the dark. But that’s my meaning, not the artist’s. That I’m still thinking about it a week later suggests, however, that their project was a success.

As spaces within which I was permitted to exist, however temporarily, both the exhibit and Meteora emanated with some unspoken power, a near-holy purity of expression and construction that stirred in me emotions I’m usually very capable of suppressing. Those two spaces, one a planned visit, the other a spontaneous discovery, were remarkably potent chambers of reflection – I’ll be unpacking their discrete meanings for weeks to come, perhaps longer. I’m struck as well by the companionship I had on both treks. At Meteora, I was among many, a pair of eyes in a pack of them, all of us gaping and pondering and putting camera lenses between ourselves and what we were seeing. I felt like a tourist, and perhaps it is for that reason that the sense of mild intrusion I felt exploring Meteora’s monasteries, viewing it almost cheaply, without the truly reverent standpoint of someone for whom its grandeur has inspired a lifetime of pilgrimage. By contrast, at the exhibit, I was with only one other person – a fellow lover of art who, like me, can appreciate the beauty of a silent moment. We sat and gazed, then stood and turned, and were together only in observation, for a time. There was something beyond words in the air of that space, and we both felt it. Neither of us would try to talk about it, I think we knew immediately. It was beyond us, too.

Similarly, I’ll look back on this trip and remember with vivid clarity the nighttime escapades I’ve had around Thessaloniki and Athens. Negotiating free bottles of champagne outside a club for Paxtyn’s 20th birthday is a personal victory for someone who grew up watching their father manage to barter seemingly everything down to the point of reason (and then some), as was attending Athens Pride with a fantastic group of people, enjoying a rare solidarity with the LGBT population of Athens as we danced to too much bad American pop, as well as some sensational Greek and Latin music, and witnessed incredible performances by the LGBT artists of the city, typically hidden, emerging on stage like fireworks through the full dark of midnight. But if I acknowledge those nocturnal adventures are thoroughly indelible experiences, I must also mention that some of the day-time trips I’ve been on throughout this Dialogue matter just as much. A rainy-day walk around Thessaloniki, past winding side streets and vivid graffiti, brought me peace amid a stressful week. Both my beach trips have been near-Edenic retreats from responsibility, chances for me to stretch out in the sun with friends and savor every second of relaxation.

Professionally, too, the trip has been action-packed. Sitting down across from a “reformed” neo-Nazi and hearing his take on everything from “the problems with Jews” to the triumphs of Trump made for one of the most challenging interviews of my journalistic career. Sitting across from someone who at one point represented the kind of hatred I’m socially dedicated to driving out of my community, and trying to listen impartially while getting as much information as I could, was an exercise in restraint on multiple levels. Subsequent interviews with members of Golden Dawn, Greece’s neo-Nazi party, were all the more chilling for the restriction, placed by my professor, that they were to be conducted through the icy remove of a social media message thread in Greek.

Interviewing Anna Stamou, head of marketing for the Muslim Association of Greece. Photo by Olivia Arnold.

Luckily, my next story was stimulating in ways far more spiritually replenishing than soul-crushing. In writing about Athens’ first official mosque, I was invited to a delicious iftar dinner with the head of the Muslim Association of Greece and his wife. One of the loveliest evenings of the whole trip, it was made infinitely more wonderful by the presence of Olivia Arnold, not only my favorite journalist but also my favorite person on this trip. Working with her on a story has been a long-time dream, and it’s been idyllic to handle a story so beautifully steeped in the day-to-day realities of life for Greece’s Muslim population, an unusually interesting demographic given the country’s past and present politics.

Memories are to be treasured, and this trip has given me plenty that I’ll hold onto for years. Getting ready to greet my last full day here, the word I have to keep from tumbling out of my mouth is “bittersweet,” but, if we’re being entirely honest, I’ve already learned more from this trip than I ever could have asked for. Greece opened its doors to me, and I’m all the better for it. And hopefully, with some knowledge of the country under my belt, I can return some day to do more meaningful journalistic work that will repay the people of this country in some way for having shown me that kindness.

 

Sunsetting the dialogue by Bridget Peery

Tomorrow we leave. Today we are busy.

Many of us are still tying up our last stories, making final minute edits, having food delivered to whichever location we are collectively holed up in working over our computers. As much work as I have to do, I feel very at ease and content surrounded by everyone. I will miss this.

I am so proud to be a part of all the work we have done here and it is so satisfying seeing all of our stories filling up the online magazine. There have been so many moments where I have felt like this; leaving interviews where I really connected to the person, putting together video for the first time for a Brandon Carisullo’s story and seeing it go up on the site, sitting at dinner with the friends I have made here reflecting on a long day’s work.

Even the days where I spent hours in the hotel writing and editing photos, it felt like it was all amounting to something. And now we are all seeing the fruits of the labor we have put in.

I will hold onto these experiences always. This dialogue has been one of the most, if not the most, fulfilling, challenging and teaching thing I have ever done. This place is beautiful, the people are welcoming and genuine and I am so grateful to have seen it.

There are two afternoons when I was out reporting that come to my mind first as I am reflecting on this. The first was at the Syrian refugee family’s apartment in Thessaloniki. The kids, all six of them, were so happy, inviting us to play and drawing us pictures with colored pencils and magic markers. They had so little but shared so much with us. Even after all they had been through, they were so warm and welcoming and just happy to be together.

The second was at a center for persons with mental disabilities in Athens. Walking through the building with the president of the home, hearing from them about all the things they make – pasta, cookies, ceramics, personalized rugs, dreams catchers – and how strong the sense of community is there was so moving. You could feel the all of the love and happiness that was shared in that home between everyone there. I will never forget those moments.

The other day a few of us went to Carlene’s apartment where she has the most beautiful rooftop patio with a gorgeous view of the Acropolis. As the sun was setting, Mike suggested making a time-lapse of the lights coming on around the Parthenon and the sky slowing fading into night.

I took him up on that. It’s here:

I hope you enjoy it.

June 6, 2017

A DAY ON AEGINA ISLAND BY BRIDGET PEERY

Our beach trip in Thessaloniki was sadly rained out. So when the opportunity arose for us to take a trip to Aegina island, everyone jumped at the chance. We walked down to the nearest metro station from our hotel to take the green line all the way down to the port. There are three lines here: red, green and blue. It feels just like home taking the T, except here, the windows on the train cars remain open, leaving the ears vulnerable to metallic screeching that comes from underneath. There is also graffiti everywhere here, like in Thessaloniki. Bright colors in varieties of fonts cover the outside of most of the cars that run the green line.

After about a 20 minute ride, we got off at the last stop at Piraeus. It was amazing how we all managed to stay together given all the excitement, but we did it. As soon as we got our tickets we made for the ferry, climbing all the way up to the top deck once we boarded. The ride from the port of Piraeus to Aegina takes about an hour and a half so we dozed lazily, watching the city of Athens disappear slowly as we sailed toward the island.

As we got closer to our destination, we picked up a couple dozen more passengers who wanted to accompany us from the air.

Most of them sailed alongside our vessel seamlessly, eyeing the railing for any hands that may have food outstretched toward them. We docked at the port around 1:30 p.m. Dozens of cars and mopeds sped off the ferry next to us as we walked out.

After a little discussion, it was decided that we would take cabs to Ag Marina beach for some sun. The drive across the island was beautiful. We zipped by small homes that dotted the hillsides, rows of olive trees, and dozens of churches. One of these churches was the Church of St. Nektarios, reputed to be one of the biggest in Greece.

When we finally made it to the beach, we quickly set up camp in the first open spot we could find. The water was clear and blue, a handful boats ranging in all sizes bobbed off shore. We swam, we played games, we got sun burnt.

It was a wonderful afternoon, away from deadlines and the buzz of the city. After being so busy these last couple of weeks, it has been easy to get caught up in the constant rush. This island trip was a much needed breath of fresh air, a reset button before the last week of our trip where we wrap up all of our projects.

It made leaving difficult as we packed up to take the last ferry back to Athens. Like the cherry on top, we were just in time for the most beautiful sunset.

 

SEEING THE PARTHENON BY BRIDGET PEERY

I have been daydreaming about what Greece might look like long before I got the news I would going on this trip. One of the things I was most excited to see was the Parthenon. While I do admit it is a sight that most are anxious to see, the reason I was looking forward to it was because of the many conversations I have had with my mother.

When she turned 18, she signed up for United States Air Force and after going through her basic training, one of the first places they sent her was Greece. She would tell me at length how beautiful the Parthenon was sitting on top of the Acropolis, overlooking the sprawling city of Athens. And while I always enjoyed listening to her recount those memories, I knew that I wanted to see it for myself. I couldn’t wait to climb the marble stairs and look at the towering white pillars that held so much history.

Well, I got that chance.

The climb up the smooth marble stairs of the Acropolis.

Dedicated to the goddess Athena as the patron of the city of Athens upon its completion in 432 B.C, the Parthenon stands at more than four stories high. It takes your breath away at how impressive of a structure it is.

The Parthenon, standing approximately 45 feet tall.

It was amazing to think about all the people who had passed through there. It is said that when the city was first founded, the original inhabitants lived on top of the Acropolis. Even after the city grew and spilled over into the surrounding area, when the city was under siege, they would rush back to the Acropolis to fortify themselves 150 meters above their attackers.

The view from the Parthenon museum, which sits on top of the ruins of the ancient city. The ruins were discovered when they broke ground during the construction of the museum.

The time we spent there felt all too short but I could not feel more fortunate to have seen this beautiful piece of ancient history for myself. It truly surpassed anything I had imagined and is certainly something I will write home about.

 

ROAD TRIP BY PAXTYN MERTEN

Skylines open up and close off as the boulders intermittently block my vision. Mountains appear and disappear at my window. I could not tell you how many. The bus twists and turns with the road, bringing new sights ahead at each passing moment. We are on the road, on our way across the country. We are going to Athens.

Our road trip, now long over, gave me a chance to work, relax, bond and reflect. I enjoyed the entire drive, even when my stomach turned with the bus, and when my neck could not find a good resting position.

I love long drives. My last road trip was over spring break in April, when I traveled with three of my friends to Canada and Maine. We drove, explored cities in the day and at night, hiked trails in Acadia National Park and talked for endless hours about countless topics. I also usually drive to the midwest at least every other summer to visit family in Wisconsin. And I often go on smaller journeys within my home state to camp and visit other family

My friends and I hiking at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine.

My boyfriend, Max, sits on a hill in Badlands National Park in South Dakota during our summer 2016 road trip.

A bison crosses the road in front of my car during my summer 2016 road trip.

A bridge on the John Wayne Trail in Ellensburg, Washington, a small country town two hours from my home.

This ride was different than most of the road trips I’ve been on, primarily because it was only two days long, took place on a bus and included 20 people. But much of it was the same. We visited new cities and small towns, we explored nature and history and I took hours to myself to reflect on everything my mind could reach within the timespan.

Eventually, when the ride got long and we had been too engrossed in ourselves for too long, three of us were convinced to play cards with a fourth. Only he knew how to play the game, so the rest of us had fun exploring the rules and attacking each other. We used spare cards as coins, a hat as a bowl and my legs as a table, which paints a pretty detailed picture of the innovation this study abroad experience has demanded so far.

After this endeavor, we returned to our work, sleep and reflection. I transcribed notes from interviews and took breaks to have deep talks with myself and distract my mind from impending carsickness. I thought mostly about my future, one that I previously had planned to the T but which I must reevaluate due to newly discovered opportunities. It’s strange to think how much change is happening right now in my life, and how much can and will continue to occur over the next few years. During my time within the metal and cloth confines of our big blue bus, I came to the realization that I have no idea how much of my original plan I will retain. I cannot predict the surprises that may arise any more than I can predict the motions of the bus as it lumbers down the road.

In what seems like minutes, we arrived here. Athens. I walked down the stairs of the bus, grab my bag and walk through the glass doors of my new home for the next two weeks.

 

THE PARTHENON BY PAXTYN MERTEN

The Parthenon. The top of the world, or so it felt. The closest place to the mythological Greek gods in all of Athens. I always knew visiting this historical site would be cool, but I could not have anticipated the pure awe I felt while walking up to the ancient columns and looking down at the city below.

I stand at the base of the Parthenon. Photo by Olivia Arnold

The view of the Parthenon from the museum below.

The temple itself was massive. I cannot imagine how people who lived thousands of years ago could have created something so large and so lasting. As I walked along it, I understood the fear and respect that the Athenians had for the gods, and particularly for their patron goddess Athena. It was additionally exciting to understand that all of the honor and praise the Athenians had while building the Parthenon was aimed toward a woman, a goddess, considering so many people’s praise today is aimed at a god portrayed as a man. It was refreshing to see a woman figure was held to such high esteem among the people of her city.

This concept was repeated in the friezes, located in the top floor of the acropolis museum at the base of the hill where the Parthenon is located. The friezes, or marble story depictions which were located at the top of the temple, were unreal. A part of the small model of the frieze’s original condition depicted the battle between Poseidon and Athena to become the patron god of the city, with their fellow gods and goddesses carved in on either side. In these, all of the gods and goddesses look powerful and Athena especially looks fierce yet calm, strong yet wise. The marble statues showed the way the ancient Greeks perceived their protectors, truly providing a glimpse into their long-gone lives.

The depiction of Poseidon and Athena fighting to become patron god of the city.

The single most impressive thing about the Acropolis, the high point if the city where the Parthenon sits beside several other ancient buildings, is the view. The Greeks truly found the place of the gods, as you can see everything from the spot where the ancient buildings sit. The view was among the best I have seen in my life: I felt like I was able to see all of Greece from my one spot above the city.

The view from the top of the Acropolis.

Standing at the base of the Parthenon made me feel small yet powerful, curious yet understanding. I could spend hours up there, looking down at the city and admiring the views. More than anything, I hope to return to that spot of peace, awe and beauty.

 

Tourist Troubles by Suma Hussien

I confess, it’s a real shame that I have never watched Hercules. My greek mythology knowledge is nonexistent. But as I write this, I hear boisterous thunderclaps. I quickly open up “The Gods of Olympus” book that I purchased at the Acropolis museum to find out more about the Greek god of thunder, Zeus. Zeus and his gods lived on the fortress of Mount Olympus where they would build their golden palaces. We visited this fortress as a last hurrah of our time in Thessaloniki.

Storytime! In the  Battle of Titans…(in short, this was a power struggle between the elder gods and the younger generation).

“Heavy black clouds had blotted out the sun, the day grew dark and the wind increased to hurricane force, howling like a thousand devils. The clouds scuddled across the sky and buffeted against one another as if they, too were at war. Suddenly, the earth was shaken by Zeus’ awesome thunderclaps, and blinding flashes of lightning split the sky asunder.”

(This reading experience is pretty amazing as I get to hear the crackling thunder here in Athens, Greece while reading about the Battle of Titans.)

Not sure what exactly goes on during the ten-year battle, but the Olympians are the victors! Zeus and his gods lived on the fortress of Mount Olympus where they would build their golden palaces. We had a chance to visit this fortress as a last hurrah of our time in Thessaloniki.

Our modern day Olympian victor.

I feel the most connected to a country when I get out of the city. Of course food, nightlife, street performers are all important, but it’s often hard to find those quiet places untouched by restaurants, hotels, and businesses that have been developed because of the latest travel fad. The Parthenon is a phenomenon, but unfortunately tourists get in the way, we get in the way. I have felt similarly during my visits to the Pyramids, the Stonehenge, Eiffel Tower, and most recently Meteora. Although not as well known as the previous mentions, there were many tourists at this UNESCO site as well. Meteora is still a spectacular site, but there’s a type of presence that oftentimes seems to be missing as I visit these well-known sites.

This week I hope to discover the quieter places of Athens. 9 days left.

 

A Sunday Buzz by Suma Hussien

I am so grateful for this group of people I have gotten to know over this past almost 4 weeks. I decided to make a small change in my life and this group made the whole experience so memorable. Here’s an inside look into our dialogue family:

 

 

The impressive view from Meteora, overlooking a sleepy Greek town over 500 meters below. Photo by Isaac Feldberg.

Meditations in Metéora by Isaac Feldberg

There’s a distance to the grandeur of Meteora. Even while sanding atop one of its craggy, monolithic pillars, inside one of the magnificent monasteries perched upon them like feathers on the tips of long knives, it’s difficult to fully accept that your body has traveled to a location so lofty, or that your mind has any right to occupy space in the face of such breathtaking natural design.

That’s awe for you. How dare someone as small and inconsequential as I am endeavor to travel such cosmically sacred ground? Meteora – literally meaning “middle of the sky,” “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above” – is an earthbound wonder, one seemingly suited as a home for gods more than mortals. Being there, even amid throngs of tourists armed with Nikon cameras and sunscreened noses, I felt a curious sense of intrusion, a sensation that I was draining the place of some small sliver of dignity through roaming its expanses.

An interloper in the heavens above. Photo by Paxtyn Merten.

The reason for this, I’ve since figured out, aligns with the key to Meteora’s otherworldly aura, and consequently a kind of poetry that’s implicit in its contradictions. Building houses of worship in the clouds, the monks of Meteora very intentionally created a holy location entrenched in the pious idea of limited access, a refuge for faith at once within grasp and dramatically out of reach. On foot, visitors can ascend past monastery walls, running their hands along coarse brick and smooth wall paintings, basking beneath twisted iron chandeliers and vivid frescos. Yet, looking through Meteora’s windows or gazing out over its railings to the sweeping plains and mountains surrounding it, flicking one’s eyes down to spot the peppered traces of human civilization below, communicates a sense of staggering vastness. From such great heights can be observed miles of open air and lush countryside; the kind of perspective looking out over Earth in the heavens above gives you is second to none.

Visiting a place as unshakeably magnificent as Meteora was a holy experience for me – and unexpectedly so, given that I’m someone who identifies as an atheist. I’ve been told this is not uncommon, that there’s something about Meteora that centers the soul. Entering the monasteries and exploring the level of craftsmanship and artistry etched permanently within their architecture had a curious effect on me, though I’m not sure quite how to articulate what that was – and I’m not sure if I really need to.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m an individual shaped by empathy but also tragedy (hopefully not in equal measure). In 2013, I was essentially broken by the death of my younger sister, Tabitha. Her passing taught me, too young, that the world is a cruel place, a swirling maelstrom of chaos and violence that lashes out at random, taking some lives and changing others without so much as a moment’s warning. That’s how the world works. It’s not fair, but what is? But as much as losing her shaped who I am by imparting to me a rather fatalistic view of the world, it also instilled in me a sense of empathy for others, and a desire to do good where I could, help the people in need of support, make the positive contributions to society that I could. The world might not be good all that often – but why can’t I be? What’s stopping me from doing good, and sending light and love out into that not-good-all-that-often world?

I’m rambling. Back to Meteora. The point I’m trying to get to here resides somewhere between what that holy spot symbolizes as a location and what my visit symbolized to me. Days later, I’m still gathering nebulous thoughts, so I’ll cut right to what I know with utter certainty: namely, that Meteora is a place of extraordinary healing.

Inside one monastery, soaked in the white daylight admitted by an overlooking window, one can find two boxes filled with strips of paper. It’s here that visitors can place written notes containing the names of loved ones – both those you wish good health, and those who have been lost to everything but memory. These names, written in both English and Greek, are then read by the monks during morning prayer, before visiting hours.

That such a mechanism exists, in my view, gets to the heart of what makes Meteora beautiful. It’s a holy place physically far-flung from civilization and spiritually sacred to those whose faith it stands as a monument to. And yet, in reading those names aloud, in throwing open its doors to busloads of tourists, Meteora is also as strangely welcoming a holy place as I’ve encountered. Its view of faith, in practice if not principle, is nondenominational, and its aura is one of community. Perhaps the reason Meteora spoke to me, specifically, is that its holiness is both plainly stated and essentially public – it wants to serve as a geographic catharsis for people of all faiths or none at all, but to all of those who want to experience a sense of belonging to something far greater than themselves. It wants people to step outside of their lives for a moment and look out at the world opening up before them. It wants people to believe in the truth that they are one small component of a larger existence, and that, regardless of what’s real, there is solidarity to be found in an open community. And that’s a kind of spirituality I can get on board with.

A note for my little sister. I miss you. Photo by Isaac Feldberg.

 

Documenta by Isaac Feldberg

Meeting Greeks has been one of the most curiously difficult aspects of participating in this Dialogue, a fact made doubly vexing on account of my roommate, who studied abroad in Thessaloniki during his freshman year and still maintains ties with multiple Greeks scattered across the country. Between the language barrier and the high-intensity nature of this trip, finding the time to build any substantial or even cursory connections with Greeks in Athens and Thessaloniki has been challenging, and that in of itself has been a rather disheartening experience.

Luckily, my trip got a much-needed infusion of Greek culture on Sunday, when I accompanied a classmate to Documenta, a German-import art exhibition series that (on that day) took the form of a large, gazebo-esque tent structure within which a group of random Greeks were seated at different tables with perfect strangers and united in enjoying a steak lunch, cooked by a remarkably scrupulous chef within the tent. Though I went to take photos during this event, it really surprised me how quickly the workers at Documenta pried my eye away from the viewfinder and plunked me down at a table. Suddenly, I was working past language barriers with Greeks (and a German and a Frenchman).

 

HELLO ATHENS BY OLIVIA ARNOLD

An ancient market in Athens lies in the center of the city. Photo by Olivia Arnold

After a two-day road trip, we finally reached Greece’s capital city and the hotel we will be calling home for the next two weeks. Yesterday marked our first full day in Athens, and it seems like everyone is collectively overjoyed to be back in the heart of a bustling city.

On the way to Athens, we stopped at Meteora—a 14th to 16th century monastery built into tall rock formations—and Delphi—a town famous for its 4th century BC Temple of Apollo, home to the all-important oracle. Both visits were wonderful, but Meteora was especially fantastic, from the breathtaking views of buildings perched on rock formations (Meteora literally means “suspended in the air”) to the colorful artwork and religious artifacts decorating the inside.

Only six of the original 24 monasteries remain at Meteora. Photo by Olivia Arnold

The day was so serene and it felt, quite literally, like a breath of fresh air; a welcome break from the hectic mood of our final week in Thessaloniki. During this trip, we’ve all had to report on some difficult issues and cope with significant amounts of stress, but the magnificent nature at Meteora helped clear my mind. It put things into perspective about just how beautiful and amazing the world can be.

Carlene and me enjoying the wondrous views from Meteora. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Now at the beginning of our second full day in Athens, I have not gotten to explore the city much yet because Professor Carlene Hempel and I devoted yesterday to putting the final edits on my story. The process was a lot more complicated than usual—as it involved understanding complex asylum processes, sensitively handling heart-wrenching stories of escape and survival by refugees and overcoming multiple language barriers. But after a couple rounds of edits and four hours on the rooftop deck of Carlene’s apartment last night, we finally settled on a version we were both happy with around 1 a.m. The story should be going live sometime today, complete with videos from Suma and Ellie.

Carlene and Suma hard at work last night on a story. Photo by Olivia Arnold

Though I haven’t wandered Athens much yet, I still picked up some first impressions. I love the unique vibe of the city. I love being right in the center of it (as opposed to 20 minutes outside like we were in Thessaloniki). I love how ancient monuments and markets stand next to modern buildings and 15-foot murals.

I want to see all the art, music and attractions in the city, and try out all the incredible food. In addition to the awesome sushi dinner I had with Suma on Wednesday, I ate last night at Nolan, a Greek-Japanese and Michelin-starred restaurant (which I didn’t know until yesterday means a very, very good restaurant).

Gwen, Suma and I eat at Nolan. Food not pictured because we ate it too fast. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

There is so much I want to experience, and I’m nervous that we only have about a week to report for our final stories. But I’m also excited to start on my newest endeavor—a video story with Isaac about the first mosque being built in Athens. I’m also thrilled to live in a hotel for the next two weeks as I’ve always wanted to since watching The Suite Life of Zack & Cody as a child.

I know the next two weeks are going to fly by, and I can’t wait to see what this new city has to offer.

 

ONE YEAR LATER, AT THE PARTHENON AGAIN BY OLIVIA ARNOLD

The Parthenon is an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Construction on it began in 427 BC. Photo by Olivia Arnold

Almost exactly a year ago, I went on a cruise around the Mediterranean with my family that made several stops in Greece—one of them, of course, being Athens. With only a day there, we did what all tourists do and headed to the Acropolis.

Two days ago, our group toured the Acropolis and its archeological museum. Finding yourself in the same spot a year later but thousands of miles away from home is a strange thing. I couldn’t help but remember the last time I was there, and think about how my life has changed since I first looked at the Parthenon with fresh eyes.

My brother, mother and me in front of the Parthenon in July 2016. Photo courtesy Olivia Arnold

A year ago, I had just finished up my sophomore year at Northeastern and my first co-op at The Boston Globe. I was newly in a relationship with my boyfriend, who I’ve now been dating for over a year. I hadn’t yet tackled my junior year or started as an editor and later editor-in-chief of The Huntington News. I hadn’t moved into my first apartment or accepted my upcoming fall co-op at the Institute of Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development in Jodhpur, India.

Sitting in the museum, I remembered the wonderful tour that my mom, dad, brother and grandma received around the building, and the blazing heat that we endured when climbing the steps to the top of the Acropolis. I felt a pang of homesickness wishing that they were there with me again.

At first, when I heard this Dialogue was going to be in Greece, I was slightly disappointed that it was in a country I had already been to. But now four weeks into our Dialogue, I’ve realized that these two experiences could not be more different.

Our visit to the Parthenon reinforced this idea for me. Even though I was walking around the same museum and looking at the same ancient temple, I was experiencing it with different people. And I was a slightly different person myself. It’s like reading the same book twice—you always pick up on something new, or at least gain a deeper understanding or appreciation.

One year later, some parts of life have changed for me, but one thing remained the same: the Parthenon was magical.

Me and fellow student Luke Dean in front of the Parthenon. Photo by Suma Hussien

May 30, 2017

CLIMBING MOUNTAINS: MID-TRIP REFLECTIONS BY OLIVIA ARNOLD

On Sunday, our group hiked part of Mount Olympus, the highest point in Greece. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

It’s that dreaded point of our Dialogue: the (slightly more than) halfway point. Three jam-packed weeks have passed, the most recent week or so marking so many memorable moments, both big and small.

At the end of last week, we toured the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum on Friday and visited underground royal tombs preserved from the 300s in Vergina on Saturday (with our group almost getting kicked out of the second museum for unknowingly taking prohibited flash photographs).

Paxtyn appreciating some ancient artifacts at the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum (the one that allowed photographs). Photo by Olivia Arnold

Sunday and Monday, I went to Chios to report from the Souda refugee camp, one of the most overcrowded refugee camps in the country. In Chios, I witnessed so much suffering and what it looks like when the international community turns its back on people fleeing their conflict-ridden homes.

We woke up around 5 a.m. Monday for our second day of reporting in Chios. Here, you can see the coast of Turkey, located just 4 miles away, where many refugees journey from. Photo by Olivia Arnold

But I also met so many people to be grateful for: the courageous refugees (Abdullah, Salem, Sobhi, Jaser and Aifa) who shared their heartbreaking stories with us, the dedicated volunteers (Leslie and Helena) who support life-saving programs, the refugees working at the Chios People’s Kitchen who prepared an amazing lunch for us, Greek restaurant owner Kostas who perseveres in the face of community backlash for helping refugees and Oya and Hassan, a married couple we met over dinner, who are also Turkish journalists who served 10 and 16 years, respectively, in prison for their journalism. All in less than 24 hours, I observed the best and the worst that humanity has to offer.

The meal prepared for us by the Chios People’s Kitchen, a volunteer refugee-run kitchen that offers cooking courses and meals for schoolchildren in the Souda refugee camp. Photo by Olivia Arnold

The week didn’t slow down from there. The past six days included touring several downtown markets, tasting my first Turkish delight, lighting a candle in an old church to say a quick prayer and then being hugged by a nun there, community leader Father Athinagoras kissing us all on the head, learning about the Greek Orthodox church in class, attending a lecture by refugee crisis researcher Panagiotis Paschalidis, ending our final class with a toast and some really strong alcohol at 11 a.m., going out to the bars for only the second time since I’ve been here, accomplishing a strenuous (but totally worth it) 5+ hour hike in the rain of Mount Olympus, home of the gods, and filming my roommate shaving her head (she looks amazing). Also: a lot of good food, a little bit of sleep and a lot of coffee.

Isabelle and I on our hike of Mount Olympus, home of the gods. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Tomorrow will be our final full day in Thessaloniki, and it seems as though we’re leaving just as we were all starting to feel comfortable. But I’m excited for the next adventure: to live in Athens and start reporting on my next story (the topic of which is to be determined).

Despite all the fun, the past few weeks have been a lot harder than I imagined they would be. I certainly didn’t expect this trip would make me question my values as much as it has, and make me think so much about right versus wrong.

I know that all these experiences—big and small, good and bad—have changed me. At the risk of using yet another cliche, this trip has definitely involved climbing mountains (and not just the physical kind).

 

FROM BEING STRANGERS TO BECOMING A REPORTING TEAM BY OLIVIA ARNOLD

Nearly three weeks have passed since our group first boarded a flight together from Boston to Thessaloniki. At the time, I was friends with just three people in the group of 18 students. The others I had only met a couple times, or not at all.

Our group at Boston Logan International Airport on May 8—our first day together. Photo courtesy Mike Beaudet.

People who travel together on Northeastern Dialogue of Civilizations always get close. How can you not? For four to five weeks straight, you are living, eating, studying and socializing with the same group of people.

But on this Dialogue, I think we’ve surpassed the standard level of group bonding (if you don’t believe me, there’s a post incoming on Suma’s blog about how we all helped shave her head today).

There’s something special about working on our stories together—watching people’s strengths and talents shine, having our collective blood, sweat and tears come together to produce something wonderful.

Bridget came with me to interview Maria Bozoudi, an adjunct professor at the American College of Thessaloniki, about start-up culture in Greece. Photo by Olivia Arnold

I’m amazed every time someone selflessly offers to help another person with their story (whether that be providing photographs or videos, giving a good pre-Carlene edit or tagging along to interviews and splitting the cab fares). Just check out Cody’s profile about 70-year-old classical guitar maker Giannis Paleodimopoulos in the Greek village of Kato Scholari. The piece is incredibly well-written, but it truly comes to life with video by Gwen and photos by Sydne.

My first published story on Greece’s youth “brain drain” would have been nothing without Suma’s photographs and graphic. It was great to be able to work together on the story, mainly from our respective beds for hours on the day leading up to our deadline.

Suma took this shot of me interviewing an Aristotle University student about Greece’s job prospects. Photo by Suma Hussien

Last weekend in Chios, I got to see Suma in action again, but this time as a videographer (photos, graphics, filming, editing—is there anything this girl can’t do?) I also worked closely for the first time with Ellie, who served as our on-camera reporter and producer.

Chios was an intense reporting experience, one which left me grappling with feelings of guilt and tough questions concerning morality. But I am thankful that I had Suma and Ellie there by my side for the reporting and in the days following.

I was (and still am) in awe of the two of them. They are both immensely talented, intimidatingly smart and relentlessly hardworking. But beyond being good reporters, they are two of the most friendly, empathetic and nonjudgmental people I have ever met. Having them to talk to after the Chios trip, when we were all feeling the weight of our work, was invaluable in my processing of it all.

Ellie and Suma “working” on transcribing our interviews. Photo by Olivia Arnold

It’s fascinating to watch our group transform from strangers to a fully functioning reporting team. I’m now so comfortable with certain people that I have to step back and remind myself: you didn’t know this person three weeks ago.

And when you think about it, that’s really a beautiful thing. At first, we had to work together because our grades depended on it. But collaborating for the sake of our stories has been nothing short of a magical process, one that introduced me to incredible fellow reporters and, hopefully, to some long-term friends.

 

Visiting with a refugee family by Bridget Peery

I had a hard time writing this week. Not from the lack of things to write about, but for the lack of how to say them. It’s been the hardest week so far when it comes to wearing my journalist hat.

I knew the kind of work we would be doing here when I signed up for this. The title of the dialogue did, after all, have the word “crisis” in it. But I wasn’t expecting it to affect me in the way that it did. In fact, I think the different experiences we have had these last few days have affected all of us on this dialogue in ways we weren’t anticipating.

On Tuesday, I went with Paxtyn, Gwen and Danny on a visit to the home of a Syrian refugee family. A family of eight, miraculously all still together, had been living in a one bedroom apartment for the last three months. For a few hours that day, we listened while the father took us through their experiences over the last few years. They had been in multiple camps in two different countries before landing in Greece. All the while, the father tried to find some way to provide for his wife and their six children, whose ages ranged from 3 months to 16 years old. Here in Greece, there had been a push to get families out of the camps and into better living arrangements.

But the apartment they were in now also came with a different set of troubles. The ceiling had holes in it where rainwater fell through, the wall outlets had exposed wires that could shock you if you touched them, mice were not an uncommon sight, there was one bed (with no sheets) for them all to share.

Despite all of this and all they had been through, they were welcoming and amazingly open. They made us tea, offered to cook for us, and gave us their entire afternoon. They wanted to tell their story. They wanted someone who would listen. And all of this is incredible. I am moved that a family that has been through so much trauma still has so much hope for the future. What stays with me the most is the happiness that emanated from the kids. The father sat with Paxtyn, Gwen, Danny and the translator, Alix, for the first few hours of our visit. I followed the children with my camera into another room after they had gotten restless.

As with all kids, the energy that they had was boundless. They ran to and from showing me different things in the apartment (which really was not all that much), pictures they had drawn and games that they played. They posed for photos making silly faces and then immediately tugged on my pant leg to see what I had taken. The little boy, who spoke no english, went to the bathroom to tidy up his hair at one point; he slicked it back with water like he was in Grease. When we all took a break from the interview, the children invited us to kick around a ball outside. We played catch and monkey in the middle as they ran around in the small courtyard, laughing and smiling.

Playing outside the apartment during a break from the interview. Photo by Bridget Peery.

I have to admit, I struggled with photographing them for the story. In a few weeks time, I will be home in the US, going about my daily life, while the future is uncertain for this family. It was difficult to accept that we were dropping in and asking so much from them only to have to move on so quickly. But as hard as it can be to cover something like this, it is just as important. Their story, and the many others that have been told to us on this trip, deserve to be known. And if they are willing to open up and share these painful moments in their lives so that they do not go unnoticed, no matter the size of the audience, then we have a responsibility to write them.

Paxtyn took this shot of me while I was trying to get everyone to look at my camera. Photo by Paxtyn Merten.

 

Benefits of photo assignments in Thessaloniki by Bridget Peery

Time is starting to feel like it is moving faster. It is hard to believe that we are essentially more than half way through the trip. We leave Thessaloniki for Meteora on Tuesday for an overnight stop before we continue to Athens. As you may have seen me mention, Meteora is where the monasteries in the sky can be found. And I cannot wait to photograph it. It’s also on my Photo Bucket List which I’ve been plugging away at diligently.

As I have been finding out, photography has become the main focus of my work here. Yes, I will be writing two stories which will finish up in Athens but it is the photography work I have been doing that I am enjoying the most. It has given me the opportunity to play a little part in other stories people are working on, to see Greece in so more unique ways than if I had chosen to only work on my own. It has been a bit tough trying to balance time on all of these, but it has been more than worth it.

I wish I could tell you how many miles Cody and I walked to get photos for his anarchist story. We have probably walked this city three times over. But in doing so, we stumbled across little parts of the city we would have never have otherwise.

One of the many street art gems throughout the city. Photo by Bridget Peery.

And with Asia’s antiquities story, I got see a column that has existed in the city since 323 B.C., among other things. Unfortunately, the column hasn’t been kept in the best condition and is not given the proper attention it deserves. We basically walked by it the first time. But what a mind bending thing to mull over, stumbling upon something that old.

Column of Snakes, one of the oldest existing columns in the city.

Then there was the Syrian refugee family we spent time with this week. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to photograph. But I was, and still am, moved by the kindness and warmth of that family. They had gone through so much, but were so incredibly open and hopeful.

Photo of the Syrian refugee family. Photo by Bridget Peery.

I also had the opportunity to assist Brandon with a few stories. I am happy to report that one of these stories turned me into an Aris Ultra fan. I’ve been to a basketball AND soccer game. Seeing how passionate the fans were, regardless of how their team played, was truly something I’ve never seen before.

Danny, Brandon and I at the Aris soccer game wearing our new team jerseys. Photo by Gwen Schanker.

It’s been a true pleasure exploring Thessaloniki in its many facets. While I will be sad to bid it farewell, I am excited to see what new adventures – and photo ops – Athens has in store.

 

Story searching and Boston-trained tattoo artists by Paxtyn Merten

I didn’t have a viable second story pitch, so Carlene told me to go out into the city to find one. While I still came up short, I did learn a lot about the life of a 30-something tattoo artist.

I happened into a piercing parlor sometime around 4 p.m. Thursday to ask the workers if there had been any recent trends in business that were particularly interesting. One worker introduced me to another, who took me next door to talk to a tattoo guy – Christos Tsintsaris – because he spoke better English.

The moment a word escaped my mouth, he laughed and said, “American?” As it turns out, Christos went to Boston University and studied the fine arts, majoring in oil painting. I was blown away that he studied in the same city I go to school in, so I probed deeper into his life to learn how he ended up in this tattoo shop on a side street in downtown Thessaloniki.

Christos was raised in Thessaloniki and went to the States for college, after which he worked in several states and countries doing painting and graphic design. He eventually returned to Thessaloniki because it was his home.

While he did some graphic design jobs in the city, they didn’t pay well and the economy was (and still is) bad, so he started to get into tattooing. Christos said he likes tattooing because it is art that becomes a part of another person, something I related to as I glanced down at the Wonder Woman symbol wrapped in the Lasso of Truth above my ankle.

A tattoo of the Wonder Woman symbol wrapped in the Lasso of Truth, her primary weapon. My mother and I have the same one, which we got together at a tattoo parlor back at home in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.

He showed me a couple of his paintings around the shop and said some of the originals were in galleries across the United States, particularly in California. The paintings were very much in the style of realism and I was impressed by their detail and color. I almost wished I was ready for another tattoo, but it is probably best for my wallet that I wasn’t.

As Christos showed me his art, he suddenly perked up as if he’d had a “eureka” moment. He began to talk faster and with more energy, telling me about how he had learned about an American man who covers and removes people’s gang-related tattoos for free so they can get jobs and move on with their lives. Christos researched the man further, eventually contacting him and joining his team. Now, if someone in the greater Thessaloniki area needs to get a gang or neo-nazi related tattoo removed, Christos can provide the free service.

I was excited to hear his story and intrigued by the services he had signed on to provide. Alas, the apparent lack of gang activity or massive tattoos in Thessaloniki made this too small to be a standalone story. It was, however, just enough to be an interesting blog post and a lesson in the random cool people you can meet when you wander into shops alone during the city’s naptime. And, of course, reinforcement that an interesting story is just one conversation away.

 

Covering crisis: what it’s like to report on refugees by Paxtyn Merten

“Refugees Welcome” is spray painted onto a building in the neighborhood where we visited one family of Syrian refugees. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

I’m still not sure how to feel about the stories I’ve collected for our coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece. It’s a strange concept: I go into people’s temporary houses, they tell me about some of their most terrible life experiences, I write it down, I ask questions and then I leave them. I will probably never see these families again, despite knowing intimate details about their lives and having spent hours in their living spaces.

I will also never be able to empathize with what they have been through. I can listen to their stories and I can try to paint a mental image of their hardships in Syria, journeys to Greece and months in camps and apartments. And I can write about these stories. But I can never understand what the families have experienced, nor can I feel the way they felt when they faced tragedy and hardship.

I can only tell the people’s stories in an attempt to try to make readers understand their realities.

Like the story of when one woman had a C-section as a refugee in Iraq to give birth to twin girls. When the doctor sewed her back up, he left the surgery scissors in her stomach. He had to perform another surgery to get the scissors out, and she had to spend a month in the hospital while her husband stayed at the camp and taxied between there and her hospital daily.

As the husband recounted this horrifying tale, he laughed. Most of the refugees laugh when they talk about the worst of what has happened to them. And so I laugh along with them, despite the fact that I would never even crack a smile if I read their stories in the paper. Their stories are enough to keep you up at night, wondering what butterfly’s wings could have possibly beat the wrong way to cause something so horrible.

I’m not yet sure how to feel, but I know that when I speak with the people living in refugee camps and government-funded apartments, I feel connected to them on a human level. They trust me to tell their stories, and I have a responsibility to share them and bear witness to their troubles. We have conversations that I will never forget.

One of our photographers, Bridget, snaps a portrait of one of the Syrian refugee families that we visited in their Thessaloniki apartment. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

Guilt has become a close friend of mine as I age and gradually learn more about the world. I sometimes lay in my bed and stare at the ceiling, wondering how it could be that despite all odds, I was somehow born at this time, in this place, with this life. I ponder Lisel Mueller’s poem, Alive Together, which explores the concept that our chances of being born in any given situation are “statistically nonexistent.”

I feel guilty that chance brought me to a peaceful suburban life while others are born into war-torn countries or in refugee camps after their families are forced to leave the place of their ancestors. I feel guilty being a college student knowing that college won’t even be a consideration for many young adults living in war zones and impoverished areas. I feel guilty being among my friends and family when so many others are uprooted and have to leave their loved ones behind.

Our teaching assistant, Danny, also wrote about guilt in his blog post about visiting refugees, and many of his thoughts reflected my own. The families we talk to want their stories to be told, and as journalists and storytellers it is our job to show others the truth about what we are seeing, hearing and experiencing.

I have not truly felt any additional guilt while being here because I am doing my job and having organic conversations. I am but a pair of ears and scribbling hands. It would be selfish to let guilt impact my ability to function regularly while I am here in Greece, presented with this incredible opportunity to try to make a difference in the minds of others.

Danny throws a ball with one of the children in a family of Syrian refugees, who live in an apartment in Thessaloniki. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

So, instead, I enjoy the company of those I interview. I listen intently to their (translated) stories, ask open questions, laugh with them and accept the tea and food they offer me. I express my gratitude for their hospitality and openness. And, when I leave them, I understand that I will return to my student apartments and eventually to my stable home, and they may very well still be in this limbo, and I will never see them again or even know how their story ends.

These will add to the stock of things that I think about on long walks, or while I lie awake feeling guilty for having a bed. But they will also add to my perspective on the world and my understanding of others. I will carry them with me everywhere I go, and I will simply hope that the experiences will bring something positive into the lives of the refugees, too.

 

A slower Greece by Suma Hussien

I was looking forward to this hike all week. Seeing the outside world was glorious after being cooped up on the fifth floor with Olivia working on transcriptions and edits. Today we walked along the streams and through the woods of Mount Olympus, the tallest mountain in Greece. Although we didn’t reach a summit or any peak, the destination didn’t matter. The 4 hour walk through the fog and ferns, under the canopy of pine trees as the rain showered the forest was exactly what I needed.

Inspired by Norway’s slow television, I created a short montage of the beautiful nature I got to experience this week. (It’s actually not too slow, so check it out!)

 

Taking time to buzz and pause by Suma Hussien

To mark the halfway point of the trip, I decided to shave my head. Well, this isn’t exactly true, I have been meaning to shave my head for a while now but I chose today to do it. The group gathered in my room on the fifth floor to share the experience. I’m not sure how many people helped out with the buzz, but it was really nice to have the support and laughter in the room. As beautifully stated by my fellow classmate, roommate, and soul sister Olivia Arnold, “There’s something special about working on our stories together — watching people’s strengths and talents shine, having our collective blood, sweat and tears come together to produce something wonderful.” I do believe that this process of discovery and creating has forged beautiful connections on this trip.

It’s interesting how just shedding some heavy locks of black hair can make you feel so bold and happy, maybe it has something to do with how much I love when people pet my head. Either way, I hope to carry this momentum for the duration of the trip.

We are heading to Meteora and then to Athens where we will complete the last two weeks of our trip. A lot of experiences have been quickly coming and going and it is important to really take a second to pause, and evaluate how I am solidifying each experience.

This week I had the opportunity to go to the island of Chios with a small team to report on the refugee crisis. It was definitely a transformative experience to say the least and I do believe I haven’t processed it entirely. But to simplify what I learned, the most powerful part of reporting is to be the most present, sincere listener. And this isn’t easy to do all the time. As a videographer/photographer for the trip, I had to focus on many visual and audio elements simultaneously, such as framing an interview or making sure both the interviewee and interpreter were both being recorded on the microphone. On the reporting end of it, my team had to make sure they were collecting the vital information needed to accurately tell the story of the people who graciously shared their ongoing struggles with a group of strangers. Coupled by the fact that we had only a day on the island, our biggest enemy was time.

We have had many discussions this week regarding the ethics of covering the refugee crisis. In the end, although ethics is confusing and complex, a major part of it has to do with the foundation of one’s motivation. Where is my headspace at as I take on a very sensitive story? Am I in the position of giving my full capacity as a listener? Or am I in the position of take, take, take?

I hope to continue to perfect the art of deep and compassionate listening, where the ultimate goal is to seek to understand. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You listen with one purpose, to help him or her to empty his heart.”

And as complex as this crisis is, listening is sometimes the only thing we can do.

 

Not all those who wander… by Isaac Feldberg

This abandoned parking structure was one of many stops on my impromptu, rainy-day tour of Thessaloniki.

There’s something about walking in the rain that’s always appealed to me. Luckily, Thessaloniki has been gracious enough to indulge me this week, with multiple rain showers so torrential they’re as deafening as they are drenching. And on each and every occasion, I’ve at the very least snuck outside to spend a little time letting water wash over my face and trickle through my hair.

Saturday was different. That morning, a day after an all-day writing marathon extravaganza/torturefest, I was struggling with a whole host of existential crises and ideological quandaries, personal and professional, and decided that I needed to hang back from the often intoxicating group dynamic of this trip in order to establish some breathing room for myself. It turned out to be a remarkably good decision. Heading out (sans raincoat, because I’m smart like that) into the downpour, I experienced the same flood of revelations one is sometimes deluged by under a showerhead.

Strolling slick streets, feeling the sodden chill of water splashing up around the sides of my shoes, letting my hair become slippery and soaked through in the downpour, I realized first of all that I am stupefyingly good at denying myself what I need.

Since arriving in Thessaloniki, I’ve been go-go-go in terms of basically everything – writing, critical thinking, conversations, outings, and all other assorted manner of social pastime – in my daily routine. As much as I’ve loved befriending so many of the exceptional journalists and wonderful people enrolled in this crazy trip as I am, I haven’t left much room for myself. Under those conditions, my brain acts essentially like it’s starved for oxygen, which might explain how a 2500-word story required a full 18 hours of undiverted squatting in the common room, with a priority on occupying the space when no one else would be around. It also explains why, amid all the excitement and intrigue of being abroad, I’ve been fighting depressive feelings and fatigue much harder than I had at home in the weeks preceding takeoff.

Looking up to take in the heaving architecture of parking structures and office blocks, I for the first time on this trip began devising a plan to allot more time for myself – to read a book (“For Whom the Bell Tolls” is sitting on my nightstand), watch a movie (“Alien: Covenant” will be seen, I swear), to call those people back home (you know who you are), and most importantly to sit and be alone with my thoughts. I find, when I do that, the complexity and importance of thoughts drifting through my head like barges in a seaport come as a pleasant surprise.

My stroll, even as the muggy humidity of the day began to cling to me more than I would have liked, also helped me open my eyes to the disparity on display in Thessaloniki. The main shopping areas boast Swatch and H&M boutiques; just a handful of blocks further lies what’s known as the red-light district (thankfully, my prior knowledge about the city’s geography helped me steer clear) and a series of dirt-cheap clothing emporiums with cleaner floors than merchandise. This makes Thessaloniki like any other big European city, you might say, and you wouldn’t be wrong exactly, but there’s a jarring dissonance to the block-by-block differences – and a flippant acceptance of those differences – I observed during my walk that feels oddly specific to Greece, a country splintered and stretched by the arduous realities of a debt crisis, political corruption, and brain-drain-induced social enervation.

I could go through all the more minute observations I made during my walk, but that feels unnecessary. What I need to say is this – if you are not making time for yourself, even on a trip as intensive as this, you’re doing yourself a disservice and putting on blinders through which you’ll experience a lesser version of just about everything happening to you. Take the time to think through everything you’re feeling. There’s no deadline, after all, for self-reflection.

 

Writing responsibly about suicide by Isaac Feldberg

It’s occurred to me repeatedly over the course of this trip that, given the severity and scale of the issues contained within Greece’s economic and refugee crises, depression and suicide will hover in the backdrop of most – if not, more likely, all – of the stories related to dislocated, marginalized, persecuted populations that we commit to covering.

As such, it feels absolutely imperative to me to take the time to introduce anyone on this worthwhile and potentially meaningful Dialogue who is not yet aware of them to a set of guidelines laid forth by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention intended to help journalists be on the right side of written mental health advocacy.

Even before getting into it, why should I listen to these guidelines, you may ask? The answer’s simple: words matter.

Mental illness and suicide in particular have long been stigmatized aspects of human psychology, which has allowed for both issues to become heavily distorted and frequently misrepresented in the public eye. Though regulations in areas like health services are changing, and societies are shifting to address the health needs of those at risk with greater delicacy and compassion, certain stigmas remain rampant.

For example, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” discusses the suicide of a teenage girl; among other cardinal sins in its depiction, it perpetuates the idea that suicide is someone’s fault, rather than the result of a mental illness like depression. It is almost never the case that suicides occur without some mental illness having a role to play. Numerous forms of media perpetuate similar misconceptions about suicide and mental illness. Adjusting one’s writing format is an easy way to combat that and stop spreading ideas that fundamentally erase or ignore aspects of the issues to which they’re related.

More than 50 research studies conducted across multiple countries have concluded that certain kinds of news coverage can increase at-risk individuals’ likelihood of suicide; myriad factors related to the publication of certain kinds of news coverage about suicide, including tone, duration, and prominence, all have a role to play.

And so it is crucial to educate journalists to correctly write about and report on suicide and mental illness; it’s through their words that the public image of both issues is shaped.

Here we go, starting with a big one: suicide is no longer considered a crime, nor is it a sin. Therefore, the common parlance that someone “commits” suicide is both inaccurate and  – when one considers the deep social and cultural roots associated with “committing” an act aimed at ending a life – stigmatizing. “Commit” suggests condemnation of the person in struggle, as opposed to the compassion with which most journalists would agree it is more responsible to greet them. Instead, why not use “died by suicide” or “takes their life?” The same meaning is conveyed without the use of a word historically linked to criminal action.

It’s separately a really bad idea, though one that’s painfully common in writing about suicide, to describe the method of death. Though it’s sometimes tempting to sway into sensationalism in describing how a desperate individual would choose to end their life in a particular manner, this practice is deleterious to anyone living with suicidal ideation. Studies show that describing in detail a person’s means of dying by suicide increases the risk of copycat suicides – and that risk rises with the amount of time an article spends discussing, often sensationally, the manner of death. Reporters needn’t give someone wrestling with thoughts of suicide specific details of how they can carry out their own.

Another important point is to emphasize that suicide is rarely if ever the result of a single incident. Just because someone, for example, lost their restaurant during the financial crisis, focusing on that detail at the expense of investigating the depression with which they’d lived for years prior completely squanders an opportunity to talk openly and helpfully about the realities of suicide and its roots in mental illness.

It’s critical, as well, to be cautious with presentations of suicides in journalism. Framing a death by suicide against a larger issue of suicides can be important, but if you’re going to use terms like “spree” or “epidemic,” you need to do the research through examining CDC data and contacting experts in the field to verify that those terms are in fact applicable at the point in time when you’re writing the article. Or, you could just use less sensational words such as “uptick” or “rise.”

Finally – and this is important – every journalist should know that the mental illness advocacy community is not closed off to them. Any questions about how to talk about suicide can be directed to any number of AFSP, CDC, Samaritans, or Lifeline officials, who will be more than happy to explain how specific grafs or phrases should be approached, and there are lots of resources like AFSP’s cheatsheet that can provide direction. It’s paramount, when dealing with issues of such weight, to get it right. That’s something we owe to those struggling with an oft-stigmatized mental illness, who rely on the press for fair and accurate coverage that doesn’t perpetuate myths or faulty ideas – and, moreover, it’s something we owe to our craft, and to our intentions, permanent may they be, of retaining its integrity.

May 22, 2017

AN UNEXPECTED OVERLOAD BY ISAAC FELDBERG

The view from outside Elpida, a residence for refugees on the outskirts of Thessaloniki. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

The thought of heading to Greece for five weeks in search of stories originally filled me with a slightly dismaying sense of dread – how on Earth would I, a monolingual and westernized introvert, find stories in a city I’d never been to, in a country profoundly unfamiliar to me? The challenge seemed near insurmountable, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have thoughts about bailing on the whole endeavor from the moment I first put down a deposit.

And so it’s been with no small amount of relief that I’ve discovered an entirely separate anxiety since arriving in Thessaloniki – the sense that, completely contrary to my previous fear, my most pressing concern is that I’ll be back in the United States before having completed even half of the stories that seem to me nothing less than enthralling to tell.

There’s the looming specter of Golden Dawn, Greece’s so-called “neo-Nazi” movement, known for its violence and feared perhaps as equally for its growing political power; examining the ideologies of its members, and exploring how their rise can be explained in comparison to those of Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, and the Brexit movement, is of keen interest to me as a journalist and is already shaping up into a truly exciting story.

But then there’s the appeal of exploring the refugee crisis through the hyper-focused lens of the Elpida camp in Thessaloniki, writing about the struggles of the workers there, whose flow of residents has been stymied by governmental interference and whose hopes for the survival of their makeshift sanctuary for displaced peoples have all but dimmed completely. The grit on every worker’s face there, and the faith reflected by the small ways in which the refugees have made it a home – the scrawled Arabic word for hope on a whitewashed warehouse wall, the children laughing as they run between our legs –  is truly incredible.

Volunteer Yazar Schlenker, 20, prepares to unpack boxes of supplies on a repurposed factory floor in Elpida. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Also of interest to me, though, are the increasing investments Russian conglomerates and industry figures are making in the Port of Thessaloniki, and what Russia’s increasing presence in Northern Greece means for the country’s ability to interfere in the upcoming election, particularly amid a volatile political climate in which Vladimir Putin’s government has proven a persuading, powerful force.

And then, finally, there’s the angle everyone probably expected me to find: the emergence of a “weird wave” in Greek cinema, led by the internationally reaching works of Yorgos Lanthimos, whose most recent effort “The Lobster” earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. I’m curious to see whether I can get Lanthimos to myself at some point during our time here and use him as an in to explore what makes some filmmakers of the country more successful than others.

All in all, I will have time for probably two of the stories I just outlined – and I’ll be honest, that’s kind of a bummer. They’re all important and interesting for different reasons, and I wish I had time to devote my energies to each and every one. As it is, I still don’t know where to focus my energies, though my two-and-a-half-hour coffee date with a reformed neo-Nazi suggests that will likely be one of the two.

 

PICKING UP NEW PURSUITS BY ISAAC FELDBERG

I’ve loved to write for about as long as I had the physical strength to hold a pen correctly, and so it was no surprise to my parents when I began keeping journals before the age of 5.

What may have surprised them more was how quickly I filled them, scribbling onto the pages fantastical adventures of talking foxes and flying dragons and friendly snakes and – of course – a heroic little British boy named Isaac (but written so illegibly that spelling is a matter of opinion) who befriended them ALL. I didn’t really slow down with writing from there on, though my style of prose and sense of storytelling improved (the handwriting, unfortunately, did not).

I fell into journalism somewhere around eighth grade, realizing that I could use my “gift” (and, yes, I was pretentious about it – it was middle school, and I needed something to convince me of self-worth hidden beneath the bowl cut and oversized sweatpants) to help other people tell their stories, let voices often quieter than mine ring out loudly through the written word.

At the time, I had little perception of hierarchies of oppression, despite a traumatic encounter with severed torsos in “V for Vendetta,” and so I generally thought of journalism more as helping people too naturally shy to let themselves be seen find an outlet for true representation and, consequently, expression. As the years have gone on, it’s oddly funny to me that I’ve come to develop that latter goal far more completely, but that my work still – to me – seems to fulfill the very same purpose.

In Greece, it’s striking to me how much I’m writing. The endless parade of blog posts aside, I’m scribbling out notebooks full of quotes during interviews with refugee camp administrators and reformed neo-Nazis, sending out dozens of emails in hopes of finding sources for the stories I seek to write, and (thanks to an arcane burner phone I’m using to coordinate with other people on the Dialogue) spending more time on a single text than on anything else.

But concurrently, I’ve been working on something totally new to me – developing photography skills with a Nikon D3400 I picked up for the trip, sinking around $600 into what I intended from the beginning to be a major commitment. I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to slip it out of its carrying case, twist the zoom open, remove the lens, and take in every shot that presents itself. And, surprisingly (to me): I absolutely LOVE it. Photography is giving me a high on this trip, from the candid shots I’m able to capture of my lovely co-journalists at work to the stunning landscape captures of a sprawling, ancient metropolis seemingly crumbling at the edges into a glimmering sea.

Photojournalist Sydne Mass takes in the Aegean Sea through her lens. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

My best chance to take photos thus far came when I volunteered to accompany Isabelle Hahn to an interview she was conducting in the rather humble headquarters of Thessaloniki Pride. From within a beige, non-descript room with a well-worn couch and drawn curtains, I endeavored to capture the reality of existing in one of the city’s only established queer sanctuaries. One major takeaway: it’s pretty cramped.

At first, I was dismayed to find that all of my photos were washed out and grainy, a result both of my inexperience and lighting Isabelle assured me was deeply dismal. But as she continued her work asking Pride’s founder about his work, I found creative ways to shoot him and came away with some shots that (though they certainly aren’t going to win any Pulitzers) at the very least represent progress in my inchoate side-career as a photojournalist. I’m excited to continue that work throughout a trip that (I hope) will take me to some of Greece’s most beautiful locations.

Journalist Isabelle Hahn awaits an interview in the lobby of a Thessaloniki apartment complex. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

 

REFLECTIONS SO FAR & LOOKING AHEAD BY OLIVIA ARNOLD

The view from the Upper Town, the only part of Thessaloniki that survived the devastating fire of 1917. Photo by Olivia Arnold

Our group is on the tail end of week two now. Everyone warned me that this Dialogue of Civilization would go quickly and, wow, were they right.

I’m in that weird point in time now where it feels like we’ve been here for forever, but at the same time it seems like we just arrived yesterday. I’ve come a long way since my sleep-deprived and wide-eyed arrival in Thessaloniki, excited by every passing car and stray cat (though I still love the stray dogs).

In the past week, I’ve learned about Greek language, food and music in class. I climbed the steps to the Upper Town (nearly suffering a heart attack in the process) and sipped lemonade at an open cafe at the top, admiring the breathtaking view of the city below. I’ve eaten incredible Greek food—gyros, soutzoukakia, halva, tulumba and souvlaki, to name a few. I explored the local open market and picked up freshly grown produce. I toured a beautiful vineyard and learned the proper way to sample wines. I swam in the Mediterranean Sea with Mount Olympus, home of the gods, visible in the distance.

Me with my roommate Suma Hussien at the top of the Upper Town. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Despite having all these remarkable experiences, my confusion navigating downtown and my inadequacy with the Greek language keeps me humble, reminding me that I haven’t been here very long. Some important things are coming up that once seemed like events in the distant future.

The deadline for my first story is tomorrow. I’ve finished my reporting on it—16 interviews in all, though eight of them were quick person-on-the-street questions. Still, it’s a lot more interviews than I usually do for my articles. I filled my reporter’s notebook from cover to cover (including front and back pages) just with interviews from this trip. I even had to frantically start scribbling notes on the cardboard back of my reporter’s notebook during one of my interviews, to which fellow student Isabelle Hahn (seeing my distress) graciously responded by ripping out some pages from her own notebook.

Professor Carlene Hempel was kind enough to bring me a cup of tea as I spent Tuesday night transcribing my interviews in the common room. Photo by Olivia Arnold

On Saturday, I’ll be flying out to the Greek island of Chios with two other students and our professor Mike Beaudet to report from a Syrian refugee camp there. I’m confident in my abilities and the team that we have going, but as I’ve been reading more articles about the island in preparation for the trip, I’m getting nervous.

One article by Al Jazeera especially stuck with me. In it, a refugee laments that the media treats the camp like a “zoo”—coming in, taking photographs, filming the deplorable conditions that refugees live in and then leaving the camp without having a positive impact.

Is this what we’re doing? These stories need to be told. But at the same time, doing a story like this is inherently exploitative. Though well-intentioned, we will be benefitting from the suffering of other human beings. And that can be a tough pill to swallow.

An easy way to justify it is to say that covering the plight of refugees will translate into donations from home for the camps. But in another case covered by the Al Jazeera article, a refugee whose art exhibit was written about said he did not receive donations after the story was published.

I know the others on our team have this concern at the forefront of their minds as well. I hope that if we cover the issue as sensitively as possible and depict the people with respect and empathy that we can produce a piece that we’re all proud of.

 

ELPIDA OFFERS HOPE FOR REFUGEES IN THESSALONIKI BY OLIVIA ARNOLD

Journalism is truly an extraordinary field of study. It has afforded me the opportunity to meet so many interesting people and experience so many incredible things, all while opening up my world view tremendously.

Today marked one of those powerful experiences granted to me thanks to journalism. Along with our professor Carlene, a group of students visited Elpida (the Greek word for “hope”), an abandoned jeans factory that was converted to a transitional housing residence for Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are awaiting asylum grants and relocation visas in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Elpida currently houses 92 refugees, 60 of whom are children. Photo by Olivia Arnold

Prior to the trip, I worried incessantly about what it would look like to have a pack of 10 students shuffling through the residence, Nikons hanging around our necks and backpacks in tow. A tour of a refugee residence seemed, well, wrong. After all, these are their homes, and coming through seemed like a significant invasion of privacy at best, an insensitive version of poverty tourism at worst.

Carlene, however, has done this before, and she’s a pro. She told us that we likely wouldn’t get a story from this visit, but rather that we were on a fact-finding mission to gather some data and ideas for stories in the future.

The visit ended up being incredibly productive and fruitful. I’m still processing it all, so I won’t go into my thoughts about the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece as a whole. I haven’t been able to form a fully-developed opinion on it yet. It’s a lot.

However, I will say that Dina, the administrative officer who led our tour, was incredibly patient and understanding with us. She went above and beyond in her duties showing us around the facility, helping us understand the magnitude of the refugee crisis, the Greek government’s handling of refugee resettlement and some of the other main players and factors involved.

Teacher’s assistant Danny Mortimer interviews Dina, the administrative officer for Elpida.

I felt as though I learned more from Dina in those two hours than from all the articles I’ve read in the past couple years about the refugee crisis. Having a person who is on the ground (and, might I mention, who is only 24 years old) break down the refugee crisis for us in an understandable way was an invaluable experience. I know that what I learned today will help inform my reporting as I head to Chios on Sunday to report from a refugee camp there.

 

MY PHOTO BUCKET LIST BY BRIDGET PEERY

There is so much of this beautiful country to capture that anytime I am without my camera I am kicking myself at the missed opportunities. So I have made it a habit to take my camera with me wherever I go – which truthfully is no easy feat given the large, awkward shape of my camera bag.

For this reason, I thought it would be prudent to make a list. It will include not just the more touristy shots of popular sites but off the beaten path shots, as well. And the people of Greece, of course. Although, people here generally do not like their photo taken. I’ll see if I can convince them otherwise.

So! My photo bucket list/scavenger hunt:

  1. Parthenon
    • On the Acropolis. No way I could not get this one.
  2. Meteora
    • Monasteries in the sky!
  3. Market Vendors
    • There is an old market in the center of Thessaloniki with everything from fish & meats to handbags & jewelry. The market winds through alleyways, some covered some in open air, with small restaurants tucked away in between.
  4. Upper City walls, Thessaloniki
    • The last remaining segments of the wall that originally encompassed the city. High above the city, the walls overlook Thessaloniki down to the port in the Aegean Sea.
  5. Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, Athens
    • One of the oldest churches in Athens, said to have been built some time in the 11th century.
  6. Greek Parliament Building
  7. Academy of Athens
    • The country’s first research medium, founded in 1926.
  8. Street musicians
    • Found in certain spots in the city.
  9. Odeon of Herodes Atticus
    • Stone theater built in Athens in 161 A.D.
  10. White Tower
    • Symbol of Thessaloniki

Of course, the list will continue to grow and there is always room for spontaneous shots, as well.

 

OFFICIALLY AN ARIS FAN BY BRIDGET PEERY

This week I finally got my Aris futbol jersey. Well, let me back up.

Last Saturday, Danny, Brandon, Theo (American College of Thessaloniki professor) and myself went to watch the Aris Basketball Club of Thessaloniki play in game 2 of the semifinals in the Greek Championship against Olympiacos B.C.

Brandon was reporting on his story (find it here!) and for that reason we were in the gift shop and the stadium museum when the game started. Though we were just outside, the noise and the chants emanating from inside the arena were thunderous. I was itching to get inside to see the commotion.

We hit a small snag getting in – they refused to let us in with cameras.  Theo argued our case with the ticket collectors in Greek for a few moments. As journalists, we needed our equipment to cover the game. However, they wouldn’t budge. No cameras allowed. It was decided that we would leave them in the ticket office.

Once that was squared away, we quickly made our way up the wide, cement spiral staircases on the outside of the stadium – taking two steps at a time. Rounding the corner at the top of the stairs, we stepped through a doorway and out into the stands at least two stories above the court. All at once, the scene I had heard from the outside was visible before me: The impressive size of the stadium, the excited gestures from the spectators standing in their seats, the players moving about the court, shoes squeaking on hardwood floor.

The place was electric, filled with various chants and cheers from Aris super fans a.k.a “ultras”. A drummer beat a deep bass drum in rhythm with chants alongside two flag bearers who set kept their club banners in motion throughout the entirety of the game.

From the sounds of it, you would have thought that Aris was winning when, in fact, they were trailing Olympiacos by 15 points for a majority of the time. Even though they closed in on their opponents more than once, they could not secure a win. Still, the fans would not quit.

The team is working on a comeback, it hasn’t seen a championship title since 2003. Widely seen as the underdog team, Aris B.C. has its share of financial struggles with one of the lowest budgets in the league – 2 million euros as compared to Olympiacos, 14 million euros.  But what the club lacks in finances, it makes up for in passion. As the final buzzer sounded and the players left the court, the fans did not relent their vocal support. There is a strong sense of pride and commitment of Aris fans to their team. You feel it as soon as you walk through the gates of the stadium and long after you leave.

Which is why Brandon, Danny and I wanted a jersey. Danny purchased a basketball jersey at the stadium; Brandon and I were going to get ours at the futbol stadium close to the apartment. Unfortunately, on two separate occasions on two separate days, when we went to the Aris club store it was closed. Until Wednesday night. You know what they say, third time’s a charm. And after a few minutes deciding which color jersey to get, we were officially Aris fans.

I am looking forward to wearing it at Sunday’s futbol match and, more importantly, I am glad to been able to experience the passion and adoration of Aris’ fans. Go Aris!

 

OUT OF THE CITY, INTO THE FIELDS AND WATERS BY PAXTYN MERTEN

It’s not everyday you get to tour an award-winning winery and lounge at a Greek beach within the same five hours. But that was my day.

I learned more than I needed to know about the winemaking process, saw a collection of more than 2,000 corkscrews (some of which were shaped like dogs) and tasted award-winning white and red wine.

The tour guide taught us how to taste wine properly, and most interestingly to smell wine properly by sticking our whole noses into the glass. Though it looked silly, it was shocking how different the wine smelled when using this method.

I was especially impressed by how, after swirling it around the cup a few times, the wine had a completely new aroma – I always thought people just did that for show.

The views from the winery, especially the view of Mount Olympus, were incredible. The fresh summer air, fields of grapes and abundance of plants provided a much-needed break from the crowded buildings and overwhelming graffiti of city life.

There was even an old John Deere tractor being used as a kind of lawn decoration, which instantly made me think of home. Out in the open land, I felt rejuvenated.

This rejuvenation continued when we arrived at the beach. It was hot (like nearly 90 degrees hot), but the slight breeze made it nearly comfortable to sit in beach chairs on the grass by the bar.

Meanwhile, the sun beating down did heat us up enough to get into the chilly waters of the Aegean Sea. Swimming is and always has been my favorite activity, but I’ve never been in a body of water like the Aegean Sea. The salty sea-smell was not potent, but the salinity was so strong that I could easily float in the water without using too much energy. I was essentially sitting up in the water or lying on my stomach as I would on a bed, all while using minimal hand movements and nearly no leg movements. And when was finally dragged from the water, my skin felt smoother.

The Pacific Ocean and lakes around Washington are all right, and swimming in public and private swimming pools is cool and all, but I have never been in waters quite as nice as those off the coast of Greece.

After a weekend of incredible sights, tastes and feelings, I am refreshed and ready to get back into the swing of things. Tourist cap off, reporter’s cap on.

 

LOST IN TRANSLATION BY PAXTYN MERTEN

Conducting interviews was the hardest aspect of journalism for me as a budding reporter at the age of 14. Now, five years later on my first outing as international reporter, interviews have risen to the top of the list once again.

I don’t think I have had to do anything more difficult and painstaking in my journalistic career than interviewing someone through an interpreter. The process is long, frustrating and feels less genuine than direct interviews.

One of the three churches I went to Sunday, where I painstakingly interviewed one woman for 20 minutes through the translator. The woman later refused to provide her last name, so our time was essentially wasted. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

Tasks that usually take seconds, such as getting down an interviewee’s name, age and neighborhood of residence, become several-minute-long endeavors. This has consistently embarrassed me to a point where I feel guilty for taking up so much of the interviewees’ time on such seemingly small – but necessary – tasks.

Conversations also become much less conversational, as I must allow the translator to listen and then relay the message to me before I can respond. Then I must then record the quote in my notebook while double-checking with the translator that it is a direct quote, and must be ready to backtrack and revise words to more accurate translations.

All the while, I must analyze what the interviewee is saying so that I can ask follow-up questions to get the information I need and get more dynamic quotes. However, with all the other elements of the interview happening at once, this can become nearly impossible.

So far, I would say this has hindered my ability to work. On Sunday, when I was gathering personal narratives from churchgoers for a story, a woman talked briefly about her life in a way that seemed to have a perfect connection to my story. More than anything, I wanted to get more of her story to incorporate into my article.

But my translator (who is not a translator by profession) didn’t fully understand the nuance of the questions I was asking or how to ask them in Greek, and the woman had limited time before she had to re-enter the church for a baptism. I was left with a very shallow version of her story and an overwhelming feeling that I had missed out on something important.

Throughout this process, I have felt powerless: often unable to seek out my own sources, navigate and approach people as an individual or actually talk to people unless they speak English.

My inability to be on the same page and communicate with the people I interview is much more frustrating than I could have imagined before I came to Greece. Still, after facing these hurdles, I know more of what to expect next time I go out to get interviews. I am beginning to learn what it takes to be an international reporter, and I am learning to adapt and problem solve in these situations. Already, I am building so many skills from this experience and I am eager to see what else I will pick up before I depart.

 

A VISUAL COLLECTION BY SUMA HUSSIEN

My role on this dialogue is to provide visuals, such as photography, video, and data visualisation, to amplify the stories being produced by our talented reporting team. The best part of being a visual storyteller is being granted access to so many different facets of life that I probably would never encounter otherwise.

Below are some shots from this past two weeks of stories I have had the pleasure to accompany.

Not sure if the coolest part was getting to wear a beekeeping outfit or getting the chance to taste fresh honey from the hives, but I got a chance to see an up-close look inside the world of beekeeping. I watched a new baby bee being born, found the queen bee, and ate fresh pollen as an effort to cure my allergies. Walking away with only two bee stings, I enjoyed accompanying my classmate Alexa LaVersa’s first story, check it out here.

I’ve never been around so many intellectuals and book lovers before, but this weekend I accompanied my classmate, Gwen, to collect some visuals for her piece exploring Greece’s book industry in the midst of the economic crisis. Check it out here.

I got to accompany my roommate Olivia Arnold with her piece about Greek college graduates leaving the country to pursue job opportunities in other countries — also known as the youth “brain drain.” We roamed the politically-covered campus of Aristotle University, here is a shot of Olivia seeking out quotes from these young college go-ers.

On Wednesday, I covered the general strike here in Thessaloniki as part of the nationwide anti-austerity rally. I got a chance to work on a video stand-up alongside my classmate and on-camera reporter, Ellie Williams. Thanks to my fellow classmate, Bridget Perry, for taking a cool shot of me in action.

Here is a shot of one of the staff members of Blue Refugee Center, a place that serves to empower refugee and host communities. It’s always an incredible experience being around such vibrant, passionate global citizens working tirelessly to help people of need.

And the diverse experiences continue this week as I will be heading off to Chios island this Sunday to report from a refugee camp there with two fellow classmates as well as our professor, Mike Beaudet. Later on in the week I will be participating in Ramadan for a day with the residents of Elpida Home, and I’m sure I will be pulled onto other stories with my camera and curiosity by my side.

 

20 SECOND MELODY OF THESSALONIKI BY SUMA HUSSIEN

On our way back from the protests, we passed by a musician sitting on the side of a yellow wall. Since I had my camera on me anyway, I started filming, remembering that I need to collect these smaller moments too. The man was playing the lauto, a long-necked instrument, found in Greece and Cyprus.

May 14, 2017

A bee and a shopkeeper by Suma Hussien

It’s day 3. The energy is high in the makeshift newsroom in our new home here in Thessaloniki. Students are hopping into cabs and buses to chase protests, interviews with locals, and experts. Some of us are seeking access to refugee camps and a few are even stepping into hooded suits to brace hundreds of honey bees. Check out Alexa Laversa below:

Forgetting to eat lunch after the bee shoot, I decided to walk to the closest place that had food and would take my card. With my wandering turns, I made it to a cafe called Nikos.

In this fast-paced pursuit for quotes and anecdotes, it’s easy to miss the stories of the locals we pass through the streets as we try to get the ‘bigger’ story. So to slow it down, here’s a different kind of story:

10 quirks about a shop-owner I had a chat with while eating my cheese bread balls.

Meet Chiso Valantis.

  • Chiso means gold and Valantis means wallet in Greek.
  • He took over his father’s cafe in 2008. Struggling to compete with the surplus of cafes in the area, he states that he doesn’t have much gold in his wallet.
  • Valantis’s favorite food is spaghetti with ketchup, and he loves meat, all meat.
  • He has two degrees, one in Journalism and the other Cinema, and also has a masters in corporate social responsibility.
  • He waves to familiar faces on the street every two minutes during my chat with him, and he states that, “Yes, neighborhood exists here.”
  • He quit smoking and lost 50 lbs. (And gives great high-fives.)
  • Valantis is a minimalist.
  • He has a daughter named Elena who is 3 and a half years old.

To be continued. I’ll be back for the cheese balls and chatting with Valantis made me feel like part of the neighborhood.

 

Lost in letterforms by Suma Hussien

If you’ve ever walked down the street with a designer, you may have experienced slight annoyance when they interrupted you mid conversation to point out “that nice typeface on the sign over there”.

I am unfortunately guilty of this stereotype. (Carlene knows this from when I stared for way too long at single-serve butter pack written in Greek on the plane.)

One of my first impressions of Greece shortly after landing were the intricate, beautiful letterforms on the store signage. The straight lines and the triangles formed by the epsilon (uppercase E) really caught my attention.  

Like the capital letters seen above, the classical Greek alphabet was comprised of only capital letters, ideal for monuments and inscriptions.

This fascination over the Greek alphabet and letterforms carried into our first grocery store stop when my new roommate Olivia and I were deliberating over a serious milk purchase. We made our decision solely on the product label with the nicest typeface that featured the Greek alphabet. Also, despite my disgust for bars of soap, I bought one at the store specifically because of the ingrained Greek letterforms on the bar.

But chances are you probably aren’t a designer, so why should you care about the Greek letterforms?

  1. It is the ancestor of almost all other alphabets.
  2. The Greek alphabet is the first fully phonetic writing system.
  3. More than 150,000 English words are derived from Greek words. *Take a look at this speech by former Prime Minister Prof. Xenophon Zolotas written in English but actually consisting of only Greek words.

 

A crash course in Greek by Isaac Feldberg

The view from the American College of Thessaloniki, as taken in by one awestruck student journalist on day 1. Photo credit Isaac Feldberg

Kalispera! (That’s “good afternoon.”) One of the most unexpectedly interesting aspects of the Dialogue thus far has been our language course at the American College of Thessaloniki (ACT). Under the instruction of our theskala, Maria, I – a spudazo – have been beginning to learn key phrases in Greek that will help ease myself and my classmates into the cultures and conversations of Thessaloniki and Athens. In this blog post, I’ll run through some of the phrases and vocabulary words we’ve been exposed to during the first week of classes.

Jia sas (pronounced yas-as) is a common greeting, meaning “Hello!”

Me lene (pronounced meh-len-ay) would be followed, in my case, by “Isaac Feldberg.” Any guesses? If I were to ask you pos se lene?, and you felt so obliged, I might learn your name too.

Ime apo tin (pronounced ee-may apo tin) translates to “I am from” (aka Massachusetts). Apo pu ise? I’m guessing America, given most of the eyes I’d expect to be on this blog, but beyond that, you’d know better than I would.

Kalimera, if you’ll recall kalispera, is for those early risers, meaning “good morning.”

The last group of phrases I’ll mention in this post revolve around figuring out how someone is feeling. Pos ise? You could ask. How are you? Pos pai? – How’s it going? – would work just as well. If you are feeling well, and you want to share that information, you could respond kala, but if you’re feeling very well, poli kala would also suffice. And if you’re genuinely happy, that’s mia hara. On the other hand, if things are a little off for you today, and you’re not feeling that great, you’re – and this is a bit of a quirky bit of language – etski ketsi. Go on, say it, I’ll wait. Fun, right?

And if that didn’t cheer you up, life’s got you down, and everything’s a bummer, here’s a halia for you. That’s all for now. Efharisto thank you – for reading. Adio! (I’ll trust you to figure that one out.)

 

A sense of purpose by Isaac Feldberg

It was a curious feeling, sitting in a large classroom at the American College of Thessaloniki, beside a balcony that overlooks rolling mountains and lush forest, and starting to feel like a reporter for the first time in weeks. That’s strange to see myself write, given how much I’ve worked for the Globe in the Living/Arts department over the course of the semester, but there was something very isolating about the part-time co-op position I fell into after the end of my initial tenure there last June.

Sitting around a table with a pack of other reporters, all wide-eyed and thrilled to explore Thessaloniki and the vibrant country around it, filled me with a sense of excitement I haven’t felt in a while. Part of me attributes that feeling to the holistic talent on hand for this dialogue, from the blindingly talented print journalists to the exceptionally gifted photographers to Carlene Hempel, a professor I admire greatly and whose reputation for journalistic excellence and unparalleled experience precedes her. It’s an exceptionally strong group of people to be working together in any environment, and that we’re all here to produce intelligent, interesting, and insightful stories about Greece just drives home how special this trip is shaping up to be.

On our first day, the group took in Thessaloniki under the instruction of a tour guide, eyes open, minds already writing out our ledes. Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Already, I’m wowed by some of the work on the horizon. Alexa LaVersa’s fascinating pitch to explore the beekeeping business in a country that thrives on honey caught me off guard when I first heard it in all the best ways; and Olivia Arnold’s examination of the “brain drain” epidemic that has left Greece with a rapidly depleting supply of bright, educated young people is a story that I actually can’t wait to get my eyes on.

There’s a kind of synergy that comes from working alongside other student journalists, for me, that isn’t quite competition but isn’t quite collaboration either. It’s more spiritual than that, a sense of place and purpose that galvanizes the mind and excites the imagination – and that I’m grateful beyond words to have. It’s going to be a fascinating dialogue in terms of the stories with which we all emerge, but I’m looking forward as well to seeing the pitch process take place in our workshop course at ACT, where I can begin to understand how my classmates’ minds work and learn from the ways in which they see the world – and the stories they’re singularly capable of finding.

 

Day One Reflections by Olivia Arnold

After my second full day in Thessaloniki, I feel like I’m finally able to begin processing what has happened so far.

First impressions: The city is beautiful. I want to pet all the stray animals even though Carlene told me not to. Greek is a really hard language to pick up.

Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece. Photo by Olivia Arnold

We kicked off our first day yesterday with a walking tour around downtown Thessaloniki. We met at 8:20 a.m., which I would normally consider brutally early, but I was completely fine considering I had been up since 6 a.m.

I had gone to bed the night before at 9 p.m., shortly after returning from our welcome dinner in which I struggled to keep my eyes open while scarfing down pizza at Casa Bianca. I felt particularly lucky that morning as other students complained about grappling with their jet lag—waking up at 3 a.m. or only sleeping a couple hours. Meanwhile, I slept comfortably for nine hours throughout the night without even stirring.

I remarked to Carlene that, after feeling close to passing out from exhaustion the night before, I had never felt so alive. My morale was high as I hopped onto a public bus along with the rest of our group to head downtown and meet our tour guide.

The walking tour was a wonderful chance to take in the atmosphere of the city. I found my eyes bouncing all around, hoping to catch glimpses of passing people and snippets of their conversations (even though I mostly couldn’t understand the language).

A man stands near the edge of the waterfront. Photo by Olivia Arnold

The tour featured an inside look at the Rotunda, a monument constructed in the early 4th century supposedly as a mausoleum for Emperor Galerius, though it never fulfilled that purpose. Instead, it was transformed into a Christian church, then a Muslim mosque and then a Christian church again. Today, the Rotunda is a museum and the oldest monument in Thessaloniki.

The purpose of the Rotunda changed several times throughout the centuries. Photo by Olivia Arnold

In addition to checking off seeing the Rotunda on my Thessaloniki bucket list, I was fascinated throughout the city by the preservation of ancient monuments in the middle of bustling urban areas. The old structures looked out of place amid their modern surroundings.

Ancient structures coexist with modern buildings in Thessaloniki’s downtown area. Photo by Olivia Arnold

I also noticed graffiti covering nearly every surface in the city—businesses, residential apartments, street lamps. Much of the graffiti conveyed anti-police or anti-capitalist sentiments, reflecting local frustrations amid Greece’s ongoing economic crisis.

Graffiti on a street lamp blames capitalism for Greece’s financial woes. Photo by Olivia Arnold

Most importantly, Thessaloniki has the most adorable stray cats and dogs all over the place. A couple of dogs started following our groups around and when I looked into their sad eyes, I really felt like we had a connection. As I mentioned earlier, Carlene specifically instructed us not to pet the animals, so I refrained—my most difficult task of the trip thus far.

A stray dog with sad eyes followed our tour group around. Photo by Olivia Arnold

After our walking tour, I sat down with a couple others to grab gyros, Greece’s classic on-the-go meal. It was my first one since my trip to Greece last summer, and it was just as good as I remembered (even better, since I was tired and hungry after the tour).

I’m all smiles just before devouring a gyro, my favorite Greek food. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

Though these experiences were enough for us to call it an enriching day, we didn’t stop there. We headed over to the U.S. Consulate, where Consul General Rebecca A. Fong gave our group a presentation about her career in diplomacy and then fielded a wide range of questions about Greece’s economic and refugee crises. She spoke about dealing with the unpredictable nature of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy objectives, but upholding her patriotism throughout years of changing administrations.

The talk was incredible, and I was pleasantly surprised with how candid Fong was with our group and how much time she set aside to talk with us. I was also honored to be in the presence of one of the few high-ranking female diplomats.

Overall, the day was perfect. If the first day is any indication of how the trip will go, I can’t wait for all that I will learn, see and experience.

 

Thessaloniki book fair brings publishers together as industry suffers by Olivia Arnold

The Thessaloniki International Book Fair started 14 years ago to promote cultural exchanges among international publishers. But after a decade of financial crisis in Greece, the country’s book industry is hurting.

“The truth is that every year, less and less visitors come to visit. And I think this is because people for some reason don’t read as much as they used to,” says Anastasis Chariopolitis, who runs the Parisianou Publications booth at the book fair. “One part of this is because of the economy, and the other is because of the digital era we’re living in.”

The Thessaloniki International Book Fair, which runs May 11 to 14 this year, is an annual event that typically attracts 400 book publishers. Photo by Olivia Arnold

The Economic Times in India reported last year that, since 2008, more than 400 small bookstores and larger chains have closed in Greece. A devastating sign came in September 2016 when Eleftheroudakis, the largest bookstore in Greece, shut its doors after 118 years of business. The bookstore, located in Athens, offered a wide range of books from and about Greece, along with English-language books, maps and travel guides.

Eleftheroudakis began as a family-run bookstore in 1898 and later blossomed into a chain with branches in Athens, Thessaloniki, Mykonos and Alexandroupoli. One by one, the shops became victims of Greece’s debt crisis, with the Athens location marking the final closure.

“We are preparing our next ‘bookshop’, but we will not do it as long as there is not a positive and stable business environment in our country,” the Eleftheroudakis family said in a statement at the time.

At the Thessaloniki book fair, Ethel Kidoniati, an account manager for the Athens-based company Eurasia Publications, says she does not believe E-books are to blame for the industry’s financial woes. Eurasia Publications, which is run by Kidoniati’s brother, offers genres including philosophy, history and economics.

“Through the years, because of the economic crisis, less publishers are coming, less and less people [are buying],” Kidoniati says of the book fair. “It’s been very bad. The economic crisis affects the books.”

Chariopolitis says financial hardship likewise hit Parisianou Publications, which is located in Athens and publishes poetry, children’s books and histories.

“This company I’m working with, [in] the last almost 10 years, lost almost half—50 percent down in sales,” he says.

Anastasis Chariopolitis, a salesperson at Parisianou Publications, says the company is exploring printing books for other companies to increase its revenue. Photo by Olivia Arnold

Thanasis Sylivos, who is operating another booth at the book fair, helped launch the Greek music magazine Metronomos 16 years ago. Sylivos, 45, now owns Metronomos, which has grown into a newspaper and magazine company in Athens. He says he believes that Greeks genuinely want to buy books, but just do not have the money to spare anymore.

“Before, five, six years [ago], [people would] maybe come by, buy six or seven books. Now, one or two,” he says.

Thanasis Sylivos, the owner of Metronomos, says he believes the Greek economic crisis hurt his company’s sales. Photo by Olivia Arnold

Though the future of the book industry in Greece seems uncertain, several people say they still think of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair as a fun celebration of what they love most.

“We love books,” Kidoniati says. “It helps the culture…the education, everything. We believe in the industry.”

 

The wheels on the bus by Bridget Peery

Well, riding the bus is a bit of an adventure.

Olivia and I had our first interviews today with an economics lecturer at the American College of Thessaloniki, Maria Bozoudi. She was speaking in the American Studies Seminar at the Journalist Association of Northern Greece and suggested we meet with her before it began. Perfect! The interview was set for 4:30 p.m. and we decided we’d give public transit a shot on our own. We even left early.

The address was: Stratigou Kalari 2. All we had to do was take bus number 3, 5, or 33 and listen for the stop which was somewhere near the White Castle (or Lefkos Pyrgos, thank you Greek 101). Sounds simple enough, right?

The White Castle, symbol of Thessaloniki

Sort of. There are two main roads in the center of Thessaloniki: one that goes in and one that goes out. Both are one way streets, about three lanes wide and loaded with shops and great places to grab a bite. With constant, weaving traffic that travels on average 40 mph, you have to make sure you are paying attention when crossing. The drivers will not stop for you. You have been warned.

Olivia and I looked at the map and saw it was a straight shot down into the center and to our destination. Good to go. We even found the ticket kiosk inside a Coca-Cola stand and not clearly labeled at all.

We got on, punched our ticket and rode the bus in true Bostonian style – holding on to anything so as to not be flung over. Woo! It was little crowded, there were elbows and backpacks everywhere. One of the only other Greek words I know is signomi, which means ‘excuse me’ and it came in handy.

The problem with taking the bus was, we were unfamiliar with the stops and they were all in Greek. We got a little bit turned around and got off the bus a little too early. After walking 20 minutes to the seminar, we were 10 minutes late.

Still, the scenic route is always nice – especially if you are in Thessaloniki.

Despite our tardiness, Maria had time to speak with Olivia and I. Which was great! Whew! She provided some great insight into what my story focuses on: entrepreneurs who are trying to get their startups off the ground in this economic climate.

Olivia, interviewing Maria Bozoudi

It was great getting this first interview done to get the story rolling. I did want to figure out the bus system in the city and today was a good lesson. Next time, if I want to be on time, maybe get a cab.

 

Let me show you around by Bridget Peery

It’s been 34 hours since we landed in Thessaloniki – but hey, who’s counting?

After having traveled some 12+ hours, suffice it to say I was exhausted. Yet, somehow, I’ve managed to adjust to the time change. I’m in Greece! And boy, is it beautiful.

The first day was a whirlwind between finding our luggage, finding our rooms, finding… well, nearly everything.

But we got settled in, had pizza for dinner and I even went for a run on the boardwalk along the Aegean Sea.

Aforementioned boardwalk (on the aforementioned Aegean Sea)

The following morning, we had the opportunity to be shown around the city by Daphne Lamprou, professor at the American College of Thessaloniki. Lamprou gave an in-depth lesson on the history of the area from the construction of roads and buildings, to the timeframe of expansions in the city, to the different churches and religious influences that controlled them in the last few centuries—more on the churches in a later post.

Lamprou explained, Thessaloniki has a humid climate. But on a good day, you can see Mount Olympus across the sea. It was founded in 315 BC by Cassandra of Macedon, who named it after his wife Thessalonike, the half-sister of Alexander the Great.

The city sits on top of a slope that faces the sea. The three walls that formed its original perimeter exist in segments now, mostly in the upper portions of the city. They were almost totally demolished in the 1870s to allow the city to expand along the east and west coast.

Galerius’ sweet digs from back in the day

Lamprou pointed out what remains of the palace of Roman emperor Galerius, as well as the standing imperial arch, erected after Galerius’ victory over the Persians.

She also showed us the 4th-century rotunda, a cavernous space splashed with patches of gold, silver and turquoise mosaic on the inner walls. This was also commissioned by Galerius and a Greek Orthodox mass is still said here once a month.

Not your average waterfront

Next up was a stroll along the water. Here, Lamprou explained, the property value used to be significantly higher prior to the economic downturn. For example, an apartment that was around 100 square meters on the waterfront property was previously valued at 1 million euros. Today, that same property would be listed at 400,000 euros.

Meet me at the Agora

Our last stop was at the Agora. It is located in the upper side of the Aristotelous Square which was dug up in the 1960s. It was built toward the end of the 2nd century AD as a market, complete with Roman baths and a small theater.

After this incredibly interesting afternoon, I am very much looking forward to exploring more of the city in the days to come. Though I still need to learn how the bus system works. It’s that or I try my luck on a moped…

I should say, the most mind-bending thing I did today was walking across 2,000-year-old street. How’s that for traversing time.

-B-

 

All aboard by Paxtyn Merten

Caption: Airplanes parked at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

The world around me rumbles, the floor unsteady as I walk down the aisle to the bathroom. The cabin is dark and I do not know what time it is, or where I am on Earth. I am on a plane headed to Greece, a country I have never been to in a continent I have never stepped foot on. I do not know what experiences it will bring me.

I am exploring unfamiliar waters, and that both frightens and excites me. I have always been able to predict how new things would impact me. I knew college would consist of less class time and more individual studying and projects. I knew adding data science to my field of study would expand my workload and force me to spend even more time behind a computer screen, typing nonsense. I knew going to Boston early to participate in a community service program with other first-years would introduce me to people who would become my closest friends. I always knew these details ahead of time, as if I were the scout of a boat, looking ahead through a telescope.

And yet, as I sit here on this plane that is already halfway to Greece, the path is foggy and the waves are sky-high. I have no clue what is coming my way.

On one hand, I have chosen not to form too much of a preemptive vision based on news I read ahead of time. Stories about conditions in refugee camps and the country’s economic crisis are fresh in my mind, but so are the images of rich history, incredible architecture and robust culture. I cannot wrap my mind around the coexistence of such suffering and so many triumphs within one nation. I am leaving that impression up to my senses during my time there.

On the other, I remain somewhat afraid of that which I do not know from these articles. What sentiment do Greeks hold toward Americans, especially now? What about refugees? How will walking the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki be different than walking those of Boston or Seattle?

Those fears inspire some of the work I hope to complete during my time abroad. I want to answer some of these questions from my unique perspective as a student journalist in the city, and I want to do so in a way that resonates with readers back home.

Just this morning, I was sipping a cup of lukewarm coffee while staring out at the ocean from the kitchen of a house in a small Massachusetts town. Now, I am flying head-on into the unknown.

But I am not facing it alone. Upon reading and hearing about my colleagues’ ideas, I am becoming increasingly excited that I get to spend this month working with a group of creative, talented and innovative individuals.

Caption: My colleagues and I stand in the Logan International Airport before going to our gate. Photo courtesy Steve Colvin

Their words have shocked me based on their value and quality. The topics they want to explore are fascinating, as is how they hope to do so. I feel that my journalistic talents will grow just by spending time around them. I am grateful they will be by my side as I explore the depths of that which I do not know.

So, let’s dive in.

Caption: I took the ferry from Hingham, Massachusetts, to the airport. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

 

Residing in Greece by Paxtyn Merten

When I woke up Wednesday morning, our first full day in Greece, I had slept for 11 hours between $10, papery sheets under a borrowed throw blanket. I walked across the tile floor – past the kitchen and my roommate’s bed – to the dresser we share.

The student apartment I share with my roommate consists of one large room containing our bed, a dresser with hanging space and shelves, a dining table and two chairs, a desk, two corkboards, two bedside tables and a kitchenette with an oven, stove and mini refrigerator. Our apartment also has a bathroom with a shower, toilet, sink and mirror.

My half of the room contains a bed, bedside table, corkboard, desk and bookshelf. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

Our personal showers tend to become entire bathroom affairs, as the curtain does not extend all the way to the base. Water escapes onto the floor. However, we each received an extra pillowcase with our bedset, so my roommate and I use them as bath mats – true innovators.

While some may not find our accommodations to be glamourous, I adore the apartment I will be residing in for the next three weeks. It feels like student housing should: the room is a blank slate for my roommate and I to make our own. We can fill it with our personalities and adapt to its unique qualities in ways that feel right to us. Compared to freshmen college housing, this apartment is like paradise.

My favorite aspect of the apartment is the balcony. It is hidden behind two floral curtains and a sliding glass door, and it opens into a quad of other apartment balconies. Sitting out on it, I feel more like a resident of Thessaloniki. I look around and see cabinets, ladders, chairs and clothes hanging to dry on clotheslines. I listen and hear the call of the local birds – a kind of music which features occasional Greek interjections by my neighbors. I hold my head over the edge and feel the breeze on my face amid the upper-70 degree weather.

I feel as though I am a part of the city. I have a place to belong.

Our balcony is fenced in by three other apartment complexes with outfacing balconies. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

May 7, 2017

A lesson in Greek from a local thrifter by Paxtyn Merten

Several hours into learning Greek, one of the most difficult things to say is, “I don’t speak Greek.”

In preparation for our departure, I have been attempting to teach myself to speak and read the language. Though I’ll only be able to learn very basic aspects of Greek before being immersed in it, I think even that will help me communicate more effectively with the residents of Athens and Thessaloniki and navigate my way through the cities.

So, for a couple of hours each week I alternate between the online app Duolingo and the Greek keyboard on Google Translate to learn words like και (and), μήλο (apple) and βουβάλι (buffalo).

As I was detailing this same narrative to the inquiring woman behind the counter at a thrift shop in Hull, Massachusetts, I heard a voice behind me utter a few words in the semi-familiar tongue.

“Έχετε ένα καλό ταξίδι,” she said.

Intrigued, I turned around and asked the woman to repeat the phrase, but slower. I recognized all but one of the words and finally parsed out that she was telling me to “Have a good trip!”

I was awestruck that in the middle of the small town I was visiting, I had somehow stumbled upon someone who actively spoke Greek. The fact that I understood her encouraged me further, and I was excited to get back to learning the language when I returned to my residence that day.

Learning Greek is more difficult than Spanish (which I studied for five years in school) and German (which I began to teach myself using Duolingo, but have since stopped) because it has an entirely different alphabet than English does.

The alphabet wasn’t entirely new to me: I still remember most of the letters from my sixth grade class, in which we had a unit on Ancient Greek culture and mythology and had to learn the alphabet through song. However, many of the letters make different sounds than the way we learned them in sixth grade and are pronounced with different accents than our elementary-aged selves were taught.

In addition, many of the greek letters have shown up in different aspects of American life, such as in math and science textbooks where Greek letters represented different mathematical functions. For instance, λ (lambda) represents wavelength and Δ (delta) represents change. In college, they also show up as symbols for fraternities and sororities.

Even after developing an understanding of the individual letters, putting them together to form words can be increasingly difficult because they look like a jumble at first glance. Words can be impossible to sound out and parsing through sentences can be painstaking and frustrating. By the end of an hour I’m usually exhausted and need to focus on something else, like coding in Java or working on my final essay for history.

Despite the difficulty, learning the language of Greece is making me increasingly excited to interact with its people. I continue on in the hopes that my efforts will help me better tell their stories.

 

Becoming a photographer by Paxtyn Merten

Two months out from our departure to Greece, I received a camera in the mail.

Fewer than two weeks out, I am finally beginning to feel confident in my ability to navigate it.

It was the middle of March when my mother told me she wanted to get me something special for my birthday this year. I had asked in December if I could take her higher-quality camera with me to Greece. Instead, she said, she wanted to buy me my own camera to use in Greece and beyond.

So, though it was 50 days short of my actual birthday, my mother shipped me the new technology so that I could learn to use it in the weeks prior to my departure. Day by day, practicing with the camera has made me increasingly excited about the trip and my potential to develop as a journalist. Now, I have the opportunity to grow not only as a reporter, but also as a photojournalist.

Good photography has a transformative impact on stories. It brings breathtaking images that tell volumes to people’s experiences and sparks empathy for those in faraway lands.

This was evident in many stories already published detailing the multiple crises in Greece, and especially those telling the stories of refugees. In the New York Times piece, “The Refugee King of Greece” (shared by one of our professors), the style, placement and content of the photos made the story a realer and more emotional journey. A recent Aljazeera photo story (shared by a fellow student) presented the daily life of refugees in a way that depicted a clear image of their daily struggles.

Photography vastly expands the power of journalism, and I am thrilled to be able to expand on my own photography skills. I have always loved being behind the camera, from my early days of taking portraits of my toy dolls with disposable film cameras to taking accompanying photos for stories with my high school newsroom’s high-powered camera.

Before, these were always minor endeavors. In Greece, however, I hope photography will become an entire facet of my journalism that would leave my portfolio incomplete to not include.

I have practiced with camera settings and different types of photo subjects. Between taking photos outside Fenway Park to capturing the beauty of the beach town Hull, Massachusetts, I have been training so that when I have opportunities in Greece, I will be able to perform.

In Greece, I hope to photograph everything. The people, the places, the views, the historical monuments, the animals, the shops, the food, the modes of transportation, the plants – everything that combines to shape my experience in Greece, I want to have on camera. And everything that helps tell the stories that I want to tell, I must capture in still frames as well.

The moments I can capture and the stories I can tell through the lens of a camera will truly expand my ability to document my time in Greece. Though adding this to the list of new skills I hope to learn while in a foreign country will undoubtedly pose its own difficulties, I am up for the challenge.

 

An explanation into relatable data by Suma Hussien

Population and capacity are based on governmental figures from the Coordination for the Management of the Refugee Crisis as of 02 May 2017 provided by the UNHCR.

When scrolling through my Instagram feed, there are few posts that grasp my attention for more than a second, that is until I stumble upon Mona Chalabi’s data sketch posts. As the Data Editor of The Guardian US, Chalabi’s designs hand-drawn data sketches to make numbers more relatable.

Numbers are a huge part of the refugee crisis. According to the UNHCR, accurate, relevant, and timely data and statistics are crucial to refugee operations. Inspired by Chalabi’s ability to simplify complex concepts into accessible charts, I decided to create my own hand-drawn data sketch to display the presence and capacity of four of the most overcrowded refugee camps in Greece.

Overcrowding is the biggest single issue for many camps. Roland Schoenbauer, a spokesman for UNHCR Greece, states that tensions in the camps are linked to the overcrowding of sites. The overcrowding of sites is due to the slow processing of asylum requests.

As seen in the chart as the most overcrowded camp in Greece, the camps in Chios have a capacity of 1,300 people but recent estimates suggest that they currently house 3,845 refugees. (On May 21, our dialogue will send a small reporting team to the island of Chios to work with a Boston area woman who has been lending support in the crisis as an aid worker.)

As we venture out this Monday to witness the humanitarian crisis, I hope to work with the writers of our reporting team to make the complex information of the refugee crisis more accessible, humane, and actionable.

 

Field notes from the crisis-experienced by Suma Hussien

Now that that the stress of semester deadlines and finals is over, I can begin to digest the fact that in just a few days I will be witnessing first-hand what headlines claim to be as the largest-growing humanitarian crisis since WWII. This is where my anxiety starts to settle in. How can we, as privileged students attending a prestigious university with funds to travel internationally, be prepared to witness the worst humanitarian crisis of our time?

As a group, we have been sharing countless articles, videos, and photos on our shared Facebook page. This information definitely serves to fuel our curiosity and does prepare us for producing a well-researched story, but it is up to us individually to prepare ourselves in an emotional or mental way.

As a method of reflection and emotional preparation, I decided to research advice and tips from journalists and experts who have worked and covered disasters and humanitarian crises.

Here are a few of tips that resonated with me:

“Reporting on refugee stories absolutely demands a higher level of understanding of trauma. A high number of refugees suffer from some degree of PTSD or mental health problems due to their trauma. So knowing a bit more about the effects and signs of traumatisation has been incredibly helpful for my storytelling.” Alex Hannaford, freelance journalist

“Reporters should make an effort to focus on aspects that make a person stand out as unique, rather than one of a million who suffer.” Katy Robjant, consultant clinical psychologist

More than in other stories, you will be a part of it. Think about this beforehand: What is your role? What are your limits? When the time comes, it’s important to be able to explain what you can and can’t do for people.” Raniah Salloum, Spiegel Online

Of course, I will never feel fully prepared. Reporting on this international refugee crisis will be incredibly intense and challenging. But that’s why I chose to do it.

 

Exploring the history of the Parthenon by Isaac Feldberg

When it comes to Greek landmarks, the Parthenon is near-inarguably one of the country’s best known, most visually iconic monuments. An ancient temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena – both the goddess of wisdom, craft, and war and the patron goddess of Athens – the Parthenon is seraphic even in placement. Located atop an elevated rocky crag, known as the Acropolis, the Parthenon appears to look out over Athens, a continual reminder of its connection to the goddess Athenians took to be their savior and protector.

Completed in 438 B.C. (after around nine years of construction), the building immediately came to represent Athenian accomplishment, the elegance of its architecture and beauty of the decorative sculptures within serving to elevate it above other monuments constructed in the same time period.

“It was the physical embodiment of their values, their beliefs, of their ideology,” says University of Oregon professor Jeffrey M. Hurwit in a 2008 PBS documentary titled ‘Secrets of the Parthenon.’ “It remains for us a powerful statement of what human beings are capable of.”

The Parthenon, as viewed in 1978. Courtesy: Wikimedia Creative Commons. OP: Steve Swayne.

Architecturally, the building is classified as a Doric temple, with various rooms containing sculptures of Athena and elaborate designs stretching across marble-tiled floors and an intricate frieze.

Intriguingly, though built out of worship to the goddess Athena, the Parthenon has occupied a sacrosanct position in the eyes of multiple religions. In the sixth century AD, it was converted into a Christian basilica, designated in honor of the Virgin Mary; it went on to become a religious landmark for Christians at the time, with many undertaking pilgrimages that featured the Parthenon as a final destination. Later, when Turks had occupied the area, the Parthenon was transformed into a mosque. In the 17th century, the Parthenon was devastated during a siege, though it was subsequently restored by the Greek government along with other Acropolis architecture that had suffered similar damage.

Though currently on display in the British Museum, this statue of Greek god Dionysos reclining was originally placed in the east pediment of the Parthenon. Courtesy: Wikimedia Creative Commons. OP: Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Today, the Parthenon remains the focus of careful restoration efforts. These efforts, however, are aimed less at recreating the structure as it existed in its most complete and majestic stages than at preserving what remains today and memorializing the areas where it was demolished or destabilized by various parties and political campaigns. That said, it remains a symbolic, easily recognizable fixture of Greece, representing the nation in the abstract global imagination.

Studying its history and current stature in the minds of Greek civilians and government today will likely provide useful insight into what role Greek architectural history plays in shaping individuals’ views of their own society.

 

Previewing the Thessaloniki International Book Fair by Isaac Feldberg

An exhibit inside the HELEXPO conference center, where the 14th Thessaloniki International Book Fair will be held in May. Courtesy: Flickr / Wikimedia Creative Commons. PC: Sir Adavis.

In searching for high-profile festivals unfolding across Thessaloniki and Athens through the months of May and June, it doesn’t take long to find news of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair, Greece’s only international book fair.

At this internationally recognized event, the 14th iteration of which will take place from May 11 to May 14 this year in Thessaloniki’s HELEXPO conference center, so-called “book professionals” — comprising publishers, writers, translators, literary agents, journalists, booksellers, librarians, institutions, organized bodies and assorted literary organizations — congregate in one location for a series of conferences, presentations, and panels.

Individuals travel from myriad parts of Europe, the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean to participate in the event, which is one of the Greek literary scene’s crown jewels. 12,000 square meters will be carved out this year for the event’s exhibition area, which is expecting 288 exhibitors, 54,000 visitors, 250 assorted “events” (everything from book signings to readings), and representation from more than 20 countries.

This year’s fair will reportedly focus on the European South, with an exploration of that topic manifesting in presentations of various works relating to Southern European literature, culture, history, and politics. In addition, the fair will feature what it refers to as “four thematic axes,” including the work of Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, the hundredth university of the October Revolution, a socially sympathetic exploration of the refugee crisis titled “Sharing Books – Sharing Homelands,” and a series of events focused on the ancient and present relations between Greece and China, which were historically galvanized by the Silk Roads.   

A portrait of Nikos Kazantzakis. IMG: Wikimedia Creative Commons. PC:  Μουσείο N. Καζαντζάκη / Kazantzakis Museum

It isn’t uncommon for the Thessaloniki International Book Fair to exhibit an awareness of sociopolitical issues and use its size to reach beyond Greek borders.

Last year, globalism and politics were at the center of the fair, with a miniature fest celebrating the concept of “translation” as it applies to literature and conveying meaning through linguistic diversity. Russia was feted during the fair as the guest of honor, with extensive space put aside for Russian book professionals to explore Russian literature through the ages as well as the current state of books in the country.  In addition, a tribute was made to the theme of “refugees,” with books and studies related to the refugee crisis receiving pronounced platforms, and exhibitions depicting a range of pertinent photography and artwork.

According to the fair’s website, the event was first held in 2004 with the intention to highlight Greece as a geographical hotspot for lovers of the written word, merging the cultural and commercial aspects of book publishing in order to promote both and formulate ways to mingle the two. Since then, it has swelled in size and earned a reputation worldwide, joining the International Book Fairs’ Club in 2006 and participating in meetings related to that area of fair planning, held by the Frankfurt Book Fair.

 

Boston eatery offers taste of Greek cuisines by Olivia Arnold

One of the best parts of traveling internationally is sampling the local cuisine. To get ready for our trip to Greece, I stopped at a Mediterranean restaurant in Boston.

Pita is a storefront eatery on Massachusetts Avenue in the South End that prides itself on offering Boston’s freshest authentic Mediterranean foods, which includes cuisines from several countries including Greece, Italy and Turkey. There are two additional Pita locations on Albany and Summer streets.

Pita, a restaurant in Boston’s South End, sells classic Mediterranean meals. Photo by Olivia Arnold

I was headed to Northeastern’s library for final exam studying and decided to pick up the chicken shawarma roll-up. It was the perfect on-the-go meal: chicken wrapped in pita with hummus, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles and tahini sauce.

The chicken shawarma roll-up was a great on-the-go meal during final exam week. Photo by Olivia Arnold

The restaurant offered a lot of Mediterranean foodie favorites—hummus, falafel and shawarma—and its menu listed options for salads, burgers and roll-ups. However, I noticed one classic Greek dish missing from the store’s menu: gyros.

A gyro—pronounced “year oh”—is a Greek dish that includes some type of meat, such as chicken, lamb, beef or pork, wrapped in a pita flatbread with tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce. I stayed in Greece for a week last summer, and gyros were a must-have food.

A shop in Athens offers gyros on its sign. Photo by Lizbeth Finn-Arnold

The inside of a different restaurant in Athens. Photo by Lizbeth Finn-Arnold

Gyros are considered a snack sandwich, similar to fast food. They may be cheap, but the price does not compromise the taste.

If you’re interested in seeing what the hype is all about, TripAdvisor suggests several restaurants in Athens that are well-known for their gyros—Smile Cafe, Thanasis and the Grecos Project.

But if you do check out these restaurants, don’t expect a grab-and-go meal like I had in Boston. Going out for lunch or dinner in Greece is considered an experience, and you’re expected to spend hours there drinking, eating, talking and dancing.

 

Safety in Greece: What you need to know by Olivia Arnold

No matter where I travel to, something I’m always cognizant of is safety—especially as a woman. To prepare for our upcoming Dialogue of Civilization in Greece, I started researching crime rates in Greece and, for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised.

In line with Greece’s persistent financial woes, street crimes—pick pocketing, purse snatching and cell phone theft—are the most common types of crime in Athens. The U.S. State Department Overseas Security Advisory Council writes in its 2016 report that, overwhelmingly, these incidents occur in popular tourist areas and on the metro transportation system. The moral being: These are crimes of opportunity, so stay alert and keep your valuables close.

The Acropolis is a popular tourist destination in Athens where visitors should be aware of their surroundings. Photo by Olivia Arnold

As far as being a woman in Greece, online message boards and travel blogs consistently praised Greece as a safe spot for solo female travelers. OSAC reports that sexual assault rates are low in Greece relative to its population—there was one rape for every 100,000 people in Athens in 2014. In comparison, Chicago, which is similar in size to Athens, had 49 rapes for every 100,000 people.

Girl About the Globe, a travel resource blog for solo female travelers, cautioned women from venturing out alone late at night in Athens (which, really, is advice given in any major city). Overall, the blog gave positive advice about Greek trips.

“Greece is generally very safe for solo female travellers as locals are friendly and helpful,” the post reads. “Men can be more forward than in other Western countries but if you politely indicate your lack of interest, they will apologize and leave you alone.”

Lonely Planet also noted these men, which they called the “biggest nuisance to foreign women.” The site referred to them as “kamaki,” which translates to “fishing trident” because they are “fishing” for foreign women.

“They can be very persistent, but they are usually a hassle rather than a threat,” the post reads. “The majority of Greek men treat foreign women with respect.”

In addition to pickpocketing, the two main concerns currently in Greece are terrorism and protests.

A sign in an airport in Mykonos, Greece, regarding flight safety. Photo courtesy (cc) Cory Doctorow

From my experience, I can say that I never felt unsafe in Greece. It is a beautiful country with much to offer and teach us, however it never hurts to be prepared when traveling to a new country.

 

Greek Government Basics by Bridget Peery

As our date of departure draws closer, the to-do list of preparations is finally beginning to shorten. Bags are nearly packed, notifications of travel have been sent out, and research on Greece is well underway. For the next six weeks, I am leaving behind my life in Boston and will be taking in the sights, the sounds, and the culture of a place considered to be the cradle of western civilization.

And while I am hitting the pause button on my job at home, working for a state representative at the Massachusetts State House, my interest in politics will carry over. After all, Greece is considered to be the birthplace of democracy and served as an inspirational model for the designers of the political institutions in the United States.

And the biggest issue Greece’s government continues to try to address is one of the worst economic depressions in modern times. As we have read in the headlines, Greece has been struggling with serious economic troubles since the financial crisis of 2008. The government has enacted multiple rounds of tax increases, spending cuts and reforms in the years since which have sparked local and nationwide protests.

Just this past week, a deal was reached between the leftist-led government and international creditors for the disbursement of bailout funds in exchange for deeper pension cuts and fewer breaks to taxpayers. This comes after six months of negotiations. Greece will need to legislate the new measures and a vote is expected by expected by May 17. This vote, along with reactions from those who will be affected by it, is something I will be paying close attention to in the coming weeks.

To give a brief overview of the government: Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, is a Parliamentary Republic. The President, the Head of State, is elected by the Hellenic Parliament every five years. The Prime Minister, appointed by the President, is the Head of Government and a member of the Ministerial Council, which is the collective decision-making body that constitutes the Government of Greece. Parliament, located in Athens, is a unicameral legislature. It consists of 300 members which are elected every four years by a system of reinforced proportional representation in 48 multi-seat constituencies, 8 single-seat constituencies and a single nationwide list.

Swearing in of new members of the Greek Parliament in 2009 – Wikimedia Commons

Legislative powers are assigned to Parliament and the Government, executive powers are assigned to the President of the Republic and the Government, and judicial powers are vested in the courts of law. Voting in Greece is compulsory, but not enforced and, like the United States, voters must be 18 years or older to vote.

 

Pastimes in Greece by Bridget Peery

The Baltimore Orioles were visiting the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park this week and yours truly happened to be present on one of those nights. My friends and I wanted to do something fun before the big trip to Greece and a ballpark game seemed like the perfect thing. There’s just something about a balmy evening, a bag of peanuts and cheap seats with good friends you can’t beat.

After doing some reading, I came across a few similar activities I thought I could check out to do as the locals do in Greece.

On the last weekend in April, the regular season of Superleague Greece ended with Olympiacos claiming their seventh consecutive title. Superleague Greece is the highest professional football league in Greece, formed in July of 2006. The league consists of 16 teams playing 30 games each in a season that runs from August to May. Playoffs are scheduled to start on May 10.

One popular spot for Sunday perusing in Athens is at the flea market at Avissynias Square. I came across a Greek blogger who writes that there are plenty of cafes and shops to stop into with no shortage of book stalls and trinket stands. Gypsies and refugees come from all over to sell their items, which can range from junk you might have no use for to family heirlooms.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Of course, there are many historical sites to see in Greece. One of the most popular is the Parthenon, sitting high above the city on the Acropolis in Athens. But I will try to visit the sites that are not quite as well known. Meteora, which translates to “middle of the sky”, is on my list. Here, Eastern Orthodox monasteries dot the tops of high sandstone rock pillars.  

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Because I can never pass up visiting churches when I travel, the Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki is a site I will try to see. This church, built in the 8th century, is one of the oldest continually standing buildings in the city.

So while I plan to be busy working on stories about the political landscape and the day to day lives of the Greek people, I will try to find some time for leisure, as well. A walk through the market in Avissynias Square, a hike up the rocky hillsides, or catching up on the local sports scene are a few activities I will have my camera and a notepad ready for.