Just a Small Town Girl…?

I have always been one for big cities, having grown up in one way too small for my liking. Boston called my name last year, a welcome escape from the suburbia of Edina, Minnesota.

Leaving Thessaloniki behind for the bigger and more well know Athens, I did not experience the same longing to be in the big city. Instead I felt a pang of sadness and a sense of nostalgia for the city I had only come to know in three weeks time.

Thessaloniki was not amazing because of its grandeur. Its skinny streets with half-closed shops and street cats did not shimmer with the foreign luster I desired when I first came to Greece. Instead, warn shop signs and tobacco scented air became the sights and smells of home. I knew the man at the gyro place down the street and the lady who worked at the deli counter who never once poked fun at my weekly visit for turkey and cheese (to pack school lunches for Asia and I).

As many of my friends here have mentioned, the boardwalk along the Aegean sea captured my heart from the very first (sweaty) stroll down its length. Serving as the compass rose for our small city, I always came back to the sea. While abroad in a new place, the moment I feel at home is the moment I realize that I know where I am and can make my way home from wherever that may be. On the boardwalk, eating a chocolate cake with Asia and Isabelle, I could turn to the left and remember when I chased protests with David and Bradley, to the right is where we took midnight boat rides and straight ahead is the old city, perched on the hill extending up into the horizon.

I am writing this blog post from Athens, in a humid hotel room with Paxtyn by my side, doing the same. I do not long for Thessaloniki, Alexandrias 124 or even the boardwalk, but they will forever hold a place in my heart. The three weeks spent there sounds like an arbitrary amount of time, but when you are dropped into a city and made to find stories, you learn the city quickly and soon after that, falling in love is inevitable.

While it is sad to say, I will most likely not return to Thessaloniki. I have a dream to travel the world, and that does not allow any time for do-overs. It is time for Athens now, a full two weeks to learn, map, explore and write about a new city. Athens is bigger and busier for sure, but after exploring for just four hours today with Theo (our guide of sorts) and Asia, I can tell my heart will be bruised when I must leave, just the same as it was when I left our first city.

Here’s to you Thessaloniki. Thank you for hosting me and helping me acclimate into Greece.

And to you Athens, here I am.

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On Limits

I’m sitting halfway up Mt. Olympus, currently feeling far from godlike.

I had tried to push my limits and decided to hike the mountain, something I used to be able to do with (somewhat) ease. About 3 years ago, I had the worst year of my life, resulting in a paralyzed left leg and now, a very weak and finicky one. You can ask me for the full story later, but long story short, I am limited and I hate it.

I was never the most fit kid, but I have always loved nature and exploring. Growing up at a summer camp in the forests of Wisconsin and having a nature trail in my back yard, falling in love with trees and green was inevitable.

Since my (botched) surgery, my love for nature has frustratingly not diminished. The five-hour hikes have turned into one-hour, harder trails into easy and less beautiful strolls. And today, the four-hour hike to see the Gods of Olympus has turned into a $25 cab ride and a $1.50 beer in a taverna not even Hades would want to be at, the rain putting out his fiery blue hair.

Knowing ones limit is something I still have not come completely to terms with. I am not good at saying no, holding anyone back or turning down a group activity. Coined, “FOMO” or “fear of missing out,” I push my limits, medical and mental, to match those around me, and in this case, it is not such a good thing. While I know no one on this trip would say anything mean about me, the fear of missing a great hike, an inside joke or worse, being the butt of the joke is worse than the ache in my leg.

Ever since the first twitch of my big toe, signaling that I wouldn’t be paralyzed forever, I have pushed myself to embrace everything. I shoved my bandaged foot into my heels for the Homecoming dance, bound my ankle to my calf in order to make it to my first day of school and hiked up and down Masada (in Israel) not once but twice.

On bad days like these, on the side of the road in nowhere-Greece alone and waiting for a cab in the rain, I try and remember how far I’ve come and how many limits I have pushed with a positive outcome. Today was not one of those days…maybe tomorrow.

On Ups and Downs

I have always been afraid of roller coasters. They are high and fast, and as someone who hates bumps in the car that make you lose your stomach for just a split second, I can NOT handle the loop-de-loops.

To parallel to something less random, I also do not like having unstable moods. The “roller coaster of emotions” (trite) expression is almost as uncomfortable as being strapped into the real thing.

These past two weeks have not only had the bumps of a car trip down an unpaved street but the drops and steep climbs of the most insane coasters at Disney.

The trip itself, the friends, food and all-around experiences have been extraordinary.

Here, I am not a lowly freshman, I am up there with the rest and have learned (and possibly taught? Input, guys?) so much from my new friends here, from rising sophomores like myself to 25-year-old graduate students (happy birthday Brandon! How’s 25 feel?). I never knew how good it would feel to be surrounded by such driven yet down to earth people who are all riding this ride with me. While I may be the most terrified, white-knuckling it in the back, I know that everyone else has been there too, now at the front of the ride waiving their hands in the air like it’s no big deal. We were all beginners once and we all get scared sometimes.

From days at the beach where I swam in the Aegean Sea and talked about life over milkshakes to nights that end at 2:30 a.m. in an nondescript bar with a piece of pizza in my hand, ouzo and cigarette smoke in the air and chatting about politics with colleagues turned amazing friends, I am truly living. I could not picture a more amazing trip, and it has only been two of the five weeks.

Then the drop hits. When it does, my stomach filled with milkshakes and laughter slips up into my throat.

This trip has also come with challenges and downfalls, the kind that leave you feeling scared for the next inevitable drop and twist in the tracks that makes me want the ride to stop for a moment to collect myself and then move on.

As a first-year journalism major, I have not yet perfected the skills needed to be on a coaster that only goes up. (can you really perfect it though? Always a small bump, no matter what, I suppose, no matter how old you get.) The “you must be this tall to ride” sign looms over me, and at some points during the trip, I have let that defeat me. After my first story finished up, I was faced with a blank reporters notebook, and worse, a blank mind. Quickly, my brain filled with a whole jumble of ideas for my next article. While I still love most of those ideas, they were shot down almost as fast as I could come up with new ones.

Each time an idea was turned away, the coaster lurched down, sending my head reeling and sinking my heart further into the pit of my stomach. At one point, I wanted to get off.

However, as I am writing this, I would like to inform you all that I am still on my ride, a steady incline in my horizon as I have finally found a story to tell and have the resources to do it and the go-ahead from our faithful conductor (can I call you that, Carlene? It fits the whole theme).

I still hate roller coasters. They are scary, unpredictable and can go down at any second. But I am so thankful that I didn’t give up on this five-week ride, because riding the high of a published story, a great interview and the feeling after an amazing 3 a.m. conversation has been worth the lowest of the lows.

Here’s to the next peak! Stay tuned for my upcoming article and of course, more blog posts.

Welcome to the World

1:02 a.m., May 18, 2017, 1,125 words and 6,860 characters.

Just like that, my first story was born, and I could not be happier.

For a week and a half, David, Bradley and I had thought of you, always changing in our minds eye. Would you have a news lede like the Globe or maybe a funny anecdotal lede like TIME? Surely not anything like The Onion, we were all happy when you didn’t come out like that.

Through 3 separate protests (dare I say trimesters?) you put us through hell, always trying to find new information to feed your insatiable appetite. We did though, and you grew and developed into the fledged story you are today.

Now that you are published, it is time for me and your co-authors to let you go, out into the world. There, young story, you may face adversity. People may write on your comments with things not too pleasant and you may be shared on a Facebook wall that you do not like. There is nothing we, as your authors, can do, and you must stand alone as a proud piece of reporting that we know you are.

With love,

Author 1/3, Sophie

 

To read the story that prompted this post, go to https://nujournalismingreece2017.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/despite-lack-of-change-protests-continue-to-be-way-of-life/

 

 

Anarchists, Communists and Stray Dogs.

There was a day not too long ago (May 11, but the days feel like years here) in which I felt like a full fledged journalist for the first time. All it took was around seven different groups of anarchists, communists and soap makers, a stray dog and an amazing group of talented journalists beside me.

To make most of that clearer, here is the not-so-brief retelling of how I went on my first photo assignment that turned into my first full-fledged reporting piece.

Originally, I had volunteered to accompany my friends and fellow reporters, David and Bradley, on their first reporting assignment. The idea was to cover protest culture and in Greece there are apparently daily protests. Thinking I would just be standing on the sidelines and taking a few pictures when/if we stumbled across a rally, I packed my camera and a notebook for work and then a book to read in the down time I assumed I had.

We eventually found a protest at 6 p.m. at the Arch of Galerius in the city and from there, my story gets wild.

In the city square, I was expecting to find a few dozen people to be holding protest signs and possibly a black-inflatable tube @DivestNU. We decided to be punctual and showed up at 5:59 for the 6:00 show, but we were surprisingly early, as only a few signs (like the one above) were taped up and not a lot of people were there.

Slowly, the area began to fill with people, each horde of around 20 carrying a different red, black and white sign. (What’s black and white and red/read all over? A group of Greek anarchists.)

Back in the states, anarchists and communists are viewed with a certain distaste, being associated with chaos and wrongdoings. And so I walked up to them and started chatting. We met some amazing people, and most of them were willing to talk, some sans a first name and even one with a pseudonym (and who also threw me shade, I’m not upset, it’s fine, whatever).

My favorite anarchist of the bunch is pictured below. Amidst the first part of the gathering, this pup was fast asleep on the ground in the dead center of the square. Little did we know, the dog picked his nap spot to be right in the middle of the action on purpose, as we later found out that even the strays in Greece are politically active.

After the weirdest gathering of anarchists, communists, anti-capitalists and a cool couple of German tourists petered out, they took to the streets and as journalists do, we followed…or at least we all tried to.

I had never photographed a protest before, as most of my main photo concerns are usually figuring out stage lighting and not getting sweat on by up-close performers at shows. Shooting a march was a whole other animal, but luckily I had my faithful animal right beside me the whole time. As I ran at full speed, camera bag swinging and probably looking ridiculous (thoughts David/Cody?) the dog followed us as I weaved in and out down the street and even crossed in front of the march at some points.

After walking what felt like the entire world, but most likely the length of the city, we made it to the end. The end being a weird and frankly ironic benefit concert type gathering. The anarchists formed a line to get in and the anti-capitalists reached into their wallets for the three euro admittance charge. Felling strange about going in, both the journalists and the stray took that as our cue to leave. That and the presence of riot police, but only as a courtesy to them (can’t scare me in Greece, po po, I’ll call Rebecca Fong.)

In all seriousness, being able to talk to anyone and everyone with the confidence of a real journalist was one of the biggest takeaways for me. I know I usually joke that I am “just a little freshie” and can be hard on myself, but in this moment, I jumped in and was reporting with the best of ’em. Behind the camera or out with my reporter’s notebook, I think I’ve found something worth doing that in turn makes me feel worth it too.

 

RIP Doggo. He didn’t die, I just miss him.

 

 

 

 

Twas the week before departure…

It is 5 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon and I have just walked out of the newsroom for the last time this semester, but for the first time as a sophomore. My last final exam, and the only thing standing between me and Greece, was three hours ago, and afterwards I came to the only other place besides my dorm that has felt like home for the past nine months. Leaving the doors of Holmes Hall, I left behind my freshman year and strode nervously towards my next adventure: Greece.

I have studied abroad before, but these nerves are different and more foreign to me. During my semester abroad in Israel, I was 16 and just trying to escape my junior year of high school in a new country. When I was in India at 17, I was there to film a short documentary and see the world, knowing that I would have my American friend turned Hindi translator by my side and return home in under a month.

This coming trip is much more than just an escape or a fun project, while in some ways it’s both of those things too.

I returned back to my dorm, once a double and now a single, my roommate’s side now littered with half-filled cardboard boxes for storage and suitcases to be packed and weighed to the ultimate 45 lbs (leaving five for the souvenirs I am undoubtedly going to collect). As I unpacked my school bag for the last time this year, I realized that my classroom learning is over for the summer, but my real life journalism learning is going to kick in, and in high gear, in just over a week.

And that is scary.

I am the girl that embraces travel, going to foreign places like India and Poland where I do not know the language, but also exploring the neighborhoods of Minneapolis and Boston to find something new and exciting hidden among the familiar. However, nothing about this trip will be familiar and that is scary. Exciting and wonderful and amazing. And also scary.

I think that if I were calm about this experience it would have been wasted on me. Going to a new place should be a bit nerve-wracking. Going with older and more experienced journalists will be intimidating. Seeing first-hand the effects of the refugee crisis on the shores of Greece will be heartbreaking. And I think not accepting all that would be cheating myself of all this trip has to offer.

I am so excited to throw myself off this proverbial cliff and into this trip full-force. I know that I will have the chance to tell the stories that I have always dreamed of telling and with the support of professors and fellow students turned news team staff. I will wake up with a mission, a script to write, and interview to conduct and drinks to go out to afterwards and talk about my day over. And that too is scary. Amazing but scary, and I am not afraid to admit that I am afraid. I think that it’s all part of the experience, really.

In the coming week, I will have moved out of my freshman dorm, packed my belonging and put them in storage and traded in my first-year status for that of a rising sophomore. I will most likely freak out over the weight of my ever-growing suitcase, my Greek pronunciations and just how incredible this life I am leading truly is.

And then I will board a plane. Scared, excited and ready.