Friendliness, good fortune and my own personal brand of gregariousness often allow me to accomplish things others deem impossible.
Entering the Consulate
It is 9:40 AM and after making a pit stop at a near by ATM, I’m ready to meet the Greek consulate.
I approach the door, and unfortunately for me, it’s started to rain again. I ring the bell and the door starts buzzing. Eagerly I pull … and nothing. I can’t get it open. The door continues to buzz as I pull on it before backing away in confusion.
Nearby, another man seems to be waiting as well.
A second man walks up and ask me, “Did you ring the bell?”
“Yup, but I can’t get the door open.”
Right then the door begins buzzing once more and he reaches out and … pushes the door open.
“Oh,” I say as I enter because, like a gentleman, he allowed me to enter first before he and his friend follow me inside.
A Greek official greets the two men and their female friend in Greek as they begin discussing paperwork or something. As time passes, two other women come and go from the room all speaking in a language unlike anything I’ve ever heard before.
As I sit listening, I’m nearly overwhelmed with my first experience being surrounded by Greek culture and language. Hearing the different sounds and seeing the Greek constitution in Greek lettering beside the same document in English was eye opening. It made me realize what a culture shock it will be when I actually arrive in Thessaloniki.
Meeting with the Consulate
I wait for about forty minutes before a tall man in a suit calls my name and escorts me to a tiny elevator. We ride up to the top floor and I dutifully hand over all of the requested papers as he asks for them.
He points me down a hallway where I pay, in cash that I obtained about five minutes before entering his building, for my visa. The man with the giant safe was beyond pleased that I had almost exact change for the $95.40 visa fee. He smiled as he handed me back a dime before shooing me back to the consulate.
The consulate took my photo and then I escorted myself out of the building.
[For those of you who are curious about exactly what materials are necessary to obtain your student Greek visa, click on the link below.]
Leaving the Greek Consulate
Now, you may be thinking that everything went smoothly up to this point. But I assure you that it was anything but smooth. For example, I had forgotten I needed cash and had originally only brought about $60 and some change – that problem was solved fairly quickly with a quick Google search and an ATM card.
However, problem number two was that I had forgotten to print off my itinerary. Fortunately, I had a copy on my phone and the consulate had me email it to him right then and there. It was kind of fun to hand the Greek consulate my iPhone as he can check to make sure I hadn’t spelled his email wrong – and for the record I had.
My final problem was that – while I had brought a self-addressed envelope for my passport to be returned – I instead needed a self-addressed UPS envelope.
This problem was solved easily enough due to my prior planning.
As I left the consulate building, I texted my friend the taxi driver. He was waiting outside and drove me several blocks over and agreed to wait for me – without running the timer – as I ran inside and bought an envelope.
Ten minutes later I dash back outside and he drives me back to the consulate building. This time I know to push the door after it buzzes.
Leaving the Consulate ... Again
I’m back in the taxi and my new friend rushes me to the airport so that I can catch my 1 PM flight. I breeze through security and plop into a chair near my gate.
Not a single one of my friends from the Chicago area had any faith that I would make my flight. But I can tell you for certain, that I did indeed make it back in time to jump aboard my plan and return to Omaha.
However, I can say for certainty that without my faithful friend, Mr. Taxi Driver, I would not have been able to leave the Greek consulate building in downtown Chicago after 11:15 AM and make it back to the airport an through security before my 1 PM flight started boarding.
The stress was worth it. I am now the proud owner of a Greek visa! My favorite part, the picture on the opposite side foreshadows one of the classes I'm taking while in Greece.
Until next week, I'll leave you to try and guess.
Coming up next week: My Study Abroad Class Schedule
As an extrovert, I’ve made it my mission in life to get to know everyone I meet. My mother says I've never known a stranger.
Flying from Omaha to Chicago
The campanile begins the chime at 3:15 AM. Well, not really. It's just my phone alarm that I've programmed to remind me of my favorite piece of Iowa state tradition even while I'm away.
My phone alarm sounds again at 3:20 AM, reminding me that I'm still in bed. Finally, I maneuver around the dog (who clearly doesn't want me to leave) and roll out of bed.
I pull on the clothes I left out the night before: navy slacks, a colorful tank top, and a purple suit jacket. They're all cute, semi-professional, and, most importantly, comfortable. I head downstairs and pull on my shoes: little black booties, and then steal a watch from my sister's collection.
My next alarm goes off, signaling that it's 3:45 and time for me to leave. Am I ready? Of course not.
I still need to apply minimal makeup, including mascara. Only, I have to sneeze. Instead of long, curly lashes, I have creative looking eyeliner. Sorry, I’m not including this photo.
Officially behind schedule, I scramble around for six or seven more minutes before grabbing my keys and heading out the door, phone flashlight in hand.
I drive from Ceresco, Nebraska to Omaha in pitch black. Next thing I know I'm in... Iowa? Following Google maps isn't always the best plan. However, I eventually make it to the airport and leave my car in daily parking.
Inside the airport, I head through security. My right heel sets off the full body scanner and gets a part down. I don't know what my heel thought it was carrying, but I had know knowledge of it.
The security woman also examined my watch (that Id forgotten to take off) and told me it was pretty. I smile and thank her rather than saying, "I stole it from my sister!"
Within the next hour, I'm sitting on a plane, asleep, and on my way to Chicago.
Adventures in Chicago
I arrive in Chicago at 7 AM and spend a few minutes charging my phone and Googling cafes near the consulate's office. (Yeah, I know. Probably should have done this before I left, but hindsight is 20/20.) After failing to find a cafe on Google maps, I search Starbucks. Guess what? There is literally one across the street from the consulate.
I catch a cab from the airport and make friends with the driver. He was from Asian and had been in America for two years. He arrived without knowing any English and was entirely self-taught, which was very impressive.
I work at the Writing and Media Center at Iowa State, meaning that I have a lot of experience communicating with international students, or in this case, taxi drivers. My best advice for anyone is to always be friendly and genuinely interested in other people.
Applying these beliefs to my own life, I was able to explain to my taxi driver that I had a meeting at 10 AM and needed a ride back to the airport immediately after so that I could make it on my 1 PM flight.
[Side note: not a single one of my friends from Chicago believed that I would make this flight. I love proving people wrong.]
After several minutes of conversation, my taxi driver agrees to pick me up after the meeting with the consulate. Grateful to have that dilemma solved, I run inside, kicking myself for forgetting an umbrella as it was pouring rain.
I then spend the next several hours stressing about every little thing that could go wrong during my meeting about my Greek visa.
Stay tuned for - Part Two: Meeting with the Consulate
Once I decide to exert my drive determination into a project, it is a forgone conclusion that whatever I set out to achieve will be accomplished.
Visiting the Study Abroad Center
My journey to study abroad had already begun when I stopped by the Study Abroad Center during a friend’s work shift. I had narrowed down my interests to two regions and needed help finalizing and choosing a program for summer 2016. I either wanted to A.) spend the summer in Latin America; or B.) spend the summer somewhere in Europe, most likely Ireland.
My friend accomplished A. easily enough by helping me schedule an appointment to discuss programs in Latin America the following week. However, B. was slightly more complicated because I was struggling with my feelings toward studying abroad in Europe.
Let me explain: I thought that I wanted to spend the summer in Ireland. However, even though I was and still am desperate to visit there, I was truly only interested in a vacation. For some reasons the dots weren’t connecting for me to have my heart set on a study abroad program in Ireland, or England for that matter, and if I was going to Europe I only wanted to study someplace where I could speak the language.
My friend finally asked me, “Hunter, if you could go anywhere, where would it be?”
My answer was instantaneous, “Greece.”
And that is the slightly oversimplified beginning of the story about how I ended up racing around ISU’s campus trying to figure out what I wanted to do with three months of my life the following summer.
Discussing Latin America
When I met with Nancy I already had a specific country in mind in Latin America: Peru. However, I wanted to leave my questions open-ended and seek Nancy’s advice on which program she thought best matched my interests. We discussed several programs, but it didn’t take Nancy long to identify the core of my interest in visiting Latin America: ancient civilizations and ruins.
So, while she said she’d love to have me in her program to Ecuador, she suggested I look into a program in Peru. At that point, I came clean and let her know that I’d been looking into a summer in Peru since fall of my freshman year. We talked for about an hour and I was thrilled to have finally made my decision: I was going to spend the summer of 2016 in Cuzco, Peru.
Summer Programs Greece
Something you should know about me, I’m dreadfully polite. I blame my mother for this terrible skill. So, even though I’d decided that I was studying abroad in Peru over the summer, I kept my appointment with Christine Gemignani for the next day; I didn’t want to cancel with such short notice because I thought that would be rude.
Christine and I also met for about an hour. During the first twenty minutes or so she told me all about this wonderful program in Thessaloniki, Greece. However, the entire time she was talking I could only concentrate on two things: 1.) that I’d already set my heart on studying in Peru; and 2.) that I’ve never been to Europe and five weeks did not seem like enough time to actually enjoy my first trip off of North America.
Finally, I interrupted and asked, “What’s a semester look like?”
Christine immediately switched gears and explained the differences in the semester program versus the summer. It took me all of a few heartbeats to come to a decision that would allow me to study both in Peru and Greece.
“Yeah, let’s do this.”
And there you have it. An impulsive decision led me to study abroad – both in Greece for the upcoming spring semester and in Peru over summer – because I didn’t want to be rude. It’s funny how life works out sometimes.
Coming up next week: How I obtained my Greek visa
My name is Hunter and this is the story of how I studied abroad.
A Little Bit About Myself
I’m a junior at Iowa State University majoring in Public Relations with a double major in Women’s Studies and minors in Psychology and History. (I promise I’m not as crazy as my degree sometimes makes me sound!) In my free time I can be found socializing with random strangers, taking pictures, or looking up historical sights that I’d like to someday visit.
I’m actively involved on campus. I work at the ISU Writing and Media Center and absolutely love my job and adore all of my co-workers. Another one of my pastimes is music; I’m a member of the ISU Concert Band. I’m also a member of the Greek community and of several other various clubs and honor societies on campus.
Bit of Background
Over the summer 2015, I interned in Washington D.C. It was the most incredible experience of my life. I connected with friends from around the country, learned how to be successful in a professional environment, and challenged myself to visit unfamiliar places both with new friends and by myself. I found myself over that summer; I found the woman I’d always hoped to become.
As I left Washington D.C., I was convinced that I would be returning the following summer to intern once more in my favorite city. However, plans change. Often times for the better. Returning to Iowa State, I reconnected with friends I hadn’t spoken to for months. One such friend was a sorority sister who had spent the previous semester in Ireland. She was describing how beautiful Ireland was and I remember telling how much I’ve always wanted to visit.
Her response is engrained in my memory with startling clarity. She said, “You should.”
That was the end of the conversation. She was distracted by another friend and walked out of the room. On the other hand, I was left with my thoughts and feelings spinning around my head.
As a high school student, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. But as a college student, I had final made peace with the fact that my dreams of studying in another country would continue to be just that, dreams. But apparently my dreams weren’t ready to be cast aside that easily. So rather than focusing on my studies with the intention of seeking an internship in D.C. the following summer, I spent the first few weeks of school racing around campus while researching study abroad programs.
For the first time in my life I stopped thinking about what I ‘had’ to do or what I ‘needed’ to do; instead I focused on what I wanted to do. I put my time and energy into something that I’d always wanted to do and had given up hope of ever achieving: studying abroad.
Coming up next week: Choosing a study abroad program
My name is Hunter and this the blog of my worldwide adventures. The purpose of this blog is to show that you can be a traveler, not just a tourist.