Mary Stough

Mary Stough
Student Ambassador , Tulane University
Email: maryashleystough@gmail.com
School:Tulane University
CYA Term:Fall 2017
Major:Anthropology & Psychology
Anticipated Graduation Month/Year:2019

School: Tulane University

CYA Term: Fall 2017

Major: Anthropology and Psychology

Anticipated Graduation Year: 2019

Based on your experience with CYA, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester or summer abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development? 

I was introduced to the idea of study abroad at a very young age, as my family is filled with people who love to travel, but none of whom had the opportunity to study abroad as an undergraduate student. As an anthropology major I am fascinated by other cultures and languages, and the best way to learn about and gain an understanding of both the culture and the language, is through immersion. Greece in particular holds a special place in my heart because I am half Greek. My grandparents emigrated from Greece when they were young, to escape separate conflicts. My grandmother fled from the Turks and my grandfather from the Albanians. Growing up I heard many stories of my relatives traveling back to the “home country,” and many of my Greek friends also had this Greek-American “rite of passage,” by spending long summers with their relatives and traveling throughout Greece. I saw CYA as an opportunity to have this experience and learn more about my heritage and reunite with some cousins who live in Thessaloniki and Athens. I had known a decent amount about Greek culture due to my mom’s family, but study abroad as a whole is a great way to learn more about a country’s culture, and other countries as you travel regionally and outside of the country you are studying in. You can also meet so many new friends through the program, interacting with people from the country, and by traveling. I learned a lot about Scotland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Spain, and Australia, among other countries from interactions with people I met in hostels and out and about while exploring Athens. I think learning is always great, and having the opportunity to learn about places and people who are different from you is amazing. Now I have people to visit and places to stay when I travel within the U.S. and abroad due to the people I met because of CYA. I learned a lot, not only through my courses and the sites I visited, but from my experiences in different regions. I am very interested in anthropology and archaeology, so being able to learn about places on site and going to museums with the real artefacts was incredible. I am Greek Orthodox too, so by going to Church services and taking a religions course I was able to learn more about Greek Orthodoxy in general, and how the religion differs in Greece from the U.S. However, “book knowledge” is not the only knowledge that matters. Real world experience is valuable, which is one of the reasons many employers value candidates who have studied abroad. As the United States becomes more diverse, multilingualism is becoming increasingly important. I knew English, Spanish, and Italian going into CYA, and now I know some Greek. By immersing myself in Greek society, I found the hidden gems of Athens and the towns I visited. In Greece, people began to assume I was Greek and started speaking to me in Greek. One woman told me I was no longer a tourist, but not a native. I was somewhere in between. That meant a lot to me, as I felt successful integrating into Athenian society, mastering cultural norms. Also, being alone while abroad teaches you how to be more independent and makes you leave your comfort zone. You have the ability to discover so much about yourself and what you are capable of.

What advice do you have for prospective students who are interested in or planning to study abroad with CYA? What do you wish you knew before starting your study abroad experience?

Go in with an open mind, and look for ways and organizations to get involved with before arriving. Once the semester starts it’s easy to become very busy with the course work, exploring Athens, traveling, and making new friends. CYA offers some Greek activities like a Greek cooking class. I wish I knew that they would only offer one, because I would have definitely taken a study break to go, but instead I stayed in. Greeks are very community and family orientated. They are gracious hosts and will be very warm and welcoming towards you. They love when you try to speak Greek and will help you learn it if you want. Don’t be afraid to engage with strangers, even if you’re a little shy, you will make a lot of friends in Greece. They will want to follow up with you sometimes, it’s okay to say no, but don’t be afraid to bring some friends and go out to dinner or a bar to meet up with people again. You will get to learn more about the city, the country, and the people by interacting with Greeks. CYA is great because you get to meet so many students from across the United States and learn how different people grew up in different regions, and compare your college experience to theirs, and now you are all in a new foreign country. Don’t just find a clique the first week and stick to them. You can learn a lot from the locals, but also your peers. Wait to plan some traveling until you get there, and go on trips with your new friends! It will be a lot of fun and you’ll make friends for a lifetime. Plan a cooking night with your apartment and your neighbors. Go to the farmer’s market and the meat market together and buy what you want to make, then cook together. It’s a lot of fun, a good way to get to know each other, and it’s a really cheap meal. That being said it’s definitely okay to take time for yourself. Don’t feel pressured to do too much at once. You’re in a new environment while dealing with school, and it can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Take some breaks to go for a run, watch Netflix, read, paint, skype friends, or do whatever you enjoy doing at home. There’s always a lot going on, but it’s okay to miss a few things here and there. Try making a list at the beginning of the semester of things you want to do in Athens or while abroad. Include places you want to see, food you want to try, and activities you want to do. That way you can spread them out throughout the semester instead of trying to cram everything in the last few weeks. You are young, and it won’t be the last time you’re abroad, so it’s okay if you don’t get to do everything on your list, but it makes it seem more manageable and it will make you make the most of your time abroad. A lazy day in bed every now and then is great, but go out and I promise you’ll always find or see something new. Talk about things you see or experience that you don’t understand with CYA staff. Aimee Placas’ ethnography class was great for gaining a better understanding of Greek society.

How was the political climate in Greece different from what are you used to? If applicable, describe a time when you had to navigate a political conversation during your time abroad.

In the United States politics are something a lot of people talk and argue about, but not as small talk. Whereas in Greece, it is and will be brought up as small talk, and people do not care about political correctness. As a country in the EU, their political issues are also more globally involved, whereas U.S. political discussions focus on the U.S., and when the rest of the world’s politics are mentioned, it is still in relation to the U.S. In Greece, we can talk about something happening in Austria, that indirectly would relate to Greece by extension of the EU, but would have no direct effect. Also, in Greece politics are a lot of talking, but also doing. There are so many protests, and many are relatively non-violent. In the U.S., there are fewer protests and many turn violent. People in Greece also know how to have differing political views, but still remain friends. Many political ties are family and history oriented, but in the U.S., views tend to be more independently decided. In the U.S. it’s a lot of us vs them mindsets, and people do not want to be associated with people who have different political beliefs. Most of the conversations I had were about Trump. One interesting conversation was when I was talking to a woman at a restaurant about how I, and how many other Americans, were not fans of Trump, but she was insistent that we had to follow him and his actions because he was our president, and I kept insisting that he may be the president, but his election was a wake up call to much of the country, because many people do not want him representing us and did not approve of his actions. I thought her comments were especially interesting, since many Greeks have developed cynical views of Greek politicians as the crisis drags on.

What  would you be willing to share about your CYA experience with other students:

  • Religion while abroad
  • Mental health while abroad

What extracurricular activities were you involved with in Greece?

Went to Planet Fitness & More

Briefly describe a cultural experience you had that was significant to you in any way.

This summer I was fortunate enough to participate in a field school on Astypalaia for five weeks. Since it is a relatively small island, the community was very tight-knit. The locals knew a lot about the group of students I was a part of before I arrived. However, we knew very little about them. Since it was a field school, we did a lot of cooking and weekly grocery shopping. At the beginning there was a bit of a language barrier, and my shopping experiences were very formal. However, by the end of the five weeks, the owner, and his son, would deliver the water bottles and watermelon to where my my group stayed free of charge. They told my friends and I about different festivals and events happening on the island, gave us discounts, and let us sample some of the freshest fruit. By the end of the five weeks, I felt truly part of the small community.

Favorite food in Greece?

Gyros

Favorite class you took at CYA?

The Religions of the Middle East: A Comparative Approach