It’s All Greek to These First-Years
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things might not have to happen the way they always have. For example, why wait until junior year to study abroad? Last year, Wellesley successfully sent students from all classes abroad, including some first-years (the class of 2024).
Lorelei Blau ’24 was one of them. She spent two months in Athens last spring through the College Year in Athens (CYA) program, which was founded in 1962 by Ismene Phylactopoulou ’27. She visited Delphi, the Peloponnese, Poseidon’s Temple at Sounion, and a handful of Greek islands, and said she learned a lot from being independent in a foreign country. “Using public transportation, catching cabs, and figuring out the ferry to the islands were all challenging, as I’m not used to planning transport this way as a Californian,” she wrote in an email. “I feel much more prepared for heading into Boston and going around the city!”
Inspired by the rewarding experiences of Blau and other first-years, Jennifer Thomas-Starck, director of international study at Wellesley, and the International Study Committee started a program to send a group of students from the incoming class of 2025 to spend the fall semester in Greece through CYA. The 15 first-years who signed up for the program met for an orientation on Wellesley’s campus at the end of August before heading to Greece together, where they are now living in four apartments in Athens, a five-minute walk from the CYA campus and a 20-minute walk from the Acropolis.
While they take classes and go on weekend field trips with the entire community of 130 CYA students, who come from universities and colleges all over the world, these 15 members of the class of 2025 have become particularly close. They’ve been taking turns hosting dinner parties, and the other evening they had a movie night to watch Frozen 2. “We have great camaraderie and get along well,” said Ava Galbraith ’25. “I know this group is going to be my network once I am back on campus.”
In addition to the bonding experience, there are other reasons it makes sense for some first-years to study abroad. Roommates Grace Dodd ’25 and Frances Kayser ’25 both hope to pursue the pre-med track, and they know it will be challenging to take time away from campus while fulfilling the requirements later in their Wellesley careers. They are thrilled to have a chance to live abroad now.
Kayser and Dodd recently gushed over Zoom about their weekend trips to different parts of Greece. Dodd, who is from Cincinnati and attended online high school, has loved having such an immersive learning experience. The previous weekend, she had traveled to the monastery in Meteora. “There are these present-day monks living on top of this rock in this foggy, misty landscape, it’s just…” Dodd trailed off, in awe of the memory. Kayser, who is from outside of Los Angeles, marveled at being surrounded by so many ancient places. “In Delphi we visited the Temple of Apollo,” Kayser said. “It’s older than I can fathom. I learned about this place in my textbook, and now I am seeing it in front of me.” Dodd described seeing a modern adaptation of Prometheus Bound performed in an ancient amphitheatre for one of her classes: “It was one of those moments where you’re like, this can’t really be happening, this is insane.”
Perhaps the experience of learning out in the world is particularly appealing in contrast to so many months of virtual education during the pandemic. After countless hours on computer screens, seeing the art and architecture students have been learning about in real life is unspeakably refreshing. Of course, COVID is still an issue in Greece, but thanks to vaccine requirements and weekly testing, the CYA students have remained safe and healthy both at school and while exploring the country on weekends.
Galbraith and her roommate, Angelica Delgado ’25, said they love just walking around the city, looking for small, not-touristy restaurants in alleys and spending hours in the local meat and vegetable markets. Delgado has enjoyed sampling the souvlaki, gyros, and baklava, and Galbraith is excited just to be living independently for the first time—cooking, budgeting, grocery shopping, and just getting from place to place. Athens has introduced her to new things, she said, that she wasn’t previously used to or comfortable with. Most recently, she took the subway on her own for the first time and didn’t get lost. Both Delgado and Galbraith are from Arizona and don’t have much experience with public transportation, so this felt like an especially big win—particularly because all the signs are in Greek! “Every experience you’ll either enjoy or at least learn from it,” Galbraith said.
While many college students don’t get to experience this type of independence until their junior or senior years, or after they’ve graduated, this group of first-years is diving in right away. “You might worry you will miss the traditional college experience by doing an abroad program the first semester of your first year,” said Dodd, “but I know I will be much more confident going back to Wellesley this winter.”
Plus: "Living at Wellesley is going to feel so easy after Athens,” Kayser added. “We won’t have to cook for ourselves!”