STUDIUM & FREIZEIT
By guest author Deborah Batz
„Why do you want to go to Greece? You are studying English and Economics, Greece is probably not the best destination for a semester abroad for you!" – Questions or comments like this were the normal reaction when I told my family and friends about my plan to spend five months in Greece in 2015/2016. I would like to express, why it was one of the best decisions I made so far and why it was especially useful for my course of studies.
Since my first semester at the University of Duisburg-Essen I was thrilled to spend some time abroad. In my fourth semester, I started searching for an Erasmus destination. At first I hought it would be necessary for me to go to an English-speaking country to improve my language skills and attend classes. After a while, I realized that it was also possible in almost all other partner to improve my English. Furthermore, the application process for Great Britain and Ireland appeared to be very hard because most of the spots were already blocked for upcoming Lehramt students. Therefore, I decided to check other European options as well, mainly in the Mediterranean area. I tried to find a place where none of my friends had been before. I found the cooperation with the Aristoteles University of Thessaloniki and spontaneously decided to apply.
After a very short application process, I was accepted and flew with my three suitcases – which were definitely too much – to the second largest city in Greece. I thought that not a lot of students would go to Thessaloniki for their Erasmus stay, but I was so wrong. I studied, partied and enjoyed my time with more than 400 Erasmus students.
I lived in an apartment with two other Erasmus students, one girl from Spain and another girl from Germany. On the same floor lived several other Erasmus students from Armenia, Poland and Italy. After some weeks, we were all very close and our apartments were popular spots for other Erasmus students to pass by. In general, most students in Thessaloniki lived in the city center, therefore it was easy to reach another apartment by foot within 15 minutes.
Thessaloniki is an amazing town for young people to study: a beautiful promenade to take walks, delicious Greek taverns, amazing sunsets, awesome party nights and open-minded people everywhere. It was impossible to feel homesick because I took part in many events organized for Erasmus students or went out with my Greek friends from university. I totally enjoyed the perfect balance between having a good social life and not overstressing with work activities.
Graduates from university tried to find their happiness abroad
The university life was vivid. I was very lucky because I could attend classes together with Greek students as I took only classes in English literature. I really needed to step out of my comfort zone to communicate with the Greeks, but it was worth the effort. During my first week, I met many friendly Greek students who showed me around, drank coffee with me and taught me some words in Greek. I was surprised at how well the Greek people speak English in Thessaloniki. Everyone knows at least basic English and almost all students participate in one or two other language classes to have better chances on the European job market.
Distant and close destinations
Moreover, Thessaloniki has an exciting Salsa-dance scene, which I could experience to the fullest. I attended Salsa classes since the second week of my stay and learned so much within five months because in my classes were only two other couples. Every weekend I went with my classmates to salsa clubs and open-air parties. Here I also met non-students, so I got even deeper insights of the Greek culture.
At the same time when I arrived in Thessaloniki, Ryanair decided to increase their empire. With my new friends I flew to Athens, Santorini and Cyprus. Not only far destinations were easy to reach, but also awesome places nearby. In autumn for instance, we visited the ancient city of Naoussa, Meteora monastery and, very important to mention, the famous beaches of Chalkidiki.
After my stay in Thessaloniki my family and many friends told me that I came back as different person. Before my stay they would characterize me as a shy and reserved person. Afterwards I appeared to be an independent, open-minded and more experienced person. Additionally, my stay in Greece did not only improve my English language skills, but also showed me how people can survive during a massive economic crisis. In September 2015 for example, Greek people were not allowed to withdraw or spend more than 400 euro per week, no matter how many members a family had.
Furthermore, the youth unemployment rate was immensely high and graduates from university tried to find their happiness abroad. In addition, the prices in supermarkets were very high because the value-added tax increased up to 25 percent; therefore, we bought fruits and vegetables at the local market. Most of the time I ate with friends at the university canteen for free. All students from Aristoteles University were offered breakfast, lunch and dinner for free – seven days a week! Of course, it was not the most delicious food, but it was fine.
Looking back at my stay, makes me smile again. I had an incredible time with many ups and only some downs (by the way, I can also tell you that the Greek ambulance is not very quick, but one receives an adequate treatment). I developed as a person and try to spread the Greek lifestyle among my friends and colleagues.