MAJOR: Justice Studies/Criminology
PROGRAM: ISEP Direct – American College of Thessaloniki, Greece
BIO: Hello, I am Emily Benson. I am currently a junior at San Jose State, majoring in Criminology. I am a hard-working individual who is passionate about community involvement. I have spent many years volunteering for my local Police Department in San Diego, holding a variety of leadership positions involving myself and philanthropic work. I wanted to study abroad to expand my experiences, meet new people, learn about a different culture, and develop my global citizen awareness. I have wanted to study abroad in Greece since I was a freshman in high school and knew that I would experience studying abroad in college.
GOALS: The main goal I wanted to achieve in studying abroad was to immerse myself as much as I could in the daily life of a Greek citizen in the 3 1/2 months I spent in Thessaloniki, Greece. Studying at the American College of Thessaloniki(ACT) has been described as taking the road less traveled, being that it is a smaller city in northern Greece and is not the typical destination of metropolitan Athens. Although many people would choose to study in Athens, the largest city in Greece, my goal was to live and experience life in a smaller town rather than a tourist destination. Studying at ACT gave me that opportunity. I lived in an apartment right in the heart of town with local residents in the building and had firsthand experience with the local culture every day. Academically, I wanted to maintain high standings with my home and abroad university. I wanted to expand my knowledge of the region that I was in. I sought out community involvement through my academics. It was important to me that I fully immerse myself in Greek culture, and I did this by taking 10 hours of Greek language and culture a week. I wanted not to be a tourist but rather a guest in the country I was studying in. I felt as though I achieved this goal substantially and fully spoke, ordered, and communicated in Greek while I was there. I took an intensive conversational Greek language class which helped me excel and learn a language. I learned so much about the Greek language and culture and felt very connected to the community. Greek culture and language are all around us in America, so many of our words originate from Greek origin. Professionally, I wanted to network and meet people from all different walks of life. I was able to work with a diverse group of people from all over Europe in my classes, and also in an internship I had while in Greece.
PERSONAL GROWTH: The biggest impact my study abroad experience had on me was my understanding of the world. My time in Greece was truly transformative. This experience is something I will treasure forever. Being immersed in another country and society is something I needed to experience. I have felt a tremendous amount of personal growth in my short time here. I have truly learned so many valuable lessons and insights. Learning about Greek history, society, and culture my international compass has expanded greatly. I have learned the importance of living a fulfilling life in my short time here. In Greek culture and most cultures in Europe, your leisure is prioritized. Specific hours are set aside each day for rest and family time. You work, but you also rest, which creates a happy, healthy community and family life. This is something I have never experienced. In America, our society and big corporations work you to the max. Working 12-hour days with little to no breaks. If you’re afforded a break, it will be an hour for lunch. Our society does not incorporate leisure into the weekdays. Even on the weekends, many are still working and do not get to fully enjoy their leisure. I appreciate how Greeks care for the well-being of their society members. Being immersed in a culture that isn’t controlled by the clock is such a privilege. The clock is not the master, is something my Greek professor said to me that I will always remember. The clock is used to control my life with deadlines, time commitments, and time-sensitive things. I have acknowledged how less stressed I am now that I am no longer a victim of the clock. I think the reason the stress levels are so high in America is the pressure of not having enough time and the amount of stress put on us by society to get everything done in a certain amount of time, which is often very unrealistic. I find myself enjoying my days to a greater extent and being present. My overall takeaway is that I have become for the present and now prioritize my leisure. I have never felt more present in my mind, body, or soul ever before in my life. I don’t feel a sense of urgency to get everything done in one day and stress about future events. I enjoy and express profound gratitude for every peaceful day I was granted in Greece. Being present is so important. I have struggled with living in my mind rather than living in the present. Living in Greece has strengthened my ability to be present every day and express more mindfulness. I feel much happier and calm as I appreciate being present. I find my stress and anxiety decreasing as I am not so fixated on the future and future events and things that are not under my control. This skill is something I will never unlearn and something I will take with me forever to apply to my everyday life.
ACADEMICS: How would you describe your academic experience abroad? My academic journey at the American College of Thessaloniki was exquisite. I selected courses that were diverse from my normal class schedule. I chose courses that were unique to the American College of Thessaloniki. I was fortunate enough to take a Greek language class, a Greek culture class, a sea sailing course, a politics course, and an internship course. I had fantastic professors abroad. I took my Greek courses from a local Greek woman filled with knowledge and experience. She changed the trajectory of my academic journey at ACT as she made all of the American students feel so connected with Greek culture and tied together the similarities in both American and Greek communities. One of my favorite classes at ACT was the introduction to sea sailing from a Greek professor who had a profound knowledge of sailing. This class was taught in a local marina near my campus, and it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. We worked together and demonstrated the art of sailing through a new language, a new skill- set, and hands-on experience. Every professor at ACT deepened my understanding of a variety of topics from a new perspective. The structure of the courses is very similar to a course taken at San Jose State University but feels less intense. The classes are smaller, which allows students to get more one-on-one time with the professor, which I felt was very effective. The professors incorporated many breaks and prioritized our well-being during learning, which was very effective in my academic journey in Greece. I completed my semester with over a 3.8 GPA and did not fall behind in any course abroad. I prioritize my course load with traveling and was sure to consistently work hard, after all it is called STUDYING abroad!
CAREER: What skills did you learn / sharpen during your study abroad experience? The most formative change in my 20 years of life has come from my study abroad experience. I developed a new skill set and sharpened my interpersonal and networking skills while abroad. Everything I knew about living in America was flipped upside down and then flipped over once again from the language, the time zone, the customs, and the quality of life. The biggest skill that was built was my ability to learn and apply a new language and alphabet. This is the third language that I’ve learned and by far the most challenging. I learn to deal with the change and communicate with locals. This came with being flexible and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. When I would speak to locals, my pronunciation was off and I pushed myself to refrain from speaking English and strengthen my Greek speaking skills. I was able to relate to people from different backgrounds. My classes were full of people from all over Europe, and it was fascinating to hear other students’ perspectives, and listen to them speak from experience from their countries. Through the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), I applied and was selected for a content Creator position. I was tasked with compiling pictures and videos of my everyday life in Thessaloniki and capturing my lifestyle of myself and friends. I love this position so much and knew I wanted to continue this working experience at home. I have an eye for photography in this position to help me strengthen my skill set and give me the opportunity to form a connection with employees at ISEP. I made connections with my professors and boss at my internship that I will forever maintain. The boss at my internship offered me to continue helping her while I’m in America. I am in communication with her and lucky enough to form an active networking connection.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: How has your immersion impacted your perspectives on the world? I was granted the opportunity to hold an internship position through ACT. The organization that I intern for is called NAOMI, a non-profit organization that specializes in Ecumenical Workshops for Refugees in Thessaloniki. After the Syrian war, thousands of people flooded through Greece. Many refugees have traveled back to their home country or sought out a home in other parts of Europe, but many refugees live here in Thessaloniki today. Naomi wants the refugees to become acclimated to Greek culture and language, their goal is to support refugees and provide peace for all. By doing this, they have workshops that entail refugee learning, basic Greek, learning how to use specific machines(like sewing machines), And practice with soft skills, ECT. Prior to this internship, I didn’t realize what a problem refugees were in Europe, specifically in Greece. Naomi comprises two parts: the production part and the social justice part. The production part of the organization focuses on sustainability. The second part of Naomi is the social justice department. This department focuses on rights and job equality for all refugees who are not afforded the same rights as citizens. The part that I intern for in Naomi is the social justice side. I work with the head of the social justice department with designated tasks, such as looking over newsletters that were once in Germany, translated to English and needed a proofread, taking photos of the refugees, workshops, and events, and crafting the newsletter for this upcoming month. I have gained experience with preparing a Newsletter on Naomi’s current events and textile department. The work I have done at this job has given me a sense of responsibility. I haven’t had a job or position where I felt like I was actively making a significant change. The skill set I now possess is something I will take with me forever. This internship opportunity has given me valuable skills that I will never unlearn. I haven’t worked in an office-like setting, and this gave me experience with great responsibility. Some of my key takeaways don’t only come from the work that I have done but also from the work ethic that I have seen in this community. Being an intern at this organization has forever shifted my perspective on life. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of an organization that does so much for the community. The knowledge and experience I have gained from this community will forever resonate with me and significantly depend on my international community involvement. I now have a burning passion for international work, and think this is something I will continue to do throughout my life.
FUTURE: How has study abroad prepared you for your future? My Study Abroad experience has shaped my worldly perspective and prepared me to think about things from a different perspective. This perspective change will help not only me personally but professionally in the future. In my early 20s, I have seen the world. I have experienced several cultures and am open to so many new experiences. Life experience shapes who you are as a human being. I was granted a variety of experiences in all of Europe that altered who I am today.
TIPS: What advice would you give to future Global Spartans? I would tell future global spartans to be open-minded and open to learning new things about the culture, even when it’s challenging. Be prepared to use the local currency, phone, and transportation system. Be aware of the differences, but also learn to cherish them. English is widely spoken in some countries, but take the opportunity to learn the community’s language and don’t be afraid to use it. In Greece, the locals were so thankful and appreciative that we took the time to learn their language and apply it in our daily lives. Do absolutely everything! Go to the city’s landmarks and learn about the city, history, and heritage. Take advantage of the chance to travel through your host country and other surrounding countries. You will learn so much on those trips and through the people you meet. I am the biggest advocate of telling everyone in my life that they need to study abroad. I wish I could convince every college student to go abroad and be immersed in another culture in such a formative part of their college years.