Jenna Gaska ‘13
Jenna Gaska’s (‘13) fantastic experience at College Year in Athens
“For my first four semesters at Southwestern, I was able to expand my classical knowledge by taking ancient Greek. My exposure to ancient Greek culture and civilization in those classes heightened my curiosity and ultimately led to my interest in studying abroad in Greece. Since I had never been to Greece and also had more background academically in ancient Rome, I knew that I wanted my study abroad experience to be in a completely new place and covering information that would greatly enhance my knowledge as a Classics student. While many students typically take a semester abroad, I knew that with a double major and the associated degree requirements, a semester would be close to impossible. But through College Year in Athens (CYA), I was able to take a four-week class during the summer. This program was a perfect fit, allowing me to “get away” for an intense and highly rewarding experience while still leaving me time to do lab research at Southwestern.
“The course I enrolled in, ‘The Archaeology of Greece: From Palace to City-State, covered not only ancient Greek history, but also ancient Greek art and religion. The professor was a CYA veteran, who had taught this course for many years and also lives in Greece. So, when it came to matters ancient or modern, he knew the answers! Fitting in a semester’s worth of material in four weeks caused the course to be incredibly fast-paced and serious. Yet I would not have had it any other way, as it allowed me to get the most out of my short time in Greece. We spent less than five days in the classroom, traveling throughout Greece for the rest of the time. We had apartments in Athens that were about a ten minute walk from Syntagma Square, but almost three of the four weeks were spent on the road.
“While traveling, we had a guide with us who taught us some modern Greek and was in charge of all the logistical aspects of our journeys. Our trips always went smoothly thanks to the intensive planning that CYA had done in creating our itineraries across Crete and the Peloponnese. An average day would start with a free breakfast at 7 a.m. at whatever hotel we were staying at. The accommodations booked by CYA tended to be in scenic villages that were a pleasant change from the highly urban life in Athens. We then boarded our bus, visiting 2-3 ancient sites before stopping for lunch. We always had free admission into sites and, in some cases, were able to go into areas closed to the general public. This on-site learning was what I found to be the most rewarding aspect of the course. Instead of looking at a textbook picture for examples of Mycenaean versus Minoan architecture, I was able to judge for myself, in person, the differences and similarities. Being on site, everything I learned was more accessible and memorable. Our professor continually gave us thought provoking questions to consider as we explored a site and often had us give him an analysis of the site before he started lecturing. Even months after returning home, I still clearly recall the dozens of sites we saw - this would definitely not have been the case if I had been stuck with just a textbook and slide show! Additionally, we were instructed on Greek art, from the Archaic to Classical periods, which I was not expecting. It was a pleasant surprise, especially since we examined all the pieces of art we discussed at museums. Even though our days were rough in the amount of ground we covered, we still had most nights off - and the occasional daytime stop at the beach - to give us plenty of rest and relaxation.
“I always felt safe and welcome in Greece, whether out shopping in Athens or walking with friends around the villages we stayed in. When I initially decided to go to Greece, my parents and other family members had the initial concern about my safety due to all the bad press Greece has been receiving. However, I experienced nothing unusual or dangerous or even remotely uncomfortable. The Greek people overall were incredibly welcoming. We did not spend a lot of time in Athens - we were mainly in more rural areas - but regardless, I always felt safe.
“After traveling constantly with my class, which had a total of sixteen people, I became incredibly good friends with a majority of them. While I was the only Texan, there were several Classics majors as well as Art History and Archaeology students who added depth and unique perspectives to the class discussions we had. My trip not only drastically improved my understanding and knowledge of ancient Greek civilization but also allowed me to experience modern Greece as I traveled across its stunning landscape. My month there flew by, and I returned home missing Greece more than I thought I would. This trip truly deepened my love and appreciation for classical studies, making me proud to be a Classics major.”