This past summer, Autumn Pappas, a student from Arizona State University, received the Greek America Foundation’s Semester in Athens Scholarship and spent an entire session studying at the Hellenic American University in the heart of the Greek capital.
Autumn is from Portland, Oregon, and is studying to receive her bachelor of arts in English from Arizona State with an expected graduation date of spring 2023.
In her own words, the 23-year-old describes her experience of living and studying abroad in the same country from which her great-grandparents immigrated in the early 20th century.
Q: What motivated you to apply for this scholarship?
My motivation for the scholarship came from my longing to connect with my own personal Greek heritage and immerse myself in the culture.
Q: Tell us about your Greek heritage/connection to Greece.
My father’s side of the family is Greek, and my Pappou’s parents arrived in the states from Greece in the late 1920’s. Because I grew up a state away from that side of my family, I was only blessed with bits and pieces of Greek culture throughout my childhood. I always felt a special connection to the country and its culture that I continuously strive to learn more about.
Q: What did you most enjoy about your semester at HAU?
My favorite course at HAU was definitely the Walk Across Greece. While it was only one week long, it allowed me to visit places I never would have made it to on my own. I met great friends in the group and it was unlike any other class I’ve ever taken. Once session classes started my favorite course became Contemporary Greek Culture. This course was rarely in a class setting but instead was spent visiting places like the Greek Parliament, the oldest coffee shop in Athens, and the Acropolis museum. The class didn’t just touch on Ancient Greek history but led us through modern history and talked about present day Greece.
Q: What were your thoughts on living in Athens?
Athens was unlike any other city I have been to. Each neighborhood felt like a different experience that possessed unique traits to explore. The neighborhood I stayed in during my time at HAU made me feel a little like a local, with aspects like no English menus and a farmers market every Thursday. I made great friends with the owners of the pizza shop across the street and tried a few too many pastries at every bakery within a two block radius. While intimidating at first, figuring out the public transit system gave me a sense of confidence in the city that allowed me to explore with friends or on my own. Once I felt more established in the city I took nightly walks through the neighborhood of Psirri and Monastiraki square where I was continuously stunned by the sight of the Acropolis and filled with joy at the sound of local artists playing traditional Greek music. Even though Athens was 6,000 miles from my comfort zone, it still made me feel at home.
Q: What was your favorite hobby/pastime during your free time?
I am quite a big reader so I spent a lot of my free time at different cafes or on the balcony of where I was staying reading a book and people watching. The rest of my time was filled with exactly what is expected, food. I could spend 40 years in the city of Athens and still not try every restaurant on my list. Additionally I was very blessed to meet a great group of friends at HAU that invited me to spend time with them going to the beach, out to eat, and trips outside the city.
Q: How has this experience affected you as an individual?
Going to Greece and HAU was the first time I had left my hometown alone, so to say I was initially pretty nervous is an understatement. Learning how to navigate the city, the culture, and everything in between while not speaking the language helped me build a sense of confidence in myself I don’t think I knew I could have. Something as simple as ordering a cup of coffee took a leap of faith for my introverted self. I made friends that, as cheesy as it sounds, are lifelong and gained experiences that I never thought I would get to. The one thing that affected me most would be the knowledge of Greek culture that I took with me. I have had the privilege of traveling to a few different countries, but by far Greece was my favorite. It may have something to do with the fact that everywhere I looked I saw my Pappou, my last name, and bonded over shared life experiences I didn’t know were Greek. This experience has only reassured my efforts to connect with my heritage and has pushed me as an individual to grow in ways I may not have if it wasn’t for this scholarship and the beautiful country of Greece.
Q: What would you say to other students who may be thinking about applying?
If you have any interest in studying abroad, this program is unlike any other. HAU offered courses that enriched my knowledge of international communities, took me to places I had only read about in history books and gave me the freedom as a student to explore areas tailored to my interests. The Greek America Foundation was there every step of the way and I felt truly cared about my individual experience in Greece. If I have one piece of advice, if given the opportunity, participate in the Walk Across Greece. It was one week of history, food, culture, and friends. I can’t believe it is worth college credit and I couldn’t recommend it more.
About Semester in Athens Scholarships
Semester in Athens scholarships comprise one of the main pillars of activity of the Greek America Foundation. Since 2010, dozens of students have been recipients of our scholarships for study abroad in Greece with more than $100,000 in grants awarded. Our alumni have reconnected with their heritage, pursued their academic goals, deepened their appreciation of Hellenism, made lifelong friendships and shared these experiences with their home communities.
Ideal candidates are independent-minded students who wish to immerse themselves into the heart of an ancient capital city at an educational institution comprised of more than 3,000 Greek and international students and who have a demonstrated commitment to their community.
Interested in applying? Click here to for more information.