Snow…In Athens?

It is true that having grown up in Michigan I am used to seeing snow in February, but when I came to Athens, it is definitely not something I had expected. As seen below, the ancient ruins of the Acropolis were covered in white fluff. While I walked around, I wondered if Plato or Aristotle had ever seen so much snow. Athens is not known for getting more than a small dusting. Everyone I spoke to said this was the first or second time in their lives that they had seen snow at this level in the city. While the snow was falling, some Athenians were scared, most cars were off the streets, and only the motorcycle delivery people were braving the slippery conditions. The sidewalks, most of which are polished marble, were like ice rinks (luckily for me, I only slipped once). The day of the snowfall was the most empty I had seen the city in my time here. The only exception to this was kids and teenagers who took the opportunity to have their first snowball fight, one outside my apartment went on for more than an hour.

Ancient ruins of the Acropolis covered in snow.
Ancient ruins of the Acropolis covered in snow.

For the past few weeks, Greece has been on lockdown; the stores, museums, and indoor spaces are closed. The best way to see the city, at the moment, is by walking aimlessly with no destination in sight. This is what I do every day after my classes! I have been fortunate enough to see the various neighborhoods and cultures around Athens, from the upper Attic basin (Marousi), to the ancient marketplace (Plaka), all the way down to the coast of the Saronic Gulf seen below. While the water is a bit too cold to swim in, for most the feeling of a cool breeze coming off the sea is amazing after spending so much time in a city of 3 million people. I say the water is too cold for most because some do brave the cold, there is even an Athens winter swimmers club! The calm and silence that you get on the coast is impossible to get anywhere in the city, and the views do not disappoint. The climate is mostly warm, around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but even at that temperature most Athenians have long sleeves and pants on. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt has gotten me some strange looks.

The coast of the Saronic Gulf.
The coast of the Saronic Gulf.

Rockin’ Around Rockefeller Center

I recently went on my first solo adventure in New York and thought I would share. For my adventure, I decided to go exploring around Rockefeller Center. This was partially because I had been desperately trying to figure out if Saturday Night Live was doing live audiences (30 Rock is where their studio is), but also because I was slightly hoping to run into one of the cast members (specifically Pete Davidson, and Machine Gun Kelly because he was the musical guest) on their way into work. SPOILER ALERT! I didn’t run into anyone famous.

My day started by walking to the subway station a couple of streets down from my place, and taking the train to 57th street. Rockefeller Center is between 50th and 49th street and an avenue or two over from the station so it was a bit of a walk, but I didn’t mind. One of my favorite parts of New York is all the different kinds of architecture, so I’m happy to take the scenic route. That being said, it was only five degrees outside and I was freezing, but that wasn’t going to stop me from exploring New York. Once I located the massive Rockefeller Center, I circled the block a couple of times to try and find which part of the building SNL was in. I was also unsure if you were actually allowed into the building so I did a couple of laps to build up the courage to walk in. I saw other people go in and out and there were shopping stores inside, so I figured it was fine. Walking into the building, I felt very out of place in my big parka and Carhartt stocking cap. The floors were a shiny black marble with gold lining throughout it, and there were security guards around every corner guarding certain doors and elevators. Occasionally, I would see a business man come out of a door that said “employees only” and I would think to myself, “They probably know Lorne Michaels.” 

Once I explored as much of the Rockefeller Center as I could, I walked back outside into the brisk air. Not far from the Rockefeller is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a historic church in New York City. The architecture of the cathedral is absolutely breathtaking and a lovely contrast to the modern skyscrapers that surround it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed inside the building, but it was still worth seeing from the outside. Just behind the cathedral was another incredibly beautiful and gothic looking building called the Lotte New York Palace. At the time of my adventure, I had no idea what the building actually was, but I thought it was pretty so I took a picture of it. Now looking it up, I’ve discovered that it’s an incredibly luxurious hotel, so if you’re ever in New York City and have a couple thousand dollars to spend (per night), I suggest staying at the Lotte New York Palace. 

As I continued to walk, I began to feel the effects of the cold, so I looked on the map for a place that I could step inside and warm up for a bit. At the time, New York wasn’t allowing inside seating at restaurants or cafes, so obviously the next best thing to a nice coffee shop was the American Girl Doll store. I walked around the store for quite a while trying to regain feeling in my fingers, while also reliving my childhood. I got a few looks for being the only girl above the age of ten inside, but I didn’t mind. 

After the American Girl Doll store, I walked around a bit more, window shopping down Saks 5th Avenue. I ended my adventure by getting a coffee and a blondie from Magnolia Bakery before heading back to the subway station. On the train ride home, I felt slightly defeated because I didn’t see Machine Gun Kelly, but I’ve still got plenty of time to have my New York celebrity sighting.

Coffee Please

VIEW OF THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE AT THE CENTER OF THE ROASTERY

While I don’t consider myself a coffee connoisseur, I was able to immerse myself in the world of coffee this past week. Upon entering the world’s largest Starbucks off of Michigan Ave. I was immediately surrounded by the comforting rich aroma of roasting coffee beans. Exploring all four levels revealed a restaurant, coffee bar, and plenty of seating space. I was also able to learn a bit more about the process of roasting coffee beans. Specifically, I spoke to one of the roasters who creates Starbucks coffee. She explained that each coffee was unique in its additives and roasting times used to prepare the beans. With her assistance, I was able to find a Costa Rican honey-processed coffee roast that fit my student-budget. Additionally, proceeds from this specific coffee went to help the Costa Rican farmers who grew and harvested these beans.

I’m entering my fourth week of working the night shift, and the enticing benefits of coffee to help me get through a 12-hour shift are becoming slightly harder to resist. Conveniently located in our building, the preferred choice of coffee and favorite of the nurses on my floor is Dunkin’ Donuts. Someone on the floor usually makes a Dunkin’ run around midnight for anyone who wants something. I have been able to avoid the coffee addiction this far in my life, but by the end of April I might make more room for coffee in my daily/nightly routine. Overall, Visiting the Starbucks Reserve Roastery made me realize just how much craftsmanship goes into an excellent cup of coffee. I hope to bring that much craftsmanship and appreciation into my own work. Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more of my experiences with you all!

Navigating Transition

The topic of mental health has always been daunting to me, especially when it pertains to my personal life. I have always been open to supporting where I can, but this topic never seemed to be something I wanted to confront for myself. Maybe it was because I was raised in an Asian African household where mental health is often not spoken about, or maybe it was my own fear of facing my own demons. Either way, studying off-campus has opened my mental closet and showed me all that I have been stuffing inside. The pressures of transitioning into a new space often make the messy bits of ourselves surface to the top. And that’s exactly what happened to me.

Unsplash image: Finn
Unsplash image: Finn

The first few weeks in New York were full of excitement of all things new, but the honeymoon phase quickly passed. Soon I was left with the everyday grind and work to maintain my resources, and time. Maybe it was my own sugar-coated fantasy of being an independent city girl, but I failed to see how the emotional toll of leaving the familiar would impact me. Of course, it hasn’t been all dark days, but I want to be real about the high points and the struggles of studying off-campus.

If you are thinking of studying off-campus or are already studying off-campus, you might find yourself in a situation as the one described above. If this is the case, I wanted to share a few points that had helped me immensely when things got tough.

1. Keep in contact with close ones

Unsplash image: Kevin Laminto

If you’re anything like me, you might have the mentality of ‘new place, new me’ and take any opportunity to start over. Having new beginnings can be healthy, but it can also be harmful when applied haphazardly. In the chaos of moving in and adjusting to a new place, it can be easy to cut “the familiar” out of your life. Maintaining friendships outside of your current place in life is important, and more specifically, with people who know and love you well! They not only bring fresh perspective and wisdom in situations you might face during your time away, but they also help you transition healthily. The relationships that I have maintained with friends at Hope College and family in Tanzania have grounded me in reminding me of who I am, and not compromising myself while experiencing a new life in New York.

2. Keep a routine

Unsplash images: Nathan dumlao

Studying off-campus will be a disruption from your normal way of life. This is a fact that I have quickly come to terms with. “Disruption” doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad experience, but can be one that implements new ways of doing things. Having a new routine has helped me cope with finding a new rhythm when everything seems foreign. Although I’m still trying to figure out how to establish these daily rhythms, some things that I have tried to keep consistent are the times I wake up, a good exercise routine, daily devotionals, and meal prepping. I am definitely far from perfect and am learning to have grace with myself, but having these things in place, for me, has created a structure I can live into, and stability when my mind seems to be constantly moving.

3. Have faith

Having faith has been an essential component of my transition. It was clear that control was something I was not capable of, and the coping methods mentioned above could only help me so far through the ever-changing circumstances. People don’t always meet my needs, and keeping routines consistently is difficult to maintain all the time. In short, the things that I was trying to do to fill me up completely were temporary fixes. I am not saying this to discourage you from pursuing relationships and making routines. Rather, making God the ultimate source of reliance by surrendering my current situation to Him; and out of that place, pursuing relationships and routines.

The knowledge that I can trust the One who created me (Psalm 139:13) and the circumstances I am in eases my anxious mind because the control is no longer in my hands, but in God’s. Take care of your mind and take the practical steps to do that, but don’t let those steps be your only hope. Remember who is the ultimate source of all life and all strength, and put your hope in Him.

“For you created my Inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”

Psalms 139:13

Prep Week in Arusha

Mount Meru as seen from my front porch at Klub Afriko.
Mount Meru as seen from my front porch at Klub Afriko.

I left for Tanzania, flying out of O’Hare International Airport, Friday, the 5th, and arrived late on Saturday, the 6th. Following almost two hours of waiting in customs, due to me having been asleep on the plane when they handed out the required paperwork, I was finally able to retrieve my luggage and rendezvous with the rest of the crew. That first night had us driving into Arusha and after a late night dinner at Klub Afriko (the hotel in which we are staying), I crashed hard.

Per COVID policy, the other students and I are required to stay in the hotel for the first week while we undergo a test and await our results. It is really not as bad as it sounds. In fact, with the eight hour time jump that comes from the East African time zone, the extra time to adjust in is quite welcome. The students here with me are great and we get along well. Currently, there are eight of us, but we expect one more to fly in tomorrow, the 12th, making for 9 students in total. Since we are all in quarantine together, we get to be treated as one big family group, so restrictions are light as long as we do not leave the premises.

Southern Highlands One-horned Chameleon (left); Spikeball in the back garden (right)

Klub Afriko is a small 16 bedroom hotel situated on a hillside in Arusha. Sitting at 1400m above sea level, the temperatures here are a comfortable 65˚-75˚F depending on cloud cover. We are upon the cusp of the rainy season here in Tanzania, and it shows. Aside from the main dining hall, our go-to hangout spot is the garden outback of the hotel where we play a lot of spikeball. Behind the garden, there is an old unfinished building where we like to play soccer in the afternoons. The whole compound is surrounded by an incredible amount of biodiversity with both plant and animal species abundant. This makes me all the more excited for the next three months I get to spend here. If I am finding such a variety of plants and animals on the plot of an urban hotel, how much more will I get to experience in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, and Zanzibar! Throughout quarantine, we’ve been having daily lectures on the history of biodiversity and conservation in Tanzania. Today’s lecture outlined our trip itinerary. We are set to leave quarantine on Saturday and if my next few months are half of what was described today, the pictures you will see in the following months will be on par with National Geographic.

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Getting Settled in Athens!

Hello everyone, and welcome to my blog! I have been in Athens, Greece, for a few weeks now and I’m loving every second of it. When I first arrived, I needed to participate in the mandatory 7-day quarantine, and I was super anxious to explore. Since the end of my quarantine, I have been all over the city exploring both by myself and with my class, Anthropology of the City: Modern Athens. Perhaps my favorite thing so far has been exploring the incredible variety of food here (like an authentic Greek gyro seen below). Other highlights have been a local falafel shop and an amazing Afghan restaurant on the other side of town.

an authentic Greek gyro
An authentic Greek gyro

My regular semester starts on Monday, February 8th, but I have been taking an early class since my arrival. For the first week of class, I was in quarantine, but once that ended we were able to do class outside. Since my class is field-based, we do about 3 hours of walking/lecturing each day. With COVID, my College Year in Athens program has greatly reduced its numbers, I am told around 30 students will be participating this semester. For the time being though, there are only 2 students in my class, just me and my roommate. I think that with the challenges following COVID, this has been a silver lining. A small program size has helped everything feel very much at home even from so far away. I already have really close relationships with professors and the administrators of my program. My program center is located right next to the Panathenaic Olympic Stadium, and my apartment is right around the corner so I already feel confident in knowing where I am in the city after having done so much walking. Overall, I am super excited to be here and I already feel at home.

New York At Last

First moments in New York

“Are you going to LaGuardia airport?” This question startled me as I stared blankly into the plastic screen that divided the driver and me. I had just gotten off my Delta flight at JFK airport and was now waiting in a black van to get to my apartment. “Excuse me?” I quickly asked, hoping for some clarification; the driver asked me again, “Are you going to LaGuardia? are you Israel?”. Israel? why is this man calling me Israel? Then it all hit me at once, I was not in the right car to get to my apartment; I had just hopped into someone else’s taxi. This paints a picture of what the first few moments of my arrival in New York were like. I had quickly learned my first lesson, not all New York taxis are yellow and not to go into any car that comes my way.

The awkward encounter quickly dissolved in my memory as I eventually was able to move into my apartment in Upper East Manhattan. This area was everything I had hoped for, Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum are about a 15 min walk from my place and with the subway and bus stations close at hand, the city was at my fingertips!

Exploring the City!

After my three-day quarantine, a couple of us who are a part of the New York Arts Program got together and eagerly began covering ground in the city. From Brooklyn Bridge to Times Square, we were determined to sightsee as much as we could during the week and a half before our internships. I would have to say, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Strand Bookstore were two of my favorite visits. It was surreal seeing Vincent van Gogh’s starry night at the MoMa (although it was a lot smaller than I thought), and the Strand Bookstore was endless with novels and had a whole floor dedicated to the arts, which I absolutely loved! It was safe to say my first week and a half was eventful and has definitely got me looking for what more is in store for me during my stay in the city.

A quick video of a few highlights of my first few weeks in New York!

How a Small Town Girl Got to the Big Apple (Cliché I Know)

Deciding to spend a semester in New York was not an easy decision. I spent a lot of last semester stressing over it, in addition to all the regular stress of classes and homework. What I’m trying to say is, I spent a lot of time crying. I met with so many different people in the Hope Art Department trying to figure out a way to allow me to attend the New York Arts Program my senior year instead of this semester, and I’m so grateful for their help and their time spent, but I eventually just said “screw it.” I was worried about going this semester because I thought the craziness of COVID would be too overwhelming, in addition to moving to a new state for four months. Trying to rearrange my entire senior year schedule was just getting too complicated and I came to the realization that COVID will most likely still be here my senior year anyway. So, why not just pull the trigger? And that’s what I did. My parents and I packed up our SUV to the brim (literally we couldn’t see out the back window) and we drove 14 hours from Illinois to New York City.

My parents helping me move into my New York apartment.
My parents helping me move into my New York apartment.

Now, I’m someone that does not do very well with change at all. In fact, my mother told me this many times within the last week that I was home, specifically whenever I randomly burst into tears. At this point you might be asking yourself why someone who deals so terribly with change might decide to go to New York City for a semester, and that my dear friends is because I simply enjoy keeping myself on my toes. Why stay in your comfort zone where it’s safe and familiar and full of people who love and support you, when you can just dive head first into the terrifying real world, you know? I’m only kidding (not really), but let’s move on.

All this being said, I’ve been in New York for about 3 weeks now and it has been tough, I will not deny it. I had to spend my 21st birthday in quarantine. I miss my family and friends, my bed, and my dog, but what keeps me going are the moments when I’m walking around the city and it just hits me like a brick: I’m actually in New York City. I’m living in New York City.

 My dog that I miss very much.
My dog that I miss very much.

I know it sounds cheesy and cliché, but I seriously get these moments where I realize where I am and what I’m doing. As an artist, this city is a dream come true and getting the chance to actually live here is insane. If I could live here for the rest of my life I would, but realistically I’m not sure if that’ll happen so I want to make this semester count. I want to fit in as much art seeing and sight seeing as possible while I’m here. I want to try so many different restaurants and coffee shops. I want to make new and lasting relationships, and I want to leave feeling like I did the best possible work at my internships. All the stress and tears that it took to get here is worth it because for the next 4 months, I’m a New Yorker, baby! 

Me on my first day as a New Yorker.
Me on my first day as a New Yorker.

First Week In the Windy City

After three night-shifts at the hospital, two classes, commuting through a blizzard, and a celebratory pizza run, I’m happy to say my first official week in Chicago was a success!

When beginning anything new, there can be a mix of both excitement and apprehension. Earlier this week, I found myself having excitement for the opportunity to learn in Chicago and apprehension towards the unknown. Thankfully, my first shift at the hospital put my mind at ease. I was greeted by an amazing nursing staff who were clearly committed to my education and wanted to see me succeed. Furthermore, my patients inspired me. They reminded me why I’ve chosen to participate in this internship opportunity. Yes, it is great to be in the city, live in my own apartment, and meet new people, but most of all it is for them. They fight many battles every day, and this internship will best prepare me to serve them well. 

Walk Home From Internship

My first week has proven to be full of growth, joy, and challenge. As someone once told me, most things worthwhile are challenging. Here’s to three more months of growth, opportunity, and exploration in the Windy City. I’m excited to share more of my experiences with you in the near future. Thanks for reading!

T-minus 3 days ’til Tanzania!

Exit Glacier, Seward Alaska (I've since cut the locks)
Exit Glacier, Seward Alaska (I’ve since cut the locks)

Hi Guys! My name is Reese Yount, and I am a senior at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. I am a Biology major with an Ecology focus. I love the outdoors, and frequently spend my free time kayaking or hiking the dunes around West Michigan. I have had a passion for travel for as long as I can remember. One of the things that drew me to Hope in the first place was their vast study abroad network. Since freshman year, it has been a priority of mine to study abroad before I graduate. COVID-19 has obviously made that tougher than it otherwise should have been, but through God’s grace I was granted one last shot at study abroad in Tanzania, Africa; I couldn’t be happier.

The program provider I will be going through is SIT (School for International Training). The program itself is a combination of two of their staple programs in Tanzania, those being their Wildlife Conservation & Political Ecology, and Zanzibar Coastal Ecology and Natural Resource Management seminars based out of Arusha and Zanzibar, respectively. The prospect of getting to study animals both on land and sea is a unique product of this pandemic and one that excites me greatly. Throughout the program, we will be getting to study animals within their natural habitat. SIT is known for their hands on approach to education, it is one of the things that drew me to them initially.

This blog will be a place for those interested to live vicariously through my travels. I will be taking many pictures along the way and, Wi-Fi willing, will share as many experiences as I can with those back home. I appreciate your continued prayer and support while away.

– Reese Yount