Megan Harvey, '20, found a five-week summer program at the American College of Thessaloniki was the perfect fit for a study abroad experience that did not interfere with the swimming season at Albion College.
While the Milan, Mich., product admits her first impression of Thessaloniki did not mesh with the pictures of beautiful Greek islands she had anticipated, she "learned to live like a local and gained so much more" than she expected.
"One of my favorite things about Greece is how everything is much slower paced than it is in America," Harvey said. "One of the words they use to describe their lifestyle is halara which means slowly or in a relaxed manner. They would also describe it to us as 'chill'. They spend hours just sitting at a restaurant. Slowly eating snacks and drinking their freddo espressos and talking with one another. At first this was a little confusing when it would take 20 minutes or more to get the check after asking for it. But once I started to realize that is just part of the culture there, it became something that I really enjoyed. Meals lasting two hours or more is one of the ways that I got to know so much about my friends that I met in the program.
"One thing that was very common in everyday life in Thessaloniki was walking," she added. "The best part about this was that my apartment was about an eight-minute walk from the boardwalk which was about four miles long, so most places where we would go, we could always walk the boardwalk there and back. This was always an amazing view no matter the time of day. Sitting on the edge of the boardwalk while watching the sunset was truly unforgettable."
In addition to her classes (introduction to photography and sea sailing classes), Harvey said the program included weekend trips to Athens where she visited the Parthenon, Panathenaic Stadium, and the Acropolis museum and Delphi, where sights included the Temple of Apollo and the Delphi Archaeological Museum.
A biology major, Harvey admits her classes were electives. However, the experiences she had were well worth it.
"The classes didn't directly contribute toward my major, but on a personal level, they exceeded anything I could've learned in any class," she said. "I constantly was forced to step outside of my comfort zone which I believe has benefited me in many ways. I became comfortable doing things like having full conversations on the public bus with people I didn't know. Or booking a trip to another country with some of the friends I made. Before coming I would have thought there is no way I would ever do that, but if I hadn't I truly would have missed out on so many great experiences.
"I decided to take a sea sailing class just for fun," she added. "It was something I had never done before, but I thought it would be awesome to learn and what better place than Greece? I ended up really enjoying it. My only complaint is that the class was too short, I wanted more sailing time. After passing my final exams I earned my International Sailing License, which was really exciting for me."
And Harvey, who represented Albion with a fourth-place finish in the 400-yard individual medley in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Championship in February, joined a local team she learned about through a contact at the college, with a twist.
"At orientation one of the staff members from the program asked if there were any athletes that wanted to continue their sport while they were in Greece," Harvey recalled. "My first practice I found out that it was a fin swimming team. They practice and compete with monofins. Although I had never even used a monofin before, the team welcomed me with open arms and made me feel at home. One of the swimmers gave me his extra pair of fins to use during my time there. In the mornings there were enough lanes for me to do my own workout that (Albion swimming Coach Nick) Stone had written, but when I swam with them in the afternoons I would trail behind with my pair of regular fins. It was so cool to learn about their sport and see the differences and similarities between what their practices are like compared to mine at home. I will miss the team, but I will for sure stay in contact with them."
As the beginning of the fall semester at Albion approaches, Harvey expressed gratitude for the support she received from family, friends, Albion's Center for International Education, her coaches, faculty and the staff at the American College of Thessaloniki. The experience has made her ready to travel again in the near future.
"I would do this entire experience over again in a heartbeat," Harvey said. "I've made new lifelong friends, many that live in the U.S. (some that live 20 minutes away from my home and it took traveling to Greece for me to meet) but also many that live in other countries. I have learned so much about communicating with others and learning to embrace differences. I have visited so many beautiful places and seen so many amazing pieces of history."
Follow Albion swimming and diving on Twitter (@AlbionSwimming) and Instagram (albion_acsd) to keep up to date with everything about the Briton swimming and diving teams