It’s been two weeks since I moved back to the States from Greece, and already my time there feels like another life. Before I lose even more perspective, I wanted to write up a summary of the ways I grew while living in Athens for one and a half years, based on words that end in -ly.
Whenever I try to be Healthy, I always feel like I am significantly altering my life. Living in Greece showed me a lifestyle that naturally includes healthy habits. I walked 30 minutes to work every day, and without a car, I relied upon walking and public transportation to carry me everywhere around the city. Greek people love to eat, but the food they’re feasting on is generally fresh and natural. They’re genuinely skeptical of processed foods, and not in that “I hate myself for loving this microwavable meal!” way, but by repeatedly asking me if I was okay because I didn’t know how to cook real meals for myself. BUT WHY WOULD I, when my culinary helplessness led several people to regularly drop off homemade meals at my desk or doorstep?
And that Greek food!! I will forever miss running to Gregory’s for a €1.40 cappuccino or to Big Bad Wolf for a €2 gyro. Never have I eaten so well for so little.
It was in Greece that I really began to truly like myself, which for me really means feeling comfortable being me. I credit this with two habits of my workplace: 1) we stressed, from the beginning, the necessity of having people with different personalities and talents on the team to complement each other, and 2) our weekly 12 Steps meetings created space to talk honestly about our worst self-destructive habits amongst people who would say, “Yeah, me too!” or “I can see how that would hurt you, but let me tell you how I also see that this is a strength of yours.”
Despite my complete lack of natural talent in language acquisition, I learned enough Greek to navigate the city on my own, shop for anything I needed, and have conversations with people who knew My Brand of Greek (i.e. could interpret my incorrect tenses and guess what I was trying to say).
In addition to the language, living in a foreign culture also stretched me in numerous ways. I became frustrated with some differences, fell in love with others, and survived a spate of social anxiety that was pretty debilitating. My worldview was expanded, my knowledge of politics extended beyond the United States, and I learned to think more critically AND compassionately about both my native and adopted countries.
One of the things I’ve always struggled with is the feeling that I ought to be perfect. A classic Good Girl, I figured I could force my way into God’s affection through sheer performance and rule-adherence. Working at HD helped dismantle the last of those lies. As I spent every day teaching self-esteem and anger management to women whose trauma was close to the surface of their every decision, it was easy to understand their fear of betrayal and their desire to manipulate people to assure their own safety. Sometimes there were setbacks that seemed to come from nowhere, and my fellow staff members were quick to build up whichever of us was frustrated with a lack of explicit progress.
Eventually I applied this attitude of grace and patience to myself. I realized that life is about growth, not perfection. I realized that God is present in moments of vulnerability and community far more than in the perfectionistic performances I often fall back on. The end result of understanding God’s patience for me was my deeper love of him. I felt, very deeply, that nothing I could ever do would change his opinion of me. And that was freeing.
If Greece gave me anything, it was an overabundance of social riches. I became friends with people from multiple countries, had roommates from Ukraine, the US, Greece, and Canada. I found nerdy friends and travel friends and cat friends. All the weirdest corners of my interests were suddenly open and accepted. I had weekly K-Drama nights, one of my birthdays was spent forcing friends to play video games, I celebrated an English Christmas, and I had best friends who knew me, teased me, loved me, and inspired me.
I’ve said it many times before, but there was something especially meaningful about friends made in a foreign country. Without a social or familial support system to fall back on, I had to rely on people to an occasionally absurd degree, and that kind of dependency forged deep relationships. I’ve always loved Found Families in media, and the group of people I called friends in Greece were my found family. I will miss them enormously, and I’m not sure I’ll ever experience something quite like them again.