Best Of: Living in Greece

After being in the States for two and a half weeks, my brain has been telling me, “Well, that was a nice vacation!  Time to go home!”  But my apartment is sold, my job position is filled, and Greece is not my home anymore.  Needless to say, I’ve been pretty moody and nostalgic, so I went back and reread all my “Living in Greece” blog posts.  Here are some of my favorites:

A Week in Greece #1:  Everything is New  | This is where it all started!  I’m so impressed with how self-aware I was about the stresses of moving to a new country.

The Beginnings of Culture Shock  | Includes an excellent list of silly things that are dumb on their own but add up to Major Frustration.

Language Learning Meltdown  | One of the worst moments of my time in Greece and how being vulnerable helped.

A Week in Greece #12: HD Planning, Agatha Christie, and the Beach!  | This is a fun snapshot of my life while living at the Bible College, and includes a great moment in which I visit a friend because I passed my bedroom door and was too embarrassed to turn around.

A Week in Greece #15:  A New Friend, First Week at HD, and Apartment Furnishing  | Enter Luciana, who would become my best friend!

Happy in My Homesickness  | Wow.  This post is extremely good and extremely relevant to my current feelings of being homesick for Greece.

A Week in Greece #27:  Slumber Parties, Hiking, and Escape Rooms  | Apparently, it took me nearly seven months to find comfortable friends that did not socially drain me.

A Week in Greece #36:  Rambo Jesus, Goodbye Roommate, Two New Cats  | A lot of these weekly recaps include me complaining about feeling overwhelmed, but this one is definitely one of the funniest and most self-aware.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #1:  I’m Back  | After six weeks in the States for Christmas, I reunited with all my old friends.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #5:  Work Weirdnesses  | A story about the highs and lows of working at HD.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #8: A Lot of Luciana and Thessaloniki  | Just…a lot of sweet memories.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #13: US Team, New Baby, Mission Meetings  | My last “A Week in Greece” post from my last week back in April 2017 when I naively thought I would be returning soon.

(I didn’t document my last three months (November 2017 – January 2018) because…I dunno, I felt like everything was Too Much.  I regret that now, but oh well!)


 

Reading through old posts reminded me of how hard it was to live in Greece, how there were so many wonderful moments that made the day-to-day sense of being overwhelmed worthwhile.  These past two years were genuinely the hardest and best years of my life so far.  I grew a lot, and I made incredible friends and exciting memories.  I’m so glad I can relive it all here.

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Saying Goodbye to Greece

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.

Physically

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.

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Emotionally

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.”

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Mentally

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.

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Spiritually

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.

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Socially

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.

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To relive more of my Greek experiences,
check out my Living in Greece tag.

Cat Fostering: Amelie and Nelly Move Out!

At 5:30 this morning, Amelie and Nelly were packed up in crates and left my house to fly to their new homes in England!  I’m so glad that they’ve been adopted, and by people who will love them for who they are.

Nelly will go to an older woman’s home who, twenty years ago, came to Greece and rescued four kittens who had been thrown into the garbage.  Now that they’ve all passed on after a long life, she wants another Greek kitten in their memory.  Amelie was a bit trickier, since she is so shy.  But a middle-aged woman chose her precisely because she wanted to create a safe space for a traumatized cat.  I’m so excited to be updated on how they’re both doing.

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I will miss them, though!  It was nice to be able to open windows (there are no screens in Greece, so I couldn’t do so without risking escaped cats) and deep clean my apartment, but it feels very strange to come home to an empty house.  They’ve been so much fun, especially these last couple weeks when they really took to each other and started bathing each other/fighting each other.

Last night, I woke up around 3:00, which set Nelly off.  I noticed a shadow lurking near the bed, so I stuck out my hand, and Amelie came over to purr and pet herself.  She then jumped on my bed, fought with Nelly for a bit, and jumped back off.  This is the most she’s ever done, so I eventually drifted off to sleep.  A while later I was awoken by a cat curling up between my feet.  Nelly had already returned to her place against my side under the covers, so it was Amelie!!  Sleeping on my bed!!  For the first time ever, and for only two hours before I had to wake up and put them in their crates.  It was very bittersweet, but I hope she regains that level of comfort with her new family as soon as possible!

I have had such a great time fostering Amelie, Nelly, and Hans Harrison (last year for nine months).  I really admire the work that Nine Lives does in Athens, and I strongly encourage anyone reading this to consider becoming a foster parent for animals who need a temporary home while waiting for forever family.  If you can’t do that, I subtly suggest that you drop a few dollars in Nine Lives‘s bucket.  I can attest to the quality of their work, and I wish them all the best as I leave Greece.

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Cat Fostering: Amelie and Nelly

In my previous post about fostering, I ended by saying that Nine Lives, a cat shelter in Athens, Greece, was going to send me a kitten to help Amelie feel more comfortable after being rescued from a pack of dogs.  I showed a picture of a kitten who…did not come!  He ended up having some diseases that could have spread to Amelie, so instead  Nelly joined our temporary family.

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But first, an update on Amelie!  A woman from Nine Lives came to the house to take care of her while I was gone for a weekend vacation, and when I came back she was a totally different cat.  It was as though the fear of another stranger made my return a desperate, “Thank God, a familiar face!”  She started letting me sit beside her on the couch, and she was making so much progress I was a little scared that the introduction of a kitten would set her back.

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When Nelly first arrived, Amelie reverted to hiding under coffee tables and footstools.  I resented Nelly for that, which was unfair because she was relentlessly cute.  She’s a total kitten: playful and curious and slightly dumb.  And SO cute and cuddly.  She follows me around, burrows into the covers when I sleep, and falls asleep next to me like this.

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After a while, though, Amelie realized that she is a full-sized cat.  Instead of letting a kitten bully her around, she stood up for herself and asserted her dominance.  I was very proud that she came to this realization because of food.  Nelly tried to eat Amelie’s food, at which point Amelie slapped the kitten in the face and never had a problem again.

They still don’t cuddle with each other, but they will chase each other between rooms, and Nelly likes to sneak up on Amelie and try to catch her tail.  Somehow, all of this HAS made Amelie more comfortable, since she will now go into every room, and when I’m away for a while, she’ll actually follow me around and watch me from various doorways.  Most adorably, she will sit beside the couch and meow until I sit there, since she has apparently learned that that is where she will be petted.

Both Amelie and Nelly need to be adopted by mid-January, and at the rate they’re going, they will probably do well either separately or together!  If you or someone you know lives in Greece and wants two very cute cats, drop a line to Nine Lives and let them know!  If you can’t adopt cats, I still suggest you go to Nine Lives and leave a donation.  I love what they do, and I’m happy to do what I can to support them and the stray cats of Athens that they care for.

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Cat Fostering: Meet Amelie!

One of the first things I did when I returned to Athens was visit Hans Harrison, the cat I fostered for 9 months, in his forever home.  I sent pictures of him to Nine Lives, the cat shelter that had given him to me, and within hours I’d gotten a reply, “Do you want to foster another?”  I explained that I would only be in Greece for three months this time, but the offer was repeated.  A week later, Amelie was brought to my house!

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Amelie was part of a cat colony that Nine Lives checks in on from time to time.  She was taken to a vet a couple weeks ago when she developed an abscess on her back paw.  Soon after she was returned to the streets, a pack of dogs attacked the colony, killing several.  Knowing that the dogs would return to a successful hunting ground, Nine Lives rescued the remaining cats, Amelie included.  She stayed with two USian university students for a week before returning to the vet for a second abscess on her other back paw.  The next day, she came to me.

Clearly, she has been through a lot in the last couple weeks!  This is her first time living indoors with a human, and she has been very skittish.  She has made a home under my desk, first hiding under my footrest and then settling into a bucket with a rug.  At the slightest change in environment, she hides under the footrest and stares at me with wide eyes.

I’m used to floppy, friendly cats, so this would have been discouraging but for one thing.  Whenever I pet her, she goes mad with purring and leaning into my touch.  She’s simultaneously desperate for affection but scared of literally everything.  She’s an anxious introvert, and I can totally understand that.

It’s been slow going, but there have been small steps of progress in the last week!  She will come out from under the desk during the night (though she rarely leaves the room, even though the door has been open for days), and last night I heard her playing with the catnip toy I left her.  She also comes out of hiding to eat and use the litter box.

Last night, we had a major breakthrough when I came home, sat beside her bucket, and she came out to sit next to me!  This morning, she went further, crawling out of her bucket and then up into my lap for cuddles!  She’s also becoming blasé to my movements around the room, sleeping through noises she now considers normal instead of immediately darting for cover.

I’ve had Amelie for only five days, but it’s taking longer than I expected for her to settle in and feel safe.  Still, she’s such a sweetie, and if you’re reading this from Greece, I’m confident that in two months she’ll be ready to cuddle in a forever home!  She could be yours!


STAY POSTED:  Nine Lives and I have decided that Amelie needs a friend!  There is a kitten from her cat colony who is small enough to not intimidate her, but who is playful enough to hopefully help her feel more confident in her new home.  He cannot join us yet, since Amelie is not yet vaccinated due to being on antibiotics for her abscesses.  Once that is done, this little guy should be joining us!

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Year 2 | A Week in Canada #15: FIRST WEEK OF TRAINING

I’ve been in Vancouver for a week, and I feel amazing! Two of my coworkers got here before me, and it was so fun to see them in a new context. We are at our parent organization for two weeks of training, since two of us have new positions and the third wanted additional training after a year of experience. 

We’re staying at their safe house, and it’s been really cool to see the day-to-day life here. It’s made me really jealous, actually, because the ease with which you can interact when everyone speaks the same language is something you take for granted until you can’t say even the simplest thing without first finding an interpreter. 

From the first training session, their staff picked up on just that: that we are overwhelmed and feeling desperate, so after two hours they said, “What you need is a rest.” We put everything away and they treated us to a fantastic meal downtown. It was at the restaurant that we started to have our best conversations, safe, happy, and protected. 

This continued throughout the week: afternoon trips to Stanley Park, Granville Island, Queen Elizabeth Park, and a whole day reading through material at a restaurant overlooking the sea. It’s so lush here, and spring is kicking in, and I feel restored! I have three pages filled with ideas I want to implement when I return to Athens. It took leaving to have the space to think creatively and excitedly again.

 

We were assigned homework over the weekend, but we stayed up late Friday and got up early Saturday to finish. For what? The most introverted weekend ever. We stayed in our rooms until dinner, then ordered pizza and watched three episodes of Planet Earth. Just what I needed. 

I’m so glad I was able to come here. It’s inspiring to see an organization like ours, but decades old. They are well-organized and established, so crises are familiar and they aren’t hurrying around reacting to things all the time. I hope we can reach that point at HD…and soon!

Year 2| A Week in Greece #13: US TEAM, NEW BABY, MISSION MEETINGS

It’s my last week in Greece according to my 90-day visa, so I’m officially being kicked out of the EU tomorrow.  I’ll be in the States for a bit, then Vancouver for work training, then back in the States waiting for my 2-year visa to be approved!  I expected my last week here to be chaotic, finishing things up, but it is such a nice chaos when I know I am about to step away from the responsibility.

We had a US team visiting us this week at HD.  They connected really quickly with our girls, and it was so amazing to see the hugs and tears and contact exchanges being made at the end of the week.  Teams like this remind me of what I love best about my country:  an “of course we can find a solution” mentality that includes both optimism and hard work.

We ended our work week with another birth!  That’s the third baby born into our program since January, and we have a fourth baby that comes to the Day Program with her mother.  We’re expanding so quickly!  Every day we run into some new situation that we haven’t yet experienced.  It’s crazy to think it’s only been a year since we opened (April 15 is our first anniversary).  None of us thought we would be here in such a short time!  It is such a privilege to get to be a part of the beginning of an organization like HD and see how God grows it.

This week I also had two meetings with my mission organization.  The first was a big dinner on Monday, in which we ate together for the second time in two years and decided we should probably do it more often.  The second was a private coffee with my supervisor, and it was really nice to get to know him and feel like he wanted to get to know me.  I haven’t felt very connected to my mission organization, so these simple times together were so helpful for me.

Oh!  Both of my roommates moved out this week!  Yikes, it’s a sign of how busy things are that I forgot to mention that until now.  It would be sadder if I weren’t leaving myself for a month+, but as it is, it kind of made it easier to pack because I could use the washing machine as often as I needed.

On Thursday, my HD coworkers went out to eat to say goodbye and to toast to a “5 year visa,” and we wound up sharing our love languages and laughing at mixed signals.  Today I dropped Hans Harrison off at the house of one of our HD volunteers.  It was a nightmare getting him into his carrier, but when I let him out at her place, he wandered straight out and went around to everyone for pets!  It made it so much easier to leave him knowing that he was already lounging comfortably.

Then I went out for coffee with my 2nd Church friends.  They all live in the city center, so I used my “I’m leaving” pull to get them to come to my area of Athens.  One of them unexpectedly lent me three seasons of Three Musketeers, so now I know how I’m going to use my free time!  Luciana is going to come over in a bit, maybe to start in on the series, and then it’s off to bed…and an early start for my flight tomorrow!