Alumni Spotlight: Maren Margaret Higgins

Maren is a senior at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, majoring in Classics with Minors in Legal Studies and Psychology.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose College Year in Athens for my study abroad experience as it was a program that aligned very well with my academic interests, as well as my extracurricular interests and personal interests. CYA offers a variety of classes for Classics majors, which is uncommon as it is such a small major, so I greatly appreciated a program that catered more to my studies.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

CYA is incredibly helpful throughout the Visa process. Obtaining a visa is stressful, and a Greek visa, in particular, has a lot of requirements for the appointment, so the amount of help given by CYA is gratefully received. CYA also assists with integrating students into Greek life for their time spent in Athens, as they are constantly making students aware of various events around the city. The things I had to do on my own are things one would expect to do on their own, such as travel.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Take advantage of your location and travel. Especially in Greece, you're a lot farther East than you expect, placed into an area of the world that often is not seen as a tourist destination the same way that Paris or London is. While some people may not like that, it's a wonderful opportunity to explore different countries and cultures, such as Eastern Europe and Northern Africa.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

CYA only has classes Monday through Thursday; there are only Friday classes once or twice a semester to account for days missed due to trips or holidays. So normal class days would consist of attending courses, whether they be in a classroom or visiting an archaeological site or museum, with lunch provided by CYA on weekdays. The lunches were always traditional Greek dishes which helped to acclimate students to the cuisine there. On Fridays, many students go to the Farmer's Market to do the majority of their grocery shopping, and weekends would often consist of traveling to islands or other countries.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

A big concern of mine when going abroad was social life. I was leaving everything I knew and was comfortable with, and going to spend four months with people I had never met. Thankfully, I attended a taverna dinner that CYA sets up as an option for students and met many people, some of whom wound up being my closest friends throughout my semester abroad.

What were some of the biggest cultural differences you noticed?

While in Greece, especially in this day and age, a huge cultural difference is the financial situation. The economic crisis was life changing in Greek society, and even a decade later you are able to see the affects it had. There is a large homeless population that covers the city, and they are not all homeless due to habits that they couldn't get a handle on. They're people who got the short end of the stick, which is something to keep in mind, and definitely something to respect.