My semester abroad was a series of memorable moments. Traveling to different countries, eating new foods, and meeting new people has brought me a new sense of the privilege I hold. These new experiences also revealed the American bubble I have lived in for most of my life.
One of my favorite, most memorable nights, was attending Carnival in Sitges, Spain, a small town about an hour outside of Barcelona. Carnival is a celebration that occurs right before lent. Much like Mardi Gras, Carnival is filled with colorful costumes, parades, and specialty foods.
On a Tuesday night in February, my friends and I were herded into a large bus, draped in shimmery boas and disguised in a colorful array of wigs and masks. I had been given a lesson on Carnival in my Spanish class, so we knew what to wear and what food to look for when we arrived in Sitges.
An hour later, we arrived in Sitges to find a long line of locals dressed in elaborate costumes. Women wore bright leotards and large glittery wings, men were dressed as animals with large headdresses and face paint. They danced to Spanish music as they waited for their turn to walk past the parade’s starting line. This was something I had never seen. Rather than floats sponsored by corporations and parade participants in t-shirts with company logos, the Sitges parade had a cultural focus. The floats were hand-decorated and the participants danced to carefully crafted choreography. I was so used to the capitalist spectacle of parades in the United States, that seeing something so authentic was shocking. ...continue reading "Carnival!"
My service at the Pet Grooming House has resulted in a 40-page essay about the "animal-friendly" entities who serve stray animals for free and without medical paperwork in Athens. These entities, unknowingly to the locals and the Greek government, are singlehandedly promoting stray adoption and animal welfare in the city without any financial incentivization. My research on this topic, through work-based learning at the PGH, has resulted in many surprising findings and recommendations for the government to care for the stray population and promote stray adoption by locals. I am excited to share these findings with the GW community, as well as the Greek government and Athens municipality when they are done being evaluated.
Moreover, I had the opportunity to conduct ethnographic research on the topic of my paper. I actually went to the Athenian Agora, the home of a very friendly and large stray dog named Brandt. My teacher had known this dog for ten years and offered to come with us to coach him to my site. I then walked him one hour to the PGH to be groomed and cared for free. It took over ten bottles of soap to get the dirt out of his fur, and we must have pulled out over 10 plants from his tail and back. He was also the most well-behaved dog I had ever seen being groomed at the PGH. After his grooming, I put on his new collar I bought him, gave him some treats, and brought him back to his home. My favorite part of this experience was that the owner of the PGH actually let me do the grooming myself. For the first time, I went through the entire (3.5 hr) process myself, cleaning this loving bear of a dog. I also was able to observe the process of taking a stray dog from the streets myself (not just asking people about it), the criticism from nearby Greek police/soldiers who saw us, the looks from different people as we walked together, and the difference in looks after he was cleaned. This experience contributed to my research and added a different element to the findings. I am overwhelming grateful for these experiences in Athens, and the kindness of the PGH.
While volunteering with Pet Grooming House, an "animal-friendly" entity which provides free grooming and health services to stray dogs, I have also had the opportunity to conduct research. By exploring how the adoption of stray dogs is supported by “animal-friendly” dog groomers and veterinarians in the city of Athens, I was able to use findings to make suggestions to the Greek government regarding the promotion of stray dog adoption and improvement of the wellbeing of all dogs in the city.
Drawing from dialogue with a groomer, veterinarian, and two owners of (formerly stray) dogs, I made the following recommendations to the Athenian municipality: facilitating public education campaigns about responsible dog ownership, investing in technological advancements and online infrastructure, enforcing existing animal welfare laws, and financially incentivizing locals and “animal-friendly” entities to promote adoption. The research concludes that “animal-friendly” organizations are the city’s secret weapon to promoting stray dog adoption by residents and should have government support.
After returning home to the States and refining my research, I intend to send my recommendations to numerous municipal departments and newspapers in Athens. I hope that this information and my time at Pet Grooming House will contribute to policy change and catalyze local discussion about the important and escalating issue of stray dogs. As Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.”
To read my full research or to send a personal comment, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I’ve always been a relatively adaptable person, but living in Barcelona has pushed me to adapt to a completely new way of life. The places and things I have actively looked for or come upon during this experience reflect the ways that I have changed and I have not changed thus far this semester.
For example, the vegetarian, non-Spanish food that I have found—which I defined as part of my community in my previous blog post—has confirmed my identity as an American. I sought out this food in order to find comfort in Barcelona, but it has not challenged my identity in any way. If anything, it has confirmed my American identity and strengthened the privilege that is attached to it, especially the privilege I have, having grown up in New York City. I have always been accustomed to a highly developed, globalized city where every type of food has been accessible to me. Because there isn’t one distinct culture in New York, like in many American cities, I am not used to eating one type of food when I go out.
While Barcelona is growing more international, many of the foods I can enjoy at home are very expensive here because of their limited supply, so when I find restaurants that are not Spanish and provide vegetarian meals, I stick to them. Of course, these are the places that all Americans go to and there is usually an English menu, which doesn’t challenge my identity. Living in an apartment also doesn’t challenge me because I cook for myself to save money. While I am happy with my apartment and my roommates, I sometimes wish I had chosen to live with a host family in order to get a greater sense of Spanish life and food.
I have also felt more of my American privilege because of the political conversations I have had in my classes and activities. I volunteer at a Catalan school once a week, helping to teach high school kids English. We talk about many different subjects, but whenever the question of Catalonia independence comes up, the room becomes tense. The students will start talking about it—some will say they only speak Catalan at home, while others will say they feel entirely Spanish—but one student will inevitably shut down the conversation. They will always explain to me the emotional nature of the conflict and say, “let’s talk about something else.”
...continue reading "Have I Really Changed?"
The last few weeks have been personally and professionally challenging. At the beginning of March, I made the decision to completely change internship sites and my research focus. Due to a variety of reasons, I decided to leave my current unpaid internship placement and begin pursuing a longstanding but unexplored passion: stray animal adoption in Athens, Greece.
I am now incredibly happy, volunteering each week with "animal-friendly" organizations who provide services to stray dogs at no cost. Many of these organizations, like grooming parlors and animal clinics, act as "secret weapons" to promote stray dog adoption in Greece. However, they receive no credit from the public and residents are not incentivized by the government to adopt stray dogs. Seeing these organizations interact with the stray population has been more rewarding, thought-provoking, and fascinating than ever imaginable!
I also have pivoted my research to focus on the vulnerable and growing population of stray dogs in Athens, Greece. By the time the semester ends, I will have conducted research, written a report, and sent my findings to the Greek government regarding the relationship between Athenian grooming parlors and the stray dog population in Athens, Greece. Within this topic, the aim of my research is to answer the question, “How are Greek grooming parlors’ practices supporting adoption of stray dogs in Athens, Greece?” More specifically, how is the denial or acceptance of stray dogs for grooming services affecting the adoption of stray dogs by residents in this municipality? By speaking to a dog groomer, veterinarian, and two individuals who have adopted stray dogs, this complex relationship will be explored and deconstructed. Findings regarding the motivation of grooming parlor owners for servicing stray dogs in their parlors will also be analyzed.
I am SO excited to analyze the findings of this research and continue this volunteer work! I feel very grateful for this opportunity.
Kalimera (good morning), friends, family, and colleagues! I have officially survived one month of studying abroad in Athens, Greece and I am feeling more resilient than ever! Nothing has gone as planned and adventures into unknown territory are becoming as common as Greeks drinking coffee (24/7), but I have had incredible learning opportunities and chances to find myself along the way.
My time here has been complemented by a once-in-a-lifetime volunteer opportunity to intern with Inter Alia, a civic-action meeting point working to promote educated decisions of migrant populations from Africa and inclusion of youth with disabilities with youth and adults without disabilities. So far, the language barrier has been my largest challenge within the organization.
While the organization's employees speak English, many of its programs are described in language that confuses me or has different meanings than in the United States. For example, the words "refugees" and "migrants" are used interchangeably and the words, "intellectual disability" and "mental illness" are also not distinguished clearly. I plan to overcome this challenge by asking the employees' to define terms used within the organization. I also plan to do outside research to understand these populations' experiences in Greece.
P.S. The healthy Mediterranean diet" is a lie. Greeks eat pastries, cheese, and more pastries. There are almost as many bakeries than coffee shops in Athens!
When I first arrived in Barcelona I scrambled to find a new sense of community, worried that I would feel isolated and far too uncomfortable throughout the semester. Two months into my stay, I am more than thrilled to have settled into this temporary host community composed of new friends, places, and food that have enriched my experience.
...continue reading "Finding Spanish Community"
"Ya sou" (hello) from Athens, Greece!
After five days of living on another continent, I am humbled by the culture shock I have experienced and amazed by the architecture and ancient structures of Athens. I look forward to beginning classes next week at Arcadia University, studying archaeology, anthropology, Greek art, and philosophy, as well as meeting my internship supervisor at Inter Alia. Yes, you read that correctly. I am studying PHILOSOPHY in ATHENS! Excited to be part of a program that values cultural education, social justice, and experiential learning, Arcadia in Athens was my first choice!
Inter Alia is self-described as the "Civic Action Meeting Point" of Greece. I have chosen to intern with this organization because of its various initiatives that use education to empower young people across Europe. I will be working specifically on a project called, "Grapes of Wrath." Many may recognize this title, as it is inspired by the famous book read in schools around the world. You can visit Inter Alia's website at interaliaproject.com! Their mission is to "bring people closer to each other and to Europe through breaking stereotypes, analysing and deconstructing conflict, engaging actively in key political issues and dialogue."
...continue reading "Ya sou!"
It’s difficult to confine my identity to a singular sentence, paragraph, or even blog post—perhaps because different parts of my identity become more prominent depending on my environment. I am a biracial woman; I am the daughter of two mothers; I am an atheist, although I was raised partly Jewish and partly Christian; I am from the United States.
Throughout my life, my background has served a source of constant confusion. I had trouble identifying as a person of color (POC) for most of my life because I have not experienced most of the challenges of POCs, as I am half white. There have been moments where my brownness is more present, like when I am in a room of all-white people, but when I am with my friends from home, most of whom are people of color, I feel whiter than ever. I do not know how to check the race and ethnicity boxes on a census nor do I know what it would be like to walk into the Hillel at GW, knowing that I have not been bat mitzvahed and have not grown up in a traditional Jewish household.
My confusing identity has certainly had a frustrating presence in my life, as people are constantly asking “what” I am or where I’m actually from, or denying that I’m Jewish. However, because I live in the United States, there are people around me are going through similar challenges and I have grown up in places where diversity is theoretically celebrated. This has allowed me gain pride in my identity. I will continue to hear the question “what are you?” on a daily basis, but answering that question is certainly easier than what I have experienced abroad.
...continue reading "My Study Abroad Identity"