features

Marya Makuc ‘22 on Studying Abroad During the Pandemic

Kelly Gallagher ‘22

Editor-in-Chief

Marya Makuc ‘22 originally looked forward to spending her junior year in Sri Lanka and Rome, but as was the case with many students, the pandemic upset her study abroad plans. Most study abroad programs for the 2020-21 academic year were canceled, but in Fall 2020, the Office of Study Abroad did offer students the opportunity to switch their applications to the College Year in Athens program. Marya, a Religious Studies Major from Monterey, MA, decided she couldn’t miss the opportunity. 

Upon Marya’s arrival, she and the other students in the College Year in Athens program had to quarantine in their apartments for a 7-day period. The CYA program delivered food, and Marya passed the time by getting to know her three roommates, who are all from different schools. 

Athens’ lockdown has presented challenges for Marya, but the city is still full of opportunities. Marya actually has to text the government every time she leaves the building and explain where she’s going. As the CYA administration explained to its students, the main purpose of this is to encourage people to be mindful about leaving their residencies. The government has restricted using public transportation for recreational purposes, so Marya’s adventures have all been within walking distance. Luckily, she lives in the Pangrati neighborhood, which is centrally located. “It’s right by the Panathenaic Stadium, which is the first modern Olympic stadium,” Marya said. “It’s a 20-minute walk to the Acropolis area, where there are many sites like the Parthenon and the temple of Hephaestus.” In fact, the Parthenon is so close that Marya can see it from her balcony!

“My classes are fantastic. The best class I’m taking is about the Greek Orthodox Church, so we’re learning about the Orthodox religion. The professor is just outstanding and she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my whole life,” Marya said. Three of Marya’s four classes take place over Zoom, but the professors keep the sessions engaging. Her class on Greek Orthodoxy “only has four students – the max number of students in any of our classes is 10. It’s very individualized and most of the classes are based on discussion.” 

She’s also enjoying her class on Byzantine era art and architecture. Though most people associate Athens with its ancient history, the city is also home to many Byzantine remnants, especially churches. Though Marya hasn’t been able to visit museums, which are closed, she’s been able to go into Byzantine churches, where she’s now able to recognize many elements thanks to her class.

Graphic design by Kate Nedorostek ’23

For Marya, the most frustrating part of studying abroad has been not being able to go to churches for worship, due to the lockdown. However, she’s quick to emphasize that the opportunities of study abroad outweigh the obstacles of her experience. “The city has so much to offer even though it’s in lockdown,” Marya told The Spire. She’s especially enjoyed visiting churches and the hills where, since ancient times, speakers have addressed enormous crowds below them. Marya said that her favorite moment of the trip was visiting the top of the Areopagus hill, a rock outcropping where St. Paul first preached to the Athenians. “That was just incredible.”  

Marya has been able to experience Greek Orthodox traditions in advance of Easter. During Carnival, a three-week period before Lent, people indulged in meat, cheeses, and other foods they would later give up for their fast. Many kids dressed up, and on the last day of Carnival, “people were just throwing confetti everywhere.” 

Lent began this week, starting with “Clean Monday” on March 15. “Similar to in the Catholic faith, the Orthodox take the forty days before their Easter, which they call Pascha, to fast. The first day of the fast is called Clean Monday,” Marya shared. “There are certain foods that you eat, like a thin bread filled with sesame seeds and this traditional salad with fish roe. I just tried it for the first time today, and it actually tasted really good. There’s also olives, seafood, and this tahini-based treat called halva, which is almost like fudge. So those are the foods that you eat, and then it’s traditional that you fly a kite on Philopappos hill. The idea of the kite is to send your intentions and prayers to God.”

The main thing left on Marya’s bucket list is visiting a monastery in Meteora once travel restrictions loosen up. The loosened restrictions will also allow Marya to use public transportation in order to visit beaches. In addition, Marya hopes that restaurants, museums, and more archeological sites will open up before she leaves late in May.

At the end of her interview, Marya reflected on why she had wanted to study abroad, and how her experiences had lived up to her hopes. “I think that in life we are called to walk with each other on our journeys. Relationships with other people are really important. In fact, I think it’s the most important part of our lives. In traveling, I’m getting to know more people, and then coming to love more people, and then coming to better understand them and be in relationship with them.”

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