Written by Brittany Paletta ’18
Prior to leaving for study away in Greece, we were required to take a preparation course. In this course, we had two phenomenal professors educate and share their wealth of information in their specialties of art history and archeology. In addition to the academic side, we were given “The Ten Commandments” of traveling. These included: thou shalt not complain, thou shalt not trust strangers, and so on. Most of us had never been out of the country, so we all thought “The Ten Commandments” were vital points to travel by. They were, but not in the way I anticipated.
Some of the most memorable events from the trip were violations of “The Ten Commandments.” Each person, in some way or another, violated one of the precious commandments. These violations brought the people of the group closer and closer together. Breaking rules can be dangerous, so I don’t advocate it. But it worked for me.
Aside from learning, human connection is what I find to be the best part of conscious experience. I love people. I enjoy learning from their subjective experiences, empathizing with them, performing acts of service for them, and sharing my life with them. I knew, even as a child, that if I had some kind of purpose, the focus would revolve around humanity as a whole. More recently, I was also aware that traveling to a foreign country for three weeks with strangers would foster my penchant for connecting with people unlike myself. I discovered that we have more common than I thought.
During my time in Greece, I became close with several people. Our tour guide was named Patricia. We connected immediately and unexpectedly. She is a Hiram alumna who went to Greece after graduation. She was exploring with a friend as a way to postpone the inevitable nine to five expectations of work life. While hitchhiking, Patricia met a group of people who offered her and her friend a ride to town. One of the people in the car became the man she would marry. She now lives in Greece as a tour guide with her husband. She was the perfect person to be the bridge between two worlds- Hiram, Ohio and Greece.
She embodied the aura of a Greek goddess with the down-to-Earth care of a country gardener. She made us all feel welcome, safe, and enthusiastic. Without Patricia, our experiences would have been mediocre at best. Patricia subtly broke commandments. She questioned patriarchal authority, used esoteric language, and encouraged us to follow our curiosity…even if that meant peeling ourselves away from the group for moments of insight taken in solitude. Patricia reminded me that my greatest hope is true – the beauty of humanity is scattered like fairy dust across the Earth. And sometimes, even when you are away from home, home finds you.
Much like Patricia was my new-found friend, Halle. Halle is an animal whisperer whose greatest concern was painting Greece with her inquiry. In Greece, it is custom to allow stray animals to be as they are as opposed to the US where we capture and euthanize them. It was a surprise to me that the animals were well loved and taken care of by the community members. All of the animals flocked to Halle. She broke many commandments as she loved the stray animals, wandered away from the group, and complained about her lack of freedom to roam. I learned from Halle that the perception of animals as lesser beings couldn’t be farther from the truth. She and Tim, another major commandment-breaker, taught me that insects and animals are just as complex as any human in their ways of living.
There are many other people I could recount from my time in Greece. They are rule-breakers, thinkers, explorers, and lovers. They uncovered hidden truths about the importance of traveling to new places, the courage to ask questions, and the vulnerability to open yourself and let others open themselves to you. Without the opportunity to travel to Greece, I wouldn’t have been revitalized by the occasion that new experiences in foreign places bring. “The Ten Commandments” of traveling are in place to protect, but what I’ve learned is that they are also there to break. We learn and foster personal growth when we do it together. The best part of living is sharing yourself with others and allowing them to become a part of you. I am my best self, living the best life, when I open up to the blossoming nature of humanity and all that it has to offer.