A month ago, I was on a bus home from a stunning hike in the Mt. Olympus gorge and I had this overwhelming, swelling feeling that I am right where I need to be. I looked out at the rising moon before me and the setting sun behind me, and glanced at the 30 dozing, contented students I had just spent the day with. Purple hills dotted with white homes lay ahead – the city of Thessaloniki – our destination and yet another place that I identify as my home-for-now. Soon I would return to the Queen Olga hotel, eat dinner with my coworkers alongside the students we support, and retreat to my bed.
It’s hard to believe that I have been in Greece for nearly a month and a half now. So what am I doing in Greece?! I am working for Northeastern University to support the N.U.in Greece Program in my role as an International Coordinator. Everyday my work here looks a little bit different – which I love! I am one of ten on-site staff members, and my role includes facilitating community through planning activities and outings, teaching a section of the Global Experience course, managing conduct issues, and advising students on academic and personal issues as they arise. Our students here are fabulous, and I am constantly reminded of just why I chose to pursue this field.
What else am I learning in Greece? χαλαρά is the word that describes the essence of this city. It means “take it easy,” or doing things in a slow and relaxed manner – which is not my natural inclination in life. My friends will tell you that I am very ambitious, motivated, goal-oriented, and they know that I struggle to sit still. I’m usually mapping a way to get myself to the next goal, dreaming up my next trip or hiking adventure, attempting to convince my friends to sign up for the next half marathon, or starting a new knitting project.
Thus, I have decided that Greece is good for me. It’s teaching me to let go of expectations of the ways I imagine or am accustomed to things functioning around me. Halara is enjoying a two hour lunch on a Friday, letting go of frustrations with inefficiencies, going on long walks just because, and focusing on relationships and the present moment.
Halara is fried feta cheese. (I had to find a way to share with you this photo in a logical, linear way, so stay with me :D!) It doesn’t come quickly once ordered because it has to be breaded, fried, sprinkled with sesame and oozed (yes, a verb) with honey. You can’t gobble it down because it is so rich and delicious that you want to savor it forever, and you certainly aren’t going anywhere quickly after eating it – because you probably physically can’t but also because the mentality and sequential movement that fried cheese engenders is indulgent – therefore more saunter-y, and slow.
It was the first weekend in October and my coworker Kim and I were sitting at the ferry stop ready for another day in the sun at a beautiful nearby beach: Peraia. As we sat and waited alongside several others, I finally noticed that the ferry was running 20 minutes behind schedule. The individuals also awaiting the ferry look relatively at ease, and we all continue our conversations and basked in the morning sun. I was beginning to fully embrace this χαλαρά attitude!
Another five minutes later (we were still happily and patiently waiting, but slightly curious), it occurred to me that it was Tuesday, and that maybe the ferry doesn’t run this day of the week. It also occurred to me that all of the people waiting on the ferry looked like tourists – meaning locals may have known something we didn’t. I picked up my phone to call my local friend and coworker, Nikolas. He explained that he didn’t know anything special about the ferry schedule on Tuesday, but that “if [we] wait long enough, it will come!”
Ten minutes later, a kind local shopkeeper came up to the group of ferry-goers and explained that the ferry would not run again until May – it had finished for the season.
Nikolas’ response was the most halara thing I had yet heard. And yet, he wasn’t wrong. If we wait long enough, it will come!
For me, halara is boarding a bus – not knowing if it may take 1 hour or it may take 3. It is letting the chef of a restaurant choose the dishes you eat for lunch. Halara is slowing down, readily accepting things that happen differently than imagined, and enjoying your beautiful self every moment along the way.