1.6-1.7 How I Crafted My Own “Study Abroad” Program

This is part of a series called Connecting the Dots: How I Went from Being a San Francisco CFO to an Athens Yoga Instructor. The series starts here. Last week’s installment is here.


I had always dreamed of doing a “study abroad” year during college, but I never did. However, in 2009 my love of languages started to wake back up and in 2010, the thoughts I should go to Athens started coming into my head. I began to think about crafting my own personal “study abroad” program.


The thought forming in my head was that I’d study Greek in an intensive program for a month and live in Athens. The plan was very vague, but it seemed within reach.  And the idea energized me. I felt like I had worked hard for so much of my professional life that I deserved to do something I wanted and that made me excited.


People ask why I chose Greece and to this day, I have no idea. There were a few random data points. I had been to Greece in 2007, right around when I was splitting up with my boyfriend at the time. We actually had a huge fight about the trip. I thought Greece was beautiful, but I never imagined I would live there. At the European Yoga festival in France in 2009, we were all assigned “buddies” and mine was a very sweet Greek girl, Danae. And in San Francisco, I had briefly dated a Greek guy and became curious about the language listening to him talk on the phone with his family. But I don’t think any of this was what pulled me to Greece. I don’t know what did. But for reasons I can’t explain, it was crystal clear I should go to Athens.


So I began to plan it…


I discovered the Athens Centre, a Greek language school in the Mets neighborhood of Athens recommended to me by a friend. I found an apartment  online that was a 20 minute walk from the school and booked it. I worked out where I would leave my three pets while I was away. I told my clients I would be working remotely for one month. Step by step, the plan came together and in May of 2011, I went on my trip.


I arrived on May 1 and began my one-month adventure. I started at zero and each day, my Greek life improved. The first day, I got settled into my apartment. The second day I started school. By the third day, I had made a friend in class. The fourth day, I met a guy on my way to school and, by the fifth day, I had a Greek mobile phone so I could communicate with everyone in my new Greek life. By the end of the first week, I had friends to socialize with, a new guy to date, classes to go to and a city to explore.


The core of the adventure was my Greek language school. I enrolled in the Athens Centre, and my first teacher was Roza Perakis. Roza is inspiring instructor, and her philosophy was that we would learn more if we were having fun. She was relaxed about the rules and encouraged us to enjoy ourselves. It was an entry-level class, but everyone came in with a little bit of knowledge. Adriana had dated a wealthy Greek guy so she knew the word for “yacht” but couldn’t say boat or ferry. Sofie had worked at a restaurant on Naxos so she could count to 40, the number of seats in the restaurant, but no higher. And I had purchased the Rosetta Stone language software, so while I basically didn’t know anything, every now and then, I’d surprise us all with my mastery of a random word or phrase:  άλογο! (horse), πάμε για καφέ! (let’s go for coffee!). The classes were a mix of serious study and entertainment.


Weekends included road trips, late nights, even later mornings, new places to go and new people to meet. The month was everything I imagined a “study abroad” experience would be like, and when it was time to return on May 31st, I couldn’t believe the chapter was ending.


May 2011 was an incredible adventure, but also I knew it was a break from regular life. When I returned home I wasn’t really sure what to do next. At this point, I still had no interest in moving to Greece permanently. But after this trip I was intrigued and the idea of returning seemed obvious. So after a little deliberation, I decided to go back for two months in September and October of 2011.


My second trip was totally different. If May of 2011 had every shade on the color spectrum, September and October of 2011 were more monotone. My friends from school had left for their seasonal jobs. The guy I had met had moved to Paris to find work.  I enrolled again in language school, but my classmates were different and while I liked them, I didn’t relate to them much. We rarely socialized outside of class. I spent a lot more time alone in my apartment.


But even with these changes, I was happy. I loved being in Athens, and I felt like every day was full of possibility. I was still doing my finance work for my California clients, so this time I focused more on work and began to see what it would be like to live in Athens but work remotely for US companies. The schedule of staying up past midnight to take calls in the San Francisco time zone, 10 hours behind Greece suited me. I liked staying up late and sleeping until 10:00 or 11:00 am. I found my rhythm. When it came time to return again to California, I was sad to leave Athens.


What I learned in these dots was the power of baby steps. My two “study abroad” trips to Greece were important steps because I was building out my comfort zone. If you had asked me in April of 2011 if I would move to Greece in February of 2012, I would have said a clear no. I wasn’t ready. But after two “practice” trips, my comfort zone was bigger. It no longer seemed scary or unknown. I  often wonder if people don’t pursue what they want because the thought is too scary, and they haven’t considered a staged approach. I’m a big fan of lots of baby steps. It’s what made the next dot possible for me because in February of 2012, I moved to Greece…


Next week:  1.6-1.7: How My Dog Launched My Yoga Career

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