I’ve spent my birthday in a variety of places over the years, from birthday parties with family to the Mall of America to last year when I had to work on my birthday. This year, I was fortunate enough to get to celebrate my birthday on a weekend trip to Greece with a friend. I spent my birthday in Poros, Greece relaxing on the beaches of the island and experiencing Greek culture. Greece, a place I’ve always dreamed of going, was everything I hoped it would be. If you have the chance to go to Greece while abroad, DO IT. It was 100% worth it and a trip I will remember for the rest of my life.
While living out my Mamma Mia fantasy for my 21st birthday was everything I had hoped and more, it didn’t come without its downfalls as well. It’s amazing the way you can spend your birthday in a place you’ve always dreamed of being, but still some part of you wishes to be elsewhere. The reality is that birthdays are normally something you celebrate with family and friends and no matter where in the world you are, no place can feel quite like home. Yes, I received many lovely birthday messages and phone calls, but that’s not the same thing as getting a happy birthday hug from your mom, a funny present from your best friend, or a chorus of happy birthday from a party full of people you care about. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m anything less than grateful for my birthday experience abroad, because truly it was a day I will never forget. However, the hard truth to face is that while it was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever experienced, in a lot of ways it was also the saddest. The saying goes “home is where the heart is” and I don’t think I ever truly understood what that meant until my birthday this year.
I’m guessing that there might be a lot of reactions to the concept of celebrating a birthday in Greece and still being homesick, such as “well, I would never feel like that” or “wow, that’s really sad why are you telling me this right now”. I think before coming abroad, I would have a similar reaction. I also never thought I would be the girl to be homesick abroad. I’ve always been the more independent type. But, when it comes down to it, a birthday (at least for me) is not just any other day. It’s a day to be around the people you love and care about and being abroad makes that not possible.
So, why am I mentioning this slightly depressing outlook? Because, when people study abroad, I’ve always perceived them having the time of their lives, no struggles, just living the dream in a new country. The harsh reality is that being abroad is more complicated than that, full of ups and downs and a birthday brings out both. Many of these ups extend beyond just being in Greece. For instance, every person I’ve met while abroad wished me happy birthday. I met all of these people two weeks ago, some of them maybe I’ve held only a conversation or two with, but still I had so many IES Abroad students wish me happy birthday. When I look back on my birthday this year, that is something that sticks out to me. I even had many IES Abroad staff members wish me happy birthday! It just goes to show the way study abroad facilitates relationships and friendships like no other, because you are all experiencing the ups and downs together. Even though my birthday abroad had many ups and downs, the support of people in the program just showed me that being abroad for my birthday was worth it. I mean, I did get to lay on a Grecian beach all day!
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<p>Ciao! My name is Annika Rader (aw-nih-kuh if you're wondering how to say it) and I am a junior at University of Missouri Columbia. I study Textile and Apparel Management major (which is just a fancy way to say fashion) with a Business minor. I am a writing intensive TA for my department, which tells you my love for writing, and I also work in my university's historical clothing collection. I love to learn, I'm an avid reader, and I've never met a thrift shop I didn't like. I can't wait to merge my vintage and thrifted style into the chicness of Milan and document my experience through writing. I want to share the good, the bad, and the (hopefully very little) ugly of my time abroad and maybe inspire others to experience it too. Milan here I come!</p>