What made you decide to participate in the HUG program?
I had always wanted to study abroad, but due to my major, I could only go abroad during the summer semester. My options were Florence and Greece, and there was no doubt in my mind that Greece was the best choice for me. Florence had some very cool things going for it, but I thought that traveling in Greece, Israel, Turkey and Egypt would be such a unique experience, the opportunity of a lifetime. When I enter my career field after graduation, it is very possible that I may go to Florence, or Tuscany, or Barcelona; it is highly unlikely that I would have the chance to visit Jerusalem or Egypt.
What was it like attending HUG?
Attending HUG was like living in a 5-star villa. At HUG, the chef, Natasa prepared some of the best meals I have ever had in my life! I still miss Natasa’s cooking! I enjoy playing guitar, so it was nice having over 12 guitars to play with, as well as other various musical instruments. The pool was a great way to enjoy the nice warm days and, at night, the volleyball court was always fun to let out some steam. The workout facility was high quality, and it allowed me to get some good workouts in my free time. At nights we were able to come together with tea time and have very good, deep conversations. It was like being in a big family environment!
What was it like living in Greece?
Living in Greece sounds like a fantasy, but everyday I was shocked to wake up to the reality that I was there. The view out my balcony was breathtaking — I saw lush flowers, mountains and vineyards across the street. Whenever we had a free day, we could go to the beach, or shop and explore Athens, and experience the history of one of the most significant cities to all of humanity. The people in Greece are so loving and welcoming, and because of Harding’s reputation with the Greeks, we were able to enjoy things that many tourists may not be able to do.
What did you learn?
Before going to Greece, I really thought that the point of going to a university was to get a specific degree, so I felt like a lot of classes were not valuable to me or my major. Boy was I wrong! Not only did some of those classes make my future semesters easier, it expanded my knowledge and helped me grow as a person and as a Christian.
How did you grow?
Anyone will tell you that they changed when they went abroad. Without a doubt, my spiritual walk was changed because of Greece. Standing on Mars Hill and walking the path of the cross helped me see the world as if I was an apostle. Working with refugees from Muslim cultures really opened my eyes to see people as God’s children, and I learned to be more open with people that do not share the same views as me.
How were you challenged?
I was challenged socially, because we had a small group. There were so many different personalities and interests, and we had to learn to work as a team. There will be days when you get frustrated or annoyed with some people, but in those times, communication with them is key. It will be hard to study abroad and not be willing to work things out, and that is a skill you will either gain or learn while abroad.
What was your favorite aspect of HUG?
One of my favorite aspects of HUG was being able to learn from some of the most loving people on earth. I have seen a lot in my life as a military child and learned quite a bit living abroad for eight years. Nevertheless, through HUG I was able to fall back in love with history, something that as a science major I have really missed. Some of the tour guides from HUG I consider family — they will always have a special place in my heart. My Greek teacher, Vicky, helped me fall in love with learning foreign languages, something I am not particularly gifted with. Now, I love learning new languages.
What is one standout memory from HUG?
It is hard to pick out one standout memory from the dozens, but one memory that really stands out is my hike on Mount Olympus. It was the hardest hike I have ever experienced, and due to the weather conditions and climb, I was mentally broken. Thankfully, my roommate kept me going, encouraged me on my walk, and we had some of the deepest conversations while on that hike. Looking back on that experience, it was not only a highlight of HUG, but it has become one of the highlights of my life.
What do you wish people knew about HUG?
HUG will wow you not only with the people, but with some of the greatest and most unique destinations in the world. At HUG, you will be able to stand on Mount Olympus and stroll in the footprints of legends. You will be able to walk around in King Tut’s tomb, and worship in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yes, you will step out of your comfort zone a lot, but you will gain so much from doing it.
What would you say to others thinking about attending the HUG program?
I would tell them this: You get out of life what you put into it. You can go to other countries and live a regular life, but in Greece, you will be able to not only experience the past but improve your future self. HUG is unique in so many ways, but I think that the combination of locations and incredible guides sets HUG apart.
How do you see the world differently after studying abroad?
While studying abroad, I was able to meet people from various socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. I thought Greece was an interesting country before HUG, but now it is one of my favorite countries in the world and I would do anything to go back.
Alex Wolf attended the summer 2019 Harding in Greece (HUG) program.