My choice for in-flight reading material was so pregnant with obviousness that I expected ridicule from my fellow passengers. Was I actually boarding an airbus for Athens with a copy of Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek in my bag? Well, I hear that Greeks embody the joy-of-life thing as well as anyone, and Zorba is viewed as one of literature’s most gusto-rich characters, so why not? I am on this journey to learn how the high-spirited Athenian life is leaving its mark on nine Berklee students; might as well have Zorba, the king of zest, in the back of my mind.

This much I’ve learned so far—these young musicians are making the most of their opportunity. They left Boston for Athens three months ago to participate in the Berklee Berklee Study Abroad Program, held every year at the Phillippos Nakas Conservatory (as well as in Freiburg, Germany). Knowing little about them before we sat down to dinner tonight, I was immediately impressed with their energy, intelligence, and self-confidence.

The youngest in the group, Allee Futterer, talked with excitement about some of her new pals in Athens (not from the program) who were planning to attend her recital next week. Ben Thomas described an eye-opening stroll he took through the city center that afternoon. Laura Hoover, Jen O’Shea, and Sabrina Seidman had just gotten back from a weekend trip to Dublin, bursting with stories to tell the group.

Adam Moskowitz, who had already been to Istanbul, Israel, and other locales, discussed his upcoming trip—he plans to go to Italy, Ireland, Scotland, and England at semester’s end. Rick Carrizales announced—to Ben’s surprise—that one of the primary reasons he applied for the study abroad trip was to learn the Greek language. And Ratasha Huff implied that she has learned a lot about taking care of herself since arriving in early September—citing one example of requesting a different room at the hotel, one on the top floor, with a view of the city.

The students also talked about what they observed earlier that day of the emotional protests taking place blocks from the school, marking the two-year anniversary of a fatal shooting in Athens. This was a different sort of cultural immersion, one that didn’t involve music or food, but one that the Berklee students won’t soon forget.

Just over an hour after we started, dinner was over. We had consumed our delicious three-course meal, and, then, one-by-one, with a friendly wave goodnight, each of the students headed upstairs to their rooms to study for the night. It’s finals week at the Nakas Conservatory, and there’s a lot of work to do. And while everything else feels very different here, that part reminds me a lot of Berklee.

Tomorrow, I’ll go to the school with them and see what it’s like for myself.

Rob Hochschild
Latest posts by Rob Hochschild (see all)