By Leiana Talo Lepule
My peers, advisors, in-country coordinator, and I in our large group of twenty-three travelers had been walking around the historical ruins of the Acropolis for about two hours before we gathered back at the front of the museum that stood next to the entrance of the Acropolis. With this being a museum where your everyday tourists walk in and out, I did not expect for this moment to be the one where I had my initial stage of transformation on this trip. After going through the motions of scrambling to hold on to my phone, my ticket, my sunglasses, my money pouch, and my filled water bottle at the same time, we walked one by one through the security gates that controlled each of the entrances. I placed my sunglasses and ticket on the top of the machine, and I placed my money pouch and my phone that was connected to the external battery in the pouch on the conveyor belt to be scanned quite quickly by the security guard monitoring the x-ray screen next to the machine. We walked in, gathered together, laid the ground rules for when and where we would meet at the end of our visit, and took off into scattered groups to start looking at the first floor of beautiful and ancient Greek art and sculpture.
After some time taking multiple photos and walking between the two walls lined with everything from miniature clay figures to large marble sculptures, I broke off from the small group of fellow students I was exploring the first floor with and walked up the glass steps with subtle white polka dots to find a large crowd facing a large, incomplete piece of art that included partial pieces of a sculpture of Herakles and Triton.
After the large group moved on, I stood in front of the piece alone, but I felt like I was being watched. I pivoted my to slightly change the angle of my view, as if I were viewing the sculpture from a different angle, and I confirmed my suspicion to be true. A group of about ten Greek school children stood staring at me instead of listening to the their guide. They were obviously on a school field trip, but had lost interest in the artifacts around them. Some of them started giggling and looked away when I looked back, while others were facing me straight on with their eyes and bodies pointed directly at me. Like a huge wave, an awkward feeling came over me as I realized that I was suddenly the one on display. I shoved my phone between my money pouch straps and my black jean shorts and walked directly past the group of school children to the next sculpture. I continued on viewing sculptures, and when I stopped to read the English translation of the Greek signage describing the history of the sculpture. Seated Goddess, I said to myself softly. Yeeesss. I was drawn to the sculpture and grabbed my camera. As soon as I snapped the photo, I was approached by one of the employees who scolded me with a stern “No pictures please!” I hadn’t seen any warning posted about taking photos. Still, I immediately felt awkward again. It was at this exact moment I realized the school children were near me again, giggling as they stared at me. Why were they laughing at me? Have they never seen someone like me? In that moment, the feeling that I was the “other” was overwhelming.
After frantically apologizing to the employee, I scurried away while I returned my phone into my money pouch, and ended up on the opposite side of the museum, not stopping to look at the sculptures that lined my path. It took me a moment to take in what had just happened. I stood against the wall and felt completely alone, out of place. I did not see anyone from our group around me. I wanted to run out of the museum, but I didn’t. In this singular moment, it became crystal clear and real: I am definitely not in San Diego anymore.
Greece seems somewhat diverse, but it doesn’t feel the way we think of diversity back home. This is an experience I will continue to reflect on in my time here. In the meantime, I won’t let one awkward experience ruin my experience abroad!