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Vikings Study Abroad: Comparing the Cultures of Salem, Massachusetts and Thessaloniki, Greece

Salem State student Ella Speidel '24 talks about her experience at Aristotle University

Ella Speidel '24 spent the beginning of June studying and traveling in Thessaloniki, Greece. Through coursework at Salem State University, followed by seminars and sightseeing in Greece, Ella was able to compare the cities, histories, and cultures of Salem and Thessaloniki. Learn more about Ella’s incredible experience studying abroad:

What do you study at Salem State?

Ella: “At Salem State, I study geography and sustainability with a concentration in environmental sustainability and a minor in psychology.”


Where and when did you study abroad? 

Ella: “For the first 10 days of June, I traveled to and studied in Thessaloniki, Greece. I spent some time at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.”


Why did you decide to study abroad?

Ella: “I’ve always wanted to go abroad during college, and I learned about this opportunity through the Commonwealth Honors Program. I ultimately decided to go because I was interested in the course material: comparing the two cities of Salem and Thessaloniki including their history, culture, and people, and because I got the chance to actually visit a Greek city. The class also fulfilled an elective requirement in the Honors Program, so that sealed the deal!”


How was your experience studying abroad?

Ella: “My experience studying abroad was everything I wanted it to be and more. Every day was packed from morning to night with ancient ruins to visit, museums to explore, new foods to try, chances to speak Greek, and more intercultural experiences. It was so much fun to be in such a bustling city full of lively people, ancient history, a variety of cultures, and so many opportunities to learn and explore.”


What were your favorite classes/and or experiences during your time abroad?

Ella: “We got to attend seminars at the city's university, Aristotle University. The seminars were taught by Greek professors on a variety of topics involving Thessaloniki and Salem.”

“My favorite seminar that we attended was called ‘Thessaloniki: A City Re-Purposed’ by Gregory Illiopoulos, in which he talked about how the urban environment reflects the diverse history and people of the city. We discussed the city's hybridity and how different peoples, cultures, and religions have become layered in one metropolitan space.”

“By the end of the trip, we had so many experiences that related to this seminar, like when we visited the Rotunda, the White Tower, Ana Polis, King Philips tomb, and more. Another one of my favorite experiences was climbing Mount Olympus, our Greek food tour, and exploring the city at night.”


What is one interesting fact you learned about the city/place you stayed in during your time abroad?

Ella: “King Philip II of Macedonia named his daughter Thessalonike of Macedon when she was born on the same day as a significant victory over the Phocians during the battle in Thessaly. Her name is composed of ‘Thessaly’ and ‘nike,’ which translates to “‘Thessalian victory.’”


What was one challenge you overcame while studying abroad?

Ella: “A challenge I overcame while studying abroad was exhaustion! I had one 24-hour travel day to get to Greece and spent the following days walking all over the city every day in high heat.”


Did you travel anywhere else while studying abroad? Did you see any famous sites/places?

Ella: “We saw many famous sites in Thessaloniki, including the White Tower, Ana Polis, the Arch of Galerius, the Rotunda, the Bey Hamam, Mount Olympus, the Roman Forum, Galerius' Palace ruins, King Philip II's tomb, and the Hagia Sophia Cathedral.”


How did Salem State staff/faculty help you plan your study abroad experience?

Ella: “Salem State faculty and staff were very helpful when I planned my study abroad experience. Scott Nowka, who leads the Commonwealth Honors Program, introduced me to the opportunity and then helped me get funding to help pay for the trip.”

Interdisciplinary Studies Chair and Professor Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello was so kind and helpful when I first reached out inquiring about the course. Once I was in her class, she made me and my fellow classmates feel very prepared for the experience. She made sure we had everything we needed to know about what to bring on the trip, taught us some of the language, and educated us immensely about the place and culture.”


Would you recommend a study abroad experience to other Salem State students?

Ella: “I would definitely recommend studying abroad to other Salem State students because there are so many options for places to go. Also, the courses that go along with studying abroad make the whole experience that much better, because you already know so much about the place before you go, and then you know even more after you visit!”

Learn more about study abroad options and the Commonwealth Honors Program at Salem State.

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