Sunday, April 5, 2009

36 Things for Future Regular Members

Okay, this post is for next year’s Regular Members. Feel free to skip reading this if you do not fit that qualification. Although the American School generally sends out suggestions for what to bring and what to consider, we came up with a few things to add to that. Hopefully this will make your lives a little easier when you get to Athens. Make sure to consider and/or bring the following:

1) The back-up discs for your computer. This is crucial. If something goes wrong and you don’t have your Windows Vista or Microsoft Office discs, or Mac whatevers, then you can end up in big trouble. And I guarantee that if you don't bring those discs, your computer will crash.

2) If you have a warranty on your computer, you should call the company to let them know you will be overseas for a year. This is also pretty important, since it affects whether or not you can get computer help while you are in Greece.

3) External hard drive. Apparently these things are really small these days. You can buy them in Greece of course, but electronics always tend to be cheaper in the States. This will be important once you start taking tons of pictures. Incidentally, if you do not plan on taking your laptop on the trips, you may want to have extra memory cards. I always brought my laptop because we actually got internet more often than you would expect. Oh yea, and duh, a jump drive is absolutely necessary. And don't forget the proper cables for your camera to transfer pics.

4) Electricity – Be aware that no matter what voltage converters you bring (and you should bring one - these are different from plug adapters, which you should also bring), all your batteries will show a significant drop in use life. That is, they will never really charge up to their full capacity again. This means that for laptops, it might be a good idea to get one of those 6-9 hour batteries, with the knowledge that you will probably get half that when you are here. A laptop that lasts for more than 45 minutes comes in really handy when you are on the bus all the time and want something to do. PS. If you do not plan on bringing your laptop on trips, make sure you have the plugs to charge your i-Pod from the wall, not just from the computer. PPS. You will want to buy a new Greek plug to run from the wall to the box-adapter thing on your computer power cord. This is because a lot of people have three-pronged (grounded) plugs and a lot of adapters/converters are two-pronged. Just take your cable down to an electronics store and they will find the right cord for you. Of course, when you go back home for Christmas, make sure you switch back to the American version.

5) Don’t bother bringing over hair dryers or electric razors because they will explode. You can buy really cheap ones in the electronics district near Syntagma.

6) When you get here, you should buy a surge protector/power strip for your electronics. This is not a big deal in the States, but electricity surges happen a lot more frequently here. You can buy them at a store just down from the School.

7) Don’t come over without international health insurance or a year’s supply of your difficult-to-find prescription drugs (which you should NOT check in your luggage, as they will get stolen).

8) Ear buds. And I don’t mean those old-fashioned i-Pod ear buds. I mean the kind that actually go inside your ear. These things are great because a) they release NO sound and thus do not irritate everyone else on the bus by making them listen to your music all the time, b) you don’t have to turn up your music so loud to block out the endless chatter of people on the bus who are never silent, and c) they don’t fall out when you go jogging on Lykabittos.

9) Ear Plugs. Crucial when a) you are sleeping in hotel rooms with people who snore, get up at 5am, or stay up all night, b) you need to hand them out to your roommates because YOU snore, c) when people won’t shut-the-eff-up on the bus during nap time, d) you need to sleep on the plane, or e) the Loring garden dude turns the leaf blower on at 7am under your window.

10) Neck pillow. Really, really important to have a good one of these for planes but especially the hours on the bus. You will never get enough sleep and will constantly be trying to doze on the bus. I recommend the blow-up kind that has a soft pillow-case-cover on it. I also had a little eye patch thing, so that I could put in my ear plugs, block out the light, and have a pillow for sleeping on those days when we had to be on the bus at some outrageous time like 6:45am.

This is how we spent a lot of our time on the bus.

11) Lots of people would recommend having a clipboard since it is nice to have a hard surface for taking notes when you are on site. I just used thicker spiral notebooks, which worked for me.

12) Water-proof shoes/hiking boots. I made it the whole year through with Chuck Taylors and ‘water-proof’ Nikes, since I am sort of anti-hiking-boots. I think I have changed my mind, however. So if you can, get a pair of light hiking boots that are water-proof. If you have to spray them to make them water-proof, then bring the spray with you, since it will wear out halfway through the year and you will have wet feet for 10 hour days in the field.

13) Two pairs of walking shoes. If something bad happens to one, then you always have another. I brought two pairs of tennis shoes on every trip.

14) Rain Gear. Some people on the trip brought ponchos and felt that they were great. I myself got soft-shell rain gear on the advice of Katie Swinford. It meant I had to carry it around a lot (although I mostly left it on the bus), but on those occasions when it was pouring, I was very grateful to have it. Windbreakers are pretty nice, too.

I promise that's a backpack under there.

15) Hot sauce. Greek food is, above everything else, non-spicy. You will suddenly find yourself adding a ton of salt and pepper to everything you eat. So if you like to have even a little bit of zing to your food, bring hot pepper, hot sauces, soy sauce, whatever.

16) Contact solution. Mega-expensive so bring the big bottles and a small travel size which you can refill before you go on each trip.

17) Underwear. Lots of it. More than you think you will need. Dudes should bring loads of boxers because I am told that the Greek boxer shorts are cut differently and are uncomfortable.

18) Thermal Underwear/Longjohns. I wore my thermal underwear like everyday for about three months. When you are on site for hours at a time and its 45 degrees outside, you end up getting cold, quick. Loring Hall is also a freezer because the heat is only turned on for a short while at bed time and in the morning. There is nothing worse than never EVER feeling like you can warm up. I would suggest a few pairs of Thermal outfits because, let me tell you, it sucks going on a two week trip with no chance of doing laundry and only one pair of longjohns.

19) Warm Gear. Gloves, hats, scarves, a warm coat. We were wearing scarves on Trip 1 because it was in northern Greece. Also a variety of winter clothes, because you will get very, very tired of seeing the same sweatshirt. I have three hoodies, in addition to the standard array of Target long sleeve shirts/sweaters. One Regular Member here advises not bringing a big winter coat and wearing layers instead, but I disagree with him because I get cold and it’s my blog so there.

20) Bathing suit. Self-explanatory. But you’ll also need to bring it if you want to go in a Turkish bath, just to avoid a lot of awkwardness.

21) If you are into that, American liquor. I’m told its impossible to find a good bourbon over here.

22) UNO. Also crucial. Any other game you like is a good, too, although keep in mind that Loring has several decks of cards, Taboo, and a variety of other table games.

23) Movies and books on tape. I loaded my i-Pod with these, as in, I’ve got over 15 audio books (including most of the Harry Potters for those times when I need a little soul food). I also came over with 40+ movies on my i-Pod. TV shows are good to have because you can’t watch most of the US Interweb video channels due to international streaming rights. This means no Netflix-Insta-Watch, no Hulu, etc. Luckily one person here brought over the complete Battlestar Galatica, which ended up seducing half the occupants of Loring Hall. There was also a True Blood fest, the Wire got passed from hand to hand, Mad Men was pretty hot, etc. In fact, we thought (when it was too late) that it would have been a really good idea right at the beginning to have everyone pitch in 5 bucks for an external hard drive; let everyone dump their movies on it and keep it permanently in the TV room. It could have acted as a video library so that people could borrow whatever they wanted, WHENEVER they wanted. But we never got around to that.

24) American football. You can’t buy them over here, and come Thanksgiving you’ll really want to have one. Keep in mind that the playing fields are in short supply and are short on grassiness. You may want to bring Frisbees or whatever sporting goods you are into. (Note: If anyone has a strong itch for American sports that needs to be scratched, including NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA, you can watch these online through or The internet reception in Loring is very good, so accessing these sites is generally quite easy. The games broadcast on are sometimes shut down, but they always work on

25) Skype. Obviously you can download this program whenever, but you might as well get it working before you come over. For those who do not know what Skype is, it will become the most important program that you will have on your computer. It allows you to video-call your family for free. It also allows you to call any phone (either land-line, cell, or 1-800) in the States for 2 cents a minute. So make sure your laptop has a webcam/microphone in it or bring one along. There is no point whatsoever in buying phone cards. You'll end up wasting TONS of money and having to deal with a lot of trouble and awkwardness (e.g. wandering the streets looking for a pay phone, inability to make phone cards work, talking to your loved one on the phone in the hotel lobby). There’s also Ja-Jah, which I never used but some people highly recommend.

26) Incidentally, you will want to buy a cheap cell phone when you get here and get a phone number. You won’t really use it for making phone calls (due to the seriously OUTRAGEOUS price-per-minute), but you will definitely text the other people on the trip ALL the time and will make occasional calls when you get lost on a mountain top. Once you are here, go down the big main street in Kolonaki and you will find lots of phone stores. The best bet is to get a pay-as-you-go card. Don’t flip out because your phone only talks to you in Greek. Ask the nice people at the store to write down instructions for changing your phone to English – otherwise you will pay money for a phone that you will never be able to figure out how to use. Most people will toss the phones when they leave Greece, so we may be able to get some people to donate their phones to next year’s students. I'll look into it but don't count on it. I brought my Razor with me from the States and just switched out the SIM card. If you don’t know what a SIM card is, well, you’re in trouble. You should only bring your phone over if you have verified with your phone company that it works overseas and that the SIM PIN is unlocked. For some reason, every year the Regular Members have to re-figure this phone crap out for themselves, but there is no point in reinventing the wheel.

27) Compass. Not super important. Denver’s got one, but I really wish I’d brought one of my own.

28) Flash light. You can live without this, but it is really nice to have one anyways and to remember to keep it in your backpack. And no, a crappy pen light or key chain flash light will not really do you any good.

29) Dress up clothes. The School recommends bringing one or two fancy outfits for lectures and garden parties. This is nowhere near enough. Once the lecture circuit starts up, you will be going to at least one lecture a week (until you are so overworked that you will just give up and start skipping them all). You do not want to wear the same outfit that many times, trust me. So make sure you go the mix-and-match route that Stacey-and-Clinton (from What Not to Wear) swear by.

The dudes always seemed to be in a tiff because they didn’t bring both brown and black dress shoes, so that’s something to consider. Make sure to bring more than one dress shirt and ca. 3 ties. Girls may want to have more than one dress for the more formal occasions like Thanksgiving and the Open Meetings. Apparently the social life of the American School has gotten much more formal than it used to be, so you need to be prepared. Be forewarned that our washer/dryer is brutal and may destroy your clothes.

30) Aleve/Midol/Your Pain Killer of Choice. Nyquil Capsules. Travel tissues (majorly necessary since on some of the trips your only bathroom breaks will be in olive groves – girls need to plan accordingly and be prepared from some major discomfort and awkwardness, at least until you get over it and don’t care anymore).

31) Your favorite snacks. It’s nice to have a taste of home, e.g. peanut butter, which you can buy here but is “roughly the cost of gold.” If you want care packages, DO NOT allow your family to send them Express, FedEx, UPS, etc. Express doesn’t work in Greece, I promise. Once the package leaves the US border, it travels by Greek time. No amount of over-nighting-fee will change that. Packages sent by FedEx/UPS will get stuck in Customs, which means you have to go to the airport to pick it up and will have to deal with extortion to get it out. And I’m not exaggerating. As an example, a girl this year had her mom send an external hard drive with some important files on it. Customs would not let it though unless she paid 200 Euros. That was not a typo. When she said she wasn’t going to pay and they should send the package back to the US, she was told that there was a 50 Euro charge to send it back. So send packages through the US Postal Service. (Note: If you want to send packages home, keep in mind that going to the Greek post office is like going to the DMV. Take your passport and go instead to the post office in Syntagma Square on Sunday morning - you'll be in and out in 5 minutes.)

32) Pillow. This is very important, because the pillows here are sad. I brought my own pillow and it made a big difference. When I came back after Christmas, though, I also brought my down-comforter which I was able to skwoosh to the size of a cereal box. It really changed my life, since the beds here are older. What I did is this: I put the comforter that they gave me UNDER my sheet to act as a mattress pad, then had a sheet and my own softy comforter, and my own pillow, and the pillow they gave me to act as my body pillow. Sure, I took it to extremes, but I would bet 100 bucks I have the most comfortable bed in Loring Hall, if not the entire American School. For me it was vital to create my own little nest, since it's very difficult to get privacy and quite-time on the Regular Year.

33) DO NOT BRING the ‘recommended’ reading material like Camp, Hurwitt, etc. Don’t do it, don’t do it, you’ll regret it I promise! There is a library here and you will just waste room in your bag that could be taken up by a soft beloved pillow. If you are a Herodotus or Thucydides freak and you want to bring copies, just bring a Penguin and you’ll be fine. We’ve got Loebs in the living room and the full collection of texts and commentaries in the library. Regular People shouldn’t bother lugging them over. All the 'recommended' reading books are on reserve in the library.

34) Travel guide? Sure, the Blue Guide is useful to some extent. Some people really like Goette’s guidebook. Otherwise, there’s a pretty extensive collection of Lonely Planets et al. in the living room, including guides for commonly visited countries like Turkey and Italy. BTW, if you borrow one, be sure to bring it back.

35) If anybody happens to be high tech, you may want to bring the cables that allow you to attach your laptop to the TV. Since most people will be bringing their movies in digital format, this is pretty important. Also, the DVD player is totally wonky and skips - I would suggest pitching in 2 Euros each and buying a new DVD player when you guys get here.

36) Patience. And a lot of it.

Disclaimer: This list was compiled by a group of several people and any inaccuracies are their fault entirely, of course. This post also has more to do with the particular situation of being a Regular Member visiting all parts of Greece rather than just being a long-term resident in Athens, where people have the luxury of free time to go searching for favorite brands of peanut butter; in other words, these suggestions may not be useful for non-Regular Members at this particular institution. Thanks.


Jess said...

Hey Katie - you might not remember me, but we met in summer 2005. I was digging at the Agora and rooming with Bonnie and Ashley; you stopped by for a few days before heading to your dig. Anyway! I just stumbled upon your blog and this entry is awesome. I'll be at the school next year and reading this is making me really excited to be there! Thanks!

mashiara13 said...

Best.Post.Ever. I laughed out loud, you've clearly learned a lot about this country in your time here.

My cooking isn't bland, though. :P

Katie said...

Katie, this is an AWESOME list. You are a mastermind. The bed improvements alone may change someone's regular year immeasurably.

Johanna said...

Thanks Katie! This is so helpful...I'm starting to get excited about coming (and shopping) for the school!