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Skidmore College

Digging into life abroad

July 31, 2019
by Zoe Ousouljoglou ’20

It’s 6 a.m. on a chilly January morning and I’m racing to Syntagma metro station in Athens, Greece. I’m among 20 students commuting to the coast of the Aegean Sea to study at the Voula Archaeology Field School, a trip I made every day during this study-abroad experience. 

Our mission: to learn the basics of excavation practices, such as how to dig in a trench, record our observations and take measurements of newly uncovered artifacts.  

Choosing Skidmore, choosing adventure 

My story begins in Green Brook, New Jersey, a small town sandwiched between tri-state suburbia and New Jersey farmland. 

When I first began looking at colleges, I wanted to find a school where I could develop close relationships with my professors and peers, something I felt was lacking in my large public high school. And it had to have a strong history department. 

I quickly discovered that Skidmore not only checked these boxes, but it also offered a variety of fascinating courses in other areas I was curious about — classics, political science and anthropology. 

Even better, Skidmore had numerous challenging and inspiring opportunities for studying abroad. It was a match.  

From New Jersey to Skidmore, Skidmore to Greece 

A college student stands in front of the Pantheon in Greece

It was during the summer of my sophomore year when I got my first taste of what life could be like abroad. That summer, I had the chance — through our Classics Department — to participate in my first excavation, the Kanchreai Project.  

My role was to record data on excavated artifacts into an online database. I was just getting started, though. There was so much more to learn. And afterward, I was determined to keep digging. 

Back to Skidmore, back to Greece 

When I returned to campus, I worked with Skidmore’s Off-Campus Study and Exchanges office to achieve my goal of getting back to digging and further exploring my academic passions abroad.  

I discovered that Skidmore had a pre-approved program in Athens that offered extensive courses in ancient languages and history. I quickly began my application, sought approval from my adviser and was off planning my next semester in the College Year in Athens (CYA) program. 

That’s what brought me to the Voula Archaeology Field School on the coast of the Aegean Sea.

Archaeological site in Greece

Every day I measured the site’s trench, wheelbarrowed loads of soil and sorted excavated material for future use.  

Every day, despite being perpetually covered in thick, cold mud, I knew I was having one of the most exciting adventures of my life. 

Archaeological site in Greece

What studying abroad meant to me

My time abroad was highlighted by one enlightening moment after the next, in the field and in the classroom.  

I gained practical experience in multiple archaeology disciplines — from fieldwork excavation to collection and conservation. Through work and volunteering, I also gained a newfound connection to the people of Greece and their culture.  

When I wasn’t covered in mud, I had a chance to work at a local bakery, cutting and shaping xwriatiko (village bread), thessaloniki koulouri (sesame bread rings), rizogalo (rice pudding) and more. 

College students work on excavating a fossil of a horse in Greece

When I wasn’t at the Field School, I had the chance to volunteer at the Wiener Lab at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens under the supervision of a classical zoo-archaeologist, Flint Dibble. There, working on a micro-excavation of a horse skeleton, I gained a big-picture view of what’s truly possible in this field. 

Looking back, my time in Greece was a life-changing experience. And thanks to Skidmore and the opportunities it has offered me, I’m excited to discover what I can dig into next. 

About the Author

Zoe Ousouljoglou

Zoe Ousouljoglou is from Green Brook, New Jersey. She is studying history and classics with an interest in pursuing ancient history and classical archaeology in graduate school. Outside of the classroom, she runs her own Etsy shop and is a co-coordinator of the Chronic Illness Support Group on campus.