Program in Greece focuses on food and culture
Lauren Martin had never traveled abroad before visiting Greece. Martin, a junior in the LSU College of Agriculture majoring in nutrition and food sciences, spent her winter break with seven other students studying food and culture in Athens, Nafplion and Aegina.
“This trip allowed me to see, experience and observe so much that I never would have if I hadn’t gone in an academic setting,” Martin said.
Martin received an international scholarship from the College of Agriculture to help fund the trip.
“I was really grateful to receive the scholarship, and it helped make this experience possible,” she said.
Judy Myhand, nutrition instructor in the LSU College of Agriculture and director of the Food and Culture in Greece winter intercession program, spent two weeks with the students in class prior to the trip, exploring cultural differences and intercultural communications, discussing food and preparing for their journey.
Myhand said her goal for this study abroad program is to ensure the students come home with open minds.
“If they think people are homogenous, that limits them,” Myhand said. “I want them to approach life with the understanding that people have different likes and different experiences, and I want them to value those differences.”
The students spent time shopping for food and cooking with local residents who have been opening their homes to Myhand and her students for several years.
Martin said one of her favorite experiences was learning to make spanakopita, a dish of phyllo dough, spinach and feta cheese, with Eleni Psychas.
“She doesn’t speak much English, and we didn’t speak Greek, but she showed us how to make this humble but intricate meal,” Martin said.
Psychas’ husband, Takis, showed the students around Nafplion, a city on the Argolic Gulf and the Peloponnese Peninsula.
Seven of the eight students participating in the program were studying nutrition and food sciences with an interest in dietetics.
Alexis Agard, a junior studying agriculture business, said the class helped her understand how food can tell a story and to see the economic development of a country.
“The Greeks taught us that food is an art, a form of expression that translates some of the world’s greatest stories,” she said.
Myhand said most of the students in the program will go on to work in nutrition and may work with clients from different backgrounds.
“They need to understand the relationship to food varies in different cultures,” Myhand said.
Martin said she is considering a career as a clinical dietitian and said the experience will help her work with different populations.
“I learned how simple things can affect the way you communicate with people, how close you stand to someone, how you greet them,” Martin said.
Martin and Agard also said they came back with a new perspective on time.
“There is a great need to be on time in America, but in Greece, time is relative. Their culture has been around for thousands of years, so they have a different concept of time,” Agard said.
The group adopted the Greek style of preparing and eating meals.
“We spent a profoundly greater amount of time preparing meals, sitting at the table, lingering over food,” Martin said. “It was very different than at home where I eat a lot of my meals alone.”
The group arrived in Greece on Dec. 27 and returned home Jan. 10. They participated in some of the Greek holiday traditions and learned to make vasilopita, a traditional New Year’s cake.
“Every minute was phenomenal,” Martin said.
Scholarships are available for students interested in other study abroad programs and international experiences, said Ivana Tregenza, director of international relations for the LSU College of Agriculture.
“Participating in an international experience is an essential part of education and prepares students for their future careers,” Tregenza said. "It increases competitiveness and attractiveness to the future employer, but furthermore, it opens students’ minds.”