Shelby Sumner is a senior undergraduate student in the Bachelor of Science in Food and Resource Economics program with a concentration in international food and resource economics. She is passionate about the agriculture industry and is hoping to find a career in international agricultural and food policy so that she can help in the fight against global food insecurity.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to travel to Europe to see the sights, eat the food, and learn about the culture. This past June, I had the opportunity to do just that when I traveled to the island of Ikaria, Greece for a study abroad program.
The program consisted of six weeks of class in Gainesville, followed by a week-long trip to Greece. The course studied the food and culture of Ikaria, which is one of the world’s blue zones, where residents typically live much longer, healthier lives than others.
To understand some differences in food production and consumption between Ikaria and Florida, we had field trips in Gainesville, including to the UF Honeybee Research and Extension Lab, and the Saporito Oil, Vinegar, and Spice shop. Olive oil and honey both play large parts in the typical Ikarian daily diet, but these items are produced differently in the U.S. than in Greece. We also had a potluck dinner before our trip, where we each contributed an Ikarian dish; I chose to make honey cookies, or Finikia.
When we first arrived in Ikaria, I was speechless. This little island stole my heart, with breathtaking views, kind people, and delicious food. Our group stayed in apartments overlooking the Aegean Sea, about half a mile from Thea’s Inn where we ate most of our meals. Our host for the week, Ms. Thea, made sure that we could try all her favorite Ikarian dishes, and she spent our travel time on the bus teaching us common words and phrases in Greek.
The first day, we traveled to a local honey house, where we learned about honey production in Ikaria, and sampled the types of honey that were in season. We then had lunch at a local tavern, followed by a hike through the woods to the Afianes Winery. At the winery, we spent the afternoon learning about the history of wine production on the island while sampling the Afianes’ most popular wines.
On the second day, we toured the Theoktistis Monastery, which was established in the 17th century, and is a great testament to the rich history and culture of the island. We spent that afternoon at Armenistis beach, which had the clearest blue water I have ever seen!
The next day, we went to Ms. Thea’s farm, where we helped prepare our own lunch with produce from her garden and spent some time snacking on fresh mulberries and apricots under the shade. At dinner that night, we heard from a local nurse about the medical system on the island, and compared it to that of the U.S.
On the fourth day, we hiked to a local essential oil distillery, where we were able to harvest wild mint and distill our own oil.
The last night on the island was by far my favorite, as we had dancing lessons, and a local band came to Thea’s Inn for live music. We spent the night laughing and dancing to the Greek music, and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend our final night.
On the way back to the airport, we stopped at the hot springs and learned about their many health benefits, which the locals attributed to the slight radioactivity of the springs. We had another amazing meal before going to the airport to begin the journey back to Florida.
This experience provided incredible memories, and I hope to return soon. I strongly recommend studying abroad, and I believe that it is something that everyone should do at some point during their college career.