Samantha Siegel: Cultures and Connections

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Greece Trip group photo

By now it is almost a cliche for people to describe their experience abroad as enriching, eye-opening, or even life changing, but this is for good reason—my time in Greece has been no different.

While I have devoted much of my time to swimming in the vibrant sea and consuming as many gyros as I can, taking my first business class has been one of the most significant aspects of my time abroad. Learning about the significance of organizational culture has helped me adapt my way of thinking, especially in a new country.

Deciphering between the various types and components of organizational cultures has specifically impacted the way I have perceived the school we are staying at, Anargirios and Korgialenius School of Spetses. The three major components of Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture include espoused values, underlying assumptions, and observable artifacts. Espoused values refers to the key message an organization presents, typically in the form of mission statements and public sentiments. Underlying assumptions also reference the beliefs and philosophies of an organization, but are so integral, they are essentially the faculty’s second nature. While these are both essentials of any organization, the component I will solely focus this post on is the observable artifacts, which can easily be identified or discussed in six different ways, including symbols, physical structures, language, stories, rituals, and ceremonies.

Although I could go on about all of my differing observations and how they reflect on the organizational culture, the rituals I have witnessed have deeply resonated with me. In this context, rituals can be described as planned routines that occur daily or weekly. The frequent ritual I have noticed the most, occurs every night at around the same time. When I come in from dinner out or a sunset swim, I cannot help but notice all of the employees are gathered together at the same table outside, right outside the cafe doors. It seems as though they have their evening meal together and stick around for hours drinking and having conversations.

One night the gathering was larger than usual, and I noticed that it was not just the staff from the school cafe and kitchen, but the waiters from the Kaiki beach club. Although I have not gotten the opportunity to speak with each staff member about their experiences, I have had several meaningful conversations with individuals from both locations. I now look forward to seeing everyone when I come in for the night as I find it very comforting to say goodnight and thank them again for everything they have done for us. This casual, but consistent gathering emphasizes the familial and caring environment the school consciously promotes.

Since the first day we arrived at the school, the hospitality and empathy the entire staff has shown us students and other guests has been my favorite part of my stay. As a unified organization, the school has not only created a communal culture among themselves, but with their guests too.

Another ritual I have observed since being on the island is traditional Greek dancing. As a dancer myself, I am always looking for opportunities to get up on my feet; nothing brings me more joy than people coming together through music and movement. Simply passing through town or even some nights at the school, I have noticed friends and families joining together, often holding hands in a circle, or with their arms on each other’s shoulders. I have observed this in restaurants as I pass by and in the school’s courtyard when they have live performances.

The night before our final exam, everyone was stressed trying to cram all of Greece’s history, but was soothed by the distinct sound of the bouzouki and soulful singing. As I was coming in for the night from studying, I was able to become a part of the ritual by simply sitting and listening. Although I was tempted to start dancing, sometimes it is better to take a step back and watch from the outside.

The final ritual that resonated with me from this trip is the late dinners. The night life in general starts much later than I anticipated, so it makes sense that the meals do too. Similar to the school’s faculty gatherings, late dinners go hand in hand with long conversation. I have noticed that no matter how late it gets or how many hours my friends and I have been sitting at a table, we have never been told to leave. I especially noticed this when we spent the entire day at the Kaiki Beach Club from the early morning to the late evening. We ended up ordering dinner at the bar even though we had clearly been the only ones left for some time. Although the staff likely was ready to go home, they were more hospitable than ever, offering us more drinks, initiating conversation, and serving us complimentary fruits.

All three of these simple, yet impactful examples of rituals I have observed have helped shape my experience on the island. Every interaction, no matter how minor has been memorable. The kindness and effort to get to know us not just as guests, but as people is one of the defining characteristics of this trip.

Experiencing Greece under a new lens has truly changed my vision.