Pria Louka gap year in Greece

By Pria Louka
Tuesday, August 1 2017

I am currently in the second month of my gap year in Greece, taking time off after sophomore year at Princeton as a Chemistry major pursuing a certificate in Hellenic Studies.

I started off in the Ioannis Prodromos Monastery in Serres, through the Mount Menoikeion

Seminar offered by Hellenic Studies. The monastery was built in the 13th century, and is surrounded by cypress mountains, caves of hermits, abandoned villages, and secret Byzantine treasures. I was able to work alongside a nun who was a passionate botanist. Her lab was full of drying racks and barrels and wash trays and pipets. She spoke of chemistry as clockwork, and would describe to me the beauties of the tinctures that consist of gold flakes, pink colors, or curled leaves that match to a stage of ripeness. Each herb offers special properties according to each season of its life cycle that correspond to equally specific ailments. Thus, creams, oils, and medicines are rich synchronicities of seasonal pickings, chantings, and bodily systems. She claimed chemistry was her measure of time.

In Thessaloniki, I spent a week with Greek literature. Wandering bookstore to bookstore, castle to cafe, Macedonian tombs to local theater productions, lonely night walks was to inhabit the mystic philosophy that binds ancient aesthetics, Byzantine spirituality, and modern love into a synthetic Hellenic memory. To be mentally and physically enraptured in circles of noetic thought and eudaimonia of study, to learn to model entropic networks that are as brilliant as spontaneous creativity.

In Athens, it is important to be optimistically critical, to engage in constant dialogue with hope during the ‘crisis’. I have only just began to appreciate the scientific method as a freedom-loving quest for idealism, the most hopeful kind of system. I wish for a grand gathering of Hellenic scientists to counter the “brain drain,” to build a movement that infuses Greece with projects, with innovative community service. An institution for the brightest inquisitors who would see Greece as the most brilliant and valuable scientific challenge. I long to be a part of such a movement as a chemist.

Here, on Kolona Hill on Aegina Island, inhabited from 5000 BC and built upon continuously from prehistory through history like a golden ascent into art and writing, I am working on a poetry translation project. I have just visited the archeological museum and have browsed the Parian marble, red earth, and background sky pediments, the maturity of purple dyes in jaguar necks, the aesthetic memories, inhabiting for real the reason why I love chemistry. I can only respond with vigor and passion to match how moved I feel, through analysis, poetry, interpretation, seminars, projects, dreams, service, summoning more scientific energy than I have ever been able to during my time in Princeton. I cannot wait to reimagine chemistry as an endless concept-resource.