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Two students write through barriers including stress, exhaustion, and general hangriness. Photo by Olivia Arnold.

I’ve loved to write for about as long as I had the physical strength to hold a pen correctly, and so it was no surprise to my parents when I began keeping journals before the age of 5.

What may have surprised them more was how quickly I filled them, scribbling onto the pages fantastical adventures of talking foxes and flying dragons and friendly snakes and – of course – a heroic little British boy named Isaac (but written so illegibly that spelling is a matter of opinion) who befriended them ALL. I didn’t really slow down with writing from there on, though my style of prose and sense of storytelling improved (the handwriting, unfortunately, did not).

I fell into journalism somewhere around eighth grade, realizing that I could use my “gift” (and, yes, I was pretentious about it – it was middle school, and I needed something to convince me of self-worth hidden beneath the bowl cut and oversized sweatpants) to help other people tell their stories, let voices often quieter than mine ring out loudly through the written word.

At the time, I had little perception of hierarchies of oppression, despite a traumatic encounter with severed torsos in “V for Vendetta,” and so I generally thought of journalism more as helping people too naturally shy to let themselves be seen find an outlet for true representation and, consequently, expression. As the years have gone on, it’s oddly funny to me that I’ve come to develop that latter goal far more completely, but that my work still – to me – seems to fulfill the very same purpose.

In Greece, it’s striking to me how much I’m writing. The endless parade of blog posts aside, I’m scribbling out notebooks full of quotes during interviews with refugee camp administrators and reformed neo-Nazis, sending out dozens of emails in hopes of finding sources for the stories I seek to write, and (thanks to an arcane burner phone I’m using to coordinate with other people on the Dialogue) spending more time on a single text than on anything else.

But concurrently, I’ve been working on something totally new to me – developing photography skills with a Nikon D3400 I picked up for the trip, sinking around $600 into what I intended from the beginning to be a major commitment. I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to slip it out of its carrying case, twist the zoom open, remove the lens, and take in every shot that presents itself. And, surprisingly (to me): I absolutely LOVE it. Photography is giving me a high on this trip, from the candid shots I’m able to capture of my lovely co-journalists at work to the stunning landscape captures of a sprawling, ancient metropolis seemingly crumbling at the edges into a glimmering sea.

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Sydne Mass, avowed “Riverdale” fanatic and photojournalist, “takes in” the Aegean sea. PHOTO BY ISAAC FELDBERG.

My best chance to take photos thus far came when I volunteered to accompany Isabelle Hahn to an interview she was conducting in the rather humble headquarters of Thessaloniki Pride. From within a beige, non-descript room with a well-worn couch and drawn curtains, I endeavored to capture the reality of existing in one of the city’s only established queer sanctuaries. One major takeaway: it’s pretty cramped.

At first, I was dismayed to find that all of my photos were washed out and grainy, a result both of my inexperience and lighting Isabelle assured me was deeply dismal. But as she continued her work asking Pride’s founder about his work, I found creative ways to shoot him and came away with some shots that (though they certainly aren’t going to win any Pulitzers) at the very least represent progress in my inchoate side-career as a photojournalist. I’m excited to continue that work throughout a trip that (I hope) will take me to some of Greece’s most beautiful locations.

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