Desperate to escape debt, Greece is forced to sell off its major infrastructure

My final story, this was a challenging piece to write but I’m so happy with the final product!

NU Journalism Abroad - Greece 2017

Greece’s primary railway company, TrainOSE, was sold to an Italian railway company last year.
Photo by Sydne Mass

Story by David Harbeck ·

Desperate for cash and looking for a way to pay back international creditors, Greece is selling rights to its major state assets including airports, railways and ports to foreign companies with decades-long contracts that will most certainly become lucrative again, robbing the country of any financial benefit.

A place where tourism makes up more than 18 percent of the gross domestic product, Greece no longer controls many of its utilities, transportation systems, beaches or islands. “This crisis has gone on for so long that the government has no choice now but to try to profit from its own parts,” said Persefeni Tsaliki, a professor of economics at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. “We need the money.”

The organization in charge of dissecting Greece’s assets and finding suitable bidders…

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The final stretch

It is crazy to think that on Tuesday I will be flying home. This trip has flown by SO fast I can’t believe it’s going to be over soon. I am excited to see my family and get to summer camp, but a couple more weeks in Greece would’ve been nice. The thing I will miss most of all is the people on this trip. One of the things I’m looking forward to most about next semester is meeting up with everyone back in Boston.

I am in the editing process on my second story and have finished writing my third story and will begin editing that very soon.

The last few days have been busy with reporting and touring different areas. I am now working with Luke for my third story talking about LGBT refugees. We had a really nice day of walking around the city and reporting.

Yesterday I was getting dinner with Sydne and Luke and some really little kids tried to distract us so one of them could steal my phone off of the table. They took the phone and we all immediately noticed and they handed it right back and walked away. I wanted to be angry but they were so little so it was really just amusing.

My favorite spot in Athens is the rooftop restaurant and bar at our hotel (Titania). The view is magnificent and the drinks are tasty. I plan on spending as much time as I can up there before Tuesday.

Some very tasty cakes that made it difficult to walk after eating them.
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Some yummy drinks from the rooftop bar.

Thessaloniki Reflection

At the end of our stay in Thessaloniki I was asked to write a 1000 word essay about my thoughts and experiences so far in Greece. This is a shortened version, but I thought I would share some of what I wrote!

One of the main reasons I applied to Northeastern in 2014 was the international program the school offered. I loved the campus location and the co-op program as well, but the opportunities in foreign countries are probably what excited me most. My freshman year I was undeclared and didn’t decide to do journalism until the end of my second semester. My sophomore year I started taking more journalism classes and that is when I met Professor Hempel and learned about the journalism dialogues at Northeastern. As soon as I heard about this Greece trip (which was sometime this winter) I knew I wanted to do it.

My time in Greece has been transformative. This is only my second time ever traveling to Europe. The first time was in 2008, when I was only 11 years old. That trip I went to England and Scotland with my family, we were traveling with my brother’s college baseball team, they were doing spring training abroad. My time in the United Kingdom was fun, and I enjoyed riding the London Eye and seeing medieval castles. However the food was somewhat bland and the weather was dreary.

Greece has completely blown away my expectations. Granted, I didn’t know what exactly to expect. The morning of the plane ride I was much more nervous than I expected to be. Once I arrived in Greece I was nothing but excited to get to know the city. I found Thessaloniki to be a very comfortable city. The size reminded me of Boston in some ways, very manageable. Whereas Athens might be more like Los Angeles or New York City, Thessaloniki is more of a Boston feel to me. The walking tour on the first day immediately gave me a good idea of the areas I would be reporting and relaxing in. The boardwalk instantly stuck out as a place I would want to spend a lot of time. I was also drawn to Aristotle Square and Kamara.

I picked up a story on the protests and strikes in Greece, so the first real interacting with Greeks I was doing was with anarchists and communists. I was blown away by how willing to talk to me everyone was. People smiled when I approached them, were willing to translate anything I asked and tried to use English even when they didn’t know very much. It was very relieving to realize I had entered such a friendly culture.

Another thing I was nervous about was the food. I am unfortunately a very picky eater, and I thought I would be eating nothing but fries and water. Once again I was quickly proven wrong. I have loved so many meal in Greece I could not be happier with the food. Souvlaki and gyro are my favorite so far. I am not a huge fan of Tzitziki but that’s okay. The availability of tasty meats in Greece has been great. I don’t order hamburgers here because they don’t live up to American burgers, but that’s understandable.

My first few days in Thessaloniki I was hit by terrible seasonal allergies, and in the U.S. without a prescription I can’t get super effective medicine. Here in Greece (and all of Europe I hear) I was able to get a bunch of helpful drugs from the store without any prescription.

One thing I’ve loved a lot about being in a new country is picking up on the little differences. Phone numbers are written differently here, instead of 3-3-4 (xxx-xxx-xxxx) the Greeks write their numbers 4-3-3. Tipping isn’t really a thing here, so I feel awkward leaving some meals having paid the exact price. The stray animals are also a noticeable difference. Constantly being surrounded by adorable cats and dogs has been a bit overwhelming for someone who normally freaks out when presented with the opportunity to pet a dog in Boston.

I somehow completely forgot that Greeks had their own alphabet, and was immediately surprised when I could read any street or store signs, even in my head. Greece felt so different, but the core things were the same. Graffiti was everywhere, and I like graffiti. The extra colors gave Thessaloniki more life in my eyes. Northeastern has so much street art on its buildings that I felt back at college sometimes when I saw giant beautiful murals.

Part of me is sad that I’m no longer in Thessaloniki because I felt so comfortable walking around there. I am told Athens will be different, and I am just ready to embrace the challenge. Hopefully one day I can return to Thessaloniki, and once again experience the friendly people, the beautiful art, the rich history and the tasty food.

Photo Update!

The last weeks has been a lot of fun, traveling from Thessaloniki to Meteora, then to Delphi and finally arriving in Athens. I am starting to explore Athens and get to know the area. The hotel we are staying at is very nice and the location is super convenient. Here are photos from the past weeks travels!

The Mosquito Battle of Thessaloniki

I promise to blog about my travel experiences and emotions soon, however today I am going to tell you the story of the legendary Mosquito Battle of Thessaloniki.

Mosquitos are annoying and deserve to die. I hope we are all on the same page.

The last few days I’ve been waking up with some bites and a gradual rage has been taking over. Nothing is worse than when you are about to fall asleep and the sudden buzzing of a nearby bug wakes you up. Finally I said enough is enough and declared war.

Thursday morning I noticed three mosquitos visibly taunting me on my ceiling, I grabbed a chair and the only available weapon I could see, a deck of cards. Three mosquitos were promptly smashed onto my ceiling. I stayed vigilant and in the next 10 minutes killed three more demons.

Six mosquitos dead, and with my porch shut I wondered how many more could’ve crept in. A few hours later I’m hanging out with Sydne when I notice another mosquito buzzing around arrogantly. I do not hesitate to end its life with my trusty deck o’cards. Before dying this mosquito must’ve set off some sort of alarm because out of nowhere five more mosquitos appear.

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Mosquito l o c a t e d



Facing this massive horde I have no choice but to upgrade to a better melee weapon, one of Sydne’s Converse sneakers. After another vicious slaughter my total number of confirmed kills has climbed to 12.

I figure no more mosquitos could’ve entered from the outside world. I sleep peacefully.

I wake up this morning with 4 mosquitos bites on my upper body. This ends today.

I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and it turns out I’ve walked into a goddamn ambush. Bogeys on all sides. I spring into action. Without the versatile Converse or deck of cards immediately accessible I have no choice but to use my bare hands (and some toilet paper I’m not a savage).

Five more mosquitos died. With each death we move closer to freedom.

It is clear to me now that the infestation was coming from the bathroom and not the porch. The bathroom door stays closed now. Whenever that door opens, the war continues.


Basketball on the boardwalk

Since arriving in Greece I’ve wanted to play basketball. I see courts everywhere and the ones on the boardwalk are normally pretty full, so yesterday I decided to give it a shot and go see if I could join some games.

I went to the two courts and there were 4 different 4v4 half-court games going on but not too many people waiting to join in. I asked a couple guys sitting on a bench what the rules were and they explained in perfect english: games to 21 points, have to take it out past the arc on change of possession, baskets were 1s and 2s and winners get ball.

When I joined in the guys on my team spoke basically no English, and the guys on the other team absolutely no English.


Everyone on the court was bigger than me, some guys in their twenties, some in their fifties and everything in between. My team started with the ball, first pass of the game went straight to me and the guy guarding me was giving me all kinds of space so I nailed a jump shot. Would’ve been nothing but net, but there was no net, just a rusty rim.


Europeans move the ball better than Americans in pick up, lots of off-ball screens and back door cuts. One of the main differences here is if you cut the ball handler almost always throws you the ball, regardless of if your man is still on you or not. Back in Boston you’re rarely passed to for backdoor cuts and people often opt for safer passes. Anyways we score a few more times, but I’m not really focused on keeping score.


The guys on the other team have some real basketball players, whereas the 3 guys I’m with seem to be more like athletes who didn’t grow up playing basketball as much. So they pass up a lot of shots and the unspoken consensus seems to be that I am going to be the primary scorer. I’m not complaining.

The bad guys go on a run and the game is evening out (I think).

7-7 (maybe)

I kinda pride myself off my defense, that’s the only reason I played serious minutes in high school, so I didn’t expect the guy (let’s just call him Bob) I was guarding to score too much. Alas, my expectations betrayed me, and Bob made two deep three pointers in front of me and then drove to the rim and finished a reverse lay up while I was definitely fouling him.

some points-more points

OK. We get the ball and need to regain composure on the offensive end. A guy old enough to be my father makes a couple jumpers for us, but the people we are playing seemingly can’t miss, and I figure they must be nearing 21.

who knows-around 20

I ask a couple guys what the score is, Bob says “16” I point to myself, “we have 16?” He nods. I point to him “and you guys?” he says 16 again… sounds too good to be true, but I have no means to fact-check Bob.


The game is getting more intense and physical as it goes down the wire, some old guys seems determined to set a pick on me no matter where I am on the floor. The guys on my team switch on every screen which would be fine if they could move fast enough to guard Bob, but that is not the case. I have no means of communication to say I would rather fight through the screens.

16 still-???

Shooting from the left side of the court is no longer an option as the sun is setting to the right. I once again lose track of what the score is, but that shouldn’t really matter, I’m just going to play hard and get the W. Bob hits another long ball that I thought I had contested perfectly. Everyone starts shaking hands. One guy says “20-21” to me. Oh… we had been a point away from winning.



After the crushing loss I pull a Kevin Durant and join the guys who just beat me when a spot opens up. We then proceed to get wrecked by a god-like Greek dream team. Something like 21-10. I tried not to underestimate the players here, but I still was surprised by how well Greeks were playing. I will be going back to the courts to play more soon.