As I took my seat in a courtyard beneath the Acropolis, I can honestly say that I had no idea what was in store for me. The play was just about the last thing on my mind as reﬂecting on the last (and the best) two and a half weeks of my life. How could it be over? It seems like just yesterday I was at the Welcome “Barbeque,” meeting the peers that would quickly become some of my best friends. I simply could not imagine going back to my life, so far away from anyone who had been on this life-changing journey with me.
The lights slowly dimmed and Socrates Now began. Immediately, I was enraptured by the performance. As I looked around, I saw about 70 of my new closest friends, and I began to think, “This is what brought us here. Our ancestors were revolutionary thinkers, they changed the world through mathematics, philosophy, and sciences, and here we are, thousands of years later, so what should stop us from doing the same?” Over the last two and a half weeks, I learned that I am surrounded by incredibly bright minds. It became clear that we were all chosen to take part in the Heritage Greece program for a variety of reasons including our creativity, ingenuity, and intelligence.
This past May, Heritage Greece alumni had the opportunity to visit Chicago and volunteer at the National Hellenic Museum’s annual Gala. As the National Hellenic Society is a supporter of the museum’s initiatives, NHS members and HG Alumni were involved with the preparation and execution of the fundraiser. After we arrived Friday evening, the ﬁrst destination of our mini-reunion was a nighttime comedy show in the heart of the city. This show was our ﬁrst chance to see one another after months apart. On reunions such as this trip, my HG family extends as I not only have the chance to see close friends from my own Heritage Greece trip, but also from previous years’ trips, extending my Greek friend group and network even more. Despite only meeting each other for a short period of time, we all bonded over our common experiences and similar memories of Greece, as we all expressed our enthusiasm for the program and a desire to visit Greece again someday.
The next day, we embarked on a private tour of the National Hellenic Museum. Having never been to Chicago before, this tour was a chance for me to see the museum for the ﬁrst time and learn more about the organization we all travelled to assist. The featured exhibit we saw was “Transcending Boundaries: The Art of Anthony Quinn,” featuring information about the life of Anthony Quinn and multiple sculptures by the artist. One part of the exhibit even showed the workshop wherein he created his art. Of course, one of the highlights pointed out to us were the scenes and photos of Anthony Quinn starring in Zorba the Greek. It was amazing to see how someone who was not of Greek descent was able to embody Greek culture so well, as he cared so deeply about it, becoming Greek in spirit. His example serves as encouragement to the rest of us to value our heritage. Another exhibit, entitled “The Greek Story in America,” featured photographs of early Greek immigrants and their businesses, as well as the history of the Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S., furthering our education about how our heritage transcended mainland Greece.
‘Epomeno stathmo: Piraeus. Next station: Piraeus.’ It was my ﬁrst time in Piraeus since I had taken a day trip to Aegina nearly two years ago but I remembered it all the same. Exit train. Follow the mass of people toward the main street. Pass by the Everest and smell the strange mixture of spanakopita and coﬀee. Cross the busy street without getting hit by a cyclist or taxi. Enter the port. It was all familiar to me yet I knew it was diﬀerent. I entered the port and took a deep breath as I boarded the bus from Gate E8 to E1, anxious for what awaited me.
Everything seemed normal until I approached E1 and E2. That’s when the Coast Guard boarded our bus and started selectively asking for papers. I clutched my small bag, hoping that a US driver’s license would be suﬃcient; I had no boat ticket. In my mind, I practiced the Greek over and over again in my head. ‘I’m here to help the refugees. Eimai edo yia na voithiso tous prosfuges.’ But no one asked me for anything, my skin still pale coming out of a Vermont winter and not yet acclimated to Greece. At the time I thought it was just luck that no one had demanded to see my papers, as I saw a young Greek man, about my age and sitting across from me, questioned. Later, when I spoke to one of the volunteer organizers, voicing my concerns about returning to the port without papers, she said plainly to me ‘You will never be asked. You are white.’
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HEADER PHOTOGRAPHY PHOTO BY CONSTANTINE SKENDERIS