As eye-opening as my experience with the Heritage Greece Program was while in Greece, it was not until I was away from Greece that I realized the personal development that occurred in just two weeks’ time. I started the trip as just an American with a few folks hailing from Ελλάδα. I finished a proud Greek-American and, as the title shows, Greek first and foremost (or atleast that’s the way it is in my mind now). This distinction became apparent before long. Days after returning from Greece I made Koulourakia at a church festival workshop when, for the first time, I truly engaged with my fellow Greeks at home. I raved about my trip, blasted Antonis Remos’ “Kommena Pia Ta Daneika,” and shared my own experiences with the motherland. Before long, I had to cut myself off because I started to feel like I was bragging, but surely enough Chrysanthis immediately replied, “No, you just finally understand what it means to be Greek. You’re excited. That’s all.” She was right. I had been to GREECE, a country where I had no choice but to be relaxed, patriotic, and amazed by its natural beauty. All the while, I was with a group of Greeks and Greek-Americans that only added to these feelings. This brings me to my next point: NHS and ACG failed to mention that they had apparently perfected the admissions process for Heritage Greece. The combination of Andrea Yavarow’s Tina Fey-like humor, Alex Oberheide’s Barney Stinson personality (How I Met Your Mother reference), the walking encyclopedia that was George Tsopanakis, the “silly hands” of Liz Parker, the Han Solo-esque charisma of Demitri Jerow, and even the guest wine connoisseur James Bistolarides (…to name a few) gave Heritage Greece more character than I could have ever predicted. In the end, the interactions with all of those involved in the program led to the personal discoveries each of us came away with through Heritage Greece. They gave the historical background to sites like Marathon and reminded us of truths like the fact that “George Tsopanakis is the law.” Other times the people brought Ancient Greece to life, for example, piggyback races at Olympia. Nonetheless, the people created the memories of each location we visited.
As a result, Heritage Greece reminded me that, despite all of the awe-inspiring vistas, it is the Greeks that make Greece such an amazing place.