Almost three decades ago, I had an experience that would change my life forever. I studied abroad for a semester at the American College of Greece in Athens.
Like many of my friends, I grew up in a traditional immigrant home. My dad came through Ellis Island as a refugee in the 1940s.
He went back almost twenty years later after he had established himself in Pittsburgh to meet and eventually marry my mom.
My youth was pretty much “Greek this” and “Greek that”, with heavy doses of “all things Cretan,” as my family was heavily involved in the local Cretan Association, given their own backgrounds.
We would leave our home parish on one particular Sunday every year for the “Arkadi” memorial service which I never knew anything about, and heard my dad’s “war stories” from the days of the Nazi occupation.
While being taught to dance Greek, no one ever told me what these dances represented or the rich history and heritage that came along with them.
I was always told to be proud of being Greek but— God bless them— my parents never really were ever to explain why.
Fast forward to the early 1990s while I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh and I made plans to study abroad for a semester at the American College of Greece.
To say that my time there changed my life would be an understatement. It actually defined the rest of my life.
My dad’s war stories became real during a Modern Greek History course.
Reading Kazantzakis in a Greek Literature course opened my mind like no other literature ever did.
So often during my classes, those long unanswered questions of “why” I should be proud to be Greek were answered over and over again– and in a most profound way.
Every day of every class, every experience after experience of living amongst Greeks in a capital city that’s been continuously inhabited for thousands of years… it all contributed to a new desire to share what “being Greek” meant with the world.
An afternoon at the Dora Stratou Dance Theater in Place would change– forever– my outlook on Greek folk dancing and what it really represented and that whole existential question of “who I am” as a Greek slowly got answered.
My study abroad experience remains the most significant turning point in my life and today, almost fifty years into my time on this planet, I’m more determined than ever to make sure more students have that same opportunity.
That’s why I’ve decided to transform my 50th birthday into a scholarship through the Greek America Foundation for a North American student to spend a semester at the American College of Greece.
A single scholarship for a semester (15 credits) is about $7,000. If you’re interested in donating a complete scholarship in memory or in honor of someone, please feel free to email me at greg (at) pappaspost.com and I can share details.
The details of my Facebook fundraiser are below. If you’re so compelled to contribute, I know that the lucky recipient of the scholarship will be most appreciative.