Greece is one of the few places on earth that can boast a history of over 5,000 years. No other place has contributed so much to Western civilization than Greece did during its peak time 2,500 years ago, when it was the spiritual center of the then known world. During this time, philosophical and political meditation, literature, fine arts, and sciences, that later affected the course of the Western civilization, developed and reached an unparalleled acme. When I traveled all throughout Greece last summer, I had the most amazing time of my life. The wonders of Greece’s glorious past are revealed in its monuments and architecture; from the Acropolis to the ruins at Delphi, there is so much wonderful history that I discovered on my trip to Greece.
Once I stepped foot in Athens, I immediately wanted to explore every shop and museum. Since I am Greek, I was extremely fascinated to learn about my ancestors and to see what they created thousands of years ago. I discovered that the Greek legacy is one of the most sophisticated intellectually, and includes some of the greatest thinkers of ancient times. I learned a lot about the brilliant Greek philosopher Socrates and how he influenced many methods of teaching today. Socrates developed the Socratic Method, which is a form of teaching that used a question and answer format to force pupils to see things for themselves by using their own reason. Additionally, I learned that there are many significant contributions Greece has made to other countries in the past 100 years.
Greece and America fought side by side during World War II, the Cold War, and the Korean Conflict. The Greek Government responded to the September 11, 2001 attacks with strong political support for the United States. They allowed use of Greek airspace and provided Greek military assets in support of the counterterrorism campaign. Former president George W. Bush stated, “Greece was one of only a handful of countries that fought alongside the United States in every major 20th century war. And Americans will always remember Greek heroism and Greek sacrifice for the sake of freedom. As the 21st century dawns, Greece and America — once again stand united; this time in the fight against terrorism…” (Bush 2002).
The Greek community today has flourished and become very well known by the rest of the nation. The 2000 US Census showed 1,153,295 Greeks living in the US. Greek-Americans are an established, well-organized community in the U.S. that cultivates close political and cultural ties with Greece. I wasn’t aware, before my trip, that Greeks have come a long way in order to create a home for themselves in America. Not only are Greeks a huge part of the community, but they are now being recognized and awarded for their accomplishments. This year marks the establishment of the “Gabby Awards” which is an organization that honors the contributions of Greek-America’s best and brightest. At a ceremony in Chicago this June 19th, the individual winners were announced globally. If you visit their website, you will find biographical information about all the nominees and their wonderful contributions to the American community.
However, during my time spent abroad in Greece, I learned about a man who wasn’t mentioned on the Gabby Awards website. George Livanos, a local Greek-American, founded the Hellenic Marine Environmental Protection Association. He was acutely aware of the damage to the environment which oil spills and other risks of large-scale shipping posed, and promoted better training and ship safety in order to protect the environment. His ideas have spread around the world and strengthened not only Greece, but also international efforts to improve shipping practices and safeguard the environment.
Another influential Greek that has significantly helped the Hellenic society was my papou, Constantine Michael Glafkides. After serving in the US Navy in World War II, he persevered through tremendous obstacles and became a successful physician. While establishing the largest internal medicine practice in the San Francisco Northern Peninsula area, he was also instrumental in founding a medical insurance company that paved the way for many current insurance programs today. The values and aspirations which my grandfather honored were the values and aspirations of our Hellenic community.
In addition to the great knowledge I gained about my ancestors, I visited some amazing places in Greece. I traveled through Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Patmos, and Crete. Swimming in the Mediterranean, enjoying the beautiful sun, eating gyros and spanakopita, and making conversations with local Greeks were my favorite moments. Each island has its own unique personality, and being able to observe the different houses and people was captivating. My favorite island that I visited was Rhodes because I was able to stay with my family and truly experience the Greek culture. An aspect about Greek culture that I enjoyed and want to practice in the Americas is patience. Whenever I had meals or ate at restaurants, no one rushed me. In fact, it’s considered offensive to Greeks if you just come and go, and not really take the time to enjoy your meal. By following this living style, I was able to relax more and appreciate my life.
After travelling all over the beautiful lands of Greece, I am inspired to make my own contributions from Greek heritage to make the world a better place. I believe the future is bright for the Hellenic community. The Greek Orthodox Church could be on the verge of exponential growth within American society. The more the Church reaches out and accepts non-Greeks, the more it insures its own flourishing; therefore, guarantees some form of Greek-American ethnic survival into the future. One distinct fact that I remember learning on my trip is that modern civilization exists because of the major accomplishments of Greeks. They introduced us to politics, democracy, philosophy, metaphysics, literature, architecture, history, entertainment comedy and tragedy. These influences opened doors to further advancements which resulted in the enrichment of human experience. I can’t wait for my next chance to go back to Greece and learn more.
For those of you interested in traveling to Greece, I recommend traveling with EF Tours. It’s a great international traveling company that is affordable and very fun to be a part of. You can visit this website to check them out. http://landing.eftours.com/ They set up all your hotels, meals, and transportation. I stayed in a different hotel almost every night, and they were pretty descent. Also, it’s optional to take a cruise in Greece which takes you to all of the islands. I definitely recommend taking the cruise! It’s an unforgettable experience. If you have any other questions about traveling to Greece, please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]
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