A Significant Experience
“Congratulations, you have been selected to become a Student Ambassador for the United States of America. People to People is a program that helps integrate…….” I had read the letter hundreds of times, and I could not believe it. “Me, a student ambassador?” was the first thought that ran through my head. “Leave home for three weeks and stay in a different country with no parents? I don’t know if I can handle that… I don’t know if my mom can handle that!” After thinking all of these anxious thought, the next thing I knew, I was waving to my mom from the back seat of a long, luxurious (at least luxurious compared with a school bus) travel bus, destination: the world.
The warm, pleasant sun shone down and warmed the grainy sand that engulfed my toes in heat every time I took another step towards the most dazzling scene ever encountered by a fifteen year old girl. The air slipped through my hair as a leaf through the autumn sky. Where was autumn now? The only thing I knew and saw were the sparkling sands and the quiet waves lapping up the shore. As quickly as my feet would carry me, I splashed into the refreshing sea, giving myself to the water. Once submerged, I saw the rough, pink beds of coral, the small schools of fish playing peek-a-boo with the onlookers, and of course, the dreaded, painful sea urchins. Stroking my way over the scene, I took myself out to the group of teenage boys already ahead of me. “I bet you’re scared to swim out here!” they said tauntingly. “Come and get us!”
The sign above me read “Fasten seatbelts” and the captain’s voice came over the loudspeaker announcing our whereabouts over the Atlantic Ocean. Just a few incredibly long hours later, I was trotting up the gateway to keep up with the rest of the delegation. The moment I stepped outside I stepped into a wonderland. I had heard stories and seen pictures but nothing compared to the beauty of the real thing. “Welcome to Greece” I told myself. “May you never have to leave.” The group of fifty or so teenagers toddled to the bus, each pulling about half of their body weights in luggage. After finally loading the bus, we got to the fun part, spending more time in a moving vehicle. Once we actually arrived at the hotel, I felt better. Less than 12 hours later we were introduced to a new mode of transportation: trams. Up, up, up the trams climbed, bringing us closer to the Acropolis than I had ever thought possible. I gazed in awe at the splendid sights and sounds of Greece, the foreign tongue being passed around us in varied tones, the majesty of Mount Olympus, staring me straight in the face, and the small turtle trying desperately to get back into its niche. A fence barred the way. Echoes of “the poor turtle!” and “what should we do” flitted through my conscience, and the last one hit me like a bus “Who will touch THAT thing!?” The last remark, made with the disgust of an inexperienced, immature stereotypical female made me retaliate by picking up the unfortunate creature, kissing in on the nose, and placing it back into its habitat. My leader, Larry, complimented me on my handling of the situation and handed me a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Once we made our way back to the hotel and wrote down are schedule for the next day (the stunning beaches of Aegina) we were free to shower and get dressed for out next immersion in culture. Exiting through the main doors of our quaint home-grown hotel, we descended the hill in the direction of dinner. Pasticcio was on the menu tonight! Not only is it my favorite food in America, it earned my number one favorite food in Europe! Next we moved onwards and upwards towards the stage. There we met our dance instructors, Niko and Ponnos. Ponnos taught my group four dances, among them the menousis, the Chiotiko and something sounding like Povlaki. After practicing our dances for hours, and counting all the steps in beat (1, 2, 3, 4 kick, 5, 6, kick) repeat and getting proficient at the task, were again made way for the stage. Austin and I were placed on the ends, as we performed for a select few bystanders, including Larry with his video camera. I was so honored to be chosen for the end girl in the line dances, of course, after learning why it is indeed an honor. The people on the ends, of the dance lines, lead everyone else residing in that particular line. It was and amazing experience.
I traveled to nine different countries with People to People as a student ambassador, three different summers. Throughout my travels, I realize now, that not only did I become less of a shy, timid girl, but I immersed myself in culture beyond my understanding and it captured my attention and my heart.
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