After arriving in Greece after a total of 19 hours of travel, I had never felt such a sense of euphoria. The picturesque white cottages with royal blue rooftops, the deep emerald green grass in contrast with the magenta and scarlet flowers; it seemed more like a dream rather than a reality. I had come for a three week long program called Ionian Village. 175 other Greek Orthodox teenagers from around the world had also made the trip, but most of them had come with friends. Traveling alone had put me very far outside of my comfort zone, not to mention that it was my first time being in Greece at all. I was unsure of what to expect during these three weeks, but I had kept hearing “Are you ready for the best summer of your life?!” so I had a pretty positive idea.
I was put into a cabin called Xios with 15 other girls my age, and unknown to me, these girls would come to mean more to me than anything in the world. I settled into my room and was ready to face the world! About every other day, all 175 of us kids and the 30 or so staff members left camp grounds for different parts of Greece. For eight years prior to going on this trip, I had taken courses outside of school to learn Greek, and what better opportunity would I have to put my well earned knowledge to use? Primarily, we traveled to religiously affiliated areas of Greece because the Ionian Village program is run through the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, but we also spent our time in places like Athens and Ancient Olympia. In particular, my favorite trip was to the beautiful island of Zakynthos, which is a charming fishing village on the coast of the Ionian Sea. It is also home to the miraculously preserved body of the Greek Orthodox Saint of Forgiveness, Saint Dionysius. During his lifetime, Saint Dionysius frequently performed the sacrament of confession, during which all participants are ultimately forgiven for their sins. Unknown to him, Saint Dionysius forgave his brother's murderer. Whenever I feel resentment towards anyone, I always remember this story and use it as inspiration to be a better person. The sight of such a perfectly preserved body moved me to tears, I was so overwhelmed with emotions.
On the days that weren’t travel days, we stayed in camp. Generally, the entire camp did activities together. Whether it was competing as a cabin in the camp Olympics, or enjoying freshly made gyros on the beach, all 180 of us grew to be a family. The head counselor of camp even remarked on the fourth day that it seemed as if we had all known each other for our entire lives.
IonianVillagechanged me like no other experience in my life ever had before. The things I had seen, the emotions I had felt, everything had contributed to my metamorphosis. I had come to Greece nervous, ignorant, and close minded. However, I returned from Greece as a much more compassionate, accepting, and genuinely better person. . I learned how to live my life in a much more fulfilling, forgiving, and sympathetic way and to this day I continue to uphold the Ionian Village values which were instilled upon me. When I got off of my plane three weeks earlier, I knew I was going to have a good time, but nothing could have prepared me for this truly life changing experience, which I can only hope others are fortunate enough to have.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.