This past May, I was honored and blessed to be one of twenty-three Ohio State students to embark on an Education Abroad experience in Corfu, Greece. As an individual that has never had the opportunity to travel abroad, this was a dream come true to even have the opportunity to see the world. However, to go a step further and experience culture firsthand after receiving the education was a life-changing experience. I will forever be grateful for Corfu and know that my journey will always be in my heart and impact who I am and how I live my life.
This Education Abroad experience was dedicated to learning about western tradition and contemporary issues. The program spanned from May 2nd to June 1st. We stayed at Hotel Hellinis near an area called Kanoni, and were greatly welcomed by an accommodating staff that helped us become accustomed to the area. We were able to use bus passes daily to get to class at the Ionian University in the morning near Corfu town. Every week, we had class scheduled from 9am-12pm, and would have lectures on various time periods, historical figures, and impacts on our modern life. We were able to experience teaching from local professors, and rotated through them every 3-4 days. On the weekends, we were able to travel as a group with our professors to excursions throughout Corfu and other nearby areas. We were able to visit Vergina and Ioannina to see the temple of Philip II, a monastery, and the Oracle of Delphi. In our free time, we were able to explore local beaches, landmarks, and businesses. Finally, we were able to spend two days in Athens to visit the Acropolis museum and the Parthenon to see the foundations of endless societies today.
I know that everyone comes out of an education abroad experience claiming that they feel like a changed, transformed person. It seems to be a cliche statement that I was expecting myself to claim, too. However, coming out of this experience, I feel like those words are an understatement for how much I feel my heart and perspective has radically changed. Firstly, I feel that I feel so much smaller in such a large, beautiful world. I could have gone my entire life without even knowing or hearing about the island of Corfu, a place that houses thousands of artifacts, incredible people, and gorgeous landscapes. I am so stuck in my own little world of Columbus, Ohio, and only see the world being the size of the popular tourist destinations and pictures on the internet. Secondly, I feel that my absolute favorite memories of the entire trip weren’t the main focuses of the excursions or experiences. Instead, it was the relationships created with endless locals on the island, that I will always hold close to my heart. The people of Corfu were so generous and attentive, and I was lucky to be welcomed as a local of the area because of their actions. This taught me that generosity is so important and rich, and is far more valuable than the tourist attractions.
These transformations are all due to the people that I met on this beautiful trip. Everywhere we went as a group, we knew at least one person and got to know their life story. People were so willing to open up about their heart and passions, and give any life advice that they could. Endless store clerks and restaurant owners would grant us free meals and drinks, and be willing to introduce us to other locals and places. Two important relationships that transformed my experience are two men that owned businesses near our hotel: George and Nicolas. George was a local restaurant owner, and has a known reputation of getting to know the OSU students that come every year. He was such an outgoing and bubbly character, and on day one of our trip memorized every one of our names. He would make us specials, accommodate to unusual dietary restrictions, and would be sure to celebrate every birthday on the trip. He loved to introduce us to his family members, and we grew very great and close connections. He wanted to go out of his way to be generous, and hosted karaoke nights and got us connections for a boat ride off the island. His generosity was above and beyond expectations, and it was never with expectations of anything beyond a thank you in return. He only desired to make us joyful and laugh, and it meant the world.
Nicolas was the general store and souvenir shop owner right next to George’s restaurant, and was the home for many of our purchases throughout the trip. Nicolas was a very soft-spoken man, but was sure to learn all of our names and sit for hours and listen to our conversations. He told us of his life and journey from Canada to Greece to open his own store. He was sure to give us discounts often, but he cared more about the emotional impact he could have. He loved to make us feel at peace, and he wanted to offer any advice he could muster in both easy and difficult times.
It was because of these two men that I have learned to be grateful for every moment and every relationship, as they are so valuable and dear to our hearts. Their generosity went above and beyond, and they were so willing to sacrifice so much to grant joy for complete strangers. They wanted to do anything possible to make us feel welcomed and like locals, and it meant the world to every single one of us. But their actions taught me that relationships and memories are far more valuable than some souvenirs and landmarks. It was the relationships and experiences that caused history, not the small details that we get caught up in. I hope to create love and respect and hospitality in a similar fashion as these men as I am home again. I cannot wait to return one day, and hopefully reunite with George, Nicolas, and the many other friends we made while abroad. Their love for their country and history made me more passionate, and more proud to have the opportunity to experience it.