3rd Place - Ali Garklaus - "What I Did This Summer"
This past summer I traveled to Athens and Ikaria with the Aging In Greece Service Learning group. Even though the time I spent in Greece was short, I had the time of my life. We began our trip in Athens, where we stayed for four days. Our hotel was located a few blocks from the Parthenon, which looked amazing at night when it was lit up by all of the lights. Our group went to a traditional Greek restaurant the second night we stayed in Athens, and we dined on the rooftop of a restaurant under the stars and listened to live bouzouki music. We tried our hand at bartering with the street vendors, walking away with very inexpensive "Gucci" glasses, and a variety of jerseys for the upcoming soccer tournament that was being played in Athens. The next day our tour group did a walking tour of Greece, where we got to climb to the top of the Parthenon and visited gorgeous nearby neighborhoods. That night several of us from our tour group went to the Hard Rock Cafe in Athens and got to experience Greek nightlife at a "discotheque". The next day was a free day, so my roommate and I decided to explore Athens on our own, and not realizing the size of the city, got lost and ended up walking for several hours. This truly was the "three-hour tour," but we ended up exploring many interesting places, such as used mannequin shops, stores selling four-foot-long statues of the feet of the Greek gods, and the three-block-long open-air market, selling everything from olives, nuts and cheeses to lambs, pigs and other such delicacies. Although we were tired that night, we decided to explore more; the city was bustling with soccer fans, in Athens for the European Union Football Associations championship game. Fans had come from all over to watch this game: London, Paris, Serbia, and yes, Miami, Florida. We went to a local open-air restaurant, where we cheered on our respective teams in our official jerseys (purchased en route to the Hotel Parthenon), my roommate cheering for Milan, while I cheered for Liverpool. We met many soccer fans and toasted our teams, drinking ouzo and trying the other local delicacies.
The next morning, our group left to visit the town of Kalavrita, where we visited an important World War II monument. After our short stay, we headed to the airport where we flew in a "prop" plane (aka Indiana Jones place) to the rural island of Ikaria, named after Icarus, a figure in Greek mythology who supposedly flew too close to the sun and fell into the ocean. Ikaria is a beautiful island, with white houses built into the rocky cliffs, overlooking the Aegean. If you have seen the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, you know what I am talking about. For the remainder of our trip, our group volunteered at a local nursing home, where we compared Greek aging practices with the process of aging that we know here in the United States. Our group worked with the seniors at the home, interviewing them and collecting stories. Our tour group divided into three smaller groups, which focused on a specific part of the aging process; one group focused on the past, another on the present and another on the future. We created projects for the elders to recognize these important life events: the group focusing on the past interviewed the seniors and created scrapbook pages to remind them of their home villages; the group focusing on the present photographed the trip and created a poster with pictures of everyone at the nursing home; my group created flower pots, each painted with the senior's name in both Greek and English and pictures of their favorite hobbies and memories. It was really an amazing time. That week, members of our group learned a traditional Greek dance which they performed for the seniors. My roommate and I entertained the group of seniors with our favorite "American" songs, with favorites, such as Hakuna Matata and selections from Garth Brooks. Another student, with her mother, baked a pound cake to celebrate the 100th and 103rd birthdays of two of the seniors. At the birthday party, there was dancing, celebrating, and of course plate-smashing. On our days off, we went hiking, swimming in the Aegean, and sunbathing on the white sand beaches. We went boating around the island with a local shop owner and explored the hidden coves. We checked out the local shops and restaurants (the souvlaki stand!) and had an amazing time. It was really hard to go at the end of the trip. By the end of the trip, I decided I had to go back and see all of the seniors again; I am going back to the nursing home in Ikaria next summer to complete my internship for my LAHS major. I don't think I would trade this experience for anything. It was so great to meet all of the people I did and explore all of the places we went. What can I say? It's all Greek to me!