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A Greco-Roman holiday May 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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Putting their art and French club lessons to the test, 12 Spearfish High School students and their trip sponsors recently made their way through Greece and Italy over the Easter holiday, as part of a 12-day European trip that included several stops.

“Our ultimate goal was to expose the students to the world. What we learned in 12 days of travel was life-changing for these students. It allowed them to see the world in a broader view, to see that things can be done in different ways and that it’s OK. Global exploration is important for students,” said trip sponsor and Spearfish High School Art Teacher Bonnie Dutton.

On their last full day in Greece, they visited three gorgeous Greek Isles. This is a day, which also happened to be Easter Sunday and according to Dutton, is a holiday celebration bigger than Christmas in the United States. The group enjoyed a three-course Easter dinner on a luxury liner, in a fine dining room. Following local tradition, each person at the table took one of the highly polished, fabulously shiny Easter eggs displayed in the middle of the table and proceeded to knock it against their neighbor’s egg until one broke. The last one at the table with an unbroken egg was the winner. They saw many whole lambs roasting for Easter dinner on the various islands and they observed several Easter services during the holy week.

Read this Black Hills Pioneer, SD, article > A Greco-Roman holiday

The Olympic experience April 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics, Testimonials.
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It is an account of my experience watching my sister play softball in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. Vanessa now teaches math and is the head softball coach at the high school we attended, Riverside Poly.

It didn’t hit me until I was sitting in a small bar in what is called the centre of Athens. As I sat and watched the Opening Ceremonies on a Greek television station, the Olympic rings emerged from the manmade lake that filled the middle of the Olympic Stadium. The rings were aflame, as were my emotions. Just miles away, my sister, Vanessa Czarnecki, was awaiting her time to march in as an Olympic athlete for the Greek softball team.

The search started long ago for Greece when my sister was still in high school. While her traveling team was representing the United States at a softball tournament in Canada someone approached her, knowing that my mother was born in Greece. At the time, the International Olympic Committee for Athens 2004 stated that Greece, the host country, needed to have a team for softball, a very new event, in order for it to qualify as an Olympic event. USA Softball began searching for more Greek-Americans like my sister to make up the roster. My sister said she was interested in playing for the Greeks, and the rest is history.

After more than 200 countries had passed through the stadium, it was finally Greece’s turn, or “Hellas” as Greece is said in the Greek language. My oldest sister Scarlett and I searched the television, hoping to spot Vanessa. There she was, smiling ear to ear, screaming with her softball teammates as one camera zoomed in on them. Vanessa’s Olympic experience had begun, and so had mine.

People I run into ask me about my time at the Olympics and I’m speechless. There are so many fascinating things on my list of events. We attended gymnastics, basketball games, volleyball matches and went sightseeing. All of it was fun, but not important. What was important was seeing my sister in her greatest moment, ending her career in the best way any athlete could.

It was the Olympics in its birthplace, Athens. It was what most regard as one of the most exciting sporting events.

Read the rest of this article > The Olympic experience

A modern-day Grand Tour April 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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Before the official start of my spring break, I took an 11-day trip to Greece with my school. I love Greece. A complicated mixture of ancient beauty and modern sensibilities, I would recommend Greece to any astute traveler. The entire country has an earthiness, a tranquility, and a realism that was incredibly refreshing.

We took a ferry from Italy and on our way, we passed Ithaca, the legendary home of Ulysses, the ancient hero of “The Odyssey.” We spent three days at Olympia, where the first Olympic Games were said to be held in 776 B.C. In one of the most peaceful places I have ever been in my life, we lounged in the shade of broken columns that once held up the Palestra, the training facility for the ancient athletes. (Palestra is still the modern Italian word for a workout gym). We visited Sparta, Corinth and Delphi, where we tried to invoke the ancient oracle (to limited success, I must confess).

A word about Athens. Who would have thought that after seven months without even a whiff of an iced caramel macchiato, I would have found a Starbucks practically every other block in Athens? Imagine the reaction of 60 American teenagers upon the sight of a Domino’s Pizza, you’d think we had been living in the Gobi Desert!

It’s a bit ironic, when you consider Italy’s reputation for pizza (which I can vouch for, the pizza, in general, is amazing. It’s just different). Italy is by no means the Gobi Desert, but even in Rome, one is hard-pressed to find a McDonald’s, and many would argue that this is for the better. I credit the 2004 Athens Olympics for bringing so much of what American capitalism has to offer and in that moment that I was sipping my iced coffee, was I sorry? I’m a little sorry to say that I wasn’t.

We were also in Athens on Greek Independence Day, March 25, which marks the day the Greeks gained independence from Turkey, a power that had ruled the country for more than 400 years. I mention it because I got to see the national celebratory parade. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so shocked to see missiles and tanks rumbling down the main streets of Athens, but I was. From scuba divers marching in full wet-suited regalia, and what looked like special forces with machine guns, the show was meant to intimidate. For me and the other Americans I was with, it was more than a little unsettling, as the most militaristic parades I’ve ever seen feature the occasional submarine crew and a fire truck. Missiles? It made me realize the different ways in which countries display their national pride and unified strength.

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Grecian hospitality March 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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CNCC’s 10-day trip to Greece filled with history, culture, kindness
Mary Shearer was humbled to find Greeks who could not speak English.

“I think as Americans, we think we own the world,” Shearer said. “I really felt we were the minority, and I think that’s a good feeling to have, that we’re just a dot on the map.”

Shearer was one of 19 Colorado Northwestern Community College staff members, students and area residents who instructors Kathy Simpson, Mary Karen Solomon and Kathy Ross accompanied on a 10-day trip to Greece this month. The trip ran from March 15 to 26 and included six nights in Athens, three nights on Mykonos island and one night on Santorini island.

“I think there’s a lot to be said to tap into another culture and not be invasive,” Shearer said. She feels the CNCC tourists did just that. Simpson said the residents of the areas they visited were welcoming. And while former trips have included participants being refused service for being American, the trip to Greece was filled with kindness.

Solomon cited a four-hour discussion she and Simpson had with a jewelry store owner, who offered them tea and sweets while they chatted. One Greek man stopped CNCC student Alyssa Macomber to tell her she resembled Aphrodite. “It was really a fulfillment of what you thought of Greece,” Solomon said.

She was impressed to see sites she’d seen photographs of. “They were larger than life,” she said. “They were incredibly more beautiful than you would ever imagine.”

Simpson and Solomon chose Greece for this year’s trip, the women have been organizing trips for six years, because of the educational opportunities in humanities, literature, art and architecture. Destinations included the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, Agora, Oracle of Delphi and museums.

Six CNCC students took the trip for three credits. This is the first year the college has offered the trip for credit. Those students kept a journal while overseas and will write 10- to 12-page papers.

Some activities, such as bus tours, are planned as group events during the trip. But Simpson said she also allows those on the trip to have “free days.” “I think you need to find your own experience and not be herded all the time,” she said.

And while planning such a trip is a lot of work for the women, Simpson and Solomon say they enjoy making the vacations possible. “During the trip, people kept coming up to me and thanking me for putting this together,” Simpson said. “I said, We’re happy to be here, too.'” Solomon agreed. “We would have stayed longer if we could,” Solomon said. “We would have liked more days.”

Article By Michelle Perry, Editor, Saturday, March 31, 2007. Read the whole article at > CraigDailyPress

Athens and bouzouki March 23, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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First, I’ve got to say that of all the places on our trip, I had the highest expectations for Athens. I’m happy to report…expectations exceeded. You’ll see in my next few posts what I’m talking about.  I’m only going to get one in now though as I’ve got to get to bed…

Athens never sleeps and neither did I. I had awesome meetings, took tons of photos, and really love the people and culture.

Our hostess in Athens was a beautiful lady named Elizabeth Phocas. She was just delightful and did a marvelous job of keeping us on schedule. Despite what we heard about southern Europe being chronically late, my experience is they were quite punctual…perhaps more so than us.

The first night there we had dinner at Giorti Baxevani, home of the number one rated chef in all of Athens for 2006. That set the bar for our entire time in Athens. We toured the wood fired oven kitchen and well as the wine cellar.

I believe Greek food is now my favorite. I just love it. I know I’ve gained weight, but the thing I don’t get is how all of the Greeks are so fit and trim. After four days my pants don’t fit anymore…

After dinner we went to a bouzouki bar. I had no idea what a treat I was in for. This was an awesome time built around live music with a long string of different male and female singers.

The tables butt right up to the stage and are loaded with fresh fruit, libations, and plates full of carnations. And they keep it all coming. The singers croon songs of the frustrations of lost loves as the audience throws the flowers or petals towards the singers and each other. I never knew throwing flowers could be such fun.

We were also frequently invited on stage to dance with the singers and as a group. This is but one perfect example of experiencing a new culture and learning by doing. It exemplifies what this trip has been for me.

Read this at Sam Matheny’s blog

In Greece: Learning is seldom this much fun March 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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Athens, Greece is one of the oldest cities in the world with a recorded history that dates back at least 3,000 years. Many refer to Greece as the cradle of civilization. For visitors, like Sally Hayes of Mt. Pleasant, a trip to the Mediterranean country was an unforgettable and inspirational experience.

Hayes, a freshman at Monmouth College with a triple major in classics, history, and philosophy, was one of 24 members of the Illinois college to visit Greece in early January. 

“I found the trip to Greece incredibly educational and fun,” she said. “Athens was a great place to see, such a connection of times, where the old world is completely embraced by the modern world.”

Hayes traveled with faculty members Cheryl Meeker and Tom Sienkewicz and 21 other students on what was dubbed an “immersion learning course.” The group visited the Acropolis, the Athenian Agora, the National Museum in Athens, as well as ancient Corinth, Mycenae, Delphi, and the temple of Aphaia on the island of Aegina.

“I think the trip gave me a good starting block for my education,” she confided. As a result of the trip, the college recently notified her that she had successfully completed the requirements for a classics minor.

After a 10-hour flight onboard one of the new, double-decker Airbus planes, Hayes and her group settled into their hotel in downtown Athens. Even though the extended urban area has a population of over 3 million people, it still maintains its historical integrity.
“Everywhere you looked it was just littered with columns and pieces of marble,” she said. “We could even see the Parthenon from our hotel balcony.”

Despite its ancient roots, Athens’ location between the sea and the mountains causes it to have air-quality problems much like those experienced in Los Angeles. “It’s crowded yet really clean,” Hayes said. “But it’s smoggy because of all the people and cars.”

To help control some of the pollution, she said many people walk, ride motorbikes, or drive one of the new Smart cars that currently are only available in Europe. The two-seat vehicle is very small and energy efficient, Hayes said, and can easily maneuver in the narrow city streets.

In the city they often rode the Metro train, for long trips they rode in a tour bus. “It was like a Greyhound,” she noted, “but it was scary taking that bus down through the streets, especially in the mountains. In some parts I thought the bus was going to tip over.” The highlight of the trip, she said, “was the day we spent at Delphi, just because its so historical… so many artifacts and pretty much untouched.”

Hayes said the language wasn’t much of a problem since most people spoke English. Signs were written in Greek, French and English. The food, of course, was phenomenal. “The food was fabulous,” she said. “When I came back to the school cafeteria I realized how much I had enjoyed the food.” Some of her favorites were a baked casserole dish called Moussaka that’s traditionally made with eggplant, tomatoes, cheese, and beef or lamb; a flaky pastry dessert called Baklava, and anything with seafood. “The seafood is really good because you’re so close to the sea.”

An unexpected experience during the trip was when the group spent the afternoon watching the changing of the guard at the Parliament building. 

Read the article > Sally Hayes in Greece: Learning is seldom this much fun

Overseas experience worthwhile February 26, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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The following are abstracts from an artilce written by Matt Boog, Vanguard Staff Writer, on February 26, 2007

The thing I remember most about that day is how jerky the donkey ride was. Hanging on to the animal’s scratchy hide for dear life, I rode along a narrow path, halfway up the side of a cliff. Far below, the Aegean Sea crashed on the shore. That’s when it hit me… my study abroad in Greece was far from normal.

When I began my three-month adventure in Athens, Greece, I quickly realized what it meant to live in a different culture. I experienced the dizzying effects of dealing with a whole new set of social rules. I learned to live without the comforts and securities I was accustomed to at home. And very interestingly, I learned how it felt to be a minority. Growing up as a white, middle-class male, this experience proved to be very enlightening.

But the benefits of study abroad don’t end with your personal enrichment. Employers appreciate an applicant that can demonstrate an understanding of other cultures. A former co-worker told me just the other day that her international experience was a large factor in securing her new internship.

Study abroad also offers you a chance to study in a truly unique study environment. I can attest to this from personal experience. There is no better way to learn Greek than from a native speaker in their native country. Your entire day becomes an exercise in the language. And few things are more awesome than hearing a lecture on Greek history while standing on the spot where history took place.

Remember King Agamemnon from the “Iliad?” I visited his castle and stood in his bathroom. Or remember when Oedipus Rex traveled to the Oracle at Delphi? I retraced his steps and visited the same spot.

Don’t let the opportunity to gain a global perspective pass you by – find out what study abroad can offer you.

If you’re interested, I kept a blog of what my study abroad experience offered me: http://ahastudyabroad.org/programs/greece/athens/student-blog

Read this article here > Overseas experience worthwhile