These past two weeks have been the experience of a lifetime. There was no better way to learn about LGBT life in another country than experiencing the culture first hand and meeting people who could share with us their lived experiences. We learned so much about how Greek Culture influences public opinion of LGBT people. Hyper-masculinity, strong Greek Nationalism, and Greek Orthodox church all are major factors in Greek Culture that negatively impact opinion of LGBT people.
It was really inspiring to meet the members of Colour Youth. Colour Youth is one of the only legally recognized groups for LGBT youth in Greece. We met with George, one of the members of the leadership committee of Colour Youth and learned about the projects with which they are involved and how the group is structured. We had a great last day meeting with some more of the Colour Youth Members discussing their opinions of the status of LGBT people in Greece which was very informative.
Sitting in Philadelphia Int’l Airport waiting for our flight to board: it is hard to believe we have had this amazing experience all in the past two weeks. This study abroad experience has taught me so much about different cultures and what we take for granted. This experience has opened my eyes to the issues faced by LGBT peoples of a culture much different than my own. As I go about the rest of my summer, I will not forget the lessons I have learned, the friends I have made.
As I sit on this 11 hour flight back to the states I cannot help but to reflect on all of the sights we’ve seen, groups and people we’ve met with, and the many cultures we’ve experienced over the last two weeks. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities since our departure from Louisville, many of which I expected—traveling outside of the United States for the first time, networking with different LGBT groups in Greece, seeing so many ancient artifacts and buildings, and of course learning more about a culture that I was quite ignorant about prior to this trip. There ended up being so many unexpected portions of the trip that truly led it to be an unforgettable experience.
Greece, in regards to LGBT progress, is in a similar state as the United States during the mid 1990s. With more visibility of the LGBT community in Greece leading to more support from many, it is also bringing out more opposition. This opposition, as I learned from meeting with different individuals who identify as non-heteronormative, partially comes from the fall of the economy in Greece, which I did not connect on my own. Due to the poor condition of the economy of Greece, many groups who are supporters of making forward strides economically are more conservative groups—including Golden Dawn, The Nazi Party and the Communist Party, which are all very much alive and well in Greece, and strongly opposing LGBT rights and immigration as a whole. These groups hold a lot of political power in Greece, and though about 45% of members in Greek Parliament claim they are not anti-LGBT, that does not always shine through in their voting habits.
I’ve grown closer to many people who have gone on this journey from Louisville to Greece, as well as making connections with numerous new friends in Greece. Thanks to Facebook and other social media outlets, these friendships will be able to continue on though we’re now 5000 miles apart from each other. These experiences have only proven what I had previously believed without personal experience; study abroad programs are valuable to the development of understanding oneself to be a citizen of the world. I’m proud of the connections I’ve made during my time abroad and I am so grateful for all of the community members, staff members, groups, and my peers who have made this possible for me. -Travis
Well everyone, I’m on my final plane ride to go back to Louisville, and it’s hard to even begin to find the words. While my trip in Greece was a total roller coaster of emotions, I couldn’t be happier with my trip. I met new people and learned even more new things. Particularly, I loved meeting with Color Youth. Their organizer taught me plenty of things about, well, organizing, and the youth themselves taught me about myself. On the last day we were in Athens, we got to climb to the top of a hill and look over at “a beautiful view of the acropolis!” and chat with them about anything and everything. I was so excited to see some new faces, as well as a couple I recognized from the IDAHO festivities. After that, we had a wonderful farewell dinner with Christina, and followed by an impromptu gathering with some Color Youth members in Montasaraki.
Now, I’ll spare you the details of the conversation and people we met, but they taught me more in four hours of conversation than I could’ve ever imagined. We discussed everything from their personal experiences as queer youth and the everyday struggles they face, to their favorite American television shows. What might seem as just college kids talking, really showed me how we have more similarities than differences. I don’t know what this trip has done to change me just yet, because I’m sitting in airports all day today, but I can definitely tell you that I am a better, changed person.
These people and I experienced something together that we can never reproduce. Something that, no matter how hard we try, can’t just be captured on paper or text on a screen. We have a bond together that can’t be explained. We watched those sunsets together, swam in that beautiful sea, ate delicious meals, and grew together as people. No matter where we go in our lives, we had “an authentic Greek experience”. Yasas!
Two weeks in Greece may….
-Implore you to meet new people that will remain on your heart and mind for times to come.
-Open your eyes to the most beautiful panoramas of the seas, forests, and mountains.
-Ask you to forget the present and physical world to experience spirituality.
-Bring tzatziki, souvlaki, spanikopita, Greek salad, and raki to every meal!
-Connect you with groups and organizations doing work that will change the world as we know it.
Two weeks seems like a long time but I am still processing the adventure and will be for years to come. I could not tell you the significance of meeting Gregory Vallatinos, dubbed the father of the gay liberation movement in Greece. He sat with our group for two hours and shared his knowledge and inspired a fire in each of us. He taught us to be inspired and do work we find the most important to us. The groups we met with each welcomed us with kind hugs and smiling faces. That speaks to the LGBT community in Greece, despite the adversity they are facing they keep moving and are fighting for rights they deserve.
Studying abroad isn’t always the easiest thing to do. It’s hard to get off work. It’s hard to come up with the money. But if you let these things stop you are missing out. I would be the same person just 2 short weeks later if I had not flown to Greece with my classmates and lived and learned Greek reality for LGBT folk.
Trust me, Greece was not just an experience. It will continue to change my life and the lives around me as I live differently because of my time in Greece.
I can’t say (Greek) bye,
Ive been lucky enough to spend the last two weeks in the amazing and breathtaking country of Greece, where to people are great and the food even greater. But the people I met along my journey told me what it’s like to live in a place so much different than yours. We met with an amazing array of people and they all make a difference in the community and the activism they make.
One group we had the pleasure of meeting were the kids from Color Youth, an organization helping the fight of LGBT rights in Greece, meeting once a week to discuss the issues they and their peers face in a country where the face much oppression and backlash. Despite what they have faced and gone through as LGBT people in Greece, they were still an amazing group of young adults wanting to help reshape society and the definition of human rights, staying humble and kind enough to meet with us and tell us what its like living in Greece.
One of the most memorable moments I had with the various people we met was the inspirational speeches of Gregory Vallianatos, the grandfather of the LGBT movements in Greece, and gave us his story on what it has been and is for him to be such a strong advocate for equal human rights within the LGBT community. He would always casually drop the most mind blowing inspirational quotes that stay with you for a lifetime. A member of the student group asked why he was an advocate and what kept him going, and he said that an advocate “doesn’t want to see the world change, he wants to change the world.”
We had many moments that will stay with us for the rest of our lives, such as snorkeling in the Mediterranean to standing at the top of the Parthenon, or overlooking the sea from the temple of Poseidon. The people we met, the history we learned, and the moments we shared will forever stay with us. The laughs we had and the times we encountered are the reasons why one should always take the advantage to study abroad. These are experiences and moments that cannot be recreated anywhere else.
To take the opportunity to learn a completely different culture, language, and history, rich with moments of laughter, tears, and various emotions are the sole reasons we are so willing to abandon our normal lives to live a little, to see a little, to be a little. To breathe the air of a different person, to walk down the paths of a different life, so taste the freedom and knowledge you have and gain, and appreciate how lucky you are or might be compared to the places you may go. You study abroad to free your mind and open it to a new realm of possibilities, and to gain endless inspiration.
I’m writing as our plane takes us back home, and I cannot believe this wonderful study abroad experience is over. It is incredible how many new friends we have made in this short time and how we feel like a big family. This country reminded me of Cuba, my home country so much. The people, the beaches, and the culture, are some of the many things I enjoyed.
However, not everything displays happiness in Greece, and there were many things that broke my heart. Poor people living on the streets, children having to work, and animals abandoned on the streets were few of the things that made me really sad. Once more I realize how lucky I am for to live now in a country that cares about their citizens. During this trip, I also enjoyed having the chance to meet with local LGBT leaders and activists and understand many of the struggles they have to go through every day. These struggles exist mainly because the Greek government does not support LGBT rights and many of these organizations do not have the economic support necessary for them to grow.
Even though these things happen, it is incredible to see how youth people have gotten together and created Color youth. This is an organization that overtime has earned the respect of the LGBT community in Greece. I personally enjoyed being part of IDAHO and see the reaction of Greek people when we handed information about LGBT rights. After having such a great experience I would recommend others to study abroad.This trip has expanded my worldview and made me aware of many issues that exists around the world. I also learned about Greek culture and Greek mythology. It was incredible to experience in person how queer life is across the different cities of Greece.
i am deeply grateful to everyone who has enabled me to go on this trip and experience it in fullness: educators, the LBGT community of louisville, the friends i have made on this trip, my parents.
as i sit on the roof of our balcony in athens, i am letting myself grow calm, after two weeks of knowledge sharing, history immersing, connection and personal growth. i have found a strength in myself on this trip i had buried for too long, one bound up in fear, anger, love i didnt let myself to be embraced. i have grown alone in ruins on cliffsides and with the minoan people at knossos and most importantly with all my classmates and friends on this trip. i didnt expect to be embrace or to be embracing, and i am so happy that i have been. i will share stories with everyone, starting with whoever is reading this.
and i hope, every time, that i will finish what ive shared with thank you. thank you.
"Jump in and swim. If I waited for someone older to tell what to do, I would still be waiting." - Gregory Villianatos We just enjoyed our final dinner in the Plaka neighborhood of Athens, which I absolutely adore. It’s beautiful out, with the perfect breeze and the backdrop of a well lit Parthenon in sight from the rooftop patio of the hotel. Today has definitely shown me what I’ve appreciated the most on this trip- the chance to meet incredible people. We spent the afternoon with Colour Youth, and I am so inspired by them. A group of twenty-something’s who banned together in hopes for a sense of community that then quickly grew to a legal organization making their mark. It’s one thing to see this type of involvement in Louisville and respect it, but after being exposed to the difference in acceptance of Queer people in Greece, it definitely allows for more admiration to the ones who step out. They’ve taught me that I too can make a difference in the lives of others as long as I start with a deep breath and strong strokes.
Students in class, and giving their presentations, in Greece!
"Jump in and swim. If I waited for someone older to tell me what to do, I would still be waiting."-Gregory Vallianatos
Gregory’s advice to student activists. He is called the father of the modern gay rights movement in Greece, and was recently one of the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Greek government for marriage equality.