A few years ago, we met a talented, smart and lovely girl . On top of being a stellar student and young lady, she intrigued all of us because of her unique background as a child who grew up in Greece (from other ethnic backgrounds) but had embraced Greek culture and religion. Amidst her busy schedule as a college student and ballerina, she did this interview with me.
Why did you live in Greece?
My father had visited Greece and fallen in love with the country before he met my mother while studying art in Japan. He had connections with the foreign arts community in the islands, so after my parents married, they decided to move to Greece. A few years later, I was born.
How many years did you live there?
My parents and I lived on Tinos until it was time for me to start school, which they wanted me to do in the U.S. But between the ages of 5 and 14, I spent the summers, and sometimes the Christmas holidays, on Tinos.
What excursions or museums do you recommend?
Having lived on a tiny, largely unheard-of island, I would recommend going off the beaten track and hiking on Tinos or some of the other Cyclades islands. If you’re looking for something more standard, definitely visit the Acropolis Museum in Athens—it’s phenomenal.
What were your favorite memories of your time there?
My favorite memories all involve the sea. My mother used to take me to the beach every day during the summer, where we would spend hours swimming, building sand castles, and sunbathing. My dad and I often snorkeled and explored the tide pools, where I would look for hermit crabs and tiny fish.
How would you describe the perfect Greek meal?
The perfect Greek meal is always eaten outdoors in the fresh air. I would prefer a quiet meal of mezedes (octopus, taramosalata, and fava are my favorites!) either at a small café on the beach or somewhere in the hills with a view of the sea below.
Describe a custom that you observed there. Did you incorporate any of their customs back home?
My parents and I wish each other “kalo mina” at the beginning of every month. This habit seems trivial, but it does show how little things from daily life in Greece have become such an engrained part of us.
writer’s side note: (“kalo mina” means “good month”–“let’s have a good start to our new month…”)
Tinos is an island known for its pilgrimages. This island located in the Aegean Sea is known for its miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary that is housed at the Panagia church. As a sign of respect and devotion, many pilgrims crawl on their hands and knees from the wharf to the church which is approximately 800 meters. I have seen this twice when I visited Tinos. People with various ailments gather there to pray and touch the icon for its healing powers.
You converted to Greek Orthodoxy. Can you explain what inspired this process?
I hesitate to say that I “converted” to Orthodoxy because I grew up amid the religion and have never been a part of, or felt connected to, any faith but Greek Orthodoxy. Although my parents are not Orthodox, they often took me to services during our time in Greece. Participating in feast days and other Orthodox rituals is such a natural part of life in Greece that it was easy for us to do so. Eventually, I decided that it was time to formalize my connection with Greek Orthodoxy by being baptized—and this was something that I always expected would happen.
How did your trip to Greece this past summer enrich your life? Describe any experiences that made you grow spiritually.
This summer, I spent six weeks in Thessaloniki as part of a history seminar offered by my university. In some ways, it was a new experience because I had never been to northern Greece. However, it also felt like a homecoming, especially because I had not been to Greece for several years before this summer. The college experience is generally one of wandering, trying new things, and discovering new interests—which is good, but it can also be disorienting sometimes. In Greece, I felt reconnected to myself. I also felt truly happy for the first time in a long time. One of the summer’s most extraordinary experiences was visiting the Timios Prodromos monastery, which is in a secluded mountain area just outside Thessaloniki. The monastery is beautiful not only with regard to its natural surroundings, but also in the sense of peace which pervades it.
Describe the vibe of the culture?
I feel that almost everything about Greek culture expresses a simple, genuine love of life and one’s neighbors. Although I’m not Greek, the community in which I grew up on Tinos embraced me as one of its own. Greece has this free, lively atmosphere that has always made it easier for me to live in the moment and to not fixate on things that I can’t control.