Relishing over the lazy days of snow, I kept thinking to myself that something was wrong.
Yes, I was physically okay, but I forgot something.
It wasn’t my birthday or anyone else’s in the family.
Then it struck me as I was being tagged left and right in photos on Facebook. I had forgotten our anniversary of studying abroad (not to downplay my lovely wife and our wedding anniversary).
How could I have been so foolish? Studying abroad was one of the most monumental learning experiences of my entire life and it all began in 2005 on Super Bowl Sunday. I remember it like it was yesterday:
I began boarding an airplane at Port Columbus International Airport (Ohio) for an adventure that was going to last a life time. My heart was pounding with anticipation.
My foot must have been pounding as well since I pounded on the gas and ended up with a speeding ticket on my way to the airport. I remember trying to explain to the police officer that I was leaving the country, literally, and would be unable to take care of my speeding violation. Unfortunately, he would not let me off with a warning as he thought my story was a bit over the top.
I was flying British Air Ways, which to do this is the most comfortable flight I have ever taken, en’ route to Thessaloniki, Greece where I would spend the next six months studying abroad. My criteria in deciding where to study abroad included the logic of a child. It had to be far enough away my parents could visit on a whim, and I wanted it to a place that involved a culture/language that was totally foreign to me.
After arriving at my new apartment, I ran my hand across my stomach because I had not ate since the beginning of my 13 hour flight and layover. I glanced over the contents of my luggage and realized my Grandmother’s cookies had been confiscated going through customs. I let silence get the best of me and went out looking for other new folks in a similar situation to dine at one of the cafes I saw on my taxi ride into the city.
Tagging a long with a group of newly found acquaintances, we set forth on our first Greek dining experience. The diner was quite small, but bolstered a unique fragrance of olive oil on the table. Instead of table water, a dull yellow liquid was offered to us in common glasses. Familiar to the smell, I learned Retsina was a common wine served at most meals. As for the next part of the meal, this is where is got interesting.
And I mean no one, spoke any Greek. Unfortunately, my followers must have used similar college logic in choosing their study abroad program as me. Checking out the attractive young lady across the way’s plate. I attempted to introduce myself and ask what she was eating. As one could imagine, a scowl and strange look was given to me. Fortunately, my waiter understood my pointing and took our groups underneath his wing.
The meal was delicious and everyone was carrying their life savings to tip this young man. Between the group, the boy must have gotten 100 euros, but he looked us strangely as we left.
We later learned tipping was not a norm in Greece and looked down upon where we were living. One Greek student even shared with me it’s almost like giving the person money to leave there job because they were inadequate…travel books did not share this secret!
From that moment on, my newly formed group spent a lot of time on planned tours and events offered by the international student office. There was not a day trip we were not willing to go on; we wanted to experience everything.
Classes we even memorable. My first conversation in European Integration was which language were we going to speak in class because the roster had individuals from numerous countries which spoke numerous languages.
Getting back to reality from my life changing experience … I remember all the amazing learning opportunities that were offered to me. One of my greatest accomplishments, which I was proud of, was simply going to the open market and being able to converse with vendors over prices.
Yes, this might seem silly, but I came home with butter milk instead of 2% for my cereal on many early trips to the market.
Or my greatest anecdote, when my group (one guy and five girls) decided to adventure to a nearby festival for the weekend without securing a hotel. To make a long story short (which I can share at another time) through a lot of twists and turns, we had a doctor insist on taking six Americans into his home for the night which turned into about for days … I love Greek hospitality. His daughter was learning English and he thought this would be a great opportunity for her to practice her language skills.
With the power of social media, that family has gotten back in contact with our group via Facebook.
…but here is my biggest struggle with all these anecdotes of youth.
I viewed every moment of that journey as a learning opportunity. I wanted to take in every aspect of the culture and embrace its history. I had nothing holding me down.
I wish the same was true for the students in my classroom. Too many times they walk in with baggage and limited opportunities that are blasphemous to me. Yes, some lack foundation skills or social etiquette, but there is a value which is ever more important that is sometimes missing — a love for learning.
My mother handed me down that passion for learning by making experiences exciting.
I’ll admit, there are certain parts of my content which I struggle getting excited to teach. Sometimes I will even watch inspirational videos (Dead Poet’s Society and Coach Carter) to get myself ready on a down day or pick up the serenity prayer. In my classroom, I keep a photo of some of my study abroad group mates as a reminder of the experiences…it gives me that tingly feeling of excitement as I sit back and daydream about it.
Now, I am ready!
I am ready to commit to a duty to each and everyone of my students. I must make everyday like its one of anecdotes of my greatest learning experience.
I want them to get that tingly feeling inside of them when they get to their anniversary of learning something great. I know I still do today … ten years later.