Samariá Gorge & Beach Lectures

Power of WOW Lecture @ the White Sand Beach

I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to some amazing places the last few years, but the Samariá Gorge is one of the coolest.  The 16 km gorge is one of the longest in Europe and standing at the bottom you get taken aback by it’s sheer magnitude.

Our group left the hotel at 5am to get started on our hike down the Samariá Gorge.  Anyone who knows me can attest that I don’t function well until after 11am so that was a little bit of a struggle but well worth it.  The entire hike was incredible.  The landscape and scenery was breathtaking the entire walk down.  It’s amazing to think that a river carved out the natural beauty that we trekked on.  Since BA made the hike before she led the pack and I held down the back of the line making sure the stragglers kept a good pace.  My “Caboose Crew” that stayed at the back was definitely entertaining.  Students stopping and joking around with random European hikers and girls going “boy scout style” behind trees instead of waiting to use the restrooms kept the hike…interesting to say the least.

At the halfway point our group stopped and I was able to deliver a short lecture on seizing life’s amazing opportunities and I led the students in the writing of their bucket lists (Everything you want to do before you “kick the bucket”).  It’s crazy to think just a year ago I was sitting on the top of Table Mountain in South Africa writing my own Bucket List completely unaware of what was in store for me.  In Santorini I was also able to give the lesson on “The Power WOW.”  What can you do in your life to make others stop and say, “WOW!”  Here’s the quick Reader’s Digest version…

WOW can be obtained if you:

“…Care more than others think is wise. Risk more than others think is safe.  Dream more than others think is practical.  Expect more than others think is possible.”

Seeing the fire light up in students eyes, watching people get out of their comfort zones, and grabbing life by the horns is why I signed up for this crazy adventure.  The trip is wrapping up soon, but I know this is only the beginning of the change in some of these wonderful students lives!

LOW: Trying to be super adventurous I climbed a giant gorge rock for a photo-opp.  The picture was great, the fall down from the rock sucked.

HIGH: The hike was physically and emotionally draining but I had a new, deeper bond with the students that I spent the day with trekking across Greece.

(Thanks for letting me steal your pics Alex S., DeAnna J., and Sarah Grace D.)

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Island Time – Crete, Greece

Pool at the Galaxy Villas

Crete is awesome.  Getting out of the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Athens has been like a breath of fresh air for everyone.  Our last week in Athens was great, but giving back and serving some of communities in need can take a lot out of you.

The first day we arrived at our villas in Crete was revitalizing.  The villas are great, the pool is phenomenal, the people are more than friendly, the beach looks like spring break week, and the nightlife is fun and extremely entertaining.  It’s hard to find a flaw in Crete.  Well… except for the 10,000 Dutch students that just finished with their final exams and have inundated the beach/town here.  But most of them have been fun and interesting to strike up conversations with.

There is something about island life all over the world.  It moves at a slower pace, people are happier, the sky is prettier, the sun is warmer and the beach is (well, it’s still the beach, but you get the point).  Crete re-affirms my deep down desire to live on an island one day.  Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands is still my ultimate dream though… we’ll see how that works out for me.

LOW:  There are a crazy amount of mosquitos here and our group is getting eaten alive!  Wouldn’t think that’d be a big problem coming from the humid mosquito haven of Georgia but it’s a little ridiculous…

HIGH: The next stop is Santorini!

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Service with A Smile

One of the main focuses of the Global LEAD program that I’m working with in Greece is service.  In South Africa I got the opportunity to work in Sir Lowery’s Pass Township outside of Cape Town and it was amazing.  The people of that beautiful community made a lasting impression on me that I will keep with me forever.

In Greece serving a group of people like that community is a little bit trickier.  I’d hate to make a broad generalization that Greek people don’t care about helping others, but it’s not far from the truth…  The culture is just different.  The severe economic crisis and the 20% unemployment rate make it tough for Greeks to give back.  Regardless, after countless man hours from our fearless leader, Beth Ann, we were able to secure two groups to work with in Athens.

The first group was a community of refugees from Somalia who are literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.  They were forced to flee their war-torn country and are now stuck in Greece where they face hate crimes and threats against them almost daily from radical groups of Greeks.  But our group of 42 students was able to give them a little bit of hope.  We cleaned up their Somali Community Center and brought a little love into their lives.  One of our students talked about the experience on the program’s blog:

“When I was painting I took a second to glance at my surroundings and saw a refugee smiling at us painting the walls. He smiled. I knew right then we were doing so much more than just painting the walls.

The cherry on top of this day was getting the opportunity to paint over slandering graffiti that covered the entrance to their home just reminding them how they were not wanted. We had an audience of refugees watching us paint over the hurtful words, smiling.

I am about 99% sure the refugees’ lives weren’t the only ones changed that day.”  -DeAnna J.
The other group we worked with in Athens requested that we only refer to them as “The Center” on the internet.  The Christian organization from the US provides food, educational opportunities, medical assistance, and a safe place to fellowship to Afghani and Iranian refugees.  The backlash against organizations helping refugees in Athens forces the “better safe, than sorry” online secrecy policy for the organization, but they were amazing to work with.   Students served meals, sang songs, played games and just loved on the children there.  Very few of the children spoke English but coloring, playing chess, making beaded jewelry, and playing with toy cars are all universal.  Seeing a child’s eyes light up with a big smile on their face can melt anyone’s heart.

These and several other opportunities to give back abroad definitely made a lasting impression on every single one of the students on this trip.  Thinking back on impact here makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayals of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
-RWE

LOW: The struggle we faced getting opportunities to serve in Athens, Greece.

HIGH: Seeing the impact that was made by the students in such a short amount of time.  And getting to volunteer at a sea turtle rescue center.  Who doesn’t love sea turtles?!

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5, 4, 3, 2, 1…BUNGEE!!!

Last year in Cape Town, South Africa I chickened out and didn’t jump off the Bloukrans Bridge but this time in Greece I wasn’t going to make the same mistake!  Standing on the bridge over looking the 300 foot  Corinth Canal was the scariest moment of my life.  I spent my last 22 years using common sense knowing you don’t touch a hot stove or jump off a bridge, but all of that went out the door last week.

“5…4…3…2…1…BUNGEE!”

I can still hear these gut wrenching words as I’m staring out into the depths of the canal.  It’s now or never.  I regretted not jumping in South Africa for an entire year.  Now is my do or die moment.  Here’s the video from that incredible moment:

HIGH: Bungee jumping was the most exhilerating thing I’ve ever done!  The rush you get is completely unforgettable and amazing

LOW: I definitely won the award for Most Awkward Bungee Jump Ever…But I made it so I guess I’ve gotta count my blessings!

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Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster.  That just about sums up the last 24 hours.  With 40+ students scheduled to arrive in Greece bright and early tomorrow morning the last few days have been sort of  a whirlwind.  We’ve been running around Athens and Glyfada trying to make sure everything is perfect (or as close to it as possible) for the students.  Two messy people in one hotel room packing 50 welcome bags and care packages did not bode well for the cleanliness of room #215.  This picture on the right was taken mid-hurricane as you can tell, but all the care packages are done.  Fortunately we cleaned the room up and are awaiting the arrival of the students.

Unfortunately US Airways had other plans in mind and cancelled the flight out of Atlanta for 30 of the students on the program causing them to miss their connecting flight.  Hopefully this little set back has everyone getting into Athens only a day late and our programming isn’t thrown off too bad.  But I guess when you are arranging 50 flights across the world you have to expect some delays/set backs. C’est la vie.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”  ~Lao Tzu

HIGH: I’m still pretty excited to meet the 8 students that are actually arriving on time tomorrow!

LOW:  I just feel bad for the students delayed in ATL.

Beautiful disaster of a hotel room.

The final product looks good.

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Santorini Preview

Every morning I wake up I have to keep pinching myself… I honestly can’t believe I’m getting paid to explore Greece!  This week Beth Ann and I went to the little island of Santorini to do some research on new hotels, activities to do, places to go, etc.

Santorini is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.  The blue domed buildings scattered across the island make for a gorgeous setting.  I’m excited to go back next month and check out what has been called the “best sunset in the world.”  B.A. and I made some new friends too that I’m looking forward to see again.  The waiter at a local restaurant must have given us over a liter of free wine. #winning.

The LEAD Greece students get here in a few days and the work is definitely piling up but I’m looking forward to going on some adventures with 45 more people!

HIGH: 1 beautiful island + lots of fun people + liters of free alcohol = 1 very happy Jhaff!

LOW:  I wish we could’ve spent more time at Santorini… (but I’ll be back there for 8 days in June!)

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GREECE!

Greece is a clash of cultures.  It’s ancient history meets modern day business.  Old souls and young European hipsters.  High rise buildings neighbor archaic ruins.  The stark contrast in Athens is remarkable.

In just a few days here I’ve seen so much culture and history.  The people in Greece are extremely proud and there are more museums here per capita than any other city I’ve ever seen.

We left our little suburb of Glyfada (more on it in future posts) to explore Athens.  I did some research and found some young, trendy Athens neighborhoods near the city center and we researched some spots for the students to hang out in the next few weeks.  One of the places, Kolonaki (a central Athens “chic” neighborhood) sat at the bottom of Lycabettus Hill, the highest point in the city.  The views from the top were amazing.  It was extremely humbling to see just how enormous the city was from a birds-eye view.  Greece has so much to see and do I’m excited to spend the next month or so here soaking it all in.  On the agenda next week: “Research” Trip to the gorgeous island of Santorini for a few days.  I’m loving my life/job right now!

High: The history buff in me loves wandering around the REAL Athens.

Low: Beth Ann has us doing P90X everyday.  Gonna be sore this whole trip. But no pain, no gain, I guess…

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