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  • Elena K.

7 Years of my Life - USA

Updated: Oct 12


Georgetown 2021 Grad photoshoot Emory 2018



For: my big, big, big family...

What an honor to have met you all. I hope this blog do you justice.


***


"Was it worth it?"


During my sixth year (2020) in the US, my mother asked me if I made the right decision to leave my home in Athens at the age of 17 and start a new life across the Atlantic.

I responded "yes" because I didn't want to sadden her, but the reality was that the question remained in my head for days. I didn't know if it was worth it.


During my seven years in the US, I missed all my family's birthdays, my friends, every Greek Easter, the comfort of the place I called home for 17 years… Over time people grew and changed, and so did Athens; stores closed and opened, governments came to and out of power, technological improvements transformed the lives of Athenians. I wasn’t sure where I belonged anymore or which place to call home.


Soon after arriving at Emory, my freshman excitement vanished. I got sick with all sorts of colds and viruses from the freshman halls, which made me feel hopeless as I tried to take care of my 17th-year-old sick self. But freshman year had its high points too. I got to experience my first Halloween; I celebrated my victory in becoming president of my hall and, of course, the highlight of my freshman year… the discovery of peanut butter, which I was adamantly refusing to try but was “forced to” after my karate buddy tricked me into trying a Reese’s egg during American Easter. After my peanut butter discovery, for some months, yes months, the only thing I had for lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.


Then came my sophomore year, and by that time, the closest “family” I had in the US and the place I invested most of my time was the Emory Shotokan Karate Club. In this club, I unlearned everything I knew in my 10 years of practice in Greece and re-learned them the Japanese way; it was certainly a privilege to be part of that club. Little did I know, Emory was not just a place where I could exercise my passion for karate; soon, I found a second “family”, Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church and the babies... Though I was never particularly religious, Glenn gave me peace… The nursery was a place of joy, full of life and love. Through my work at Glenn, I expanded my babysitting opportunities and bonded with some truly incredible families. I will forever be grateful to the Glenn community and the impact that all “my babies” had in my life. Here was my goodbye speech to Glenn in 2018.


In my junior year at Emory, I bought my first car with money I made from babysitting. I remember my first drive… It was the scariest drive of my life. Thankfully, the drive was only 7 minutes long, but I drove the entire way with tears in my eyes, wishing my parents were next to me to walk me through this new milestone. Driving alone taught me that one must continue to move forward even with tears in their eyes. By the time I was a senior, I found long drives relaxing, and I appreciated the road to the top even more.


When the time came to leave Atlanta, it was rough… So many memories, so much of “me” that grew, so many people I called family. After my undergrad, I moved to NY to work for a year. While in NY, I lived a life of independence in a vibrant city full of excitement but also realized that the lifestyle of a workaholic, always-on-the-go, city life woman didn’t fit my personality. But despite not falling in love with NY, I certainly did with its people who supported me both at work and at home as I tried to maneuver myself in a subway that feels like a labyrinth. My favorite thing about NY though was my martial arts practices; the “roughness” of NY translated to some of the best karate and boxing practices I could ever dream of. Living in NY was a lesson in and of itself; even though it didn’t fit my personality, it certainly empowered me as a woman.


And from NY, I made my final move... My adventures across the Atlantic were going to end with a master's at Georgetown and a move to Maryland.

It was my 6th year in the US when the world was hit by a pandemic, and just like many other peoples’, my life was to take a turn. I was one of the first people to get Covid in March of 2020. To make things worse, my mom, who was visiting me at the time, also got sick. Unlike other viruses, Covid left its mark on us… But we fought it, and in May of 2020, we took the first flight back to Athens. In those 3 months that my mom and I got stuck together in my small apartment at Friendship Heights, we made up all the time we had lost those 6 years… While we both would have rather not gotten sick with Covid, nothing will ever beat the walks she and I took around the neighborhood and all “the beauty” we discovered as a result.


Despite Covid and its consequences, in the fall of 2020, I decided to return to the States for my last year at Georgetown and complete my studies. Every decision I ever made on my education had the same purpose, to stay committed to the biggest life decision I made when I was 13, which was to get my bachelor's in the United States. For years my goal was to study creative writing at the best creative writing school in the US. A simple google search had revealed “Emory” and that was when I knew that would be unstoppable until I got accepted into this school. I then researched and found ACS, the American Community Schools of Athens, because I realized that switching schools might be my key to the States. So after convincing my parents to enroll me at ACS and after studying a mountain of vocabulary words, I worked my way up to IB classes and applied at Emory. This route to the top taught me one of the most mundane but yet important lessons that I subconsciously used to survive in the US, which is hard work gets rewarded.


I won’t describe my last year in the US because I don’t have the words to just yet. But all I’m going to say is that when I returned back that fall of 2020, I was the sickest I have ever been in my life (not with Covid this time). In fact, I was so sick, I couldn’t even fly home… By the time I graduated in the spring of 2021, not only was I healthy but I was also fulfilled and happy. This road to healing was one of the greatest victories of my life…

And if you’re wondering why that is, then you must understand that across the Atlantic, the biggest challenges aren’t academic. To study what’s inside books takes time and dedication, but to study “life” takes experience, wisdom, and resilience.

I grew and became the person I am today by learning things… Mundane things that I learned as a 17-year-old like how to use grocery stores’, self-checkout stations, how to talk to customer care representatives, or how to switch lanes on massive highways…

And then came the big lessons…

I learned that money buys everything, literally everything, but love.

I learned the dichotomy between the burden that comes with all the responsibilities of being an adult and the freedom of being independent.

I learned that the most resilient people were people who appeared weak at first…

I learned that living alone is one of the hardest things to do…

But if I really learned something in those 7 years, that is to understand people. However, the art of understanding people is a never-ending lesson. I certainly haven’t perfected it. But if you’re still reading this now… I think I did a good job.


So, on August 17th, 2021, after an exciting summer, as I watched the plane depart Dulles International Airport, a million thoughts ran through my head. I pictured that first day when my mom dropped me off at Dobbs Hall at Emory University. I pictured all the people who came into my life... The places I visited, the knowledge I acquired... The sicknesses I overcame… Then I thought of my mom’s question.


And right away, I had the answer.


"Was it worth it?"


YES.



In no specific order dedicated to:

My babysitting families: The Shepherds, The Crims, The Robys, The Reeses, The Smiths.

Adrielle Gray & Ana Samaha

Emory Shotokan Karate Club, Sensei Albert Ikeda and Noah Galang.

Joe Natale

Greg Sefian

Matt McNutt

Charles Alejo and his family

The Rodriguez family

JKA Karate Shiroma NY: Sensei Isami Shiroma, George, Sara, and everyone else.

Eva Rapp

Alexander Thomopulos, his family, and his friends.

Emily Pandis

The Glenn Church community (Susan Pinson and everyone else)

Maria, Zois, Ariadne

Tasos Gkolemis

Mady Pierce

Goa Zhu

Nadine and Sara and the journo fam.

Memo and Liza

Abdullah B.

Dimitris Kagelaris

Margarita Mikil

The MANA team: Donna Pizzurro, Bill Smolen, my two Jens., and the Mouyiaris family

The North Shore Farms team: Maria Mole and Nick Katapodis

Renee Pappas

All my professional contacts who provided guidance in this journey away from home.

My family and friends in Greece who never stopped supporting me.

Only two words remain:

Thank you.

E.K.





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