My parents, siblings, and I are the only ones in our family who have put down roots in the US. The rest of my relatives, on both sides, have always been in Greece. Between growing up in New York and visiting family in Greece during summer breaks, I never truly felt I belonged in either place. I was known as the “Greek girl” amongst my peers and the “American cousin” amongst my family overseas. I was uncomfortable with this in-between feeling; I longed to relate with one culture fully and have a singular identity. Today, I’ve embraced the fact that I do not belong to one given place. I have had different experiences in my life that fit like puzzle pieces to complete me, and these experiences show how much of my upbringing was spent in Greece learning about gratitude and giving.
Looking back on my childhood summers spent abroad, what resonates with me most is how simple life was. I would arrive and feel another part of me light up—a part of me hidden in my daily life here. People there lived with less, and seemed happier. As children, my cousins and I would spend entire days outside playing in the fields, tending to our grandparents’ chicken coop, and soaking up the sun on the beach. We would walk to a woman’s home in the village and pick up goat’s milk for the week (fresh from her own goat, of course), and at night, look up at the incredibly bright night sky.
Life was simple, and no matter the circumstances, generosity was a huge part of the lifestyle there. There was always food on the table, and without fail, a distant aunt insisted on filling your plate again and again to make sure you wouldn’t go hungry. I didn’t realize how important these trips were to me until many years later, when life got a little more complicated and kept us from spending almost three months there at a time. The trips would become shorter and less frequent, and that in-between feeling started to fade, as I spent less time there and more time here. During this time, I realized that the identity issue I felt while growing up—never knowing where I truly belonged—is what made me, me.
The time I spent abroad taught me to embrace and appreciate the simple things in life: time spent with loved ones, gratitude for what you have, and to always remember to give while never expecting anything in return.