Experiencing Greece

HHS Extension Cultural Immersion Trip

Ikaria, Greece


  • Ikaria – the Beauty, the People, the Lifestyle

    Our first taste of Greece was when we arrived in Athens. Athens is an unusual city in that it is home to beautiful ancient ruins surrounded by streets packed with hurried cars and motorbikes, walls and shops plagued with graffiti, and tourists roaming the sidewalks. This couldn’t be more of a contrast to what was in store for us on the island of Ikaria.

    Warm smiles. Clear water. Delicious foods. Natural beauty. Quiet. Brilliant stars. Charm.

    Ikaria had more surprises and secrets to offer than I imagined. Our time in the village of Nas on the island of Ikaria provided many opportunities to learn about the life and culture of the island, many of which we hope you read in our blog. But what made the experience truly special was the people. The people we met along the way – truly strangers to us—made us feel welcome, connected, happy, inspired, and grateful. By their example, we learned to not live by the clock, put down our cell phones, reflect on our relationships, and found permission to relax and simply enjoy. Ikarians showed happiness and contentment, evidenced by constant smiles, laughter, and socialization with family and friends. They embraced life, exuded it! They knew their purpose and set out each day to accomplish it.

    Returning home, I think each of us carry a piece of the island—its beauty, people and lifestyle. Having the opportunity to travel to Ikaria (something not even many Greeks are able to do), I hope we all feel compelled to share our experience with our family, friends, and communities, helping them to achieve happiness and health unlike what they have previously known. Thank you, Ikaria, for opening our eyes and giving us gifts to help change the world.

    Stephanie Woodcox

      

      

      

     

  • Ahhhh…..Yia Sas!

    Yia Sas means hello, goodbye, cheers and thank you in Greek.  In a short 10-day span I said hello to Greece and never want to say goodbye.  Before the trip I listed many things I wanted to learn more about and do while there.

    Food!  We gathered greens for our meal and learned to prepare dishes their way.  There were no processed foods on our table and no fast food on Ikaria.  Everything was fresh and raised locally.  Arriving back home in Indiana, I’ve incorporated new ways of food preparation.  My first stop at the grocery store included purchases of fresh herb plants, beans and more fresh produce than ever before.  I’ve made several new recipes and I’ve been tweaking them to my taste.  Less meat and more beans should make a healthier me.

    Community was something I knew about but really didn’t understand the Ikarian version until living it.  Both communities are about the same size, 8500 people.   I live in a county community.  Ikaria is an island community.  They share what little they have, laugh and visit without calling or a text.  Life happens, life flows, no worries. We visited a farm and we were invited inside.  Fifteen of us squeezed into their small home.  Greeted as honored guests, we ate goat meat, homemade cheese and homemade wine.  Even though their English was limited, toasts were made with smiles.  Quick friendships were born.  Spur of the moment times are the best.

    Exercise in Ikaria is a way of life; it’s called activity.  It’s not scheduled.  It flows and is a part of life.  You want to gather herbs for dinner.  You walk up the mountainside to gather them.  If you want to enjoy the sunset, you walk down to the beach.  Visiting neighbors is up or down a path.  Going up or down is how you get from place to place!  The only flat surface was at the airport.  Gardening the rocky soil and irrigating was a necessity, as you ate what you raised.

    The trip to Ikaria, Greece was a once in a lifetime experience.  We learned so much about the people, the Ikarian way of life and immersed ourselves into their culture.  Language was not a barrier.  Diving into the community with both feet and an open mind makes for wonderful memories, great learning, and great friendships.  Until we meet again, Ikaria.

    Jean Akers

      

      

       

     

     
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  • Experience of a Lifetime

    Reflecting over the cultural immersion trip (which was just one month ago), I am still thinking about things I saw, heard, and learned that will stick with me forever. A few key things that stuck out to me are…

    …THE FOOD. As hoped, the food was absolutely incredible! Someone recently asked me what my favorite food was, but I couldn’t answer them because it was how the foods were prepared and worked together that made it so special. Everything was so fresh and had just the right amount of seasonings (usually done with fresh herbs and spices).

    …THE PEOPLE. I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming, generous, and gracious Grecians were. Everywhere we went, people greeted us with smiles and welcomes. Most were willing to stop and talk for a while, and this allowed for those spontaneous authentic conversations that you can’t plan. Many of the lessons I learned were from those talks and chance meetings.

    …THE SCENERY. Words cannot express the beauty we witnessed. Even our pictures don’t do it justice. The mixture of ancient and modern architecture, the way they keep the natural landscape as much as possible (i.e. building into the mountain instead of flattening the land to build), and all the colors on the island was just stunning and spoke to the respect everyone has for their land.

    I hope to go back again sometime in the future, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a different destination to visit.

    Meagan Brothers

      

     

  • Having a Purpose

    If there is any downsize to the marvelous trip we just took, it’s the fact that we had to come back.  That’s how magical our experience was.  Thank goodness I took the pictures that I did.  It’s such a wonderful reminder of the highlights of our time there.  I loved both Athens and Ikaria but for completely different reasons.  It’s one dimensional seeing the Parthenon on a post card or a website, climbing the hill upon which the Acropolis and its magnificent structures rests gave us a 360 degree view of the ancient Greek’s way of life and culture.  I won’t soon forget stepping out of my room at Thea’s Inn first thing in the morning and listening to the sounds of the island: a dog barking up on a hill, an elderly man commanding his sheep and goats in Greek to move to a new pasture to graze and waves from the Aegean Sea pounding the rocky beach.

    I’ve been asked numerous times since my return what’s the secret to long life?  Upon reflection I have come to the conclusion that while there are many factors which can contribute to a long, healthy life I believe the number one factor is having a reason to get up and out of the home each day. The centenarian whom I interviewed prior to our trip spent on average six hours per day sewing outfits for orphan girls and boys in Africa.  The Ikarian elderly were up every morning tending to their livestock and walking up and down steep hills foraging for their greens. They all have a purpose.  We learned there is no formal word in Greek for ‘retirement.’ The Ikarians aren’t waiting for that time when they’ll get the gold watch and head to Florida; they’ve already found their version of paradise.

    Since our trip I have found myself eating more Greek yogurt and honey, staying active every day and gently nudging my 88 year old mother to take on family research projects to keep her engaged in life.  I plan on staying engaged as well, long after my retirement.

    Naomi Bechtold

        

       

     

     

  • Aspire to be Like Ikarians

    When we set out on this journey of traveling to Ikaria, Greece with a small group of educators and graduate nursing students, I think most of us had an idea of what we wanted to learn and experience.  I wanted to learn more about the amazing people of this island and what we could bring back with us to help our communities.  I know I learned far more than I ever expected.

    What resonated the most with me on this trip was the purposefulness of the people of Ikaria.  It is reflected in what they do every day.  From the youngest to the oldest, everyone has a purpose and I think many of us were most surprised with the older adults who we saw still walking up steps on the side of the mountain to complete their daily chores.  These were people in their mid-80’s! Or the 90+ year old man who was still tending his sheep next door to our inn.  They were all very alert and very engaged in conversation and what was happening around them.  How different their lives are compared to many of the older adults in the U.S.  We have much to learn from Ikarians.

    The simplicity of their lives allowed them (and us) to take many moments to sit back and enjoy life, and not watch the clock. To live in the moment was most important rather than browsing the internet and social media of which we did not have time for.  It was good to see how we were all engaged with each other and the Ikarian people, truly immersed in our cultural experience.  It was amazing how our lives were so different those five days in Ikaria.  This difference I pledge to work into my daily life here in Indiana.

    As I browse through the pictures of the trip, I can’t help but smile and be reminded of the many beautiful sites we visited and the amazing people we met, talked with, laughed with and danced with.  What we learned from the island of Ikaria and its people is invaluable but even better, can be shared with the people in our communities as well as our families to fulfill our ultimate goal of helping to make our lives healthier.  We can ALL aspire to be like Ikarians.

    Christina Swathwood

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  • Live Life to the Fullest

    I went to Ikaria with anticipation to learn how to lengthen the number of our days and improve our health.   I believe the one thing that was woven into every aspect of daily life in Ikaria, is to live life to the fullest by slowing down and experiencing life through relationships.   They also ate healthy, fresh foods grown on the land, walked a lot, worked with passion and purpose, and served others.

    As I think back to my interview with Ed from Northeast Indiana, he told me to “Enjoy my work and enjoy life to the fullest.  Get out into the community!  Remain active. Don’t let yourself become a turtle. Don’t isolate yourself!  Enjoy all your associations. Just be a part of the community.”  I guess it doesn’t take scenic views of the Aegean Sea and living off the land to know the secrets to longevity!

    This experience has brought me great appreciation for the wisdom of those who have lived a long life.  I will treasure the memories and lessons learned through the people I met through this opportunity!  I will end by raising my glass and saying “YAMAS!” (Cheers to good health!)

    Molly Hoag

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Reflections of Lessons Learned

    Ikaria was more beautiful than I ever imagined. My pictures don’t do the island justice. I believe that this beauty is what encourages the people of Ikaria to get up every day and venture outside to enjoy their surroundings. Greece is 80% mountains and this allows for beautiful views as you drive and hike around the island. The same is true in Athens as we walked to the Acropolis and we were able to look down over the city of Athens. One evening a few of us walked to Areopagus (Mars Hill) where the Apostle Paul preached. We watched the sunset from the top of the hill.

    Since I have returned, I have been asked if I learned the secret to living a long life. My aha! moment was realizing that they have a sense of purpose. A reason to get out of bed every day. We met the 90 year old man who walks down the mountain twice a day to feed his sheep. The grandmother who gets up every morning to make breakfast for her family and the woman who milks the goats and makes cheese. It made me realize that we try to protect our parents and elderly family members by taking away their daily chores to make life easier for them. These tasks are often the reason that encourages them to get up move and remain active.

    Another lesson that I learned is to live with nature. They eat what is in season and they consume very little processed food. We ate broccoli, cabbage, and greens from their garden. We stayed in Nas which is at sea level so it doesn’t get below freezing there so they are able to grow winter vegetables.

    The third lesson I learned was to enjoy what you do, slow down, and try to avoid stress. We have become a society that is always in a hurry. I was reminded of my youth growing up on a farm and the time spent on the front porch. We shelled a lot of peas and snapped hundreds of green beans on that front porch as well as had great conversations in the evening. I am going to make more of an effort to enjoy my surroundings and stop sweating the small stuff and take time to have a cup of tea.

    Jane Horner

         

     

  • Looking Back on Our Trip

    Looking back on our Cultural Immersion Trip I am truly amazed at the lifelong lessons and experiences I have gained through this trip. Visiting the Blue Zone island of Ikaria has provided me the opportunity to learn of a different culture and embrace tools and knowledge that will benefit my community. One of those lessons learned is the importance of socialization. On the island, we noticed that everyone had a genuine concern for his or her neighbor.  I recall one time on the island, our tour guide became so embraced in a conversation with her neighbor that we lost her in a crowd and we soon began to talk to others around us. In fact, through programming and shared partnerships I plan to immerse this concept into my community. I feel as though developing a community of compassionate neighbors will help us ALL age healthier and live longer– a concept that I eagerly look forward to implementing!

    Jennifer Cannon

           
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • A Lesson in Life

    My hope was to learn from the experience and connect with others that would translate into a positive refresh of our Extension work. I feel that this experience accomplished that and more.

    First, the people we met; our hostess, tour guides, physician, pharmacist, dietician, store owners, and village residents were so giving and welcoming, it was impressive.  We were embraced and invited into their homes with such ease.  The thing I liked the most was visiting with locals about their home and lifestyle.  “There’s a magic, if you listen”, one resident’s description of the island.

    The attitude about life was inspirational. I learned that living a long healthy life wasn’t just about eating fresh and healthy foods and being physically active, I felt a crucial reason for their longevity and quality of life was the positive attitude towards life.  Specifically, there is a positive attitude related to aging.  I learned that the people of Ikaria are not waiting for retirement to enjoy life- as one islander figuratively said “there is no word for retirement”, instead they have purpose throughout life.  It truly is the slow and peaceful life that allows the Ikarians to be in the moment and appreciate the little things.

    Now that we have returned I am looking forward to putting this new found appreciation for living into our Extension programs. I think the doctor who we shared dinner with one evening sums it up well with these tips for a long healthy life: laugh often, dance often, fall in love, work enough, don’t stress, and don’t eat too much.

    I am so grateful I was able to share in this journey with a great team of Extension Educators and friends in the School of Nursing.

    Efharistó,

    Kelsie Muller

  • And We’re Home – Day 10

    What originally seemed so far away when we first started planning this adventure a year ago has now come to an end.  We have arrived home after a long flight, so happy to see our families, but with a touch of nostalgia for our time in Ikaria. We take with us memories of a lifetime, friendships that we will cherish, and knowledge we hope to bring to our communities to help improve lives. We will never forget this wonderful opportunity.

    “Efharistó” (thank you) to the people of Ikaria and Greece for opening their arms to our small group of Extension Educators and graduate nursing students from Purdue.

    – Christina Swathwood

     

  • Always Tunnel, A Nursing Lesson – Day 9

    We took in our last sites and sounds of the city today as we met with faculty and students at the University of Athens Department of Nursing.  Our team heard about the history of nursing education, the health care system, nursing programs, clinical structures, health economics, and care for older people in the community.  I found it interesting that Queen Olga founded the first school of nurses who were called “Evangelismos” and at the time it was the third nursing school in the world.

    Many nurses in Greece today are having difficulty finding jobs and leave after graduation for more opportunities in other countries, unlike the USA where there is a great need for nurses.  One similarity between Greece and the USA is that we both spend too much money to treat diseases when many could be avoided by taking preventive measures such as eating a better diet and increasing physical activity. Another similarity among both countries is that we are seeing an increase in our population that is over 65 years old and with that comes different opportunities and challenges in how we can add life to years, not only years to life!

    Overall most interesting, especially for the nurses in the room, was a lecture on the procedure to insert a central line. The tip of the day was to “tunnel” every line every time to help prevent infection.   This is a common practice in Greece, but not as common in the USA.

    Tomorrow we will say good-bye to Greece and return home with new knowledge, friendships, and the Ikarian island spirit that I hope to always carry with me.

    – Kelsie Muller

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  • Spring Forward! – Day 8

    Here in Ikaria it is “Spring Forward” and the time has changed one hour. Today is a big change for us as well, as we have to say goodbye to Thea, our new-found friends and Ikaria. We all are looking forward to seeing our family and friends at home and sharing our experiences. It’s bittersweet.

     

     

    The day started out lazily; morning walks up the mountain, a last minute run down the road or walks to the beach; all to the sounds of the waves, the smell of fresh air, and the bells on the sheep. We packed, took pictures and had a quick brunch of yogurt, spinach and cheese pies before we got on our bus for the ride back to the airport.

    Reflecting on our journey, we each have new ways we plan to incorporate what we experienced into our personal life.  A passion to pass onto others the benefits of this Ikarian lifestyle is another piece of this journey.  Food, herbs, community, and slowing down so as not to miss what is right in front of you.

    We boarded the plane on the other side of the island…the largest piece of flat land there. Good bye Ikaria!  We hope to see you again!

    About an hour later we landed in Athens. Such a different pace in the city; almost to our disappointment, already missing the life in Ikaria.  Groups went to eat and explore Athens. Some visited where the Apostle Paul spoke at Mars Hill and others explored Plaka.  Narrow streets, lots of people and a fast pace greeted us.

    Can we practice and use what we learned and do better at going with the flow, eat more fresh foods and introduce others to this lifestyle in our communities?  I think we can.

    – Jean Akers

     

     

  • Festival! – Day 7

    Today started with an animated bus ride to Cristos Rahes to celebrate Greece’s independence from Turkey. Upon arrival, we watched a parade of children marching down the street.  The children were dressed alike in their school uniforms.  The parade ended at the church and the children went in and sat in chairs with their teachers standing behind them.  The remaining adults filled in the remaining spaces.  The liturgy was read and candles were lit.

     

     

     

     

     

    After the church service was over we moved into the streets to give honor to those who served in the military.  A small music band of children played traditional Greek songs and the priest offered a blessing over the children, community and military.  It is clear to see how religion and culture are intertwined both in Ikaria and Greece.

    While waiting for the main festivities to begin in the afternoon, we enjoyed a traditional Greek treat, loukoumades, from a street vendor. Loukoumades is like a fried donut sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with honey or chocolate.  Our whole team has a new favorite treat!

    The celebration continued on to the community center as we experienced the Greek culture through dancing, music, food, and wine.  The local soccer team provided and served the meal in order to raise money for the team.  It was obvious how joyous the people were spending their holiday in tradition. All the generations were familiar with the traditional dances and music and very patient with us as we participated. Definitely a workout.

     

     

     

     

    Words and pictures do not come close to describing this experience!  I am so thankful I was selected for this experience!

    – Molly Hoag

  • Sampling of Flavors – Day 6

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Today was another great day to experience the Ikarian way of life. After enjoying breakfast that included eggs, yogurt and homemade preserves, we headed to the House of Honey to learn more about beekeeping in Ikaria. While on the way there we stopped at a village to try some of the local tea. The coffee shop was is a gathering place for some of the local men to have some coffee, socialize, and play board games.  At the House of Honey, the beekeeper taught us about the history of beekeeping on the island and the honey making process. We tasted two varieties of honey. Each had a distinct flavor since it was collected during different seasons on the island. The honey was very good but tasted much different than honey that you would buy from a store in the United States.

    After visiting the House of Honey, we headed further up the mountain to the village of Rahes, where we enjoyed some free time to look around their shops and eat. Many of the stores appeared to sell mostly locally produced products, though there were certain types of clothing and magazines that were very similar those in America (but in Greek). For lunch we had Greek pizza, which is similar to American, and included tomato sauce, cheese, peppers, bacon, and ham. There was no menu—just one type of pizza. This also appeared to be a popular gathering location for the young people in the area.

    Next, we went further up the mountain to Afianes Winery, which is in the village of Profitis Ilias. We learned about the history of wine making in Ikaria and how it is done today on a tour given by the son of the proprietor. The oldest grape that they have in Ikaria is the Fokiano grape. Ikaria’s terrain produces a high acidity in the wine which increases the amount of anti-oxidants in the wine. This helps heart health, blood circulation, and the digestive system. They believe this has contributed to the longevity of the Ikarians. He also showed us the stone presses that they use to extract the juice from the grapes as well as the barrels and stones used for fermentation. Also on the winery property is an old home that was used to hide from pirates hundreds of years ago. Of course, we couldn’t leave before enjoying a tasting of their wines!

    As we ended our day over a dinner of fish, greens with cabbage, homemade bread, pork and split pea spread, we were joined by a pharmacist from a nearby village, who we stopped in to visit earlier in the day. Many interesting things emerged from our conversation. First, there are a total of eight pharmacists on the entire island. Second, healthcare in Greece is much cheaper than in other parts of the world. Medication here can be as much as six times less expensive than in other parts of Europe. Third, although many people on the island smoke, they still have very low rates of lung cancer. They say that this may be due to the Ikarian lifestyle, smokers’ ability to smoke in moderation, and the fact that many people aged 50 and older are able to quit smoking.  It has been very informative and interesting to learn from our medical guests these last two days.

    Tomorrow…festival!!!

    – Demarcus Sneed

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  • A Hiking Adventure and More – Day 5

    Today was our first full day in Ikaria. It was a beautiful sunny day. On our way to breakfast we met a 90 year old man who had come down the hill to tend to his sheep. He comes down the hill twice a day to tend to them. We had the chance to visit with him and asked him what he believed is the secret to a long life. He replied, “The clean air and marriage.” He said if he wasn’t married he would be dead.

     

     

     

     

     

    After breakfast we hiked to the top of a mountain to gather greens, fruit, and herbs for dinner. It was a real workout but worth it for the views. We gathered anise, dandelions, oregano, wild onions, lemons, and oranges.

    On our way down the mountain, we met Thea’s uncle who let us help him feed his goats. He then invited us to his home. The people of Ikaria are very social and are always ready to entertain. He and his wife quickly began preparing to serve us a snack of fresh bread, goat cheese (that she had made), goat meat, and wine (that he had made). We were very moved by their hospitality. They were both in their eighties and have been together since she was 15.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    When we returned from our hike, we helped Thea prepare lunch. It was a cooking school in Ikarian cooking. They cook using lots of fresh vegetables, olive oil, and vinegar. Thea taught us how to make Tziaki. She says now she doesn’t ever want to find out that we bought it from a store.  Tziaki is made from grated cucumbers, carrot, and garlic and then yogurt, olive oil, and vinegar are added. We have found that the Greek yogurt in Greece is delicious. It is smoother and more flavorful. We had it for breakfast with honey.

    After lunch, we ventured to Armenistis to visit a local grocery store and a pharmacy. Their grocery stores are much smaller than ours. I thought it was interesting that they didn’t sell cake mixes or icing. We found out last night that they don’t celebrate birthdays but instead “Name Day”. If you are named after a saint you are celebrated on the day named after that saint. If you aren’t named after a saint then you celebrate on All Saints Day.

    Today was a busy day but we learned a lot about their daily routines. A truck came around this morning selling fresh bread that we had for all of our meals. This afternoon another truck came by selling fresh fish that had been caught this morning. Thea purchased some to have for dinner tomorrow.

    To cap the night off, we met with a local doctor and his wife.  While Ikarians have similar ailments and chronic diseases as Americans, they occur at a much lower rate.  They prefer to try to treat their sickness and illness with natural remedies as opposed to prescriptions.  The doctor told us the secrets to aging are to laugh often, dance often, fall in love, not to have stress and not to eat too much.

    I am looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures.

    – Jane Horner

  • WE ARRIVED TO IKARIA! – Day 4

    After taking a 60 minute flight from Athens to the island of Ikaria, we were greeted with a huge smile and hug from our island hostess, Thea Parikos. Thea lives on the island with her family (husband and 2 sons) and runs a small inn with five rooms. On the way to Thea’s inn, we stopped in the village of Faros for an authentic island (and beachside!) lunch. Lunch included grilled sardines, smelt, greens, beets and fresh homemade bread with olive oil, and wine. Each food item provided an aroma of freshness and pleasant taste of our liking.  It was as if the vegetables themselves welcomed us to the soil they were planted on.

    Soon we learned that this welcome also extended throughout the people of the island as we met with the family of a local older adult during dinner.  As we met with the family we learned how they viewed the importance of family, culture of the island, and being active as a key component of healthy aging.  We really enjoyed hearing their perspective and are excited to learn more.

    – Jennifer Cannon

  • Archaeologists Make the Best Tour Guides – Day 3

    If you’re going to go on a tour of ancient Athens, as we did today, be sure to have an archaeologist as your tour guide. Her name was Antigone and the depth and breadth of her knowledge was astounding.  She could point out architectural tricks used by the designers of the Parthenon at the Acropolis to make it look larger than it truly was and then highlight archaeological finds of the site when we toured the new Museum of the Acropolis.  We became fans of the Goddess Athena and the temple Nike dedicated to her.

    While describing the Theater of Dionysos, an outdoor amphitheater that seated thousands, we learned it was there that the terms scene, chorus and thespian originated.

    It was at the Ancient Agora where we were shown the site where a government of, for and by the people-a true democracy-was born.  Our guide reminded us where the Olympic games originated (Olympia, Greece) and then capped the day by snapping our photo as we posed on the winners’ podium in the 70,000-seat capacity Panathenaic Stadium.

    This spectacular marble track and field site was built originally in the fourth century BC and then rebuilt for the Olympic Games’ rebirth in the late 1800s. My respect for Greece and the contributions they made to civilization was heightened due to our guide and her love and knowledge of her country’s history.

    – Naomi Bechtold

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  • We are here in Athens! – Day 2

    Whew! After over 24 hours of travel, we made it to beautiful Athens, Greece!

    It was my first international and red-eye flight, as it was for most of us. We connected through Zurich, which allowed us a chance to stop by some of the stores in the airport – the chocolate was especially delicious. Seeing the Alps peeking through the clouds as we flew over was breathtaking. So much beauty!!! Even though I was worried about the 6 hour time change, the adjustment hasn’t been bad.

     

    Our hotel is located right in the heart of Athens with a view of the Acropolis. After a bit of time to relax, we went to dinner at God’s Restaurant for a traditional (read: HUGE) dinner of Greek salad, moussaka, spinach pie, dollmas, wine and Greek donuts with honey. The people are so friendly and hospitable! I’m so excited for the rest of our journey 🙂

    – Meagan Brothers

  • And we’re off! – Day 1

    The travel team safely arrived in Chicago to start our journey to Greece. We travel from Chicago to Zurich and then on to our final destination of Athens! There was a lot of talk and excitement on the bus ride to the airport. After nearly a year of planning, we are ready to explore Greek life and see our friend, Thea, again on the island of Ikaria!

  • What is it about these Blue Zones that Makes People Live so Long?

    That was the question asked of me more than once when I told family and friends I would be heading to the island of Ikaria, Greece in March.  “We’re going to try to figure that out,” I would reply, “by immersing ourselves in the residents’ culture.  We’ll eat and drink their locally grown food and wine, mimic their active lifestyle and listen to the Centenarians’ wisdom.”

    There are so many planned activities that I am excited about:  visiting the House of Honey (honey is an integral component of an Ikarian’s diet), visiting with a local doctor and pharmacy, taking a hike to forage for local greens and herbs and then participating in a cooking class where the greens will be incorporated into the meal.  I also look forward to meeting with colleagues from an Athens university and visiting several of Athens’ important historical sites.    March 19 can’t get here soon enough!

    Naomi Bechtold, Extension Educator, Purdue Extension-Marion County

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  • Anticipation!

    As I anticipate the upcoming cultural immersion trip to Ikaria, Greece, I am excited about being immersed among centenarians! I have never traveled abroad and I believe this experience will be greater than any professional development opportunity in the United States. While reading the “Blue Zones”, I was particularly drawn to the Ikarian lifestyle. It is difficult to put into words what I “think” I might gain from this experience. I am eager to learn firsthand how Ikarians live, work, eat, drink, socialize and worship.

    Life experience can be one of the best ways to learn! My excitement for this cultural immersion trip is growing each day! I can’t wait to meet new people and experience life through the Ikarian lifestyle and daily routine. I believe this trip will fuel my passion about preventing disease through healthy lifestyles and I am anxious to learn new ways to improve my own health. This opportunity is going to allow me to switch roles from an educator to a student…and I can’t wait!

    – Molly Hoag, HHS Extension Educator – Wells County

  • Adventure of a Lifetime!

    I cannot believe that we are only a little over a month away from heading to Ikaria, Greece! This incredible experience didn’t really sink in until I received my passport in the mail. I won’t even try to say I didn’t get butterflies of anticipation.

    Trying to pick one thing I’m most excited about is impossible, but…

    …the food is a definite contender. I love trying new foods, especially locally produced and created specialties. There always seems to be happiness in food – from the excitement of watching something grow, to harvesting it when it’s ready, to cooking or preparing it, to enjoying all the flavors 🙂

    …the people are a close second. I LOVE meeting new people and learning about their stories. I hope to learn about how these amazing people enjoy such full and long lives and maybe bring back some ideas to use in my own life.

    …the scenery might be tied with the people. They always say that pictures don’t do reality justice, so I can’t imagine how the views will be better than pictures I’ve seen!!

    – Meagan Brothers, HHS Extension Educator – Gibson County

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  • έλα μαζί μας! or Come Join Us

    I am excited for my cultural adventure that awaits in Ikaria, Greece. It is only about a month away. I hope that you will follow us on this blog and experience Ikaria through our eyes.

    Opportunity knocks. We received the book, The Blue Zones and I was intrigued. The Blue Zones introduced me to places in the world where people live longer AND healthier lives. Learning, experiencing, and immersing myself into another culture is a dream come true. So what am I looking forward to?

    Travel. I always wanted to travel to other countries. So far, my travel includes the 48 continental states with a step into Mexico and Canada. I’m excited to have the opportunity to be a part of an adventure with my colleagues and share my experiences with family, friends and community in several ways.

    Food. I’m a foodie who enjoys trying new foods, preparing and sharing them. Ikarian style may just become my new favorite or at least a dish or two! Greens, yogurt, honey, wine, cheese, teas and beans, I wonder how they put them all together. Can’t wait to find out! Yum!

    Healing through food. The human body is amazing. To heal naturally, feel better, live longer by eating, drinking and napping your way there – can it get much better? We are discussing and emphasizing avoiding processed foods here in the states. They live on real foods. Learning to prepare, gather greens and cook Ikarian style intrigues me. I hope to see how the nutrients and antioxidants help our natural healing methods without medications.

    Culture. I am looking forward to meeting the local people and exchanging ideas. Talking to them to learn what is important to them. Sharing food and breaking bread. Learning and respecting their culture. I am nervous about not knowing the language. I love to talk and communicate. Time, yes, time is relative there. We can throw away our watches….for at least for a while?

    Landscape. Beautiful beaches, Clear blue water. Mountainous paths. Rolling hillside vineyards. Fresh air. Ahhh….can I stay another week or two?

    Ikaria here I come!

    – Jean Akers, HHS Extension Educator – Warren County

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  • Growing Excitement

    I’m really excited about the fast approaching trip to Ikaria to learn more about the people of the Islands secrets to longevity. I have some ideas about their secrets from reading the Blue Zones book but anticipate learning even more as we immerse ourselves in their culture. While the book definitely increased my knowledge about the Island and its people, I believe some of the best learning occurs from hands on experiences. This gives you the opportunity to formulate your own opinion and perspective based on your interactions within that culture. Even though we’ll all be coming from the broader American culture, we each have our own views of things based on our upbringing, the communities we’ve lived in, and our individual perspectives on life. When you combine those factors with an immersion experience in a new culture you get a unique perspective.

    Based on what I’ve read and heard so far, I expect the people of the island to have some common characteristics. I expect them to be friendly and accommodating to visitors as well as each other. From what I’ve read I also anticipate that many of them will be avid walkers and maintain good levels of fitness. I think the people there will be more relaxed and not necessarily tied to any appointment times or schedules. As we immerse ourselves in their culture I’ll have the chance to see if my expectations match with my experience.

    – Demarcus Sneed, HHS Extension Educator – Madison County

  • Once in a Lifetime Experience

    Culture, ocean, mountains, and beautiful sunsets. Need I say more?  This trip will be an incredible once in a lifetime experience.  While reading about the different Blue Zones my interest was probed in learning more about what lifestyle and cultural habits are contributing to the longevity and high quality of life of the individuals who live in a Blue Zone.

    I look forward the most to meeting different people and hearing their stories.  I believe we learn so much more from experience and connecting with one another than we ever could from reading a book.  Although, “The Blue Zones”, by Dan Buettner is a great read and I highly recommend it.  The relaxed atmosphere and scenic views will be icing on the cake.  My hope is that this trip will recharge and put a positive refresh on our Extension efforts and programs that help others in our state create a better life for themselves and their families.

    – Kelsie Muller, HHS Extension Educator – Benton County

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  • A New Adventure!

    As we approach our trip to Greece, I’m getting excited about the opportunity to learn about a different culture. This will be my first trip abroad and immersed in an environment where English isn’t the primary language.

    I enjoyed reading The Blue Zones: Nine Lessons for Living Longer and it caused me to draw comparisons to the lives of my aging relatives. Several are in their nineties or near ninety. It made me wonder if it is genetic or the lifestyle they learned from living on a farm. I hope to learn more about the lifestyle of the people of Ikaria and how it compares to mine as well as the residents of my community. I look forward to returning home and sharing about my experience and reflecting on the changes I may need to consider making in my life as well as inspire others to adapt some of the habits of the people of Ikaria.

    – Jane Horner, HHS Extension Educator – Cass County

  • Yia Sas! (Hello in Greek)

    As I prepare for our cultural immersion trip to Ikaria, Greece, I am overjoyed at the opportunity to learn from another culture. Knowing that Ikaria is labeled as a Blue Zone, I’m excited to embrace and learn about the lifestyle and culture of those living to see 90 years of age or older on the island.  I am extremely interested in learning about healthcare and dietary lifestyles of those living in Ikaria. I’m particularly excited to partake in cooking demonstrations in which I plan to bring back to those living in Indiana.   From this trip, I expect to learn new things and implement the knowledge learned back into my community.  For I truly believe participating in this trip will allow me to “Make a Difference to Transform Lives and Livelihoods.

    – Jennifer Cannon,  HHS Extension Educator – Putnam County

  • Island Expectations

    We have all heard about trendy workout regimens and finicky diet plans. We have seen the commercials for supplements that promise to boost our immune system or surgeries that will restore our youthful looks. Do these things really work?

    With my educational background in public health, I often get asked to answer this question: What is the best thing I can do to be healthier? Answering this question is certainly not easy. Everyone is different. But, what if my response could be: “Live like an Ikarian”?

    I am looking forward to visiting Ikaria to experience their lifestyle and identify the ways in which it differs from not only mine, but many Americans. I want to know how and why these differences account for the gap in longevity and in quality years of life. I am especially looking forward to meeting our guests throughout the trip, including a dietitian, pharmacist and a centenarian and his family.

    – Stephanie Woodcox, HHS Extension Health & Wellness Specialist

  • Looking forward to a trip of a lifetime!

    Although my role within this trip is one of logistics in helping to plan for the trip and prepare the team for the adventure, I am looking forward to visiting a European country for only the second time in my life.  I have had the opportunity to travel often domestically, but I am quite inexperienced traveling abroad.

    The other unique item for me in traveling to Greece is that we are going there to learn more about amazing people who live a life that is so unlike ours today in the modern United States.  This is not to say Ikaria, Greece is not modern.  Ikaria is an island where I believe we can all aspire to be like Ikarians in simplifying our lives, eating healthier, and being more connected with family and friends that can give us true purpose in life.

    I plan to open my mind and view this part of the world through a very different lens.  A lens not of a tourist, but of someone who hopes to bring back ideas and experiences of meeting different people, eating different foods, and experiencing a different culture, all to help our family, friends, and our community when we return.  Καλό ταξίδι! (Kaló taksídi! – Bon Voyage!)

    – Christina Bautista, Operations Specialist – HHS Extension Administration Office

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