Spring Break means many things for students at Georgia Tech. For some, it means getting to travel to new places, and experience different cultures. For others, it means catching up on classwork. For the Georgia Tech Chamber Choir, Spring Break quickly became the unique opportunity to do both. They spent the week as guests of the United States Embassy and State Department on the island of Cyprus.
Performing at the US Embassy
The Chamber Choir were guest performers at the United States embassy, where they held a concert for the US Ambassador to Cyprus, Kathleen Doherty, and an audience of State Department dignitaries and Ambassadors from other countries. But their trip wasn't just one high profile concert for the State department - they found themselves spending the week visiting schools and media outlets across the island, representing to an entire generation of Cypriots (natives of Cyprus) what STEM and musical education can look like in the United States.
Every day the Chamber Choir spent in Cyprus was typically spent in the same way: they would begin with a school visit in the morning, follow up with a reception where they would mingle with students and teachers to share their experiences with American college, and a concert in the evening in a different venue. The choir showed off their range: they sang songs from Rihanna and Pentatonix, Elvis and Billy Joel, and Copland and Stravinsky. They paid tribute to their host island, singing Psintri Vasilitzia, a Greek song that originated from the island. They also got to perform the world premiere of Evis Sammoutis’ new song, Isthmus.
The vast majority of the singers in the Chamber Choir aren’t actually music majors – they’re engineers, computer scientists, and other students primarily geared toward STEM. The choir visited schools of all grade levels, sharing with the students about life and education in the United States, and also how they combine sciences with their love of music. The Cypriot students were eager to learn about the choir’s college experience, asking questions about everything from their studies to their campus culture. The latter was especially something the local Cypriot students were intrigued by, as Universities in Cyprus do not offer as many chances to live on campuses and participate in extracurricular activities to the degree that the choir enjoy at Georgia Tech.
The USS Iwo Jima
As luck would have it, the USS Iwo Jima was docked in Cyprus while the choir was there. A Wasp Class amphibious assault ship that is over 800 feet long, 100 feet wide, and weighs over 40,000 tons, it was a rare and unexpected treat for the Choir to be invited on board. Many of the engineering students (especially the aerospace engineering majors) were thrilled to be able to get the chance to see the ship, and the many aircraft on board, up close. Sailors stopped to take the chance to pose for pictures with the choir as they toured the ship. The embassy brought 200 Cypriot high school students on board to hear the choir perform. It was an incredible experience, and one that isn’t likely to soon be duplicated. Not many choirs can claim that they’ve held a concert on a US Naval ship.
All in all, the Chamber Choir performed 22 times over the course of the week. They performed in flash mobs in the old city. They sang at many different universities and local schools. They appeared on multiple television and radio shows on the island. They came as singers, but in the end they became ambassadors of music and STEM education to an international audience.
It was an especially memorable trip to Elianna Paljug, a member of the Chamber Choir whose family lives in Cyprus. "As a Cypriot American, this trip was special to me for its ability to introduce to my family the incredible opportunities I am able to experience in the USA,” said Paljug “It was so moving to perform for a large crowd of my family members, as they have never had the opportunity to witness a choir of our caliber before. It was amazing to be able to thank my grandparents and parents for their hard work that enabled me to grow up in the USA, and have incredible opportunities like studying and singing in a choir at Georgia Tech!”