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What I learned as a U.S. Teen Ambassador to Cyprus- a Small Country with a Lifelong Impact

Guest Blog by Rebecca Joskow


This past summer I was one of 16 U.S. high school students selected to travel to Cyprus through the American Youth Leadership Program (AYLP).  At this moment, you may be asking yourself, “What is AYLP?” and “Why Cyprus?”  Frankly, prior to my trip, many of my classmates, teachers, and friends had the exact same questions!  Having returned from three weeks in Cyprus -- one of the most eye-opening journeys I’ve ever taken -- I’m now able to answer those questions and more. 

What is AYLP?

Officially, AYLP is a leadership training and cultural exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department for rising high school juniors and seniors, focused on environmental issues and climate change.  AYLP mentors teen leaders to become “solution providers” in our own backyards by educating us about the critical needs of communities around the world.   

Why Cyprus?

As a tiny island country in the Mediterranean, Cyprus has specific environmental challenges.  In Cyprus, we not only visited its beautiful beaches and mountain ranges, we also received hours of training from environmental leaders about the many steps Cyprus has taken to lessen the impact of climate change on the island and elsewhere. 

You might ask, “Why should we care about the environmental problems of a tiny island thousands of miles away from the U.S.?”

The fact is, whether in Arlington, Virginia (where I’m from) or in Cyprus or anywhere else we live, the daily choices we make affect people and habitats around the world.  We are all connected!  By exposing U.S. teens to the impressive sustainable resources practices in Cyprus, AYLP is helping to create a whole new generation of culturally aware and environmentally conscious youth.  And by teaching us about the complicated history and culture of Cyprus, AYLP is developing our sensitivity to conflicts in other parts of the world.

Cyprus- A Divided Country 

             After wars in the 1960s and 1970s, Cyprus is now the world’s only island country divided into two parts- northern Turkish and southern Greek. There are still ongoing political disputes between the two sides.  AYLP organized our trip to ensure we interacted with and received training from both Turkish and Greek Cypriot organizations and civic leaders.  I got the opportunity to immerse myself in both of these cultures through language training in Greek and Turkish and by staying with host families who showed me the best cultural attractions from both sides.  I was happy to hear from my Turkish Cypriot host dad that some of his best friends were Greek Cypriots, and at the end of the trip I was ecstatic to introduce my host families to each other and see them get along.

Cyprus—Road to Understanding

             Furthermore, I learned about the history of Cyprus and the progress Cyprus is making with the United Nations to become a more unified and cooperative nation, though there is still much work to be done. I was not discouraged by this realization; instead, I was compelled to continue to learn about promoting mutual understanding and building bridges between these two cultures. I was also able to make direct connections between political situations we’ve had in the U.S. and the conflict in Cyprus, and create dialogue about these comparisons with my fellow teen ambassadors and the people of Cyprus.

Environmental Similarities 

              I was also able to see the similarities between the US and Cyprus environmentally, which was amazing considering the vast size difference. We travelled all over Cyprus and learned about alternative energy, conservation projects, and sustainable communities, like Kyperounta in the mountains. Part of the AYLP experience was to come up with my own environmental project I could implement back in the U.S.  One of the most helpful activities was going to an environmental project fair where we met leaders from the Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative (, Green Dot Cyprus (, and Friends of the Earth Cyprus ( – these organizations told us about their environmental campaigns and gave us feedback and advice about our own environmental service ideas.  I was inspired by all the Cypriot environmental activists and organizations that were making changes in their small country to try to make changes in my own country. 

Hands-On Cyprus! 

            In Cyprus, we learned about the environment not only through lectures and presentations, but also through hands-on activities. With the Cyprus Energy Association (CEA), we made our own solar ovens and solar cars. We traveled to the southern coastal town of Limassol where we worked with the Cyprus Marine Environment Protection Association and Cypriot high school students to do a beach cleanup. We visited an ancient olive tree site, toured a farm and greenhouse, and worked with beekeepers at a sustainable farm. In the mountains, we visited a local fruit factory (Nashico), traveled to a plantation to learn about water management issues, and visited the Platres Chocolate Workshop to learn about locally-sourced handmade chocolates. In the northern Karpas Peninsula, we worked with the Marine Turtle Conservation Project to do a night patrol at Turtle Beach. We had an early morning “bird ringing” session where I got to release a bird into the wilderness after it had been tagged so environmentalists could keep track of its movements.

Inspired by Cyprus – Please Donate Your Running Shoes! 

      One of the most impactful lessons I learned in Cyprus was about how waste is affecting our world.  After visiting Green Dot Cyprus’ waste management and recycling system, I was inspired to focus my own U.S. service project on helping to reduce the impact of athletic shoes in landfills. It is estimated that 20 billion pairs of shoes are produced annually, with roughly 300 million pairs ending up in landfills after they have been worn. Ethylene vinyl acetate, a material commonly found in the midsole of running shoes, can last for as long as 1,000 years in a landfill. Tossing shoes in a landfill will impact the planet for centuries.

An organization called Reuse Your Shoes is trying to reduce the impact of this waste by collecting old shoes and sending them to developing countries. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program promotes facilities that specialize in recycling old shoes into various athletic surfaces. I will be having an athletic shoe drive at my high school to collect old athletic shoes and donate them to both of these organizations. Don’t throw out your old shoes -- give them a second use on somebody else’s feet or as a running track surface! 


            My experience with AYLP in Cyprus was enlightening- never before have I been exposed to so many new ideas, cultures, or people. After my time in Cyprus, I feel excited and empowered to apply my knowledge and skills to make positive, sustainable change in my own community. I want to inspire others to make impactful change as well – working together, as I learned in Cyprus, we can save our world!

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” -Saint Augustine

Posted: Sep 14, 2016 by Website Editor

Global Citizens are needed
Legacy International coordinated this program and we have another great international summer program that takes place in Virginia - called the GLobal Youth Village - special training in dialogue ad leadership with teens form around the globe.
Comment by: Mary Helmig - 10/20/2016 08:04 AM

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