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Teens from Cyprus visit New Hampshire in pursuit of friendship

  • Chara Sofocleous, right, and Izlecan Oztekiner, a Cypriot pair staying with a host in Walpole, assist each other.  Courtesy photo

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Teens from both the Greek and Turkish sides of Cyprus are in the United States throughout July to build friendships with each other, including Dimitris Xenofontos, front, and Selkan Nurdal, second from the right, who are staying with a host family in Temple. Courtesy photo 

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, July 10, 2017

“We have a lot of similarities. More than we have differences,” said Selkan Nurdal, indicating to Dimitris Xenofontos sitting next to him.

It’s true. The boys are both athletic-looking 17-year-olds, profess a love of soccer and shared taste in music and sense of humor, and the same dream – that their home one day no longer be divided into “us” and “them.”

Nurdal and Xenofontos are both from the isle of Cyprus. Nurdal from the northern, Turkish side, and Xenofontos from the southern, Greek side. At home, the two would never have met. The island has been divided by a United Nations buffer zone since 1974. But as part of the Cyprus Friendship Program, they will be spending the month of July living, eating, and working together to build relationships and leadership skills. Cyprus teens have been sent all over the United States to have these experiences. Nurdal and Xenofontos are spending the month in Temple with a host family.

“I wanted to learn about the other community,” said Xenofontos. “It’s unfair to have an opinion without knowing them.”

Xenofontos goes to a private school, which educates students from both the Greek and Turkish sides, but even there, the students don’t mix. He heard about the Cyprus Friendship Program through a school presentation – he may not have heard about it in a public school. It’s only recently been allowed to be presented in public schools, being seen as too controversial previously.

“There are students who think we should not have peace,” said Nurdal, of his own public school classmates. “Because they think [the Greek Cypriots] are our enemies.”

Nurdal said it’s one of his goals to take back the experiences he has in the United States with Xenofontos, and try to change that perception.

Nurdal and Xenofontos have been in the states for a little over a week now, taking advantage of the “cool” weather – Cyprus summers can have sweltering temperatures of 110 – to enjoy outdoor pursuits together, including a kayak and beach trip, and plan to climb Mount Monadnock during the coming weekend. They’re also meeting with other Cypriots in New Hampshire for leadership building exercises, such as completing a conflict resolution workshop at Keene State College, and working on problem solving by completing a ropes course cooperatively at the University of New Hampshire.

Sometimes it’s the small moments in these activities that leave the biggest impressions on them – both Nurdal and Xenofontos’s favorite moments from their trip so far came from the cooperative spirit they shared on the ropes course. Whether it was how they had to work together to cross a balance rope obstacle, or seeing their whole group encourage and help a fellow Cypriot who was afraid of heights, it helped to drive home the message that is at the core of the Cyprus Friendship Program, said Nurdal: Their country may be divided, but they can be a people united.