Born in Texas, raised in Cyprus: A student’s perspective

Stephen Flynn

When I tell people I’m from Cyprus, I usually receive a gaze of confusion. “Is that in Wisconsin? Florida?” they usually ask.
I kindly tell them that it’s an island near Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, an independent country of which I’m not a citizen. Coming from Texas, where I was born, I arrived there at the age of four, the day after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
I lived with my mom in an apartment a five-minute walk from the international school I attended with students representing over 40 countries. For 15 years I lived in Nicosia, Cyprus, as a foreigner in the only country I called home.
The city’s culture blends the East with the West, the ancient with the modern. A late afternoon walk in the old city brings the mixed sound of church bells and a Muslim call to prayer. The hottest pubs in the city are encased in 300-year-old Ottoman quarters, like one of my favorites called Plato’s, rated in Newsweek magazine’s top 25 most unique bars.
Relaxed social attitudes toward alcohol and tobacco mean that a child could conceivably buy wine for the family dinner or cigarettes for his father at our local kiosk. There is no “drinking age,” you can’t drive until you’re 18, and even in high school going out doesn’t mean bringing your fake ID with you.
Across the street from my mom’s apartment is a small shop run by an old man named Vassos who stocks all the necessities of daily life, from bottled water to locally grown potatoes and tangerines to miscellaneous items like paper towels and sewing notions. His scooter is on standby to fetch any particulars his neighborhood customers may need, including medical prescriptions. Although Vassos’ shop closes at 8 p.m. every day, a 24-hour kiosk run by Russian-speaking Pontian Greek immigrants is a five-minute walk away.
The modern world is encroaching on the old ways of conducting business. That almost every other car on the road is a BMW or a Mercedes can be attributed to the recent prosperity and modernization that Cypriot society has undergone.
One used to only see men sitting at a kafenion, a Greek coffeehouse, playing tavli, a type of backgammon, but the new Starbucks cropping up all over town are providing an alternative to those “old-fashioned” social behaviors; men and women now sit together drinking caf latts, their leather wallets, car keys and Nokia phones resting on the tabletop, enjoying the dry weather and sunshine that seems to linger year round. That’s the Cyprus that I know.
People ask me why I took refuge in the Wisconsin icebox from the sunny moderate climate of Cyprus. Strange as it may sound, I’m a huge fan of the snow and cold weather. Waking up to the sight of falling snowflakes outside my window brightens my mood. It may have to do with seeking change in your life. Ask your psychology professor.
I try not to miss Cyprus, as I’m not going back, but there are some aspects I would like transported here. First, I’d like to go out for casual drinking without the identification hassle, and without the loud obnoxious drunkards.
Second, I’d like to see nice cars on the roads here more often. There was a beautiful black BMW 5 Series parked outside the International House the other day. Bravo!
Despite the nostalgia, I ended up enjoying life here so much that I spent the entire summer on campus, which I now call home.