Racing the setting sun, we scurried down Thessaloniki’s veins in search of the perfect souvenirs. Convenience stores were swarmed, pharmacies flooded, cafes crowded. In the heat of this serendipitous rush, I looked for some sort of affirmation in the reflections of the city’s snow globes and edges of its fancy fridge magnets. I craved some sense of accomplishment, the kind one usually gets when buying ornate souvenirs, the kind that gives you a “wow what a trip” sort of smile. But whatever I was searching for, it was already there, more than it had ever been in any nick knack store across the world.

Who knows, maybe it was because I finally got to use my plethora of My Big Fat Greek Wedding quotes in one week. But when I thought back on this trip in that moment, and still now, all I could think of was not the impressive sights but rather the overflowing waves of love.

Real Break Thessaloniki was incredible to say the least. Saying it was the best way I could’ve spent my spring break is still under-selling it. Words can’t describe what it’s like to walk in the footsteps of great saints, seeing the marketplace where St. Paul spoke to the Thessalonians, the river bend where he baptized the first European, and the cave where St. Gregory Palamas spent five years of his life praying to God to light up the darkness in his spiritual life. Seeing the struggles our faith has endured come to life in these 1500-year-old churches and monasteries once transformed into mosques now standing as strong as ever was so deeply inspiring, and talking to living icons of Christ was even more so.

From Nobel peace prize nominees saving the souls of prisoners to priests turned robotics coaches giving Greece’s most underprivileged community and children a chance at a better life, Christ’s love was manifest everywhere. Having returned from this magical place, where churches filled every other block and love saturated the air, I can definitely say I came back with something I didn’t have enough of before.

Taking in this “real break” from the stress of senior biochem electives, the medical school application process and just the daily race we’re so immersed in here in America, I’ve definitely been able to refocus on what’s important in this life and have made some amazing friends in my fellow Real Breakers who came all this way looking for the same thing.

I’m so glad I said yes to the Thess and can’t wait to see next year’s Real Breakers fall deeper in love with His love on this trip, too.

Naim Mekdessi is a third-year Biochemistry major minoring in Chinese and Medicine & Society at the University of Houston and is proud to call himself a member of Houston’s huge OCF chapter. In his free time, Naim likes to learn new languages. With six already under his belt along with a couple of Chinese tongue twister awards, he can’t wait to go explore the world some more and maybe learn a new tongue or two in the process.