U.S. Embassies from around the globe select emerging leaders for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). And of those, only a handful – like Apostolos (Tolis) Aristeidou of Greece – become “Gold Star” alumni, who return to the United States for a second IVLP.
Back in Greece, Tolis is an organizer of Hip Hop events, especially for youth. His “Battle of the Year – Balkans” provides a venue for Hip Hop artists to perform and reach out to youth.
“One of the highlights on my trip was my meeting with Howard Schwartz, the organizer of the top Hip Hop dance event in the world, Hip Hop International, and the producer of the television show America’s Best Dance Crew,” says Tolis. “After our meeting, we agreed to organize a qualifier event for Hip Hop International in Greece, where the winners would travel to the U.S. and make their dream a reality – to represent Greece at the world competition in Las Vegas.”
“I realized at that moment what the IVLP is about. It’s about a huge organization like the U.S. State Department recognizing some potential in someone in a small part on the other side of the world and giving them a chance to bring out the best they could do,” he said.
Like other Gold Star alumni, Tolis returned to some of the cities of his original 2009 IVLP. For Tolis, his cities included: Washington, DC; Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, and New York. He welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with the people he had met on his initial IVLP visit.
“I met with so many interesting people that helped me learn so much,” says Tolis. “I saw how American cultural events are organized, the different scale and detail of things. I learned new approaches and new perspectives.”
As part of his Gold Star visit, Tolis attended the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) National Meeting for the 94 community organizations that administer IVLP locally. At the meeting, he shared a video of his work back in Greece and thanked the network for introducing him to so many wonderful resources.
“Being open to new things – and working hard at the same time – brought me in touch with good people that wanted to work with me,” Tolis said. “It brought me in touch with the American culture, which is also open to new things and to team work and partnerships. I was taking one step at a time, and then the IV program was a huge spring board that really had me flying to a new level.”
Following his experience, the U.S. Embassy in Athens and the Consulate General in Thessaloniki have worked closely with Tolis to bring American hip hop and graffiti artists to cities around Greece. Tolis said he appreciates the support of the U.S. Embassy in Greece in helping him reach out to youth through music-based programs.