An international student’s journey in the arts

Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

The big city: Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the hometown of some today’s biggest stars like recent Emmy winner Donald Glover, and where many stars like Academy Award-winning Julia Roberts (Georgia State Alumni) got their start. People from all over the country – and the world – come to not only Atlanta but to Georgia State to chase their dreams and pursue the arts.

Many Panthers pursue their dreams at Georgia State after leaving small Georgia towns, others travel from other states to get to be here, but then, there are international students that leave everything they have ever known to come to Georgia State.

3,076 international students from 139 countries were enrolled at Georgia State in the fall of 2016, these students are now embedded into our campus community. Statistics show that most of the international students that came wanted to pursue a degree in one of the many major art fields that Georgia State has to offer. Liberal Arts were among the most common undergraduate majors that international students chose at Georgia State in 2016.

The Signal had the opportunity to sit down with a Greek student pursuing opera who can’t take I-85 home for Winter Break.

Taking the leap of faith

Eleftherios Chasanidis, or Lefteris for short,  is a graduate student from Thessaloniki, Greece, the country’s second-largest city. “I came to the United States last year as an exchange student,” he said. “The plan for me was just to stay one semester.” Over a year later he still walks these halls, but now, ranked number one in voice performance in Georgia.

The youngest in a musical family, Lefteris’ first passion was violin, which he started playing at seven-years-old. He initially intended on majoring in violin performance, but he never imagined he would be doing so at Georgia State. Even more surprising, just one question from his violin teacher changed his entire musical path forever: “Have you ever tried to sing?”

Chasanidis joked that he responded to that with an unquestionable “no.” He had devoted all his talents to violin his entire life. And for a young artist, the transition from violin to singing was both sudden and scary.

Even though he was very hesitant, Eleftherios’ violin teacher eventually convinced him to travel to the Greek island of Lefkada in 2015 to participate in a summer music program. There, his teacher introduced him to one of Georgia State’s very own voice professors by the name of W. Dwight Coleman, who would be directing the first opera Lefteris would ever perform in.

Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

With the pressure of a whole new venture on his shoulders, Chasanidis looked back on his first voice lesson with Coleman and said in nostalgia, “I had a blast. It was like… wow.”

Seeing his stunning performance in the opera, Coleman offered Lefteri the opportunity to come study violin at Georgia State  And despite all hesitations, Chasanidis jumped at the opportunity to come here to study his passions.

He left his family, friends, and home to pursue his dreams. Although his parents encouraged his venture, telling him “you should totally do this thing,” Chasanidis admitted he began questioning himself and his ability shortly before his trip.

Deciding not only to start focusing on a whole new artistry, opera, but also to do so in a different country proved to be intimidating to him. He said he appreciates the fact that his family supports him, but realizes, “they are missing me too.” These were just a few of the struggles Chasanidis was about to take on.

We’re not in Greece anymore

It is not easy being an international student. When Lefteris gets the opportunity to go back home and visit in between semesters, the round-trip tickets are upwards of $1,500. Thinking about his first trip back to Greece after his first semester, Chasanidis remembers realizing how homesick he was when he first arrived.

“Look how much I missed my parents, my sister, my brother, my nephew—everybody,” he recalls thinking while on a trip back home, surrounded by his family after the long semester.

When he returned for his second semester here, Chasanidis felt even more homesick, after having a chance to be reacquainted with his loved ones and the only home he had ever known.

After all, his family is where his musical passion comes from. Chasanidis’ father is a chanter in church along with his brother, who is also a pianist. His sister is also a long-time guitarist. He jokes with nostalgia that when he’s away from home his family is always asking, “When are you coming back?”

Getting adjusted

The silver lining in all of this, however, is that he has been fortunate to have a lot of help adjusting to Georgia State. Chasanidis received a tuition waiver and is allotted a stipend from his graduate assistant position for his professor, as well as working the front desk at the School of Music’s media center. Chasanidis humbly admits, “if I didn’t have this, I wouldn’t be able to support myself here.”

Stepping out of his comfort zone, and onto Georgia State’s campus, Chasanidis explained, “While I was here, I did something kind of different—I double majored in Violin Performance and Voice Performance.”

He said that he loved the program Georgia State offered, which is why he ultimately decided to stay here. “The thing in Greece,” he pointed out, “we don’t have so many schools that promote opera.” Although his school in Greece did happen to maintain a voice performance program, there were only 15 students enrolled in the program, compared to approximately 80 (undergraduate and graduate) students in Georgia State’s program.

Turning dreams into reality

Chasanidis was delighted to share the opportunities he’s been afforded while working through Georgia State’s program. And without a doubt, Chasanidis has definitely made the most out of every one he’s been given here.

Aside from winning the competition at Kennesaw State last fall that gave him his number one ranking, Chasanidis also had the pleasure of traveling back to Europe for another title. At an international choir competition in Germany this past semester, he and Georgia State’s University Singers took home first place against choirs from all over the world. He has also gotten the chance to hold a principal role in an opera and perform a concert solo. But out of all of these incredible opportunities, the most thrilling to Chasanidis was the chance to sing next to Andrea Bocelli.

“I’ve done other big things, but this was the biggest,” Chasanidis marveled reflecting on the concert. At this point, he had gone from focusing on violin in Greece just a couple years ago, to now singing in front of nearly 24,000 people with Andrea Bocelli, an incomparable classical tenor.

Passion for performing

In less than three years, Eleftherios Chasanidis has gone from being an impeccable violinist in Greece to mastering violin and voice performance in a country across the ocean.

He thought about the people who have helped him through his journey of adjusting to life here and happily opened up about everyone being very friendly. He was most surprised at how willing people were to give him some wonderful opportunities to display his talents like the Kennesaw State and international choir competition.

Knowing his family is supporting him, even from across seas, and his pure zeal for performing, Chasanidis seemed resilient thinking about how he has stepped up—and across the Atlantic—to the plate that has proven his success.

“What keeps me going is that I love what I am doing. I love performing. I love singing.”

Impassioned, he describes the unique sensation of performing saying, “It’s like you’re hugging the universe.” His voice lowered in astonishment at his love for opera and violin. He gleams, “you start to become one” with the experience of sharing music with the audience, whether it’s singing or violin.

“Please, I strongly advise everybody, get into the arts. Your life is going to change,” he said at the end. “It’s so—extraordinary.”

 

Georgia State International Student Stats (Fall 2016)
  • 3,076 International Students, that’s almost doubled from the total from 5 years ago!
  • 6% of Georgia State’s total student enrollment
  • 39.1% of those students are enrolled in graduate programs.
  • 40.5% of those students are enrolled in undergraduate programs.
  • Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies was the #1 choice of major amongst International Students with 991 (32%) of them enrolling
  • Top 5 Countries out of 139 Represented
  1.     India
  2.     China
  3.     South Korea
  4.     Vietnam
  5.     Saudi Arabia
Georgia State Study Abroad Stats (2015-2016 School Year)
  • 1,010 Georgia State Students Studied Abroad
  • 748 Undergraduate Students
  • 245 Graduate Students
  • Top 5 Destinations
  1.     China
  2.     United Kingdom
  3.     Italy
  4.     France
  5.     Mexico
  • Top 5 Fields of Study
  1.     Humanities
  2.     Business & Management
  3.     Social Sciences
  4.     Physical or Life Science
  5.     Education

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