Γειά σας! My name is Michael, and I’m a rising third-year anthropology major studying Modern Greek on a Foreign Language Acquisition Grant this summer, first in Athens and then on the Cycladic island of Tinos.
Each day, I embark on coursework in the classroom for up to 4 hours, able to completely immerse myself in the language in a way not possible during the demanding academic year, but the truly incredible part is that my lessons do not end there. The moment I leave the school, a whole new kind of lesson begins as I befriend the owner of a local café or wander the streets in search of the best souvlaki (pretty sure I found it, but I’ll never tell). While in Athens, my classmates and I would embark on trips to see Greek films, explore the street art, or take a walk up one of the many scenic hills around the city center, but just as often, I would wander on my own, exploring everything from the flyers pasted around the politically-active neighborhood of Exarcheia where I stayed to the natural beauty of the mountaintops far from the bustle of the city center.
While Athens afforded me the opportunity to appreciate both the rich history and vibrant present of the Greek people, it is on the island of Tinos, whose year-round population is only about 8,000 (as opposed to 4 million in Athens), that I have been able to fully appreciate the richness of Greek culture. The island remains relatively unknown to international tourists, particularly in comparison to its immediate neighbor Mykonos, primarily drawing Greek Orthodox visitors to see its historic icon, which plays an important role in the story of the Greek War of Independence. This environment offers the opportunity to explore small-town local life in the villages scattered across the island where everyone, even a 19-year-old from across the Atlantic, is treated like family and has a place at the table (and the dance floor). The hard work of language study these past two years has given me the skills necessary not only to travel independently, but to appreciate the cultural landscape, from literature to festivals, and to engage in meaningful discussions about the world around us. I will always be grateful for this opportunity to spend a summer as something more than a tourist going from site to site, but as a true global citizen living as part of the fabric of a community in day-to-day life, taking the time to contemplate the role of such community in my life back in America.
A special thanks to Professor Stefanos Katsikas for always supporting my endeavors, both in language and in history, and for helping me to reach this point. Thanks also to The Lamda Project in Athens and Ellinisti in Tinos for hosting me here and helping guide me, inside the classroom and out. And thank you to UChicago Study Abroad and to Yovovich Family Fund for Research and Language Study in Europe for making this journey not only financially possible, but so generous as to be impossible to refuse.