In our August 2010 issue, the article ‘On the Trash Trail’ featured a summer course organised by College Year in Athens / DIKEMES on Paros and taught by anthropology professor Susan Buck Sutton from Indiana University; a course which has been running successfully with maximum enrollment since 2003. US students come to Paros for four weeks to attend this course that combines the anthropology of Modern Greece and the principles of cross-cultural understanding with experiential and service learning.
But College Year in Athens has been offering another educational programme on the island every summer since 1985: Modern Greek language and culture. This programme was originally based in Logaras and now takes place in Alyki. Every summer students come to Paros to learn Modern Greek, mainly from US colleges, but also Greek-Americans of all ages who have decided to learn their grandparents’ language, US and European professionals, and foreign residents who live on Paros and wish to improve their language skills.
Alexis Phylactopoulos, President of College Year in Athens, shared with us some of the comments written by students who attended the course last summer: “My father is Greek,” writes Kassi Nicopoulos, “but I did not grow up speaking the language very much. The idea to study in Greece sparked when I was in high school and I wanted to learn the language. I began my research for study abroad programmes when I got to college, and it was clear that the College Year in Athens programme was a perfect fit for me.”
It is an intensive and academically demanding four-week course where students follow three to four hours of Greek language instruction per day, a total of 60 hours, in small groups of up to 10 students. On weekends students are free to travel around, visit other islands and explore Greece and the Greek way of life.
Courses are taught by experienced instructors with training in teaching Greek as a foreign/second language, and several levels of instruction are available, from beginner to advanced. It is important to note that while the language instruction is rigourous, students really enjoy putting their newly-acquired skills to the test by interacting with the locals. As another student, Anastasia Theoharis, mentioned, “Unlike learning a language in school in the US and forgetting most of it as soon as you walk out of the classroom, I was able to immediately apply everything I learned as soon as I walked out into the street.”
Students do their homework on their own or in small groups around the hotel pool or even on the beach, making a great argument for the notion of simultaneous learning and relaxation. “Even though very high standards were held in the classroom,” Kassi says, “the teachers also shared plenty of time with their students telling stories, laughing, and teaching us about the Greek culture and lifestyle.”
This past summer, for the first time, a more structured cultural component was added to the course to provide insight into Greek culture and contemporary life on the island. Students participated in a series of lectures and talks on a variety of topics, from history to modern Greek literature, and from music to modern Greek life and local customs. They watched classic films, like ‘Never on Sunday’ and ‘Zorba’, but also newer examples of Greek cinematography, like ‘Politiki Kouzina’, which they then discussed with guest lecturers and their instructors. “Not only was this a refuge that most could only dream about,” Kassi says, “it was also a chance for all of the students to get to know local Greeks and experience their way of life.”
Students had a chance to walk the Byzantine Road, visit the archaeological museum and Ekatontapyliani, take Greek dance lessons, cook a few Greek dishes, and participate in many other activities. John Zecy from Kansas City write:s “Our days were full; class in the morning and a variety of activities in the evening, ranging from walking the Byzantine trails of the island to feasting at the tavernas, all with brilliant sunsets covering the sky over the Aegean. It truly felt like a home away from home.”
It is important to mention that the College Year in Athens is an institution that has recently celebrated its 45th anniversary and its active role in education as a study abroad programme for American students in Greece. A programme that started by offering a few courses to a handful of American students in the 1960s has expanded gradually over the years to become the largest study abroad programme in Greece that now offers a wide variety of courses with a curriculum representing three academic areas: Ancient Greek Studies, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, and European and East Mediterranean Studies. Currently, CYA hosts over 450 students per year from schools and universities all over the USA in its semester and summer courses, offering a rigorous academic programme that includes educational field trips throughout Greece. Its ultimate goal is for participants to return home academically inspired, intellectually stimulated and challenged, and with a commitment to the furtherance of international and intercultural understanding.
We look forward to meeting this summer’s students and encourage anyone in the foreign community who is interested in improving their language skills to join the CYA Modern Greek language programme this year – MS101 Modern Greek Language and Culture: 27 June-23 July, 2011. For further information, check under ‘Summer Courses’ at www.cyathens.org