Institute of Balkan Studies Participants
Michael Fonti, a Modern Greek Studies' student at SFSU, participated in the 2007 International Summer School for Greek Language, History and Culture at the Institute for Balkan Studies in Thessaloniki, Greece.
When I was offered the chance to spend a month in Greece studying Modern Greek, I immediately knew that I was going to have an experience I would remember for a lifetime. In the best way, this statement came to realization that summer in Peraia, a small town on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, the second biggest city in Greece. My journey that summer began with a few brief days in Athens, where I am lucky enough to have family that I can stay with. After that, I flew up to Thessaloniki and made my way to the Xenia Helios Hotel, where the bulk of the program, including the classes, would be held. That first night I began meeting some of the other students who I would be taking classes with. Out of a total of ninety-five students, I was one of eight Americans. Most everyone else was European, save four Koreans and a few people from the Middle East.
Despite the diversity, making friends was not a problem and I was never alone. The common language among us was for the most part Greek, which was a good thing. It forced us all to practice speaking and, as a result, we became much more confident in our abilities. As the program progressed, Peraia quickly began to feel like a second home. The locals were all kind and welcoming, urging us to speak Greek whenever possible. Waking up for 8 a.m. language classes everyday was not a bother, as my instructor did all he could to make the class interesting and fast paced. After our daily mandatory Greek class, we had the option of attending lectures on history and culture, which were offered both in English and Greek. After those were over, we would usually have the rest of the day free and could go wherever and do whatever we wanted to. I often used this time to venture into Thessaloniki, go swimming at the beach, and, of course, complete my homework. At the end of every six day school week, the group would go on excursions around Northern Greece via bus. We visited museums and archaeological sites where the head of the program, Professor Dimadis, would lecture on historical topics. I was able to see a whole lot more of Greece than I expected to. These trips were fun, albeit a little tiring at times. While I may have appreciated a day of rest or two, I can't say I have any regrets about the scheduling of the trip. Some of my fondest memories of this experience are of the friends I made and all the people I met from around the world. I have lived in the U.S. my entire life and I have never met so many foreigners as I did that month. It was great hearing about other countries first hand and interesting to see what they had to say about the United States. As I write this, it has been over a month since I left Greece and I still find myself reminiscing on my time there. I made some friends that I will never forget, some of whom I am still in contact with. I saw and learned so many new things it is almost hard to believe. I am truly grateful that I was able to participate in the IMXA program.
I am currently a senior pursuing a major in Business Administration with a focus in International Business as well as a minor in Modern Greek Studies at SFSU. This semester I participating in a cross registration program with UC Berkeley, where I am taking a class to finish up my minor. Along with the trip to Greece, the Modern Greek Studies department at SFSU has provided me with amazing opportunities to further my education and I could not be more thankful!
Tracy Dodge, a Modern Greek Studies' student at SFSU participated in the 2005 International Summer School for Greek Language, History and Culture at the Institute for Balkan Studies in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Summer Studies in Greece by Tracy Dodge
Last summer I was given the opportunity to attend the Institute for Balkan Studies International Summer School for Greek Language, History, and Culture in Thessaloniki. Students come from all over the world to participate in this intensive language program that also offers courses on ancient art, folklore, and modern history, and field trips to archaelogical sites, museums, and churches around Macedonia. My summer in Greece also included a College Year in Athens program on anthropology and community service in Paros, and I traveled on my own to Naxos, Delos, Mykonos, Santorini, Tinos, Crete, and Athens. Through my summer programs and other experiences traveling and sojourning in Greece, I was able to build on the knowledge of the Greek language, history and culture I had acquired in my Modern Greek Studies classes at SFSU. I am grateful to my instructors, fellow students, and others I met for making the experience so memorable. I feel extremely blessed that I had the chance to study abroad in Greece.
Maria Karkazis , a Modern Greek Studies' student at SFSU participated in the 2003 International Summer School for Greek Language, History and Culture at the Institute for Balkan Studies in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Studying Greek in Greece by Maria Karkazis
We all experience times in our lives that are memorable, awakening, and life changing. Such was my experience this summer studying in Greece. When my Spring semester came to a close last year, I would have never dreamed of the changes that my life was about to experience. It began when I learned about the possibilities of studying the Greek language in Greece through the Institute for Balkan Studies. At that point I had been formally studying Greek at San Francisco State University for exactly one year. Being a Greek-American, I have always struggled with the Greek language, but have always dreamed of one day possessing a formal knowledge of it. Therefore, as soon as I received the application for the program, I promptly completed all of the requirements and sent my application to the Greek Ministry of Culture, the organization sponsoring the program. This was an opportunity I had been waiting for all my life, yet I was a little apprehensive. What was I to expect? And how would I convince my managers at work to give me six weeks off? But when I received my letter of acceptance, I knew that the answer to these questions did not matter.
Slowly, we arrived one by one. As the hotel filled with colorful faces from so many different countries –36 to be exact– I realized how beautiful this experience was going to be. That night we had an opening ceremony, hosted by the Director, Constantine Dimadis. By 8 a.m. the second morning, we were all learning Greek at our designated levels. Language classes took place six days a week, for four hours a day followed by classes on Greek history and culture, which focused on different themes every week: Macedonian history and art, Greek folklore, the Cyprus issue, Byzantine history and art, as well as different genres of Greek literature. These courses were taught in both Greek and English. Each Sunday, we would take day trips to the historical sites of the Macedonian region: Amphipolis, Phillipi, Kavala, Vergina, Pella, Dion, and to the beautiful Prespa Lakes. The days were long and strenuous, for we were strongly encouraged to use the Greek language as the only medium of communication.
From this experience, I have gained a stronger knowledge of the Greek language, one that would not have been possible without such immersion. Along the way, I made many meaningful friendships and had an opportunity to discuss global issues with students from all over the world. I find it hard to describe the peacefulness of learning a language in such a multi-ethnic environment. It was as if we were all the same in the process of learning a new medium in which we could communicate. Outside the classroom we would teach each other our native tongues, as well as talk about current issues in our countries.
But, the most valuable of my experiences was the time I shared with my family in Trahila (which means “triton”). Trahila is a small village in the region of Mani about 45 minutes south of Kalamata. This was my first time visiting my grandparents alone. And, as my days there were filled with the sounds of singing and laughter, swimming, walks through the olive groves and stories of happiness as well as hardship, I realized I had finally come home. Needless to say, I am searching for more avenues to study abroad in graduate studies.
Maria graduated from SFSU in May of 2004. She has embarked on a travel adventure to Spain and Greece. (photo: Maria (right) with a friend)
Daniel Elash, a Modern Greek Studies' student at SFSU participated in the 2002 International Summer School for Greek Language, History and Culture at the Institute for Balkan Studies in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Studying Greek in Greece by Daniel Elash
This past August I attended the 30th annual International Summer School for Greek Language, History and Culture of the Institute for Balkans Studies through a program sponsored by the Greek Ministry of Culture. Based near Thessaloniki, the program offers an intensive daily regimen: three hours of Modern Greek classes, and a two-hour lecture on some aspect of Greek and/or Macedonian history (Classical, Byzantine, Modern), six days a week. On the seventh, we took field trips all over Macedonia. We got an evening or two each week to rest and recuperate, but most evenings there were optional lectures on current topics such as the situation in Cyprus or the legacy of the Greek Civil War and classes in Greek folk dancing. The cultural aspect of the program was very important to me, so I availed myself of the opportunity to see Macedonia to its fullest. One field trip took us to Pella, Vergina and Dion, the home base of Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II, including the site of Phillip's spectacular tomb and its treasures. Another trip took us to Amphipolos and Philippi, seat of the Roman Empire in the late 300s and some of the more intact Roman ruins I've seen to date. On this trip we also went to Kavala, site of an intriguing castle, the birthplace of the original Mohammed Ali, founder of modern Egypt. A third excursion took us to Meteora, site of many Byzantine-era monasteries and wondrous natural formations that reminded me so much of the American southwest, but greener, that I actually got a little homesick! And then there were the short trips to the archaic churches and city walls of Thessaloniki, to the museums, and to the nearby mountains, sea and beaches. Meeting students from all over the world was one of the best parts of the program. There were about 150 of us from Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Egypt, Turkey and Georgia, as well as from the USA, UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Sweden and elsewhere in Europe. It was a rare treat to be with so many others as passionate about Greek and other modern languages as I am, and there are many I hope to be in touch with for the rest of my life. An exhaustively rigorous good time was had by all, and I have returned home inspired and motivated to continue in my studies! Daniel Elash is a continuing student in the Modern Greek Studies Program.
Gentle Wagner, MGS Student Tells of Her Trip to the 2001 International Summer School for Greek Language in Thessaloniki.
I arrived in Thessaloniki early in the morning as the sun rose on the Aegean. This return to Greece filled my heart with joy. Upon arriving at the hotel, I realized it was too early to check into my room, so I left my bags at the concierge and wandered the empty streets of Peraia, the village I would be living in for the next month. It was quiet and warm, and I savored the scene of the beachfront restaurants preparing for the day. I found a bakery and ate a warm tyropita.
Near the end of the Spring semester just as I had settled my summer plans for summer classes and research on my hesis, I learned about a program offered by the Greek Ministry of Culture to study Modern Greek at the Institute for Balkan Studies. The program offered classes and excursions to local museums as well as day trips to Amphipolis, Philippi, Kavala, Vergina, Pella, Dion, and Meteora. I quickly assembled my application and sent it express mail just a few days before the deadline. This trip would mean a delay in my graduation date, but studying in Greece was something I had dreamed about doing. Just one month before the program would begin, I received an acceptance letter. I would spend a month in a suburb of Thessaloniki studying Modern Greek language, history and culture.
Needless to say, this trip was extraordinary, yet exhausting. I had language classes six days a week from eight a.m. to noon, followed by an hour-and-a-half course of history or culture. Often, after classes, a few friends and I would catch the bus that took the teachers into Thessaloniki, spending hot afternoons in the shelter of the agora or a taverna. We would return to the hotel in the early evening to study until late into the night. Every Sunday, our only free day, we set out at 7 a.m. for a planned excursion. Though I would have enjoyed a lazy day or two to catch up on sleep and homework, I would have never imagined missing these outings. Despite this, the students managed to take advantage of the Greek night-life. One of my fondest memories is of the first Saturday night in Peraia. My parea and I went to a bouzoukia, returning to the hotel at 5 in the morning. With only two hours before our departure for Amphipolis, Philippi and Kavala, we decided to stay awake to watch the sunrise. As a few boys had brought their instruments, we went to the beach where the boys sang rembetika and danced while we watched the sunrise over the distant city of Thessaloniki.
This program helped me establish friendships with people all over the world studying Modern Greek. Surprisingly, most students were not Greek. I witnessed places I had always dreamed of seeing, such as Meteora. Of the Greek history and culture classes, my favorite was a lecture series on Greek folklore. And, of course, my language skills improved tremendously. I will never regret this change in summer plans.
SFSU Student Lisa Stefanac gives an account of olive picking during her 1999 travels in Greece:
At 7 a.m., I stood on the corner along the main street through Olympia, Greece, beside two Albanian men and my traveling Swiss friend, Christoph. It was cold--even in Greece December is a cold month--and I was shivering under my coat. Christoph and I had met here in Olympia nearly two months prior at the only youth hostel in the town. Together, we had explored the old ruins and the fantastic museum there. Neither of us had expected to stay longer than two days in Olympia. But when we took a long walk through the neighboring olive groves on what was supposed to be our last day, Christoph turned to me, saying, "Wouldn't you like to try that?" He pointed towards a group of workers clustered around one olive tree, beating the branches with long sticks. Christoph and I watched as thousands of olives fell to a tarp spread out below. With the sun setting, the colors of the countryside brilliantly lit up, and the taste of a foreign country on all my senses, I must admit the thought of joining these workers felt exciting, romantic even. But, how in the world would we ever get such an opportunity? Christoph and I laughed off the idea, and decided to walk back to town for some Greek coffee.
By the time we arrived at the cafe, the sun was set, and the air was getting quite crisp and cold. We thankfully received our coffee and looked around for other people withwhom to sit . Four girls about my age were giggling in a corner, drinking ouzo. After introductions, Christoph and I discovered that these girls, also from Switzerland, had been, three weeks now, picking olives in and around Olympia. We couldn't believe our luck! Excitedly, we asked about how to get such a job. Hanna, the friendliest of the girls, told us to go around to shop owners along the streets of Olympia and ask for work. She told us that most of them had olive groves and were eager to find workers to help out in the harvest.
So, two months later, there I was at seven a.m., waiting for Kostas, the husband of Katerina who owned a jewelry store in Olympia, to come pick us up in his truck and take us to the fields. After two months already of olive picking, I knew the routine: pick-up was between 7 and 7:30 a.m., depending on the farmer's quickness in fixing any broken tools at home; then, half-an-hour to the olive fields along bumpy dirt roads (longer if it had been raining because the roads then become slippery with mud); once in the fields, we got straight to work, picking up where we had left off the day before. We spread the tarps out below the chosen tree as Igor (one of my Albanian friends, and fellow worker) climbed the tree with a chain saw. His job was to cut down all the branches that were either growing straight up or laden with olives that would not produce the following year. My job was always on the ground gathering the olives and cleaning them (i.e., removing twigs and leaves from the gathered pile), or I beat the fallen branches with a short stick so as to force the olives off their stems.
I was never allowed to use any of the machinery or tools, besides the stick, mainly because, as I determined, I am a woman. But, I never felt discriminated against for being in the fields; rather, being the only woman, the focus was more about the men intensely taking care of me. Anytime I tripped over a branch or scratched myself on a sharp sliver of wood, I always heard the words, "Prosoxi, prosoxi, Lisa," coming from at least one person.
I took great humor in it all, though, and in the work, too, which was excruciatingly difficult. You see, we worked from about 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and then paused for breakfast, which usually consisted of Greek coffee and a homemade sweet cake. Then, work again until about 12:30 p.m., which was met with a homecooked meal (lamb soup, for example), and bread with feta cheese and onions and tomato. After lunch we rested for about fifteen minutes and were back to work again. The day pretty much ended when the sun went down--around 5:30 p.m. But, on days when the olives were to go to the factory to be made into oil, we worked until about 7:30 p.m. All this work, and my pay was between five and seven thousand drachma, a mere $25 per day.
All those days of being outdoors in an olive grove on a hillside overlooking the western Pelopponese, dirt forever lodged in my fingernails, and scars from various cuts and scratches streaking my hands--all of it was exactly what I had thought it would be when Christoph and I looked at olive workers for the first time. It was a romantic dream come true, complete with all the roughness of reality, and it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life.