by Chris Blake
Think of the typical American college experience. Large, old buildings. A green campus. Meals served in a dining hall. And football and basketball games to go to each Saturday.
Now, imagine a dream vacation. Beaches. Beautiful hotels. Restaurants on the water. And boats coming in and out of the bay.
These two scenes don’t often overlap, except on the tiny Greek island of Paros, and in the even tinier village of Alyki. That is where students live for a few weeks each summer studying Greek with the College Year in Athens’ summer program.
“Learning Greek in Greece is extremely beneficial considering that you’re constantly surrounded by the culture and the language,” Ariana Arbes, a senior at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who studied in Paros in July 2011, said. “It allows for an opportunity that you can’t get elsewhere.”
College Year in Athens, a highly regarded study abroad program that focuses on the history and civilization of Greece and the East Mediterranean region, started off in 1962 with five students and now serves approximately 140 students each semester.
CYA’s summer program, though, is structured differently, with two consecutive four-week programs with offerings in Modern Greek, Archeology and History, Service, Anthropology and Religion. Students studying Modern Greek, for instance, spend one week in Athens before moving to Paros, and living at a beautiful hotel for two weeks. There, they are divided into groups based on their level of proficiency in Greek.
Ryan Collins, a graduate student at Hellenic College in Boston who also joined CYA’s summer program in 2011, was impressed with the course’s teaching methods. CYA’s emphasis on real-world exposure to the language is what stood out for Collins.
“I’ve taken a number of different programs in Greek, and the way that they present the material [here at CYA], the books they use and the professors they have are very good,” he said.
“You cannot teach the language without showing the Greek character, the Greek civilization, because all the words have their roots in Greek civilization.”
The program works because the CYA faculty truly believes that Greek cannot be taught properly anywhere but Greece.
You cannot teach the language without showing the Greek character, the Greek civilization, because all the words have their roots in Greek civilization,” Marinetta Papahimona, who has been with the program since 1979, said. “It sounds a little bit like ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,’ but I cannot avoid it because this is the truth.”
And the professors make sure the students get plenty of Greek character.
When asked what the best the part about the summer program was, Arianna Arbes said it was the filoxenia.
One night last summer, for example, Alexis Phylactopoulos, president of the College Year in Athens program, had the entire summer class over to his home for dinner. Aside from a stunning view of the Aegean Sea, Prof. Phylactopoulos offered dolmathes, spanakopita and other Greek dishes — and a warm family atmosphere.
When asked what the best the part about the summer program was, Arianna Arbes said it was the filoxenia, which literally translates to love of strangers, but essentially means hospitality.
Papahimona has made it her mission to see that the students are comfortable with each other and get plenty of Greek culture because she says it will help the students speak the language. “We [Greeks] are not afraid to show our character… We see something beautiful, we are going to say, ‘This is beautiful.’ We see something bad, we are going to express that it’s bad,” Papahimona said. “This is a little bit strange for [some] Americans… They don’t like to express their feelings so much, they like to listen more.”
“You cannot speak the Greek language if you don’t have the body, the expressions of the face, the expression of the eyes and everything.”
And after watching Papahimona’s colorful interactions with the students, it is easy to see that she practices what she preaches. For example, she asked students questions in Greek and playfully coaxed them into giving the correct answer before she would allow them to board the bus for the trip from the Narges Hotel to Prof. Phylactopoulos’ house. “You cannot speak the Greek language if you don’t have the body, the expressions of the face, the expression of the eyes and everything,” she said.
To learn more about the College Year in Athens, and information on how to apply for CYA’s summer, semester or year-long programs, go to http://www.cyathens.org/.