Tag Archives: foreign languages

The Value of Greek

I am such a linguaphile, I can’t even help it.  Too young to attend school under the French Immersion program like my older brother, I made up my own language to compensate.  Obviously, I refused to ever let my brother in on its secrets, which annoyed him to no end.  In seventh grade, I attacked French with gusto.  In ninth grade, I traded all my high school electives and part of my summer for the chance to take Spanish.  In college, instead of just testing out of both languages, I let my scores stagnate and struggled through Arabic.  And oh, have I struggled.

So when I found out I was going to Greece, learning the language seemed like a no-brainer.  I got a phrasebook, I signed up for language-learning software via Odysseus, and I started trying to re-learn the Greek alphabet (with correct pronunciation, no thanks to the Greek system of American Universities.) I know from my experience with Arabic that truly knowing the alphabet through and through makes a huge difference, and I intend to have it fully mastered, along with basic phrases, before I leave in September.  When I’m in Greece, I fully plan on auditing one of the Greek 101 classes that my students take.

Since then, however, conversations with several people have caused me to question my resolve.  How realistic is it for me to become conversational between now and December, when I return?  How often will I used Greek after this trip?

I suppose this really gets at the question of why do I study languages?  When people ask why Arabic (no one ever asks Why Spanish? or Why French?) I sometimes answer, “because I wanted to read the Qu’ran.”  That’s true, but I have no intention of reading it in its entirety in Arabic (I’ve read passages in class, but lack the stamina and vocabulary to do the whole thing), and it is widely available in English.  When I started learning French, I had no thoughts on going to France.  It isn’t that I didn’t want to go; it simply wasn’t on my radar or in my mental conception of the possibilities of life.  I did, however, start Spanish with a clear head.  I knew two things: First, speaking three languages instead of two would be both challenging and a feather in my cap.  When it comes to education, I am equally seduced by the challenge and the accolades.  Second, I knew that a person who speaks English, French and Spanish can talk to the majority of the world’s population.  Adding Arabic to that list definitely reduced the number of people in the world with whom I cannot communicate.

So going by this criteria, learning Greek will definitely fire me up with the challenge of it all.  Plus, it’s a different alphabet (which ups my linguistic cred) and if I ever want to catch up with Theresa Hines-Kerry I need to get a move-on.  (She speaks seven languages at my last count.)  Greek will definitely add a lot of people to my can-communicate list, however it has nowhere near the numbers of my other three languages.  While Greek will be super-relevant for three months, it likely won’t be much use after that, unless I apply to work for a study abroad provider in Greece after I graduate, which is not out of the question.

I’ll keep you posted on my trials and tribulations, and in the end work may keep me too busy, but I think what it boils down to is this: I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try. 


Reasons I’m suddenly happier about Cuba:

Going home doesn’t seem so far away. A weird paradox, but knowing it’s soon frees up some mental space to stop stressing and start enjoying

We went to Santiago. For one thing, I love that city.  Another is that we got a change of pace, making Havana seem fresher, and my time there more precious, in addition to giving me an entire new perspective on Cuba

I emailed Ilham. She was a faculty leader on the egypt Dialogue, and she’s on of my personal rock stars.  All throughout Egypt we had to keep journals for reflection, and I was very conscious that Ilham was reading it, at times almost treating it like a conversation with her and expecting her to react the next day about something I had written the night before.  Something about writing her a conversation for real was comforting, and reminded me of the person I’m trying to be, both personally and academically.

Our Group. The people I’m with includes Michigan and NU students, house staff, Casa staff.  I’ve noticed that the whole group is a lot more zen lately, especially about interpersonal relations.  I’ve seen people cutting each other slack where they wouldn’t before, and spending time with people they hadn’t before.  The relaxed attitude makes our house so much more pleasant to live in.  It fills it up with boisterous, friendly chaos, instead of jarring, staccato coldness.

I watched some American TV.
Dumb, I know, but it helped.  It was also fun to just be American kids for a little while.  We could’ve been anywhere at home, lounging on a couch, eating (fake) pringles and watching television in English.

Food. Aliesha’s mom sent a giant box of goodies, and Kristina’s mom brought some homemade cookies and pancake mix.  We also got great, filling breakfasts in Santiago, and decently priced, delicious food for lunch and dinner.  That was probably one of the only times I’ve felt truly satisfied with a meal her.  To boot, there aren’t as many shortages right now on staples like bread or eggs.

Home is a wee bit more organized. I know when my flight leaves for France, and when I come home from Benin.  I can go to Andrew’s graduation (after missing so many important events in his life this past year) and I can go to BMG’s first communion.  The first thing she asked was whether I would be there, and I hated that I didn’t know and wasn’t really in control of the answer.  Cuba has made me really laid back (in some ways), but I feel calm knowing I won’t let Miss Bridget down.

It’s amazing how much your perspective can change by seeing your world through someone else’s lens.  It felt good to have someone well-traveled recognize that Cuba is indeed strange.  We’re not imagining it, this really is hard, and it really is different from going to Australia.  I also loved realizing that what comes to mind about Cuba for me is all the good stuff, and I see all the bad stuff in a good light.  Things that other people found strange, stressful or scary rolled off my back with a laugh.  Someone said that we’re a funny group, but I countered that no, it’s just Cuba that’s funny.

I really do believe it.