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Stories: Amazing Greece
by Wendy Irwing
Tekanis?! ―How are you?
I finally got my compuyer hooked up to the internet and to email ― it was quite a fiasco getting all the parts to work!
I've been teaching in Greece for about a month now, and I love my classroom ― its balcony, which is on the third floor of a building in the village of Derveni, provides an incredible view of sunsets over the mountain peaks that reflect off the sea, and I love my students.
My classes have only about 10 students in them. I don't need to know Greek because my students are all advanced enough that they can understand me.
"This is when you stop worrying and begin living"
The curriculum is pretty well
set-up for the younger students, and for the older kids―I teach them just
like I do American students.
I teach writing, speaking, and a novel (Remains of the Day) to the advanced students. (The students have other teachers at my school for test preparation, grammar, reading comprehension, and listening skills.)
What has really surprised me is the amazing vocabulary of the students here.
They put our public school
students to shame. I'm teaching with higher standards here, and at a
higher level (with younger students) than I did back in America.
It's really incredible. For one night's homework, I can assign four
pages of out of a workbook, a chapter to read, a composition to write, and
the students DO the work―and on time! I'm blown away! We mostly have
discussions in class―the kind of teaching I always imagined myself doing.
Some students have English lessons four times a week, plus another language (German, French, or Italian) and math and/or physics and/or chemistry tutors. They know that they only have one chance to get into the Greek university, and if they miss that chance they have to go out of the country for college.
I wish American students had a greater appreciation for the educational
opportunities that they have.
My employers pay my rent and utilities, so all I have to worry about is my internet/phone bill.
The apartment is on the first floor of an unfinished building. The upstairs is bare concrete and will some day be the home of my landlord and his family.
The apartment has been constructed since I've been here. When I first saw it, I was very appalled―just stark, gray, gloomy concrete everywhere! Now the first floor is completed, and my apartment is rather upscale for Greece.
It has only one bedroom, but the place is new and clean (free of cockroaches and mildewed tile floors!)―unlike the older homes in the neighborhood.
I have a washing machine (no dryers exist here), a balcony (not very
far off the ground), marble floors, and a television that picks up CNN
(unfortunately the Greeks dub over the English most of the time) and shows
lots of English/American movies.
Down the street is the Gulf, and across that are mountains that are rarely visible due to the humidity/haze. Up the street are "medium-sized mountains," which are about 3,000 ft. high; the slopes of which are covered with lemon trees and olive groves.
The "new" national highway follows the base of these
mountains and so do the train tracks. If I climb up to the roof of my
apartment building (three floors up), to hang up my laundry, I have an
incredible view of the coastal villages, and at night I can see the lights
of the villages in the mountains on either side of the Gulf and the lit-up
cross on the walls of the monastery on top of a nearby mountain. (Not to
Standing on the rocky/pebbly beach, a person can see about 15 yards out into and about seven feet under the surface of the water. Flashes of silvery fish (about stream trout size) can be seen as they swim along the shore.
I've even seen schools of dolphins playing out in the Gulf. Ships of
all sizes are constantly passing by, and local fishermen have their
(row/small power) boats moored every 100 meters along the shore.
Since the beaches around here are made up of polished, round pebbles,
the waves, as they recede, draw the rocks with them, creating a sound
similar to hundreds of beads being poured out of a jar.
In the afternoon, people go swimming or take naps; in the late afternoon, the men sit in cafenios drinking Greek coffee while playing Backgammon.
It's appalling to see men sitting around doing nothing all evening,
knowing that their wives are slaving away over dinner and housework back
It can be very annoying when
a person is trying to sleep. At about 1:30 P.M. people have lunch (you'll
notice I didn't mention breakfast―Greeks don't know what it is), and
after 2:00 P.M. the stores are all closed, and the Greeks take naps and/or
swim until 5:00 P.M. On some days, the stores open up again at 6:30―which
makes shopping for me very difficult when I sleep in until noon and go to
work from 3:00 until 10:00 P.M.!
The stores close around 9:00 P.M., and dinner is served around 10:00 P.M. if not later.
Restaurants and bars often
stay open until 4:00 A.M.!
Stores owned by older Greeks are generally just piles of stuff stacked here and there, and the store lights aren't turned on unless you really need to look at something in the back corner where it's completely dark.
When I go out with a list of things, and I'm happy if I come back with two or three items. (I'm getting better about making lists of items that I know I can find.) I'm especially grateful that the modern concept of super markets has arrived in Greece―just within the last ten years.
The new stores are almost as good as shopping back home; the food is
displayed in an organized manner, and I can recognize some of the brands!
However, I still go to a separate store for meat, produce, bread, and for
cookies―some things a girl has to have!
My employers have treated me to a trip to the island of Mykonos―the one with the windmills, the white houses with the blue trim, and the narrow streets (and where all the gay men go for vacation!). I really had fun shopping there because the stores stayed open until 1:00 A.M.! I also managed some trips to Athens (the acropolis and the Parthenon are incredible) and to the island of Spetses before school started.
Traveling to the islands can be pretty tiring, though, because the
ferries are only so fast. I did really enjoy a trip in a hydrofoil―a very
fast cruiser-type ferry.
I already have a list of things to do with her or with whoever shows up
for a visit. (By-the-way, if you're taking a class, apply for an
international student I.D. card; it will reduce your travel costs by
But I really miss breakfast foods, junk food, fast food, Chinese food,
and I miss Mexican food. I think I need to stock up on Doritos, Pop Tarts,
and Cream of Wheat when I go back to the states
They don't pay much attention to lane divisions, and the "shoulder" of the road is really a lane for small cars.
Passing can be done anywhere at anytime―a lot like the game of chicken―but instead of using turn signals, the Greeks honk their horns (which is all the time!).
I don't recommend renting a car if you come to visit. You can borrow my
bicycle if you want, though, and you can use the cart I just bought for
hauling groceries from the super market to the bus stop―I know it's for
old ladies, but I'm a wimp, and I didn't like dragging my knuckles on the
ground after carrying bags all over town.
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