Now I don’t want to bore anyone with the academic side of my experience, but I do find it incredibly interesting. There are many differences between college-life in Greece compared to back in the states. The college I am attending for the semester is called DEREE – The American College of Greece. This is the first year that Northwest has provided the Missouri-Greece program and, needless to say, I was a little nervous to be its guinea pig. Going by myself to study for a full semester without any prior knowledge of what the school or country is like was both nerve-raking and exhilarating…but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
To help you get a better idea of the academic atmosphere I’ll throw out some interesting facts about the American College of Greece. ACG is home to around 4,000 students from 55 countries. Surprisingly, the student body is about 90% Greek. This has had its benefits and complications. I love feeling fully immersed in the culture when I am on campus, which has allowed me to mamke many Greek friends. Even though the classes are taught in English, most of the students will speak Greek to each other in casual conversations and many times will speak it too me until they notice my blank expression. I have picked up on a few words and phrases and now know the basics of holding a conversation…but I find myself constantly wishing I were fluent in the language. It is easy to get by in Greece by only speaking English because most things are also written in English. Also, all Greek students are now required to know English before they can graduate high school, so communicating with them is pretty simple apart from the strong accent. There are however the traditional Greeks and certain areas that do not speak English very well. My advice is to just use as much Greek as you can (even if you feel silly), because they will appreciate the effort and it will make you look less like an “arrogant American”. My most commonly used expressions are: the formal form of “hello”, which is pronounced “ya sas”; “thank you” is “efharistó”; and of course the all too common “sorry” or “excuse me” is “sygnómi”.
Now back to the campus. DEREE is located on a breathtaking hillside at the edge of Athens. To the right is a picture of the view from the communications building. Definitely not something you will see in the flat lands of the Midwest! The campus is also gated at all times, so all students are required to show an I.D. in order to get in. The reason it’s gated is because when the Olympics were held in Athens, the American team used the DEREE campus as a training facility! Michael Phelps actually swam in the ACG pool and stayed in my apartment building in the room down the hall from me! After the Olympics were over they decided to just keep the gates around campus as an extra security measure.
The structure of the classes is another thing I have had to become accustomed to. I decided to only take 12 credits while I am here so I don’t feel overwhelmed and am left enough time to travel and get the full experience. During orientation at the beginning of the semester my small group of Greek students were shocked that I was taking that many classes. They were only taking 2 or 3 classes this semester! For Greeks, the American College of Greece is very different than what they are used to. This college is set up to be ran the same as an American university with attendance policies, course work, and a structured syllabus. Most secondary schools that are non-private institutions seem to view attendance as optional and as long as you show up for the tests you can pass the class. This is not the case at DEREE. Most of my classes are only graded on the midterm and final, with a few that actually have homework. They have a somewhat strict attendance policy that gives the professors the ability to fail you if you exceed the maximum amount of absences. This worries me a bit considering over half my class wasn’t in my International Business class the first day and only four people showed up for the formative exam last week. My teacher’s response to this was simply, “it’s probably because of the nice weather”.
I find there is much more discussion and argument in my classes. Students are comfortable with yelling out in disagreement with what the teacher is explaining, and in most cases the teacher will yell right back. I have sat through many lectures that have had a religious and philosophical background. I love it when my classes get side-tracked by the current Greek crisis (which happens often), and will spend the rest of the class period talking about why it happened and what they think their future will bring. At these times I am always the awkward American just sitting at my desk observing the conversation and taking it all in.
To give you a better picture of how a typical class may be run I’ll explain how yesterday’s class went. I walked the ten minutes to my only class on Mondays. After hanging out for 15 minutes and not seeing our professor I asked my classmate how long we are supposed to wait before we leave. He said it is typically 15 minutes for a professor, but if they are a doctor you are supposed to wait at least 20 minutes. In America we have the 15 minute rule and then I’m out! We all waited until 12:20 and then decided as a class to ditch. As we walked out of the building we happened to pass by our teacher. I figured our teacher would just cancel the last 20 minutes of class since we had already lost many of the students. Instead, he decided to have the rest of the class underneath the trees outside the church on campus (pictured to the left). We just discussed our different ideas for our project while half the class lit up a cigarette. Since the teacher was late, our class was prolonged an extra 15 minutes. Thank goodness I didn’t have anywhere to be! We definitely are on “Greek time”…even when it comes to classes.
Follow this link for more information on the study abroad program at DEREE! http://www.acg.edu/study-abroad