I have started my month-long intensive Greek lessons! It’s in downtown Athens, which means it takes about 1.5 hours to get there. There’s a bus very near the school where I’m staying, which takes about 40 minutes to get to the metro station. I get on the blue line, and ride that for another 30 minutes or so to Syntagma Square. I exit aboveground at the place where, eight years ago, I rang handbells for a crowd in front of the Parliament building. From there, I walked through the National Gardens, exit near the Olympic Stadium, and walk up a sweat-producing hill (altogether about 25 minutes) to the Athens Centre.
I arrived at the Centre with enough time to fill out a registration form and grab a cup of free coffee. I wasn’t really nervous about the class, but I was…on edge? Ready to be nervous? But I think I’m finally experienced enough that I can walk into an unknown situation with new people and not immediately hyperventilate. Of course, it helped that the Centre is small, beautiful, and comfortable. There’s a fun view of the Acropolis from the roof.
My class is made up of eight students and a very friendly, engaging Greek teacher. Most of us are in our mid-20s, though three are middle-aged. Two people are in Greece because they’re dating Greek men, one is here for a phD project, and the rest of us are here for work. I’m the only one from the United States – others are from England, Italy, Hungary, Sweden, and Israel. Pretty much everyone else has been in Greece for a couple months, but Dina has been teaching me some basic Greek the past couple days, so I didn’t feel too far behind.
As ever, I am totally privileged, because the class explains Greek in English. The teacher is very much in love with her home country, instilling in us an appreciation of how much Greece has given the world (including, apparently, the existence of syllables). She’s very good at explaining things, repeating herself, and patiently helping us pronounce Greek words (what evil created their consonant diphthongs!?!?!)
Although Greek is largely a logical language that can be sounded out once you know their alphabet (alpha beta – OMG), there are a few things that drive me crazy. For instance:
Y, H, I, EI, OI = “ee” ….yes, all five of those letters/combinations create the same sound
Even worse, these consonants, when found together, suddenly make an entirely different sound altogether, for who knows what reason.
ΜΠ = “buh” sound
ΝΤ = “duh” sound
ΓΚ = “guh” sound
The class is three hours long, but we get a thirty minute break a little over halfway through. Ilona, the Swedish woman, was sitting in the courtyard, so I asked if she wanted to go to the nearby bakery with me. I had immediately felt a kindred spirit with her, because whenever we were called upon to recite a list of Greek words, she would burst out laughing halfway through and say, “I’m so nervous!” When we returned to the centre, three other classmates joined us at a table to get to know each other a little better.
We finished our first class at 4:00, and I asked if anyone else was going to Syntagma. Nir, the guy from Israel, said he was, so we walked together. We talked about languages that we know, and when I mentioned knowing a little French because I’d lived in Senegal, he said he’s always wanted to go to Africa. But first, he said, he wants to see Iceland.
“Me too!” I shouted at him.
“The Northern lights,” he said.
“Yes! I want to drive around the entire Ring Road.”
“I also want to go to Mongolia,” he said.
“I’ve been to Mongolia!” I shouted again.
“I want to rent a jeep and just drive all over the country.”
“That sounds AMAZING,” I gushed.
We talked so much that we missed the turnoff toward Syntagma, so we parted ways so he could catch a bus and I could make my way back to the metro. I love meeting traveler kindred spirits. Though she was talking about dating, my conversation with Nir reminded me of Michal Ann’s encouragement months ago: “If you want to meet people who love to travel, go travel yourself, and you’ll find them.” Well, here I am in Greece, and I’ve found some. I think I’m really going to enjoy this class, even though it can only get harder from here.
Now I’d better do my homework.