Yesterday at dinner on campus, I was introduced to a young American man. When he heard my name, he said, “Oh! Are you the Fulbrighter on campus?” It turns out he was a Fulbrighter last year, while getting his Master’s at a university in Athens. Now, he’s a journalist, writing freelance articles for various publications. Being back in Greece after his Fulbright is, in his words, “like going back to summer camp after camp is over.” But he’s enjoying himself, and above all, he’s back.
Indeed, the Fulbright Greece family is a large one. In operation since 1948, Fulbright Greece is the second-oldest continuously operating Fulbright program in the world. Since then, they’ve awarded more than 4,700 grants. Writers, artists, scientists, historians and all kinds of other interesting folk have taken part, and I’ve felt a connection to them since my very first day of teaching here in Thessaloniki.
Faithful readers may recall that my first day of teaching did not go so well. Actually, I’d classify it as just short of catastrophe. I had been in Greece for just over 48 hours, I had no idea how to communicate with ESL students, and both the students and I were counting down the hours til it was over. After teaching, I had to head straight downtown for my first meeting with my Fulbright supervisors, and my first trip into the city. Upon arriving, I had a rather embarrassing incident involving the elevator in the building. By the time I finally got to the Fulbright – Greece office in Thessaloniki, I was close to tears–I was overwhelmed, jet-lagged, disappointed and thoroughly frazzled.
But while I sat in the office, biting my lip and trying to smile, the director of the foundation (Artemis, who has become one of my greatest Greek role models) brought me a fresh-squeezed orange juice and pointed me to an article in the newsletter published in honor of Fulbright Greece’s 60th anniversary.
It was written by one Edmund Keeley, a professor emeritus of Princeton. The article detailed his experience as a Fulbrighter, teaching English at the American Farm School itself… in 1949! I couldn’t believe that the tradition of Fulbrighters at the farm school went back that far, especially because there haven’t been any in decades, as far as I know. As I read about Keeley’s tribulations, I felt instantly comforted; he faced some of the same challenges I went through just that morning, and had not only survived, but had an immensely rewarding experience. He even came away from his year at the school with a rather unconventional prize–a goat! It was then that I began to realize what a strong tradition is behind me in this utterly insane adventure, and what a momentous time in my life this would be. It was the first moment I began to grasp what it really means to be a Fulbrighter.
So, a week ago, I wrote Dr. Keeley (who is now in his eighties) an e-mail describing this story: class-tastrophe, elevator fiasco and all. He wrote a very kind message back, delighted with the story and my efforts to contact him.
And today, I was sitting with Thanos while he sorted through the campus mail when he tossed a thick, padded envelope my way, sent USPS from Princeton, New Jersey. Inside was a copy of Keeley’s memoir, Borderlines. It must be a personal copy of his, as his notes are scrawled all over the inside. And on the first page, in black cursive, is written:
“For Kate Peterson, with my hope that her Greek journey will continue to be full of adventure and discovery, as Cavafy put it.”
Of this, I have no doubt, and I couldn’t be more proud or thankful to be part of the Fulbright Greece οικογένεια (family). My next goal? To write Dr. Keeley a thank you note in flawless Greek.