That’s how I would describe my days of late.
“Hot” because the Greek sun does not mess around. Holy guacamole! It’s only early June, and I am already wilting in the heat; Gingerus Maximus doesn’t do well in this climate, as it were. Most amazing of all is the fact that many Greeks are still walking around in long pants and leather jackets! Just watching them makes me sweaty by association, as all I want to do is rip off my sundress and whine until the breeze comes back. But I don’t, because the sundress is the only compromise I have found between trying desperately to stay cool and not leading my practically glow-in-the-dark skin to a sun-induced slaughter. (If I come home one giant freckle, just know that I tried.)
“Bittersweet” is perhaps an understatement. I leave Greece in just twenty days, and each moment is therefore simultaneously thrilling and devastating. Being so excited to see my family and friends again but absolutely crushed at the idea of leaving my Greek life behind makes each day a total roller coaster. And this is, incidentally, exactly as it should be. A lack of emotional intensity at the thought of either place–Greece or America–would point to gaps in my life on either end, and to my surprise and delight, I don’t believe there are many. I am thrilled with and proud of my well-rounded experience here, and eager to both return to my lovely Montanan life and charge headlong into what comes next in Boise.
There are many, many things I look forward to about going home. My family, my friends, my dog. My awesome hometown and local community. The mountains at my doorstep! Peanut butter (that is, peanut butter that doesn’t cost 5 freakin’ euros for a teeny tiny jar). Pancakes, cheeseburgers! Being able to drive where I want to go, and effortlessly communicate with everyone I meet. The little things that hide from one’s immediate consciousness on a daily basis, but leave such oddly powerful voids when they are gone.
But there are so many heart-wrenching things I will miss about being here. Most of all, of course, I will miss the people. The parea (a Greek word which roughly translates to your group of friends, or the company you keep) I have found here is simply unforgettable. My closest friends here are from Romania, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia/FYROM, Kyrgyzstan and parts of America that are far from Montana. When it comes to those who are from very far away, I have no idea if I will ever see them again, and–especially in the case of the unexpectedly dear friendship I have found in a boy from Romania, who is easily the closest non-American friend I have ever had–the idea of going years without seeing them again is so painful I dare not dwell on it yet.
Rightfully so, don’t you think? All we ever have is the present, so it is there we must reside.
With this as my mantra, my constant goal is to seize every last moment of my time in Greece without too much regard for the past or future. It is easier said than done, and for this busy-brain, I have to stay vigilant. But it becomes easier when one has such wonderful people, places and experiences in which to get completely caught up.
With work, friends and a few last trips, I am staying relatively busy, though it is with new activities. I have been done with my normal teaching tasks at the secondary school for weeks now, because the national exams each student will take took place extra early this year. I’ve already said goodbye to many of my students, which is simply surreal.
Faithful readers may remember that I provided some enrichment tutoring to a highly intelligent first-year student this semester. I spent a lot of time with this student, and saying goodbye was just awful! I had two things to give him as goodbye gifts. One was a jar of peanut butter (for which I paid 5 freakin’ euros), because for one of our especially memorable tutoring sessions, we made his first peanut butter and jelly sandwich and listened to an episode of This American Life. The second gift was a bookmark. I had him make a list of his favorite words in English throughout the year, and then made him this bookmark with some of the words on it so he will never forget them.
Without my normal teaching schedule, my days are now much more free; and, thank goodness, I don’t have to get up at six AM anymore! I love early mornings, but not when I live in a dorm with a hundred Balkan students who normally stay up past midnight but are now staying up even later as graduation approaches. These days, for my own sanity, I am on their schedule. I usually stay up until at least one or two and get up at nine or ten.
After a cup of coffee or four, my days are filled with reading (I’m still doing my research on Kazantzakis, as well as a small side project on James Baldwin which will be carried out on an upcoming trip to Istanbul), yoga and… dissertations. In place of teaching at the high school, I am now helping our college students with their senior theses. These students are studying various aspects of agriculture, agrotourism and marketing.
It has certainly been interesting to explore writing center work with nonnative speakers. I worked with a few international students in my time at the Linfield Writing Center, but not many, and I never felt I was good at it. Here, I am working with students from all around the Balkans. It has been mostly wonderful, with a few challenges. The chief problem I have encountered is with students who expect me to just take out a red pen and correct their paper for them. That’s… well, that’s not exactly how I roll. I believe that if a student wants to improve their paper, they must commit the time to sit down with me and learn how to improve it themselves. Some students simply don’t seem to understand this philosophy. However, this process has been tremendously rewarding too. I’ve finally found my system for helping improve grammar without spoon-feeding answers to an English learner. With native speakers, I usually ask questions until they realize the error on their own. Here, that’s not always possible, especially for those tricky That’s Just the Way It Is grammar conundrums. So, I’ve taken to pointing out what the error is but not precisely where it is located. For example, “There’s an article problem in the first part of this paragraph,” or “Some of these words need to be moved to a different place in the sentence.” I’ve found this lets the student still learn to discover errors on their own without putting too much pressure on them.
Phew! That practically turned into my own mini dissertation there. It’s a good thing I have to run off to more dissertation meetings now, or you’d be here forever. 🙂