Modern Greek puts down roots abroad

From Arizona to Beijing and from Turku in Finland to Cape Town in South Africa, the Modern Greek language has put down roots far beyond its narrow geographical borders. Its ambassadors are the hundreds of foreign academics who have set up Modern Greek language courses at universities in their own countries. A list compiled by the Greek Education Ministry shows that 344 university-level Greek studies courses are operating on five continents. Most (179) are in Europe, 63 are in the US, 10 are in Latin America, nine in Canada, 34 in the former Soviet republics, 22 in Asia, 16 in Africa and 11 in Africa. The courses are directed at those who wish to learn about the Greek language and culture, as well as some 120,000 pupils of Greek origin in 64 countries. Greeks teach at many of the centers, and for next year the ministry has announced 36 new positions in countries such as China, Korea, Thailand, Spain and Turkey. Universities abroad have always had good reason to establish departments and schools of Greek language and civilization. Aside from this, ancient Greece and its civilization served as a backdrop for the initial development of many modern sciences. Plato and Aristotle still exercise their fascination, as do the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, which are still performed, both by great state theaters abroad and by small experimental theater groups. In the past three years, however, Greek studies have taken off. The Olympic Games of 2004, which broadcast images of contemporary Greece around the world, was one stimulus. Moreover, Greece’s role in Southeastern Europe (one of its two EU members) and the opening up of the Greek economy and businesses to external markets have created new demand for people who know Greek. A typical example is Su Tao Yian (known as Dimitris to his teachers and fellow students), who is studying at Shanghai International University. His aim is to become an interpreter, now that Greek-Chinese trade relations are booming, he told Kathimerini on the occasion of Greek Education Minister Marietta Giannakou’s official visit to China. «Great interest is being shown in Greek in many countries. Greek studies departments are being set up in countries like Uzbekistan, Jordan and Tunisia,» Ismini Kriari-Katrani, a professor at Panteion University, told Kathimerini. «Of course Greek studies are booming at universities in countries which have traditionally been bastions of the humanities. And interest is not solely in ancient Greek culture and its representatives, but also in modern Greece. This is partly because we are already living in a ‘global village.’ The notional borders between states have been blunted and people can get to know other cultures more easily. And they can find an outlet for their scholarly interests.» Kriari-Katrani believes that the growing interest is partly fueled by Greek art, folk traditions, music and literature, and the fact that Greece is the center of Christian Orthodoxy. The Greek state is understandably keen to foster interest in Modern Greek. The Education Ministry has seconded 66 teachers who support the work of foreign teachers. In some cases it is hard to fill the positions, especially in distant countries. «It is a difficult mission,» said Kriari-Katrani, who urged teachers keen on teaching Modern Greek to grasp the opportunity to get to know another country and culture. After all, she added, «let’s not overlook the added financial benefits» of a secondment abroad.