Sociology lessons and ouzo on Mytilene

Over the last few years American students from Michigan University have attended a course of studies at Pirgi on the island of Lesvos and have lived like the Greeks. The students, aged between 19 and 23 years from different departments, arrive brimming with enthusiasm and curiosity. For some it is their first time abroad and away from their families. Every day they walk from the seaside hotel where they are housed to the Kantanadio School, the old primary school in the village, where they follow an series of intensive courses. They study right by the sea, learn the Greek language and Greek habits, mix with the locals and eat in their houses, knead bread, cook traditional Greek food and visit Athens, Myconos, Santorini and Turkey. The whole study abroad scheme is organized by Michigan professors Sofia Koufopoulou and Brendan Mullan. There are two courses of six weeks each every summer and about 30 students attend each time. There is an eight-hour daily study schedule and the subjects include sociology of the family, globalization and political sociology. The students are asked to comment on certain issues both in the classroom and under the stars while enjoying a meal out. Law student Danielle Peterson, 21, said, «The Greeks have taught us so much.» Irish-born Brendan Mullan, a professor of sociology and dean for undergraduate studies, explained, «For the students it is an invaluable experience as they realize they are members of a wider world that is very different from America.» The scheme is very popular and this year there were 200 applications. Some students work hard in order to meet the cost, which amounts to 3,000 dollars, not including air tickets and extra expenses for daily excursions to other Greek islands or Turkey. «Turkey was a great experience and Myconos seemed like an all-night party,» said 20-year-old advertising student Amanda Khoshnoud. Twenty-two-year-old Stacy Endres, who studies anthropology, added, «Santorini has the most beautiful sunset in the world but on Myconos sadly I didn’t hear a single Greek word.» Elisabeth, a 21-year-old Greek American, wants to take a donkey back with her and is often seen feeding the cats, the hotel dog and the bird in a cage. During their stay the students made trips to the Barbayianni Ouzo Museum and pottery workshops to study models of family enterprise as part of their Family Sociology course. Other visits included the tourist resort of Molyvos for their «Globalization» course, the Teriade Museum and other places of interest to the students. «The unique family enterprises with their little shops were impressive in comparison to the big chains that exist in America,» said 21-year-old Camille Secor, and summed up her experience of six weeks in Greece: «I made friends, I learned a great deal, I acquired a broader perception of the world, I have a strong desire to visit every corner of the world, I developed a relationship with the teachers that I wouldn’t have done in normal circumstances, I became more mature, more patient, I learned some Greek words, a craving for Greek ouzo and I put on quite a few kilos. Your food is great.» On the last night, they held a farewell dinner. The room was decorated, the students cooked, they gave gifts to the families with whom they had eaten during their stay on the island, they gave speeches struggling with the Greek they had learnt from their teacher Erifyli Chiotelli and distributed the awards for «the biggest whiner,» «the most Greek,» «the one who was permanently in love» and «the party animal.» The many hours of study, compulsory essays and mosquito bites will be forgotten quickly. The new friendships forged, the knowledge acquired, an understanding of individuality and collectivism and their six-week-long experience living like Greeks will travel with them to the other side of the Atlantic.. This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s weekly supplement K on September 23.