Learning about Greece from a classroom is interesting; learning about the Mediterranean country and its rich history by actually travelling there is unforgettable.
Last school year, Middle School students had the opportunity to take an exploratory class called “It’s All Greek to Me.” The class offered students in Grade 6-8 a chance to have real-time conversations with youth living in Greece, while also learning about Greek history and culture. In late June and early July, a group of those students then got to travel to Greece for a two-week service and culture trip that they’ll never forget.
The students visited Athens, but spent much of their time in the small coastal town of Kyparrisia, where they volunteered restoring the local community pool and exploring ancient ruins in the surrounding Peloponnese region.
“The Greece trip is a way for students to bring their learning to life, find creative ways to connect, and build international relations with youth living on the other side of the world,” said It’s All Greek to Me teacher (and chaperone) Ms. Riley McQueen.
The SMUS Review, with the assistance of Middle School teacher Ms. McQueen, interviewed two of the student travellers, Alex Shirley and Tasha Norris, about their experience in Greece.
Why did you want to go on the trip?
Alex – I went on this trip because I’ve never gone somewhere that far east. Also I wanted to experience the culture that we’ve talked about in our socials classes during the year. I also wanted to go on this trip to meet up with some of my friends, but also to make some new ones.
Tasha – I wanted to go on the trip to have the experience and I thought I would learn a lot, not just about Greece, but about travelling and learning how to be more independent while travelling. I thought it would be a really cool experience going to Greece as well.
What did you learn from the exploratory class that was valuable to know when you were on the trip?
Alex – I don’t think the research blocks inside the exploratory periods did justice when compared to the actual sites we saw and learned about.
Tasha – The exploratory was helpful in giving a background of the town and the locals. Next time, I would suggest students read more about the places we are going to and do some research ahead of time.
What was your favourite historical site that you visited?
Alex – It was probably the Parthenon because I learned so much about everything that goes on behind the scenes, but also what the Greeks did to make it look so cool in the beginning. Did you know that because the Parthenon was so large that if they made the pillars supporting the roof straight it would look as if the pillars were leaning out? To fix this issue they tilted the pillars so that the top of the pillar was 10 cm off the base of the pillar.
Tasha – My favorite historical site was Apollo’s Temple because it was really cool to see. I also loved the cycle we did down to the River Neda afterwards. We had a visit from Zeus (thunder storms) midway down and had to jump off our bikes and pile inside the vans. It was really fun to experience it all together.
What were some other activities you enjoyed doing in Greece?
Alex – Learning how to triathlon; even though I don’t particularly like swimming and running I can admire the dedication needed to keep in shape to be able to do an entire triathlon. I liked going on group trips to ancient sites because I was able to talk to the kids from Greece that were with us, and also because I was able to admire the views of the incredible landscapes and mountains.
Tasha – I enjoyed cycling, hiking and swimming. I liked biking in the Elia Forest. I loved Olympia; it was so cool to see where the Olympics were born and to learn and actually run in the same footsteps as the ancient Olympians!
What was it like meeting and communicating with the Greek students?
Alex – I found meeting the Greek students was an interesting experience since I’ve never paired with another group on a trip like this. I think the most challenging part of this whole thing was the language barrier. We had to use a lot of hand gestures to get what we wanted, since most people there didn’t speak very much English.
Tasha – I really liked meeting them, but it was frustrating because it was hard to communicate.
What kind of service work did you do in Greece?
Alex – We helped paint the NOKY’s (the Swimming Club of Kyparissia) fence, since the paint was starting to peel. We said, “Why not help them since they could use our help?” It also made us feel good about helping a club that didn’t have all of the funds needed to operate it to its full potential.
Tasha – We painted the NOKY pool. It was a great team effort and we could tell how much the pool meant to them.
What do you think was the impact of your contributions to the local community of Kyparissia?
Alex – During our time working on the fence I noticed that there seemed to be waves of people coming into the pool, so I realized how important this pool was to the community and how much we take for granted back home.
Tasha – You could tell that they were appreciative of our work. The mural linking the two communities speaks for itself!
What was the most interesting thing you learned about Greece or its culture from the trip?
Alex – It was interesting asking the locals about their views on the referendum, especially since we were in Athens on the day of the vote.
Tasha – I learned that they are a really giving country. Everything was affordable, especially the olive oil. We thought it was going to be at least 50 euro; it was only 5!
Did you ever feel out of your comfort zone and challenged while travelling?
Alex – The only time I felt out of place was coming back from ancient Messini when our bus broke down and we had to get three separate taxis. We handled it well and even got to spend an extra half hour in the town of Megalopolis and get an ice cream.
Tasha – I felt like I was out of my comfort zone when we first met the locals and it was hard to interact. It took a few tries before you could make a conversation work, but it was cool when you figured out a way to communicate that both people understood – lots of hand gestures were needed sometimes.
What is something you learned from your interactions with people from Greece?
Alex – I learnt that most people see you as a foreigner, although they will be very friendly. Also a fun thing to note is that in a small town everybody knows everybody, and you immediately get a understanding of their life.
Tasha – Exploring the village, seeing the day-to-day life of the locals. I learned a lot about the referendum by asking the locals about it and hearing their opinions. It differed based on what careers people had.
Would you recommend other students participate in this trip next year?
Alex – Yes, because there’s lots and lots of traveling, and you get a small taste of experiencing what it is like to be a local in a small town in Greece.
Tasha – Yes, it was such a fun trip and a great experience for everyone to have. It teaches you about the culture in a way where you get to experience it first hand and live it. It’s a great opportunity to build friendships with your classmates; even though we all didn’t hang out at school very often, this trip really brought us together!
Looking back, how was the experience different from what you thought you signed up for?
Alex – I thought that it would just be the school group and we’d do super touristy stuff. To my surprise we ended up almost being locals, to an extent. If there were to be another opportunity to go on a trip of this sort again, I would definitely accept it in a heartbeat.
Tasha – I didn’t really have expectations, I went into it with an open mind. It was an amazing trip!
Read more about the Middle School trip to Greece and check out hundreds of photos on the It’s All Greek to Me blog.