BY MARINA STELMACK, HG 2016
Since I was a little girl, I have assisted my γιαγιά and παπού with their acquisition of the English language, while they simultaneously taught me how to read, write, and speak in Greek. As my grandparents learned English, and while I learned Greek, I not only witnessed our successes, but I also noticed our linguistic struggles. Our struggles, especially, elicited a spark and calling within me to help others learn English.
A month before I left for Heritage Greece, I was afforded the opportunity to do classroom observations at the Hazleton Area Middle School in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. In recent years, big corporations, such as Amazon, have opened warehouses in Hazleton, which has caused many job-seekers of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to move into the area. Prior to this, Hazleton was not a place of great diversity; however, today the Hazleton Area School District documents over 1,500 English language learners, also known as ELLs.
I was beyond excited when I found out that I would be observing in both seventh and eighth grade classrooms during my two weeks in Hazleton. Because I am an English Education major with an ESL Certificate, I was able to observe in both literature classes and in ESL (English as a Second Language) classrooms.
BY NICOLE VOURNAZOS, HG 2010
I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since we have all seen each other! As I scan the crowd, I see lots of familiar faces. It seems like it was yesterday when we were all in Greece together: Cynthia was laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Alexa was helping me practice my Greek, and Noël and I were exploring the beach. Now, here we are seven years later.
There are many new friends in the crowd as well: friends from past year’s reunions. These are my new parea! These are the parea I have met through listening to speakers talk about our proud history of Greece or through working on the oral history project for the National Hellenic Museum. And it doesn’t matter that we only just met, as I get overwhelmed with questions: how are your brothers? How is California? And, perhaps my favorite, when are you coming over for dinner?
These are the exceptional friends I have met and bonded with through each year’s reunion. This year was no exception.In this year’s activity, we were split into teams and tasked with building the largest statute out of spaghetti (no easy feat!). If someone looked at us from afar, they’d think we had grown up with each other and known each other for years (which I can now proudly say that some of us have). Another reunion goes by and our friendships continue to grow!
With this in mind, I want to share our renewed mission: “We are the Heritage Greece Alumni Network, a distinguished association of young Greek American students and graduates that participated in the NHS Heritage Greece Program. We serve as ambassadors of Hellenic heritage by supporting the expansion of Heritage Greece and other programs that promote Hellenism and create rewarding opportunities for HG Alumni. Tobe part of the HG Alumni is to be part of the NHS family...”
As I took my seat in a courtyard beneath the Acropolis, I can honestly say that I had no idea what was in store for me. The play was just about the last thing on my mind as reﬂecting on the last (and the best) two and a half weeks of my life. How could it be over? It seems like just yesterday I was at the Welcome “Barbeque,” meeting the peers that would quickly become some of my best friends. I simply could not imagine going back to my life, so far away from anyone who had been on this life-changing journey with me.
The lights slowly dimmed and Socrates Now began. Immediately, I was enraptured by the performance. As I looked around, I saw about 70 of my new closest friends, and I began to think, “This is what brought us here. Our ancestors were revolutionary thinkers, they changed the world through mathematics, philosophy, and sciences, and here we are, thousands of years later, so what should stop us from doing the same?” Over the last two and a half weeks, I learned that I am surrounded by incredibly bright minds. It became clear that we were all chosen to take part in the Heritage Greece program for a variety of reasons including our creativity, ingenuity, and intelligence.
This past May, Heritage Greece alumni had the opportunity to visit Chicago and volunteer at the National Hellenic Museum’s annual Gala. As the National Hellenic Society is a supporter of the museum’s initiatives, NHS members and HG Alumni were involved with the preparation and execution of the fundraiser. After we arrived Friday evening, the ﬁrst destination of our mini-reunion was a nighttime comedy show in the heart of the city. This show was our ﬁrst chance to see one another after months apart. On reunions such as this trip, my HG family extends as I not only have the chance to see close friends from my own Heritage Greece trip, but also from previous years’ trips, extending my Greek friend group and network even more. Despite only meeting each other for a short period of time, we all bonded over our common experiences and similar memories of Greece, as we all expressed our enthusiasm for the program and a desire to visit Greece again someday.
The next day, we embarked on a private tour of the National Hellenic Museum. Having never been to Chicago before, this tour was a chance for me to see the museum for the ﬁrst time and learn more about the organization we all travelled to assist. The featured exhibit we saw was “Transcending Boundaries: The Art of Anthony Quinn,” featuring information about the life of Anthony Quinn and multiple sculptures by the artist. One part of the exhibit even showed the workshop wherein he created his art. Of course, one of the highlights pointed out to us were the scenes and photos of Anthony Quinn starring in Zorba the Greek. It was amazing to see how someone who was not of Greek descent was able to embody Greek culture so well, as he cared so deeply about it, becoming Greek in spirit. His example serves as encouragement to the rest of us to value our heritage. Another exhibit, entitled “The Greek Story in America,” featured photographs of early Greek immigrants and their businesses, as well as the history of the Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S., furthering our education about how our heritage transcended mainland Greece.
‘Epomeno stathmo: Piraeus. Next station: Piraeus.’ It was my ﬁrst time in Piraeus since I had taken a day trip to Aegina nearly two years ago but I remembered it all the same. Exit train. Follow the mass of people toward the main street. Pass by the Everest and smell the strange mixture of spanakopita and coﬀee. Cross the busy street without getting hit by a cyclist or taxi. Enter the port. It was all familiar to me yet I knew it was diﬀerent. I entered the port and took a deep breath as I boarded the bus from Gate E8 to E1, anxious for what awaited me.
Everything seemed normal until I approached E1 and E2. That’s when the Coast Guard boarded our bus and started selectively asking for papers. I clutched my small bag, hoping that a US driver’s license would be suﬃcient; I had no boat ticket. In my mind, I practiced the Greek over and over again in my head. ‘I’m here to help the refugees. Eimai edo yia na voithiso tous prosfuges.’ But no one asked me for anything, my skin still pale coming out of a Vermont winter and not yet acclimated to Greece. At the time I thought it was just luck that no one had demanded to see my papers, as I saw a young Greek man, about my age and sitting across from me, questioned. Later, when I spoke to one of the volunteer organizers, voicing my concerns about returning to the port without papers, she said plainly to me ‘You will never be asked. You are white.’
Tablet Magazine is a non profit magazine relating to Jewish life, heritage, and culture. Recently, they took a look at how the Birthright Isreal trip has influenced other cultures. The National Hellenic Society was interviewed regarding the Heritage Greece Program. Read the article HERE!
In October 2013, I was invited to the National Hellenic Society (NHS) Reunion Weekend as a representative of the Heritage Greece 2012 (HG2012) class. While I was sitting on the plane to Las Vegas unable to sleep, I had a thought – how can I make applying to college easier? I’m not quite sure what drove me to have this idea nor why my immediate consideration was to use math to try and solve it. Over the course of the flight I wrote an initial draft of what I called College Application Selection: A Student Perspectives Based Approach.
My plan was to create a model that would help a student choose which colleges to send applications, given that he or she has already done initial research on colleges, and has a specific budgetary constraint on the cost of applying. This model would take as input the list of colleges and the budgetary constraint, as well as factors in which each college would be rated and the ratings for each college. It would then act as a black box, and output for the student a list of schools that would maximize the total value of schools applied to.