Why Learn Modern Greek?

Special Concentrators' Testimonies

Alexandria Absey

"Choosing to pursue a special concentration in Modern Greek Studies was one of my best decisions while a student at Columbia. I so enjoyed all of my Greek classes as I was able to learn and closely study the language, was exposed to new ideas, and was able to further connect with my Greek heritage. When I attended my first Greek class on the first day of my freshman year, I was not aware of the profound impact that the subject, the faculty, and the classes would have upon my experience at Columbia and upon my life. Thank you for the lessons learned, the most incredible four years, and the unforgettable memories."

-- Alexandria Absey, Columbia University Class of 2021

Antigone Ntagkounakis

"Pursuing the Special Concentration in Hellenic Studies is one of my fondest memories of my time at Columbia. Through completing the Special Concentration not only was I able to take a variety of courses on campus, but I was also able to participate in a summer study abroad program in Athens and complete a senior thesis. Throughout all of these experiences, the coursework and faculty were engaging and pushed me to understand my own connection to my heritage, including exploring language, culture, and history in ways I had never explored prior to college. This combination of academic and personal growth truly made the Concentration a memorable experience and meaningfully deepened my understanding of my other coursework, particularly in regard to the Core Curriculum, over the course of my four years in Columbia College. I’m extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to deepen my understanding of Greek culture through the Special Concentration and continue to value the connections to other students and professors I was able to foster along the way."

-- Antigone Ntagkounakis, Columbia University Class of 2021


"Growing up in a Greek-American household, my father's motto was "Greek in this house"—Ελληνικά σε αυτό το σπίτι—and no question would be answered unless asked in our native tongue. Although making it through Greek School each Friday was oftentimes motivated by the "pizza night" awaiting us at home, when the summer began and my family embarked on our annual trip to Greece, nothing was more motivating than fluently communicating with relatives in the Peloponnese. I "graduated" from Greek School over a decade ago, but since then, the opportunities I have had to further immerse myself in Greek language and culture have significantly impacted my trajectory. For me, learning modern Greek means living modern Greek; not only did I attend the 2019 Columbia "Summer in Greece" program to expand upon my architectural interests in my country of origin, but I was also fortunate enough to spend the entirety of my Junior year taking classes remotely from Greece. The global program I embarked on in 2019 was not far from home—in fact, it was at home—but it inspired me to redefine what "foreign" and "familiar" meant to me, and to challenge even my own language and culture in a way that allowed me to appreciate them even more. And, while the country was in lockdown for the majority of my stay during the pandemic a year later, simply being immersed in the aura of the country deepened my appreciation for the role that language has had—and will forever have—in my life. These experiences inspired me to pick up the Special Concentration in Modern Greek Studies, and I could not have been prouder to submit my thesis in the very country my research was based on. With each summer in Greece, each course taken in the Hellenic Studies department, and each opportunity to rediscover my roots, I have also rediscovered myself, and the way that language has led my learning."

--Anika Tsapatsaris, Graduate Student


“Taking Modern Greek at Columbia has given me an opportunity to reconnect, explore, and deeply learn about my cultural heritage. The department has a stellar array of courses that explore all aspects of the Hellenic world from language to history to film to politics. Even if you are not of Hellenic heritage, it is absolutely worth taking a class and learning about a culture that has had such a vast influence on the western world.”

--Stougiannou Angeliki Elli, Columbia College Sophomore 


“When I’m asked this question, I usually say that I do it for the people—for my professors and classmates who form a caring community among Greek Americans here at Columbia. But as I’ve been thinking about it more, I believe it comes from a deep-rooted desire to heal the oppressive ideologies I’ve witnessed from my own dad, yiayia, pappou, theo’s and thea’s—and harness all of the beauty, acceptance, and love I see and sense in them. I think Greek history and language unlock so many illuminating signposts and pathways to liberation; and I want to create a model of how we can use that history of pain, oppression, and resilience to become agents of change rather than emulations of the peoples and structures which oppressed us. Just like any other case, I believe we can use language and art as a tool to forge that path and penetrate those intersections of history, present, and future in the narrative of Greek/Greek-American identity.”

--Lanajames Kalfas, Barnard College Junior


"Growing up as a Greek-American, I (like many) developed a strong sense of my Greekness, and yet I always felt somewhat removed from my heritage since I never learned Greek. Coming to Columbia, then, offered me a unique opportunity to finally connect with that heritage while also learning about both the history and present state of Greece and Greek identity. The road to developing proficiency in Greek is not easy; it is a tough language. That being said, choosing to study Greek has been one of the most (if not the most) rewarding experiences in my time at Columbia. In studying Greek, you will not only learn and connect more deeply with the Greek language and culture, but you will also form a kind of family with your fellow students and professors as you progress through the courses."

--Leonidas Pappajohn, Columbia College Junior


"Learning Modern Greek provides insight into Greek culture, which is constantly evolving. Contemporary Greek culture has many elements that form a unique combination of tradition and more current, diverse influences. Modern Greek helps develop a more comprehensive understanding and perspective regarding the profound impact Greek language and culture have had on both the global and domestic levels. Modern Greek has also helped me to more fully connect with my heritage and my Greek relatives, and the language has been critical in allowing me to more fully comprehend my identity as a Greek-American."

--Clio Dakolias, Columbia College Junior


"Learning Modern Greek allows me to deepen my relationship with my Greek family because it facilitates our communication. It also gives me insights into Greek culture that I could only get through knowing the language. In addition, though Greek is a complex language, the professors are very effective teachers and make class fun and enjoyable."

--Alexander Johannes Nielsen, Columbia College Junior


“When asked why I study Modern Greek (particularly since it is unrelated to my main academic pursuits) the first reason that comes to mind is the chance to reconnect with my heritage and learn more about Greek American culture. However, over my past two years studying Greek, my favorite part has been the supportive and tight knit community made up of both students and professors in the department. Modern Greek also gives me a more complete understanding of contemporary issues in Greece—for example, we discuss complex topics like race and queer identity and compare historical events with current issues such as the burning of Smyrna in 1922 and the ongoing refugee crisis. The time I have dedicated to learning Modern Greek has been deeply fulfilling on both a personal and academic level and I would definitely recommend this opportunity to anyone interested.”

--Evgenia Kennedy, Barnard College Junior


Like many of my peers in the program, I initially pursued Modern Greek studies at Columbia to better engage with my culture and heritage language. It’s hard to say for certain, but a couple years later I’m rather convinced that I would have landed in the department, as if cosmically, regardless of my own identity and father's tongue. Why? The program’s language and culture offerings are, naturally, wonderful opportunities for students interested in Greek and Balkan studies; but beyond that, I have been pleased to discover a program with a diverse and multidisciplinary set of courses, capable of entertaining a wide range of academic interests and inspirations. Surveying war and occupation, religion and language, nationalism and identity, gender and sexuality, history and folklore, diaspora and refuge, Greece as we may know it unravels and something larger is achieved. I’ve been so inspired by this program's faculty and students, namely by their creativity, curiosity, and warmth.

--William Kanelopoulos, Columbia College


"Before coming to Columbia, I never had a community of Greek-American peers who I could bond with over our culture. Taking modern Greek has not only enabled me to find a community of people I proudly call my friends, but has allowed me to gain more understanding of my heritage. It has brought me closer to my family in Greece not only through language, but through cultivating a deeper understanding of what it means to be Greek-American."

--Christina Deodatis, Columbia College 2023