By Ada Leivada
A touching story of how two long lost friends were reunited after 20 years through learning Greek online has recently come to light.
Teaching and learning Greek means means more than simply completing exercises on how use vocabulary or grammar. In private lessons, before you realize it, the conversation might shift and you might find yourself having spent one hour talking about your student’s favorite food, recent holiday, or career ambitions, or you might even share experiences from a common place you have both visited.
Or you might even spend a long time talking to one another about the important people in your lives. That’s why teachers many times know their students’ best friends’ names, and they know about the personalities of their dogs, or their pet peeves. Just like old friends do.
Freda Holevas Mindlin, a Greek Lessons OnLine student, has formed such a relationship with her Greek language teacher, Stella Bompotsiari. She has shared many stories about her life — which has been full of amazing experiences — not only because she attends a conversation class, but also because her teacher and she share a genuine friendship.
Freda was born and raised in the US and spent most of her young life with her grandmother, who sparked her love for the Greek language and Greece itself. When Greek Lessons OnLine announced their school’s trip to Greece, it came as no surprise to her teacher that Freda was the first to book a spot.
This time, however, apart from old friends and family, she had a very specific person in mind that she was hoping to see.
Freda had a very good friend whom she hadn’t seen in over 20 years. When she asked for her teacher Stella’s assistance to try to find and contact this friend, Stella agreed right away. And this became her mission as much as it had been Freda’s.
One thing you might not know about teachers is that they truly care about their students, they create genuine bonds with them — and they never want to disappoint them.
So the women started talking about ways of possibly reaching this long-lost friend of Freda’s. Freda used to work in the theater world, and her husband’s social life included artists, actors, directors, and producers.
Little did Stella know that she would be looking for one of these people. When she asked her student about the name of this friend, she was in for a surprise. Freda said uncertainly, “I’m not sure if you know her. It’s Rika Dialina.” Did she know her? Of course she did! If you grew up in Greece, you couldn’t help but know her.
Rika Dialina is a wonderful actress from the Greek Cinema’s Golden Age of the 60s. She lent a distinctive flavor to her cinematic work with her wit and beauty in so many movies that Greek families always watch every weekend.
Dialina, Papagiannopoulos, Voutsas, Karezi, Vlachopoulou and so many other actors are an integral part of Greek cinema culture. And watching them is an important family ritual, even today.
When asked about her bizarre experience of trying to reconnect a language student with a film star, Stella relates “every time I had a lesson with Freda, we devoted at least twenty minutes gathering information about Rika’s life. We watched and read her most recent interviews, went on Facebook, and visited several websites referring to her name.
“Believe me, we were acting like professional sleuths! We wanted to find her email, a telephone number or an address to contact her, but it wasn’t easy. I thought one can find everything on the Internet but I was mistaken… Being a failed investigator would not harm my career but would definitely disappoint Freda, and this was the last thing I wanted,” she admits.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending.
In an interview with the website lifo.gr, Dialina explains that when she left America due to her mother’s illness, she decided to sever connections with the people she had met there.
“I met Freda when I was studying acting next to Handman and Elia Kazan. She was married to a very important and famous producer and I didn’t know she was Greek,” she says.
According to Dialina, the two women quickly became best friends and lived right next to one another. However, life had different plans for the two women and they eventually lost touch. Rika thought it would stay like this forever.
Thanks to Stella and Freda’s talent as sleuths and Stella’s friend, journalist Dimitris Papadopoulos, they somehow managed to find Rika’s telephone number. Freda could simply not believe her luck!
One night, Rika she picked up her phone, which was ringing off the hook. “Rika, it’s me, Freda from America,” she heard the woman on the phone say. Rika almost lost her mind with delight upon hearing the voice of her old friend.
They were on the phone together for over an hour, talking about the past and making plans for the summer. After her school’s tour of Greece, Freda headed straight to Porto Hydra to meet Rika and her family. After spending four days together, Freda told me “I felt like the last time I saw her was just yesterday.” “It was like living a dream,” Rika agreed.
The story of Rika and Freda is just one example. According to the teachers from the online school Greek Lessons OnLine, or Greek LoL, there are many people who contact the school in order to learn Greek in hopes of reconnecting with friends or family.
Anastasia is another one of these pupils, and amazingly, she was able to reconnect with her family who live in the Peloponnese after not seeing or hearing from them in 20 years. Despite their warm welcome and the feeling of familiarity and love which never fades, verbal communication was still tricky.
So Anastasia decided to start learning Greek to avoid losing touch with her family again.
Hers is not a “normal” school class, because if you were to pay this class an online visit, apart from Anastasia you could find her aunt or one of her cousins there learning right along with her. In the meantime, Maria, her teacher, also serves as an interpreter and a communications facilitator — and trust me, they will soon consider her part of the family as well.
Being a teacher for a project like Greek Lessons OnLine transcends the typical limits of a teaching job because of situations just like these. Sure, sharing the Greek language with people all over the world and keeping it alive among Greek expats everywhere is one of the most important goals for Greek LOL.
However, bringing families together and keeping them together is its true mission. Greek Lessons OnLine runs with a deep emotional incentive at its heart. Teaching is much more than a job to these instructors and that’s why Greek LOL can proudly claim that it is changing the lives of its students.