By Ada Leivada
The following is the story of Dimitris, a Greek-American teenager and student of Greek Lessons OnLine, who shares his experience of the time he spent in Greece at the school’s summer camp. Unlike other boys of his age, Dimitris is sad to be growing older and not qualifying anymore to relive the amazing experience in Greece.
I first fell in love with Greece because of the fun I had spending time there with relatives in the summers — but now I love the Greek language too. My name is Dimitris. I turned sixteen a few days ago. Last year I was lucky enough to have had the most amazing experience, and I’d like to share that with you.
It’s March 2019. My parents come home one day and tell me that we won’t go to Greece all together, like we do every summer. This time they have a better idea — I will go ten days before them. My aunt will pick me up from the airport and take me to a place somewhere near Corinth.
I look at them startled. I can’t wait to hear what I am going to be doing in Greece — on my own! “There is a Summer Camp for Greek kids from all over the world,” they tell me. “Kids go there and get to be around 2000 kids from Greece … you can make new Greek friends and improve your Greek language skills.”
I panic and get cold feet right away. My Greek is just fine to speak to my pappou with, but I wasn’t sure about talking to all these kids from Greece. “But Mom, how will I communicate with all those kids? They won’t understand me,” is the first thing that comes out of my mouth.
“That’s precisely why you should go! There is a Greek School at the Camp. The teachers won’t make you study or memorize words or grammar rules, but they’ll help you communicate, and take part in all sorts of activities and will support you with everything you need throughout your stay. Trust me, you are going to love it,” she says.
My parents say goodbye to me after we arrive at the airport last July, with my mom on the verge of crying and my dad pretending he isn’t. After I go through the passport control I suddenly can’t see them anymore. I was super excited to fly to Greece alone but I have to admit, I was a bit nervous. But it’s ok to be nervous, I think to myself.
I arrive at the Athens airport and I am so happy to see my favorite aunt waiting for me. Before I know it, we are at the Camp and I start thinking that this looks more like a Western movie than anything I’ve ever seen in Greece. It’s a huge place with wooden houses, horses — and a saloon! The sign saying “The Ranch” at the entrance makes it look like a Western even more.
We are greeted at the entrance by a man called Pavlos. I speak to him in English but he answers me in Greek. Thank God I can understand him, and we continue chatting until we arrive at the Greek LOL headquarters.
Pavlos is a cool guy, I think to myself. He must have been to New York because he asks me very specific questions about NY. I feel comfortable with him so I find the courage to say “You know, I don’t like studying Greek. My parents have been pushing me to learn ever since I was a kid but I don’t understand why I need to.” He starts to laugh. He points at a really nice-looking girl about my age who is walking by. “Would you like to meet her?” he asks.
I feel myself blushing and I respond with my mouth clamped shut. He understands I mean yes and calls her over to us. He asks her if she has been to a Camp before. “It’s my sixth year at the Ranch,” she replies. Pavlos keeps asking her questions and they chat for a while until his phone rings and he leaves.
Katerina and I are then left alone and I am freaking out. There is no way she doesn’t speak English, I think, and I ask her where she lives. She answers in Greek that she is from Athens. Pavlos comes back and speaks the first new word for me for the day, “Halastra!” Apparently, this means “to interrupt two people who are flirting.” He then tells us that he and Katerina need to go to the headquarters, “but after that Dimitris is all yours for ten days.”
A lady named Mrs. Stella then came and took my aunt and I for a tour of the Camp. Everything looked awesome! At some point Mrs. Stella showed me where I would sleep. The sign at the entrance of this awesome little wooden, Western-like house said “Kansas.”
Everything was so clean inside and the beds looked perfectly made. I must be the first one here, I thought. A very athletic guy comes up to us and introduces himself as Panagiotis, my Camp Counselor. I had no idea what he had said, but I smiled and said “Nice to meet you sir.”
“There are no ‘sirs’ here,” he told me, “we are all mates.” He then lifted his arm up for a high-five.
Before I even got a chance to put my things away he invited me to a game of pickup basketball. I put my sneakers on and left for the court. Kansas 3 (my house) was about to start a game with Kansas 6 and they would need me, Panos said. He introduced me to my coach and teammates.
I was a bit nervous about playing right away but when my coach asked me to get on the court I just did what I knew best. I played and helped my team win. Before realizing it we won and I became the hero of the day and felt great about it.
Although I couldn’t have dreamed of a better first day, I did get a bit homesick at night. As I was lying down in bed all these negative thoughts came to upset me. I started thinking I felt alone, I was too far from home and I really missed my buddies. But I also kept thinking that I wanted to have more fun days like today. Reinforcing my belief that “I’m stronger than this,” I finally fell asleep.
The following morning when I woke up our team leader told me to make my bed and get ready because I was going to have my first Greek lesson at the Camp. When I got there, there were more kids from the US and other parts of the world who were somehow related to Greece, just like me.
During the lesson we started learning the “Camp vocabulary” that I had been hearing since the day before but hadn’t really understood.
I felt like I was learning something really useful so I really enjoyed the class. The afternoon class was a Scavenger Hunt. We played using all the words we had learned that morning. “Camp counselor,” “team leader,” “restaurant,” and “canteen” were all new Greek words for me.
I couldn’t wait to start using them with my parents. I generally pick up vocabulary pretty fast so I was helpful to my team because I remembered almost everything. Our team did great.
That’s what most of our days at the Camp last summer looked like. For example, we would learn about food vocabulary in Greek in the morning and we would take part in a blindfolded game in the afternoon where we had to guess the food we were eating, (in Greek!) with our eyes shut. I loved that game!
My team won at the basketball finals and we got a medal! I also got to learn how to ride a horse, and I tried archery and lots of other sports that would take a year to try in New York.
The days went by really fast and before even realizing it, it was my last night at GreekLOL Camp. Time for the Oscar Awards! What, you thought they only take place in L.A.? Well, they also take place at the Ranch. An outdoor amphitheater was filled with about 2000 kids from Greece, myself included, and those from all other parts of the world. We were all anxiously waiting to see who was going to win an award for the whole camp season.
I went “on stage” quite a few times to receive various awards like the one for “the cleanest hut” (that’s what we called the wooden houses where we stayed). Or the award for the best basketball team. But in the end, I went on stage with the best team: with all my Greek LOL classmates and friends. Then I heard the whole Kansas community chanting our names. I got goosebumps, and felt like a real movie star!
No one slept that night. We spent the whole night talking and planning to meet again soon. I invited all of my new friends to New York City. We also started a group on Messenger to keep in touch. And we do! We speak to each other almost every day.
Now, when I post pictures on Instagram you see all these Greek people giving likes and comments. After the great experiences I had a the Summer Camp I also started taking Greek lessons at the online school called Greek LOL.
My Mom is really happy because she had been trying to convince me to take Greek lessons for the longest time. I still don’t care much about reading or writing but I still enjoy my lessons because I want to speak perfect Greek now.
I want to be able to speak in Greek with Giorgos, Andreas, Spiros, Nikos and Katerina (even though she never fell for me). I couldn’t have had a better time than I did last summer, learning better Greek and meeting kids just like me who are now my real friends.