In this LCTL Student Spotlight, Nektarios Kasamias, a sophomore Urban Studies major, with minors and certificates in Modern Greek, Korean, and English Literature, talks about his life as a Pitt student and his experiences studying Modern Greek at the University of Pittsburgh.
About Studying at The University of Pittsburgh:
Why did you decide to study at the University of Pittsburgh?
I chose Pitt not only because it made the most sense financially for me, but also because of the range of academic subjects that exist here. At one university, I’ve been able to study four different subjects at once. The multiplicity of subjects that I have to consider everyday has proven to be challenging but, in the end, I really do think it’s strengthened my skills as a critical thinker.
Tell us a bit about your involvement at the University of Pittsburgh.
I joined Global Brigades as a freshman and became involved in their PittServes crossover program, Alternative Spring Break, in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. After participating in the week-long service-learning program last year, I was grateful to be able to lead a group of students on the same trip this past spring break.
I am also really lucky to be a participant of the Inside Out program, a Pitt class that takes place in a state prison alongside incarcerated students. I am taking Literature of the Americas with Professor Shalini Puri at SCI Fayette, and both the interactions with my classmates and the material I have studied for the class have proven to be highlights of my time here.
About Studying Modern Greek:
Did you have any previous second-language exposure before coming to Pitt?
My parents are both immigrants from Greece and I grew up speaking Greek at home and attending Greek school at my local church for most of my childhood. In high school, I took Spanish for 4 years. After my sophomore year, I had a brief interlude with Chinese, when I partook in the STARTALK program at Kent State University. At the end of high school, I was awarded the NSLI-Y scholarship by the US State Department to study abroad and I took a gap year in South Korea. While there I was immersed in studying the Korean language, with a host family and even attended a Korean high school! I still study Korean and I’m currently in Korean 4 at Pitt.
How did you become interested in studying Modern Greek?
Greek was never something I could fully reject since I spoke it before I was really aware of myself. As I grew older, my immigrant family got more and more used to English and less prone to using Greek (I was the last of a long line of kids who had slowly brought the family into an “assimilated” state). With age I became really aware of my status as a heritage speaker, i.e. I knew that my Greek was really basic, and when I first went to Greece I felt as though I barely had a grasp of the language, despite speaking it at home and going to Greek school for years.
At that point, sometime in middle school, I made a really conscious effort to work on my Greek personally, and I was able to slowly improve, fixing small grammar and pronunciation mistakes and being more attentive to my parents’ speech so that I could slowly build my vocabulary. The more I stayed committed (I went to the Greek school at my church until 12th grade, something none of my siblings did) and the faster and more confidently I found myself speaking.
In this time where I have lost the Greek speaking environment at home, formal study at the college level has been the best way to maintain and really continue improving my skills. Having a professor with structured lessons and assignments has made me detach myself from something so integral to my life and helped me see it in new way, so that I now understand it better than I used to.
My ultimate goal of university study is to be able to start reading books in Greek on my own.
How is studying Modern Greek at Pitt different from Greek School?
Local Greek school at my church was important in giving me the base of my Greek knowledge, but it was also largely a "family affair". Greek at the college level has forced me to think outside myself and expand my definition of Greekness and really more specifically, Greek-Americanness. Instead of making my experience the single story of Greek Americans (which I think would be the easy thing to do!) I've had the space and luxury to learn about Greek as it exists across millions of people in the diaspora.
How does studying Greek fit into your future plans?
I really do see myself living, and possibly working, in Greece at one point or another. So, simply put, studying Greek is the only way to make that vision a reality.
What was one thing that studying Modern Greek has let you do that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise?
Studying Modern Greek has made me a better language learner all-around, but its also served a validating function in terms of my desire to really know this language. It's really important to note that, together with my Greek language classes, I've been able to take a culture class as well, and explore Greece and the diaspora in the terms of anthropology. Largely thanks to this joint experience of language + culture, my insecurity about my language skills + identity has been replaced with the real prospect of improvement and, more importantly, an interest in connecting with other people! I mean that, beyond the workbooks and the classroom time, I've been able to discover a larger world of Greek language studies and specifically those studies in a Greek American context. I think this speaks to one of the pros of cultural studies (especially of ones own culture), to make people more invested in the idea of unity and more confident in their own lived experiences.