After nonstop travel of some 30 or so plus hours to get to Thessaloniki, I found myself packing up fewer than 24 hours later to leave, yet again. Allie had gotten recommendations from the faculty that helped her settle in her first few days in Greece that it would be good to use the remaining time before the students arrived to go to Halkidiki, a set of beach lined peninsulas to the south of Thessaloniki that look like three fingers reaching into the Mediterranean. With little direction other than the name of the beach, and a ride to the bus stop, Allie and I turned the weekend into a rather spontaneous adventure of camping on the beach and avoiding the large jellyfish - I originally swam up to one thinking it was a friendly sea turtle. Arriving back to Thessaloniki, I was able to get settled in through the help of Anatolia faculty and other Grinnellians who now live and work in Thessaloniki.
While I cannot say that my time here has been filled with a consistent amount of spontaneity and moments worth retelling, I can say that I have come to really enjoy my life and work here. It seems at this point and time in my reporting I should offer a warning, or at least a bit of advice, before continuing on: this job is not a walk in the park, so to speak. Working in this position, one may get these completely different sensations of having too much to do with very little time to oneself, or having exceptional amounts of downtime with which you don't know what to do. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster getting used to this aforementioned fact of life here.
Starting off, I was thrilled by my new environment - I loved the food, I loved the people, and I even loved the public transportation, which is definitely saying something, as it is often crowded and can take an hour to get to the city center. Moreover, I loved meeting the students as they settled into the dorms, who were assisted by their entire families. I was excited by the idea of being a mentor, a parent, and a friend to each of the 38 students living in the dorm. With the abundance of free time at the start of September, Allie and I explored the city, hung out with the other Grinnellians, and little by little settled into our responsibilities.
Over time, however, I ran into a bit of culture shock. It seemed to me as though I had been having the problem for a long period of time, but in retrospect it was really only a couple weeks long, if that. Since then, I have talked with past fellows, and other friends, coming up with the conclusion that many of the things I was currently having troubles with were merely a fact of what it is to transition out of college life, away from the security of having your closest friends within spitting distance. I realized that many of the challenges are something to take comfort in rather than avoid. One of the major challenges for me, although it wasn't at first, is the large quantities of downtime that you can end up with in between duties or on days that you have literally nothing to do. It was when I realized how much I was learning about myself, or finding new things that I love to do, or have wanted to do but have forgotten about during my four demanding years of life spent at Grinnell College, that I really started enjoying myself.
As for my responsibilities here, I had some freedom in deciding what I would and would not do, and as a result, my duties are rather diverse. First and foremost, just as you will read in any other Fellow's initial reports from Greece, I primarily work in the dorm. About twice a week and every third weekend, I have shifts where I spend my time waking the students up in the morning, supervising the lunch hour, and hanging out with them until it is time to direct them to bed. When I am undistracted by other duties, or the little homework I have for the introductory Greek class I am taking, working in the dorm is one of the most rewarding things about being here. I play ping pong, I try to play foosball, I watch the new music videos on the television, I play Pro Evolution Soccer on the computer, and on occasion I cheer the Greek national soccer team to victory alongside the youngsters. This is only my first quarterly report, and already I have started to bond with some of the dorm students. Just the other weekend, I went along with several to Panorama, the nearby village, for ice cream and to rent some awful low budget horror film.
I don't mean to make the dorm sound as though there is no drama or troublemakers, but in all honesty there haven't yet been any severe problems. The biggest problems that I seem to deal with are several students that don't get along and other students that don't go to bed on time, or avoid studying (couldn't have expected that one, right?). The only times that the faculty and I have had to take action have been several instances of students ordering out food without permission.
Outside of the dorm, Allie and I take turns substitute teaching English classes. For past Fellows, it sounds as though this was a larger part of their weekly lives on the campus of Anatolia, but for us the work has been rather inconsistent so far. The actual work itself can be a bit unpredictable as well depending on whether the teacher's absence was planned or not. When it is planned, whoever is subbing can count on a simple lesson plan. The challenge here is to make the lesson plan last the entire period. If the absence is unplanned, then whoever is subbing must be ready to improvise. I have enjoyed this challenge most when teaching - having to be able to amaze the students so that they stay under control. At first I played games. I taught them how to play the very American game of Heads Up 7-Up. The students loved it, but as a teacher playing this game for anything more than 5 minutes makes you wish you never started playing it at all. As I taught more classes, I had developed side lesson plans just in case the class worked through the lesson early. My teachings ranged from the rules of baseball, to the Electoral College.
Besides the two main duties of this job, I also help coach the gymnasium (middle school) soccer team, assist the President of Anatolia with tasks related to the annual meeting for the AAICU (Association of American International Colleges and Universities), and co-teach with Allie a SAT course for Anatolia students. Each of these are jobs that I enjoy and definitely help to keep me busy when I have little else going on. For those moments when I have all my work completed, and I am able to get away from the dorm, I have found a very talented soccer team with a coach that is kind enough to let me drop in whenever my schedule allows. It took a while to find the team out, however, as another coach at the field, when I asked about the team, told me that it didn't exist (something that the coach I play for later told me is a very Greek thing to do).
To conclude my first report, I will say that although I have been here three months, I don't see myself gaining a complete handle on the city and life here for some time to come. However, at the end of the day, this is what I find most exciting about spending my time here.