Jason Carpp was the Grinnell Corps Greece fellow for 2006-2007.
Jason Carpp's Reports
Report 1Jason Carpp
Well, I knew I was in for something special when the immigration officer at Heathrow asked me, smirking, if anyone made fun of my name. It took me a second to realize that he was suffering from the same, isolated form of dyslexia that seemed to afflict every gym teacher I ever had. "Wow," I thought, "I haven't heard that since High School." You know High School and its tag-along sibling, Middle School? I remember those days, the curfews, the awkward flirting, the homework . . . no, I don't remember that part. Well, the imigration officer seemed to open a wormhole and before the whiplash had time to register in my brain, I found myself surrounded by the familiar sights of cliques, pranks, gangly kids who haven't quite figured out how to work the entire length of their newly augmented limbs, mulleted kids playing soccer, outrageous fashions, gyros and bougatsa lunches--okay wait, something's different here. That's right, I'm in Greece! And as surreal as it is to be thrown back into high school and into a foreign one at that, it's even weirder to be an authority figure. All of a sudden the pranks, jokes, studies, and social ups and downs have taken on a new light when viewed from the other side of the rebellion border. And yet, so far, this new role seems to fit and actually be a bit of fun--it's not a bad job at all.
In fact, now that I've been thrown into the world of working with kids in Greece, I can say that the greatest part about this job, and the only part that seems to stay consistently interesting for me, is not the many side-streets of Thessaloniki, the delicious foods of Tavernas and Ouzeris, or even the hills and sometimes present mountains that strut haughtily across the Thermaic Gulf, but it is the kids themselves. People always have interesting quirks and mannerisms, and it's really interesting to watch them develop from a young age. For example, most of the Greeks I have met are very emphatic and expressive with their gestures. However, no matter how normal that may be to the society at large, it still cracks me up from time to time to observe these animated conversations, especially if it involves kids. There is one little guy from the dorm, a new and very short seventh grader, who such broad gestures that they appear to fit him as poorly as a suit several sizes too large. The entirety of his diminut ive frame is routinely shaken in emphasis. (I probably shouldn't laugh, but it looks really funny.) Another interesting quirk involves a young lady who will not drink any water that doesn't come out of a sealed bottle and has to rewash her clothes if anyone else touches them in the laundry room. Now this may sound like a headache, but when you live with these kids and are responsible (in shifts) for waking them up, making sure they do their homework, taking them out on the weekends, and keeping them from inflicting pain, in all its forms, on each other, you begin to develop a sense of family and the infinite patience (or at least forgiveness) that comes with it. And there is a sense of family here, which seems to cross boundaries of age and at times of nationality (although there is much more to be said about this, and I will most likely mention it in my next report). It's a good feeling, and a good 'family'.
Along with the short list of responsibilities that I just rattled off, another duty I have involves directing an extracurricular club. After much initial thought and persuasion, I have started directing the Junior Drama club. This pits me against thrity giggling 14 year-old girls, who are at times both bold and shy, eager and reluctant, and talkative and . . . well, just talkative. Also, sometimes it seems as if they will crush on anything over eighteen with a pulse. So far my main objective has been to keep everyone moving, speaking, and performing for each other. We try to achieve these goals by doing various silly theatre games and warm-ups (many of them lifted from Grinnell's Improv troupe, Ritalin Test Squad), and then we focus on one particular aspect of theatre, such as diction or gestures. I will groan and drag my heels as the day of our meeting approaches, but in all honesty I love this club and I think the sources of my nerves are that I want to do a good job and test my abilities as a drama t eacher. I started playing around with Theatre at Grinnell and I would love to be involved with it in some capacity in the future, so this is a good chance to get my feet wet. Who knows where the club will go in the next couple months? We might work on a play. All I do know now is that we are all getting a lot of opportunities to practice our English, and to practice being silly, both of which I feel are of equal importance.
Of all my duties, I would say that helping kids during study sessions and waking them up in the morning have to be my favorites (at least at this early stage). The study sessions are tests of everyone's patience (I'm finding that my attention span is just as short as a seventh grader's), but I have a lot of fun helping people understand homework questions or quizzing students for an upcoming test. Usually, study sessions end up involving a lot of one on one work, with a few 'Quiet down!' comments and 'stern' faces thrown out to the group at large. It's enjoyable because it seems that there is something really satisfying for both parties when the students think of a good answer or unlock a puzzling question themselves. And as for morning duty, well that's enjoyable because it basically gives me a carte blanche to be as annoying as humanly possible. Impromptu songs, awkward free-style raps, horribly mispronounced cold readings from whatever text book is lying around, 'disco lights', and a booming stage voi ce are all 'treats' you can expect if you can't get up on time.
From time to time there are, of course, difficulties that arise (would you believe that some kids don't want to go to bed? Revolutionary!), and in the heat of the moment they can seem quite extreme and difficult to handle. However, after a good night's sleep, I have no complaints about the kids in the dorm, but rather several compliments. They are all mischevious little tricksters who try to get around the rules as much as we'll let them, but you can't blame them for that and most times it's quite funny after the fact. Besides, Odysseus did far, far worse. So ultimately, the only thing I can say about the kids is that they are by far the best thing about being here.
Beyond Anatolia College, my life is still in its fledgling stages. Will Stroebel, an old friend and fellow (former) Fellow, is still kicking around here and has been a great buddy, tour guide, and translator. Through him and some of Brad and Emily's old contacts (and the exquisite alumna, Georgia), I have started making several Greek friends and the future promises to be full of good times. Already I have seen a few concerts of traditional Greek music as well as some cover bands (imagine putting a jukebox on 'random' and you've got the right idea), eaten at great restaurants, and seen a professional basketball game.
As for the city itself, Thessaloniki is short, squat, dense with a few bald patches, relaxed with occasional flurries of activity, and awake most of the night. And this last description is no overstatement--I was unable to attend my boss' birthday party because it started after midnight and I fell asleep! I have since evolved. (I don't think my parents, who are roughly the same age, see midnight more than once a year.) The city itself is bigger than a breadbox but smaller than Seoul, and it seems either large or small depending on what you are looking to do or where you are. After a twenty minute bus trip down to the city center, you can easily walk wherever you need to go, so it is technically fairly small for a city. But on the other hand, there are so many things packed together and little hidden restaurants drowned in tides of people, that it seems much bigger and more cosmopolitan. However, perhaps I should warn you that I am only a native of Des Moines (and the suburbs at that), who spent a fair a mount of time becoming a Grinnell 'Townie'--so my opinion can only remain just that and shouldn't be taken as fact. Come see for yourself.
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