Lucy McCormick was the Grinnell Corps Greece fellow for 2006-2007.
Lucy McCormick's Reports
Report 1Lucy McCormick
I guess my first reaction to the arrival of the students and the official start of my job was somewhat predictable: it was anxiety. What began as a quiet Sunday evening morphed into a crazy scene as the kids started arriving in what seemed like hordes. It was a little overwhelming when looking at the sudden numbers (in actually only a little over 60). Perhaps this nervousness was compounded by the fact that I was little unsure of exactly what my job was. Yes, I knew the basic rules and expectations but I didn't know all the 'detail' rules, which are really equally important because these are the rules that the kids will try to negotiate on, banking on the fact that you don't really know the 'real rules' yet. More importantly, I didn't know which rules weren't actually rules. And most importantly, I didn't see how on earth I was going to be able to figure out who all these boisterous kids were if they never really kept still. I felt I was in a veritable maze of unanswered questions to overcome.
However, it's been two months since the kids arrived at their home-away-from-home, Ingle Hall, and it didn't take us long to get to know them all afterall... The mischievous, the shy, the out-going, the lethargic, the curious, the stubborn, the sweet, the silly, the exhibitionists, the comical, the homesick, the loyal and the genuine all shone through and gave us a sense of the way the little community of the Anatolia dormitory system works and our place in it. After a week or so of guessing names and doing all the various duties for the first time (experimental learning at it's best), the beginning of competence was achieved.
To describe my job in a general sense, or at least the general spectrum of it: In the best sense we try to create a family, on the other hand we're regulators, simply here to enforce a semblance of order and assure safety. On the one hand you can understand why this job is necessary: teenagers are a bit impulsive and perhaps aren't quite ready for the responsibility required by the self governance of Grinnell. But on the other hand, I sometimes feel that the more rules the kids have the move restricted they feel and, as a result, the more obligated they they feel to rebel. It's hard for some of them to understand that I'm here to be their friend, unless (or until) they break the rules and then I must assume the position of authority figure. I guess it's not only hard for kids to understand this, but also hard for me to maintain this balance of conflicting roles. I've found that this authority problem is somewhat heightened by the fact that we're close to the kids' age, and seen as outsiders (non-Greek) and relatively impermanent members of the dorm faculty, being in the one year post.
I'll briefly describe Anatolia and our jobs here more specifically, though these basics are pretty well reported on by past fellows. First, our main responsibility is to fulfill the role of dorm counselor/advisor. We wake the students at 7; we are here after school and weekend, during which time we run study halls, check the kids in and out, put them to bed, help them with homework, talk to them, and, generally, maintain the peace. We have the tough and often contradictory jobs of being both friend and authority figure.
But back to the familial ties. It's true that there really is a sense of family among the kids; I've been throughly impressed with how well the kids help each other and get along (for the most part), how strong their relationships are, and how these friendship cross age lines. Depending on the students' desire to get to know Jason and I, trust as, and let us into their lives, and speak in english, I would say that we've already developed a familial atmosphere. The kids that have become more attached to Jason and I tend to be the younger half of the student body. They also happen to be the less argumentative of the students, so maintaining good relations with them is more easily accomplished than with the older kids who have a point to prove or "a rep to protect".
And while I'm on the topic of reputations and social dynamics between teenagers, I've really found that these Greek teens are pretty darn similar to American teens. Whether this is due to the universality of adolescence or the effects of globalization (you can be sure they've absorbed all the details of the newest Justin Timberlake music videos) I'm not sure. Regardless, the students are consumed with the typical teenage traits: wanting to fit in, great amounts of energy and enthusiasm, having their cell phones strapped to their persons at all times, and, last but not least, they have their own ideas about how the rules should be (as their need to assert their independence becomes irresistibly strong, the sympathetic former-teen in me reminds myself now and then).
Most of these kids are very driven students; they are blessed with a lot of natural intelligence (many of them being here on scholarship) but they are working quite hard all the same, with 10 subjects on their agendas. All of the kids are pretty fluent in english, though I've found that this does not always mean that they will interact with us of their own free will.
This year is marked by some large changes in the dorm. First, The kids living in the dorm are fewer than in past years. This population decline is the result of some kids getting expelled from the dorm last year, some leaving of their own accord. Because of these drastic changes within the dorm, disciplinary measures are really being emphasized. Furthermore, more than half of the dorm staff is new this year and so it's been a bit 'experimental' at times.
To conclude this first report, I'll just say that I've settled into life here pretty gracefully. The transition's slightly easier in a country where an afternoon nap is almost mandatory (from 2-5 shops close and it's informal quiet hour everywhere.) I usually try to resist the oncoming nap because it seems like a dangerous habit for an American pick up, unless he or she is under the age of 5 or over the age of 80). However, I will say that there's something drowsy and insistent in the air at that time of the day that sneaks up on you and sometimes I just can't help myself.
Jason and I have gotten to do a fair amount of travel so far, which is one of the major bonuses of this fellowship. So far I've made it to the beach once, up Mt. Olympus (as a chaperone for the senior class trip) and to Meteora, which is a place with 500 year old monasteries perched upon amazing black cliffs.)
Other than naps one of my favorite Greek cultural institution is the balcony. Houses and apartments here are built so that everyone has a balcony. And everyone puts their balconies to use whether it be to sit, to dine or to grow a thriving little elevated garden. Balconies are also an irreplaceable part of the Greek social glue. People shout across streets to talk to their neighbors and you can see many old women and men just sitting for hours and leaning over the rails to watch when anything really exciting walks by or takes place in the street below My friend Georgia, a Grinnell alum, lives in the apartment that her father grew up in and that her grandmother lived in for the majority of her life. The neighbors have also been there forever and so they watch over Georgia (much to her dismay) and tell her stories about her father as a child. I find the fact that this kind of memory remains on any given block amazing.
But enough about naps and balconies. Until January...
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