Athens, Greece – The Universal Language – by Allison Brennhofer. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
Three friends and I traveled to Athens, Greece. It was an amazing trip, in my opinion. The weather was not the best but I have dreamed about visiting Greece since I was a child, so I viewed the entire trip through rose colored glasses. We saw the Acropolis and various other ruins and sites that blew me away. The sheer amount of history held in one city is astounding to me. I also grew up reading Greek myths and legends, so it was a little unreal to be able to see these temples and places dedicated to the gods and goddesses.
None of us speak Greek. However, that was never an issue. I had been a little nervous about the language barrier, but the city was incredibly easy to navigate without knowing Greek. We either walked or took the metro everywhere. All of the signs and stop names were listed in Greek and English. All of the sites that we visited, such as the Acropolis and Hadrian’s Library, had signs and plaques in English as well as Greek.
[A sign with Greek and English words]
We stayed in an Airbnb, which allowed us to stay in a residential neighborhood. It was a ten minute walk south of the Acropolis, which was a phenomenal location. Even in this less touristy location, many of the restaurants we went to had English translations on their menus. Most of the servers spoke English, which helped when we had questions about what certain foods were.
[The Old Temple at the Acropolis]
My point here is that I had not realized how we are both lucky and unlucky that so many people speak our language across the world. Lucky, because it takes a lot of the stress out of traveling to other countries. It may not sound that difficult when you live in an English speaking country, but when I was actually confronted with a few Greek people who did not speak English, it was a huge obstacle. I was frustrated at first, but at myself more than anything. I had no right to be annoyed a Greek person did not speak English. If anything, I would understand if the Greek people were annoyed at these tourists that show up and expect to be catered to. I think it is also a little unlucky that our language is so universal. It enables our laziness as a country in language proficiency. I took French from seventh grade to eleventh grade. As soon as I figured out I was going to CSS, which only carries a three year language requirement, I dropped French my senior year. While I certainly was not bad, I was not great at it. And I am the person who does not like to do things that do not come naturally to me (a great character flaw I am working on).
[In Athens, orange trees line the streets]
This casual assumption that I can travel most places around the world, at least to main cities, and find people who speak my language, is an incredibly privileged assumption. I am working on lessening my assumptions. I attempted to use my incredibly rusty French when I traveled there for Spring Break, which worked as a way to start the conversation. However, I am nowhere near good enough to carry a conversation on in French. I understand that Athens is a city that depends heavily on tourism for a source of revenue for their economy, which is a big part of why so many people speak English there. But we saw people of all nationalities visiting there at the same time as us. I highly doubt every Greek person speaks Mandarin, Russian, or Spanish, just to name a few other languages. Other tourists probably also speak English, but that just feeds back into the cycle where English is held up as the universal language. It certainly is a beneficial language to know, in a world where the United States is so a prominent player in world affairs. But with the growing number of speakers of other languages such as Spanish and Mandarin, it just struck me as incredibly selfish and self-absorbed to continue thinking English is the only language a person should know.
Allison serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.
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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Eleni Birhane and Matthew Breeze, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.
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