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BU Philhellenes to host first Greek Night to promote Greek culture, Athens summer study program

A group of students and professors prepares to embark on a sailing trip to the Greek islands of Aegina and Poros during the 2014 Summer Study in Athens program, organized through the Boston University Philhellenes Project. PHOTO COURTESY OF LOREN SAMONS
A group of students and professors prepares to embark on a sailing trip to the Greek islands of Aegina and Poros during the 2014 Summer Study in Athens program, organized through the Boston University Philhellenes Project. PHOTO COURTESY OF LOREN SAMONS

Every year, Boston residents gather together to cheer on runners as they race 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square. Though the thousands of people in the Boston Marathon and the thousands more watching from the sidewalks and televisions may not realize, they are participating in an ancient Greek tradition. And the wreaths that are used to crown the Boston Marathon winners come straight from Greece. The marathon is just one example of how Greek culture has influenced modern society in a way that the Boston University Philhellenes want to celebrate.

“Greek culture is often seen as something very academic and dry, or old and in the past,” said Anastasia Kourtis, president of the BU Philhellenes and a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. “But it’s not. It’s extremely relevant, and I think people need to remember that.”

Founded by Kelly Polychroniou in 2012, a lecturer in modern Greek and head of the Modern Greek Language Program at BU, the BU Philhellenes is a student organization based out of the Classics Department devoted to spreading Greek appreciation around campus. The word “philhellenes” means people who admire or love Greece and all things Greek, and the BU Philhellenes hope to meet a lot of other philhellenes at its very first Greek Night event on Wednesday night. The event will feature Greek food, music and a professional instructor of Greek dance.

“Dancing is an amazing, tangible way of participating in Greek culture,” said Loren Samons, a professor of classical studies at BU and one of the faculty advisors for the BU Philhellenes. “We don’t have anything like this in American culture today.”

The great thing about Greek dancing, Samons said, is the entire community knows the same dances and folk songs. While the United States is seen as having a distinct divide between an “old” and “young” culture, Greece has a culture that crosses all age boundaries. At a Greek party, 75-year-olds can be seen dancing with 15-year-olds, he said. And pretty much anyone can pick up the steps.

“If I can learn them, anybody can,” Samons said.

The group hopes to spread the love of Greek culture around campus and recruit some new members through Greek Night, said Katrice Kemble, a junior in CAS and secretary of the BU Philhellenes.

“The Philhellenes are not very well known on campus, but it’s a really great group,” she said. “We’re still small. We’re babies. But I would like us to be able to have a large enough following that we can do more events and have more people get involved and enthusiastic.”

Apart from spreading love of Greek culture, the BU Philhellenes also plans to send about 20 students to Greece for summer study at the American College of Greece in Athens, a program going into its third year — a unique study abroad experience that is separate from programs through BU. On the trip, which is open to students of all majors, students take two courses that count for credit at BU and spend the rest of their time exploring the local culture of Athens and taking weekend excursions to historical sites throughout the country.

“It’s just breathtaking, the whole experience,” Kemble said, who participated in the program during Summer 2014. “I encourage everyone to check it out. It’s amazing to stand on the Acropolis [in Athens] and just look around.”

The American College of Greece is located just a bus ride away from the Acropolis and downtown Athens, making it easy to access native culture, she said, describing the experience as a “crash course in Greek-ness.”

One of the many weekend trips her class took was to Epidaurus to take a tour of an ancient theater. As a student studying drama in the ancient world, Kemble said it was cool to see a production of Euripides’ “Helen” within the historic theater.

Samons, who went on the trip in 2013 as an observer rather than a teacher, got to visit Mycenae. The “middle-of-nowhere” town in southern Greece was Samons’ favorite place to visit because of its ancient history, he said. During the middle of the Bronze Age in Greece, he said, Mycenae had an amazing palace and a great civilization based on chariot warfare.

“I teach warfare in antiquity, so to see this site was inspiring to me,” Samons said.

Yanni Metaxas, a sophomore in CAS and vice president of the BU Philhellenes, said the opportunity to combine classroom lessons and actual experience is one of the most fantastic things about the summer study program. And even though he had already been to Greece six times before he went with the BU Philhellenes, the summer study program was his favorite trip.

“I never really got the chance to take what I was studying back here at home and apply it in person,” he said. “It was an opportunity where these two worlds of mine collided.”

The summer study program builds in time to give students a chance to explore local culture, Metaxas said, with four-hour classes that don’t start until noon, giving students the opportunity to go out into the town on weeknights. Resident assistants in the dorms would bring them out to restaurants, karaoke nights and wine tastings.

“I felt very blessed because I got to share my heritage with my friends,” Metaxas said. “It’s a huge part of their lives now. That’s what a philhellene is: a friend of Greek culture. And my friends are truly that.”

The BU Philhellenes have been able to provide scholarships to every student who has gone on the trip, Samons said, covering 30 to 40 percent of the trip’s cost.

Donations for these scholarships come from Greeks in the Boston community, Polychroniou said, and the Greek Consulate has been a huge help when it comes to raising funds.

Fundraising events, such as a Greek music concert in the Tsai Performance Center, have also aided in raising money for student scholarships, Polychroniou said. Each of the three times BU has hosted this concert, all 500 seats have sold out.

The opportunities afforded by the Greece summer study program, Kourtis said, are huge assets to becoming a part of the BU Philhellenes.

“We’re not just telling you what Greece is like,” she said. “We’re actually taking you there. And I think that’s more than any student group can offer.”

The BU Philhellenes’ Greek Night will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Ziskind Lounge on the second floor of the George Sherman Union. More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page.

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