My schooling life at a Greek Orthodox College began 12 years ago, in January of 2003.
I was five-years-old at the time and so excited and ‘ready for big school.’ I even told my parents they didn’t need to hold my hand or walk me through the gates- as I was ready to enter the school grounds like a ‘big girl’.
Last year (2015) I graduated from St Euphemia College, and now as a first year student at the University of Sydney, I can sit back and reflect on my childhood education, which offered English curriculum, whilst also teaching aspects of our Greek Orthodox culture.
This special experience, I wholeheartedly believe enhanced my identity as an Australian born Greek.
Firstly, I believe language is a fundamental part of any culture and learning Greek allowed me to better understand so many other aspects of Greek customs, society and people. As part of the school curriculum, I learnt how to speak, read and write in Modern Greek- as lessons in language were taught three times a week.
We also performed plays, songs and recited poems in Greek- especially for major celebrations including the 25th of March, Battle of Crete and Justice for Cyprus Remembrance Day.
While learning the Greek language, I was also taught about important dates in Greece’s history- such as the 25th of March 1821 being a double celebration. Commemorating ‘The Annunciation of the Theotokos’ and the beginning of the Greek Revolution- when Greece declared its independence.
All Greek Orthodox schools around Sydney celebrate this important day by attending church service and marching in the Annual Greek Schools’ Independence Day March. For major school events they all unite and attend church service at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, in Redfern.
Greek dancing lessons in primary school were also a mandatory activity and took place for an hour each week. It wasn’t just the steps and dances, which were taught- it was more about the history and words to the songs we learnt, which helped with my Greek vocabulary. We also had several opportunities throughout the year to showcase our dancing skills- including the school fete, annual school ball, and feast days.
For me, important to my Greek Orthodox background, is my religion.
Spiritual religion lessons were also included in our curriculum and when church was open in the mornings before school started, I would light a candle. If there was a service, I would sit and listen for a few minutes, before class started.
Our morning began with a prayer, and the concluding afternoon classes finished with prayer.
Every fortnight of a Thursday morning, high school students would hear the liturgy in English and were able to partake in Holy Communion, if prepared.
We were taught to understand the meaning of preparing ourselves for ‘Kinonia’ (holy communion) and also learnt the reason we kneel during liturgy, when praying with the priest.
Furthermore, during our religion lessons we learnt we were “all brothers and sisters in God’s eyes”, and it definitely felt true as I made friends at school that I know will be dear friends for life. They are like my family and even though we have graduated and now studying at different universities, we are still close.
Learning about my Greek Orthodox religion and having priests guide us in our daily schooling lives felt special, as they were always there to help us with any matter.
It must be noted that students who attend Greek Orthodox schools, are not just Greek, but come from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds and we were all taught to strive for academic excellence, spiritual growth and positive Christian values. We were encouraged to respect ourselves, fellow peers, teachers and everyone- regardless of race and religion.
And even though it may not be for everybody- reflecting back, I am appreciative and grateful that I was a student at a Greek Orthodox school.
To learn about our Hellenism was a gift, and for it to be a part of my childhood education- for me- is priceless.
I enjoyed being taught the Greek language, history, Arts, culture and I have a desire to learn more, which is why I am majoring in Modern Greek from Sydney University.
I want to be able to pass this gift on to future generations- to my children and my children’s children- so they can learn about their beautiful and rich Hellenic ancestry and to be just as proud as I am of being a Greek Australian.