BOSTON, MA – Prof. Kelly Polychroniou is the head of the Modern Greek Program at Boston University (BU), where she is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Classical Studies. She was profiled in the Herald’s Greek monthly magazine, Gynaika, in March.
Polychroniou was born in Munich, Germany, to parents who had moved there in the 1960s. She said “I spent the first 18 years of my life in Munich and then decided to go to Greece, where I undertook my studies at the National Kapodistrian University in the Department of German Literature. Then I came to Boston, where I earned a master’s degree in applied linguistics at the University of Massachusetts. For 26 years I have taught Greek and German at schools, institutes, and universities, including Tufts, Northeastern, and Boston University.
“My parents had gone to Germany as immigrants looking for a better life. At that time, immigrants often went to European countries without knowledge of the foreign language. It was extremely difficult or impossible to assimilate ‘foreigners’ into German society. This marginalization resulted in all Greeks remaining together, speaking their language at home, and organizing celebrations and all sorts of cultural events. Their lives were monopolized by homesickness for their own country.”
Speaking about retaining the Greek language and traditions, she said “sometimes I am asked ‘in which country is it more difficult for your child to become Greek?’ The answer is undoubtedly in the United States, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, you are now geographically very far from Greece. Second, American society assimilates immigrants more easily. Third, life is tougher and more demanding, with pressures on parents from work and on children who do not want to seem different or foreign. Fourth, overwhelming exhaustion does not allow you to devote enough time to your child for the essential learning of the Greek language. Finally, fifth and most important, there are too few Greek schools to do the job.”
In 2010 she became a full-time Lecturer in BU’s Classics Department and became Head of the Modern Greek program. “I started with about thirty students and now we have seventy with eighty students a year taking courses in Modern Greek. This figure only includes students taking classes during the academic year at BU. We also started the summer program bringing students to Athens in 2013 in cooperation with Deree.
“We managed to grant significant scholarships to almost all of these students thanks to the generosity of people and organizations such as George Danis, the John and Sonia Lingos Family Foundation, the Alpha Omega Council, the BU Hellenic Studies Fund, HELPIS (Joyce Deliyiannis) and Greek 4 Kids.
“Students from different programs at BU choose the summer program with the curiosity to get to know our country, culture, and language. After five weeks in Greece, with the courses that they take (Modern Greek, Greek History, and Art History), the excursions to cultural sites, the visits to archaeological and cultural spaces as well as the excellent educational environment, the superb facilities and services at Deree, the students all become true Philhellenes.
“Our excursions in the summer include sites like Nafplion, Mycenae, Nemea, Epidaurus, Ancient Corinth, Tinos, Mykonos, Hydra, and Delphi, as well as an overnight sailing trip with Enjoy Yachting. The sailing trip takes them to Aegina, Poros, and Agistri, and this is always an exciting part of the summer program. These very successful tours are organized by our wonderful academic excursion coordinator Stephania Orphanos, and the sailing weekend by my brother, Antonis.
“The last night of the summer program we have a farewell party in Plaka, and it is touching for everyone. We hear promises that the students will return to the place they now love; strong friendships have been created, and they have enjoyed experiences that will follow them their whole life. My favorite moment is when I see this transformation of young people into Philhellenes. The students who go to Greece with us each year are the future ambassadors for the BU Philhellenes (BUPh) and especially for our homeland.”
Regarding the Modern Greek program, Polychroniou said it has existed “for many years and has an important tradition: it is offered by the department of Classical Studies, which has many distinguished professors with global recognition who are also Philhellenes. The department has always believed that Greek is one language and belongs in one department. The current chair of the department is Prof. Steve Scully, an expert on Homer and Hesiod and a true Philhellene, who is always very supportive and available to help.
“Fundamental and substantial is the contribution of Prof. Jay Samons, another great Philhellene and outstanding scholar who has been my fellow traveler in all Philhellenic initiatives and actions. As Director of Undergraduate Studies in the department, co-Founder and co-Director of the BUPh project and the Summer Study in Greece, one of his main aims has been to improve the program of Modern Greek at Boston University.”
She believes that “bilingualism is a gift of inestimable value that children only later can appreciate. Scholarship shows that bilingual children have cognitive, social, professional and emotional advantages over monolingual children. For these reasons, and because we must preserve our Greek culture both inside and outside of Greece, teaching the Greek language remains crucial and central to my professional life and goals.”