• Graduation Year: 2019

Joanna Kantilierakis

High School/Hometown: John P. Stevens High School/Edison

Education: Completing a B.S., Rutgers University (Exercise Science, with a minor in Modern Greek Studies)

Year of RU Graduation: 2019




Current Position: Final year Undergraduate Student          

Why did you decide to take courses in Modern Greek (language)? If you pursued the minor in Modern Greek Studies, why did you decide to do this?

Being born as a Greek-American means, you are immersed in the language, food, music, dance, traditions and the culture, all from birth. Taking courses in Modern Greek (language) and declaring it as one of my minors at Rutgers University is the best way for me to perpetuate and keep me connected to my Hellenic roots, culture, and most importantly, to my family.

What did you like the most about your Greek classes? If you took the minor, what did you like most in the other approved courses for the minor that you took (e.g., history, political science, religion)?

Now that I have completed the Modern Greek minor, I oftentimes catch myself thinking back and missing the courses I needed to take to complete the minor. I enjoyed the small class size, the professor and the projects. The smaller class size made learning and speaking the language easier since it allowed for more intimate class conversations. The professor, Katherine Kourti-Gavalas, cared for each and every one of her students and really emphasized the practice of critical thinking which not only helped with memorizing the material in her classes, but for all my classes in general. The projects were diverse and interactive which made them fun to complete since the topics were very interesting and appealing.

A separate approved course I took within the minor was a history course on Thessaloniki, Greece during the Study Abroad opportunity within the Modern Greek program at Rutgers. I decided to do this because what better way to apply all that I have been learning while taking Greek here in the States than while actually in Greece! That class was the best history class I had ever taken because it was taught like a story and had an amazing professor to top the experience off.

Considering your current position and successes, was there anything in the classes or experiences you had, in pursuing Modern Greek and/or Modern Greek Studies, that contributed to your perspectives and accomplishments?

Considering my current position and successes, I would say that the Study Abroad experience through the Modern Greek program contributed to my perspectives and accomplishments the most. It was a truly indescribable opportunity with priceless memories that I am so fortunate to have experienced and will cherish forever. I am a firm believer that people should take the chance and experience living in a country unlike than their own, to travel, and to embrace a different culture other than what they are used to because it forces them to really think and helps them grow overall as a person through the various things they are bound to encounter.

Were you able to participate in any of the Modern Greek Studies Program’s approved locations overseas — i.e., the summer program in Thessaloniki, or the semester/AY programs at CYA in Athens and ACT in Thessaloniki? How did such experiences impact you?

As mentioned above, I was lucky enough to participate in the Modern Greek Studies Program approved locations overseas, the ACT 6-week summer program in Thessaloniki. Participating in the study abroad was the first time I was away from my family for such an extended period of time, as well as the first time I tried the dormitory lifestyle since I have always commuted to and from school. Sharing a room with someone other than a family member was very challenging but it was all a wonderful learning experience since you have to assimilate and respect their personal space, their feelings, their belongings and any other personal baggage they may have. The service learning component of the Study Abroad was, personally, my favorite and most rewarding part about my entire time spent in Thessaloniki. To have the opportunity to intern and work in the field I plan on pursuing a career in (Occupational Therapy), in a different country nonetheless, is rare and will truly make me stand out amongst the rest when applying to anything in the future. Just being able to see the way therapists and teachers interact with the children and adults at a disability facility ABROAD was a tremendous learning experience in itself, and to even be able to interact with them myself was 100% more beneficial. Being Greek, I am already aware of the customs, traditions, quirks and the way Greeks interact as a whole, but actually living in Greece for over a month expanded my comprehension of the Greek society more than anything else could in the States. Being in Greece truly solidified the fact that Greeks are very kind and hospitable, and it was through small things and moments I witnessed that made me even more proud to be Greek.

What advice would you give students thinking about studying Modern Greek, or taking the MGSP minor, but haven’t made up their minds?

To students who are thinking about studying Modern Greek, or taking the MGSP minor, but haven’t made up their minds, the advice I would give them is to simply do it. Research has only found benefits of knowing more than one language and why live life with regrets? Studying Modern Greek and pursuing the minor is a challenge, however the outcome in the end, once you have completed both, are very much worth the work.


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