When Penelope Vakalopoulos, who is studying for her diploma in Greek at La Trobe University, was offered a $ 4,000 scholarship to support Greek language learning opportunities, she was a little surprised.
The 10 Greek language scholarships offered by the university have been made available by the Victorian government through Community support. For Penelope, it means a lot.
“As a language student, you do not expect a lot of money to come your way because language students and departments are not a priority – especially in the current climate,” she said.
“You feel like you’re being squeezed with COVID budget cuts as items are cut left, right and center.”
Despite this, Mrs Vakalopoulos continued her language study mainly due to an inherent motivation.
When it comes to money, as in this case, she told Neos Kosmos it is “not fundamental to motivation, but it is reinforcement”.
“It’s not just about the money, but that people think of us,” she said.
READ MORE: Scholarships to support students of Greek languages at La Trobe
The grant is based on academic merit, and Mrs. Vakalopoulos managed to achieve great results despite growing up as a 4th generation Greek who did not speak the language at home. In fact, she realized that she had a language ability not by speaking the language in her heritage, but by learning Indonesian in school.
“The first foreign language I learned was Indonesian, and I had a few exchanges in Indonesian, learned the language and used it in a living context,” she said, adding that Greek was not offered in her high school or spoken at home, therefore she learned to speak Indonesian better than the language of her heritage.
Mrs Vakalopoulos went on to study for her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Melbourne, with a major in Arabic and a minor in Indonesian.
Unable to find modern Greek, she picked up a year of ancient Greek as well as a few electives, e.g. Ancient Greek history.
It was not until early 2020, while walking around the Lonsdale St Greek Festival, that she met Dr. Stephie Nikoloudis, associate professor and coordinator of the Greek Studies Program at the Department of Language and Linguistics at La Trobe, and found out, that she could enroll in a separate diploma.
“It is part of my identity that I have tried to reconnect with and cultivate. I started teaching informally myself and had a tutor for a year at the same time as my year 12 studies. I wanted to enroll directly in Greek as part of my Bachelor of Arts, but the University of Melbourne did not offer it, so I studied ancient Greek and was thrilled when I found out I could do it at La Trobe, ”she said. .
READ MORE: It’s official! Greek language program continues at La Trobe University
The online learning environment made it a little easier to juggle her program, where most of her subjects were at the University of Melbourne with Modern Greek at La Trobe and Persian at ANU, and all in all she says “it was a bit of a headache” but the hassle worth.
She never went to Greek school as a child, although she managed to smuggle a few Greek textbooks from her grandmother’s house.
“I took a mid-year and spent two months in Greece,” she said.
“The first two weeks were in Aigio, in the Peloponnese, with my aunt who does not speak English, and it was a confrontationally immersive experience,” she said, adding that her language has taken a more structured form at La Trobe.
“I often feel subconscious that I do not speak everyday Greek, as it is spoken in the streets, when I was not immersed in the language, but I have mastered grammar and read and written, and it comes out in the result – and it is there , I excel in reading and writing skills and grammar. The oral component was not assessed at random, ”she said.
She says the grant is “encouraging and encouraging and will help me keep studying for the next few years”.
“I have many times thought that I should clear a career path,” she said, adding that her learning was simply guided by her own desire.
“I never had a clear vision of what type of business tool I would use my languages for.”
Recently, she started teaching Arabic to first-year students as well as elementary Greek for adults and is happy to do her part to “prevent loss of the Greek language”.
Next year, she plans to do a combined year of honor in Arabic and Greek, and from there, she will continue to do what she loves.