Overcoming the “For me everything is Greek (or Chinese)” barrier

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“Learning a language means having another window through which to see the world.”

It’s a Chinese proverb about language learning, according to the internet, but Dai Yifan, a 20-year-old exchange student in Athens, denies it.

Similarly, 21-year-old Stamatis Karasavvidis said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” is not Greek, despite what the internet claims.

According to Karasavvidis, 21, a saying is unmistakably Greek: “It’s all too Chinese for me.”

The Greek student, who has been learning Chinese for two years, said it’s a common expression among Greeks when they don’t understand something.

Some say the internet has made it much easier to understand other cultures, while others argue it has reinforced cultural stereotypes and misunderstandings. Whatever the case, it’s always a challenge to understand a culture different from your own, especially one as ancient and complex as China and Greece.

“We are two countries with rich history and many similarities,” Krasavvidis told Shanghai Daily. “We both should learn more from each other, because learning is one thing we have in common – ‘Γηράσκω ἀεὶ διδασκόμενος’ or ‘Live to grow old, learn to be old’.”

Learning a language can undoubtedly be beneficial. Shanghai Daily spoke to Dai and Karasavvidis about the joys of language learning and the stereotypes they have worked to break down.

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Dai Yifan (fourth from right) poses with her language teachers and classmates at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

Q: Please introduce yourself. And if you have a Greek/Chinese name, what does that mean?

Dai: I’m a junior student at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) studying Greek. I came to Athens in September 2021 as part of a year-long exchange program.

My Greek name is Ανθούλα (Anthoula), which means “little flower”. It was given by my Greek teacher when I was a freshman. i really like it

Karasavvidis: I am a 21 year old student at the International Hellenic University (DIPAE). I’m from Sidirokastro, a small town in the Serres region of Central Macedonia province.

I have been studying Chinese at the Confucius Institute in Thessaloniki for almost two years now. My Chinese name is Ma Chao and it was given to me by my teacher and I loved it immediately.

Being familiar with the history of the Three Kingdoms period in China (AD 220-280), I have always had a deep appreciation for one of the heroes of that era, Jin Ma Chao (handsome Ma Chao).

Overcoming the

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Stamatis Karasavvidis and his classmates wrote, composed, sang and recorded a song in Chinese.

Q: How did you decide to learn the languages? Were your family and friends surprised when they found out about your choice?

Dai: It’s almost as if the Greek chose me and not the other way around! SISU was always my first choice for university, and I made Greek my first choice of major before I took the college entrance exam. I was successful.

Many friends and relatives were a little surprised as it is not a common choice but one of the least common. What amuses me is that they keep asking me how to properly pronounce the Greek alphabets that we all learned in our math and physics classes. They want to check if their math or physics teacher got it right.

Karasavvidis: There are many reasons for that.

I have always had a deep appreciation for Chinese civilization from its ancient history to the present, all of its art, music, philosophy, literature, economic and political system and thought.

I found out about the Confucius Institute from a friend in Romania who is also studying in a CI there. I immediately looked for it in Greece. Can you imagine my excitement when I found out that one had just opened in Thessaloniki?

My relatives weren’t that surprised, because pretty much everyone knew about my keen interest in China and its culture, and my love of languages ​​in general.

Still they were impressed with what I wanted to try because most people think Chinese is hard.

We even have a sentence: “For me everything is Chinese” if we don’t understand something.

Overcoming the

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Karasavvidis at a seal carving lesson at the Confucius Institute

Q: What was the biggest change in impressions of Greece and China before and after learning the language?

Dai: My impression of Greece was limited to its ancient history, such as Greek mythology and architecture, great Mediterranean cuisine and beautiful islands.

Now I have learned more about modern Greece and its people. How do you celebrate holidays? what is her lifestyle So for me, learning the Greek language was an ongoing process of breaking stereotypes and discovering the multi-layered charm of the nation.

Before I came to Greece to study for a year, I thought Greeks were “lazy but enthusiastic” because they don’t like to work. But then I discovered that many Greeks really love their work and even consider it a part of their life.

Many Greek restaurant and shop owners see all of their customers as their friends, so you can always find Greeks chatting outside a shop or restaurant, even if they’ve just met.

I also met a few Greeks who speak a line or two of Chinese, which surprises me. For those Greeks who are genuinely interested in Chinese culture, the depth of their knowledge and the level of their passion are equally fascinating.

Karasavvidis: One thing I really understood after starting to learn the language is how different Chinese dialects can be. When I first saw a Shanghai dialect word list, even if I knew the words in Mandarin, all was lost for me.

Overcoming the

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Dai in the “Shipwreck Bay” on Zakynthos

Q: Is it a difficult language to learn? What is the biggest challenge in learning the language?

Dai: Greek is very difficult, especially the grammar. Greek nouns use two numbers (singular and plural), three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and then four cases (nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative). Greek verbs can have many variations and many special ones borrowed from ancient Greek that should be easily memorized.

What I really enjoy is chatting with fellow students in my language course at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. I have classmates from France, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and some others. We talk about our own culture in Greek, which serves as a bridge for us to learn more about each other’s culture.

Karasavvidis: First of all, I would like to mention that there is no “difficult language”.

It all depends on your mother tongue and whether the language you are learning is similar or not.

Admittedly, with Greek as a mother tongue, Chinese can be quite a difficult challenge both to understand it fundamentally and to master it. It is a language completely different from Greek in its core, writing system, pronunciation, grammar, idioms and everything.

For most people, the tones of learning Chinese can be extremely difficult. I find the grammar part the most difficult, especially the syntax, as it is extremely different from any other language I’m already familiar with.

Funnily enough, for the first few days of learning, grammar was what I thought was the easiest part of the language. Instead, I was the simple and naive.

Q: In recent years, the partnership between China and Greece has strengthened. Has that reflected in your own life? Any other news on Greece and China? Do your classmates and friends pay more attention to the nation?

Dai: My Chinese friends definitely pay more attention to everything Greek, and so do my Greek friends, mainly culture, tourism and trade. For example, many Chinese friends now know more about beautiful Greek cities and islands than Athens or Santorini.

Greek yogurt skin care products are gaining popularity in China. And my Greek friends are very interested in Chinese e-commerce sites and street food.

Karasavvidis: Due to COVID-19, local coverage of China has increased and Chinese action to combat it has become a debate among Greeks, with many agreeing and supporting the action taken by China, while others are considering the action “too hard”.

Unfortunately, due to the influence of fake news in Greece, there are many misconceptions about China among many Greeks. But fortunately there are many different views about China here. Some see it as a great country with a distant history while some cannot see it properly, and still many others admire and support its civilization and socialist system.

Despite all these different views, the vast majority of Greeks see the Chinese as friends!

E-commerce and the tech sector are things that have definitely stuck China in the minds of Greeks. Ordering directly from China on the Internet is very popular. Many people also see China as a country with very large job potential and the Chinese language as an important part of their CV.

Overcoming the

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Thessaloniki, the city where Karasavvidis has been studying Chinese for almost two years

Q: Anything related to Greece/China that you’re dying to do?

Dai: I really want to promote Greek cuisine in China. It is fresh and healthy with unique Mediterranean characteristics, very suitable for Chinese eating habits. Too bad we don’t have many Greek restaurants yet. I’m confident many people will fall in love with authentic Greek food!

Karasavvidis: I haven’t visited China yet, so I really want to study and stay in China for a few years.

China has promoted stability and built international relations based on mutual respect and mutual growth in countries that have suffered from neocolonialism and imperialism.

The way in which the Chinese people have fought and emerged victorious during the “Century of Humiliation” to build socialism with Chinese characteristics in their country is a shining example for the whole world to me.

So, getting back on topic of the question, what is one China related thing I really want to do? Study the courageous and significant path successfully blazed by Chinese communists and strive for a better future!

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