A winter break in Australia

A love of the English language has seen 15 year old Alexandros Ziogas reverse the trend of young Greek Australians going to Greece to learn Greek by spending time in Melbourne improving his Englsh

Teenagers these days are selfish, uninterested in learning and speak only in one-word answers, right? If so, Alexandros Ziogas bucks the trend.

While his friends back in Thessaloniki go on camps or to the islands, the 15 year-old is braving eight weeks in Melbourne’s biting winter to improve his English. But he’s philosophical about missing out on summer in Greece. “There will be many summers, but not so many chances to learn to speak English in an English-speaking country,” he says.

At home, he has studied English for the past six years, but says his language skills have improved vastly during his time in Australia, where he’s staying with relatives in Brunswick. “It’s not the easiest thing to speak English in a country where you speak only Greek,” he says. In Australia, he’s learned many new important words, such as ‘hung parliament’ and ‘coalition’.

In fact, he says his new friends think his trip has coincided with several rare events. “Someone told me, ‘you come here, we have a hung parliament. We haven’t had a hung parliament since the 1940s! And another thing – we haven’t seen such a winter for three years!”

Still, it hasn’t all been bad luck. Alexandros says he has been lucky enough to go to school, as a visitor student, at Alphington Grammar, a private Greek Australian school in Melbourne’s inner east. “The good part of the school is there are many students who are Australian there – that’s very pleasing because it wouldn’t have such a point if it was only Greek students.” He says he finds the Australian education system much better than the Greek system, where, like many Greek students, he finishes school at 2pm and goes to a private tutoring centre. “You don’t have time to study without things annoying us,” he says. “It’s not the easiest thing to run from school to home, and from home to the tutoring centre.” And he says the Greek system isn’t very efficient. “People in Greece don’t work in the right way, especially in school,” he says. “In order to provide the opportunity to go to uni, they go to tutoring schools.”

Hung parliaments aside, the thoughtful teenager says he likes the way government works in Australia. “The government works with other places, such as schools, such as the police, such as work – the whole system works individually, and that’s the big point of a country,” he says. Governance is a particular point of interest for Alexandros, who wants to study law.

Another point of interest is food. “There are many foods, such as fish and chips, that we don’t have in Greece. It’s a new thing for me. I was happy to have the chance to try all these things,” he says.He also devours an Australian delicacy – a sausage roll with sauce – when we’re out for lunch. He tells me he had a meat pie at the footy last weekend. Trying new foods is an essential part of experiencing another culture, which Alexandros says is vital for learning a foreign language. “I believe if you want to learn a language, you have to go there,” he says.

At a time when many Greek Australians are reconnecting with their Greek language heritage, Alexandros says it’s important for young Greeks to have a good grasp of English. “English is the international language, it’s the language of the future,” he says. “It’s the language you must use if you want to go out of the Greek environment – for travel, or for uni. English has helped me broaden my horizons,” he says.

But Alexandros could have gone to any number of English-speaking countries to practice the language – why Australia? “Australia is a big trip from Greece, and that will help me be more individual, and more independent from my family and friends,” he says. He says when he first got to Australia he found it hard to introduce himself, but now he’s made friends. “It’s a very important thing to someone’s life to adjust himself to his environment – whatever it is – English, Greek, German,” he says. It reminds me of another word Alexandros has just learned – ‘audacity’. “That’s a word that stumped me,” he says. “These are rare words you don’t use everyday. But some day it might be useful.”