Below is Sarah Cornette’s latest blog post chronicling her Fulbright journey in Greece. For more information on what she is doing check out her first blog post and be sure to check back regularly to follow along with us on her incredible journey.
By Sarah Cornette
This week the weather here is starting to take a turn, and I am finally seeing the sunny Greece I imagined.
In Thessaloniki, I was able to complete part 2 of our mural with middle school students, assisted by their English teacher. They haven’t had an art teacher in years, and were very excited to participate in the project. Teachers here are appointed by the central government of Greece, which means that job placements happen very, very slowly. Interestingly, centralized funding means all teachers in Greece–no matter where they teach–receive the same salary and schools get the same funding per pupil. However, teachers also experience the frustration with overall education funding that we do, on a more severe scale than in Chapel Hill.
The mural project was a success, though it was squeezed in here and there between other classes. The children decided to build off the visual narrative Scroggs Elementary kids started, and created a version of their city, with some striking differences:
When I asked the kids what was most important and memorable about creating the mural, one child said, “The friendship, the cooperation, and the love we gave to this.”
In addition to facilitating the mural project, I gave my first university lecture at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. It was on preserving creative thinking skills in children. I was very nervous but it went really well.
The audience of education majors had lots of questions about our school system, and were blown away by the resources we have available for our kids. Teachers here believe that the US is doing an amazing job of integrating all our different populations within our educational system. Looking at what we are doing from their perspective, I am developing a complex appreciation of our ideals and efforts to create equity.
My daughter and I returned to Athens a couple of weeks ago, and I immediately visited three more schools, from a sweet elementary school in a relatively middle-class neighborhood, to a public middle school with a mixed Greek and Roma population, to an elite private middle/high school. All three had art teachers, and it was such a pleasure to share ideas and perspectives on the work.
A week after returning to Athens, we flew to Samos Island, the most controversial hotspot for refugee migration in the EU right now. We spent a week on an incredibly beautiful tourist island, exploring Mama Mia-style villages in the mornings, and working with refugee kids on the mural project in the afternoons. I’m still trying to process my experience there to make an initial stab at writing about it. For the super curious, I have been updating the Facebook page for the mural project, which you can go to here.
Athens is… gritty, colorful, unexpected pockets of the ancient and sacred squeezed by a modern city, fractured by the economic and refugee crisis. The street art scene here is more vibrant than anywhere in the world I have been. Just walking around here can be overwhelming with stimuli. I’m just trying to take it all in and find all the best restaurants in town.