Yiyang Sun – or Odysseus as he prefers to be called – first caught my attention during a quick scroll on social media one night.
In a video posted on Instagram, Odysseus shared how he was a 20-year-old born and raised in Shanghai, China, and was currently a college student at the Greek Department of the School of European & Latin American Studies at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).
The catch was that Odysseus shared this entire story in fluent Greek.
I was so impressed by Odysseus’ Greek language skills that I knew I had to reach out to him for International Greek Language Day.
Of course, one of the first questions I had to ask during our interview was the question on everyone’s lips – how did Yiyang Sun become Odysseus?
“When I first entered university, I asked a Greek friend of mine whom I met on the internet, Olga, to give me a Greek name. She then sent me a list of names and their meanings and stories behind it,” Odysseus explained.
“Eventually I picked the name because Homer’s Odyssey is one of the first things that introduced me to Greece, and I love how the name sounds.”
Odysseus’ love for all things Greek only grew from there.
Eventually, the language enthusiast enrolled at the Shanghai International Studies University and instead of studying Russian, Japanese or Spanish, he chose to major in Greek Philology and learnt the Greek language.
“It was very hard for me at the beginning because the Greek language is written and spoken so differently from my mother tongue, and the complicated grammar was a big challenge,” Odysseus said.
“Verb conjugations and the constant changes of adjectives, pronouns, nouns, and articles were completely new to me and it took me a lot of time to get the hang of it.”
Despite this, the 20-year-old said there were many rewarding aspects to learning the language of the Greeks.
“I love how the language is still similar to its older forms, despite its constant development throughout ages… I also love how Greek language provides many words for other languages. Before learning Greek, I could never understand why a decade means ten years. Now everything makes so much sense to me,” he said.
“Of course, the thing I love the most about learning Greek is that you can communicate with Greek people in their own language, and let me tell you, only in their mother tongue can you have a deeper understanding of how kind, how warm, and how funny they are.”
Odysseus’ love for Greece, its language and people, saw him start his Instagram page @iamodysun where he practices his speaking and engages with Greeks across the world.
“I’m really surprised that my videos are so popular and reach all over the world, and I’m really grateful for the encouragement and support from the Greek community,” he said.
On the topic of encouragement, I ask him whether he thinks more people should study Greek and his answer was a resolute ‘yes.’
“I strongly encourage others to study Greek, not only because it sounds amazing, but also because the language itself contains rich history and culture. However, it’s not a language that one can easily have good command of, so patience and devotion are definitely required,” Odysseus said, adding that he also plans to continue working on his study of the language.
“I have already put in a considerable amount of effort to establish a solid foundation of Greek knowledge, including understanding the grammatical structure and the functioning of words. Now that I have acquired these basics, it is the perfect time to build upon them and improve my command of the language.
“By continuing to learn Greek, I will be able to deepen my understanding of Greek culture and gain more insights into the history, traditions, and customs of the Greek people. It will also enable me to understand more Greek literature, music, and other forms of art.”
In the meantime, you can also spot Odysseus on the street of Athens, Greece, as he enjoys his a one-year student exchange program. You can’t get more Greek than that!