Power of the Greek language: Meg Smith’s journey from learning Greek to saving La Trobe Greek Studies

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To be a proud Hellene, one is to be proud of the ancient language! The Greek language is one of the most influential languages in Western culture, with its importance being partnered with its ancient roots and modern use.

In celebration of International Greek Language Day on February 9, The Greek Herald spoke exclusively with Meg Smith, who many Greek Australian community members will recognise as the pioneering force in the safety of the Greek Language Program at La Trobe University.

Meg was driven to learn Greek in 2017, when her pappou tragically passed away. During the funeral service, she felt heartbroken that she couldn’t understand many of the stories that were told by old family and friends in Greek.

“I always had a wonderful relationship with my pappou,” Meg said to The Greek Herald.

“He was one of my greatest friends and he understood me so well, but we never spoke the same language. So I almost felt jealous that all these people knew him in a way that I didn’t know him.

“So I thought, no, I need to learn how to speak Greek. I have the same relationship with my yiayia and I want to be able to communicate with her in Greek so I can hear all of her stories about where she grew up, where we come from, and what prompted her to migrate to Australia.”

Meg Smith on a holiday to Greece. Photo: Supplied

Being in Year 12 at the time, Meg Googled Greek language university courses and came across the La Trobe Greek Language Program.

“What really attracted me to La Trobe was that it has a beginning stream, an intermediate stream and advanced stream. So I wouldn’t start with people who are already fluent. I would start with people who already didn’t know the alphabet, just like me. So it was perfect.”

The La Trobe Greek Language Program is the only Modern Greek program that offers three levels of Greek learning at a university level. In late 2020, Meg Smith and other members of the La Trobe Greek Language Society worked with the Greek Community of Melbourne to ensure its survivability. 

Entering her third year and final semester, Meg said she also plans to do Honours in Modern Greek.

“After my first semester in 2019, I realized not only is this improving my relationship with my family, it’s also my passion. I really love to learn and I also am finding so much out about my culture and my family.”

READ MORE: Greek language program to continue at La Trobe

“I took a chance on learning Greek and it just turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

To Meg, a connection with her family is the most important thing to uphold. Much of her pappou’s family still resides in Greece and while other families now engage with relatives via social media, Meg decided to take up the artform of letter writing.

“I write letters to my pappou’s brother who lives in Greece and my yiayia’s first cousin who also lives in Greece. And because my boyfriend is Greek and he didn’t learn how to speak Greek growing up, I help him write letters to his relatives in Greece as well.”

In honour of International Greek Language Day, The Greek Herald asked Meg exactly why it is so important to hold on to the Greek language in Australia.  

“It was actually a poem by Cavafy that made me realise this: That if we lose our language, the Greek people of Australia have so many traditions and we will forget why we do them.”

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