Tag Archives: series: the end is near

The end is near: #8

My last ever Ancon is over and done with.

And what was it like? Click on this link and watch this video. It’s the most amazing video I’ve ever seen. At least in the last month.

Throughout the week, I was prepared to have some significant ‘final moments’ with my friends and with the EU in general. But it was hard to make them happen, just because most of my friends have moved on already. And there were so many new people that I had never seen before. There were 600 people there this year (160 more than last year) and it was so easy to get lost in the crowd.

everyoneThe crowd listening to Rowan’s talk.

So after the first couple of days, I decided to forget about grasping for those elusive final moments and just enjoy myself. The conference was really great in its own right. This year we were looking closely at the Holy Spirit, and it was amazing. There were so many challenging things to consider. The review group I was in got on like a house on fire. Everyone was open with their ideas and opinions. It was really comfortable and lovely.

review roupReview group #5

My first closure moment came on the Tuesday night, when I found myself eating dinner with a bunch of friends who had all started in the same year as me. Yeah! We laughed so hard remembering things that happened to us when we were in first year, remembering how complicated Ancon was in 2005 and sharing stories about the different times that Katay had thrown chalk at people in classrooms. The second closure moment was like this but better: the grads night on Wednesday. Matt came, and all my graduate friends, and we sat together during the main talk and it seriously did feel like first year! I was sitting with the same people again! Half the grads that came back were people who began uni with me. Hooray!

scienceSome of the cool science kids

On Thursday night, the pressure was on to do something memorable. It was my last ever night at Ancon, and my last ever night with the EU. Except that I was sick. Someone had brought a bizarre kind of disease with them to Ancon and by Thursday night almost everyone was infected with it. I was feeling really run down with coughing, so I sat at the back with my friend Amy. The talk was out of this world, it was so inspiring and challenging. It also went an hour overtime. At the end of the talk we stood up to sing together and I stood on my chair looking out over the crowd to read the lyrics off the projector. There were 600 people spread out in front of me, praising God and dedicating their lives to him with their voices, and I think that was the moment. I realised that I God will keep working through the eu whether or not I am there, and that’s OK. It was the best moment of the conference. And depsite hacking up my diseased lungs, I kept singing with joy and it wonderful.

beatles600 people singing All You Need Is Love by the Beatles

Anyway, I’m home now, and I still have this stupid cough! I went to the doctor and discerned that it wasn’t swine flu, which rocks. But it won’t go away.

I’m off again tomorrow for another holiday. The count down to full time work is on!


The end is near: #7

One of the best things about university has been the Assoc. Prof. Vrasidas Karalis. Here is a post about him.


“You are freaking me out!”

I’m going to say right out that Vras pretty much got me through my degree. My liberal studies degree required me to pass 5 semesters worth of a language. That sounded pretty straightforward after 5 years of Japanese at high school. I chose to study Modern Greek, because it would keep my grandparents happy and get me in touch with my cultural heritage etc, etc. I would not have passed Greek without Vras.

In first year I enrolled in beginner’s Greek. We had two teachers – Martina, a lovely gentle but cool young teacher, and Vras, who appeared to me to be the pinnacle of insanity. Our first week was terrifying for me. Martina and Vras stood at the front of the class room trying to weed out the fluent speakers who were too good for beginners. I don’t think they got them all. It felt like most of the class, even though they weren’t fluent, could still understand Martina and Vras when they accidently slipped into complicated Greek. I spent that year sitting with my friend Amanda. The four hours with Martina were fine. She would give us worksheets, explain grammar to us, ask us questions that were at our comprehensions level. The last hour of the week was with Vras. He would charge into the classroom like a whirlwind, single out one of the girls:

“My, you’re looking very radiant today!”

and then sit on a desk and proceed to rant about the evils of university bureaucracy, the politics of the local Greek community or the shortcomings of that year’s Eurovision contestants. Vras never seemed to have a lesson plan. He would just tell outrageously hilarious or disturbing stories about his life and occasionally link them into our language study by translating the odd word into Greek and scrawling it across the chalkboard. Then he would ask a ridiculous question that was way beyond my Greek knowledge. Amanda and I would cower in the back row, hoping that he wouldn’t call on us for an answer.

“Tell me you love…”

After about six or seven weeks of uni, Vras decied to teach us the verb agapo. which means love. Vras wondered around the room pointing randomly at students crying out “Tell me you love your mother!” “Tell me you love your father!”. He got to me and paused. That day was one of the first days I had been brave enough to wear my EU shirt. “Tell me you love God!” I wasn;t really sure whether he was mocking me or giving me a chance to share my faith with people. Vras was proving to be a little bit obscure with matters of faith. He would tell very obscene stories and then turn around and talk about the New Testament Greek course that he ran after our class finished. He would tell stories about the time he went on a cruise and did lots of things that he found very pleasurable, and then tell one of the boys in our class in all earnestness that he should really read the book of Matthew in the bible, because it would be good for his soul.

“Forget about it”

At the end of the year I followed him up about the New Testament Greek course and summoned the courage to ask him if he was a Christian. Vras looked at me with suprise.
“Of course!”
“Oh. Why do you tell all of those stories?”
Vras paused and then answered (I think he was trying to be cryptic)
“Sometimes a dog’s bark is worse than its bite”.

Whatever that meant.

We talked for awhile and it turned out that Vras was potentially some kind of amazing heretic. He had been excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox church a couple of years beforehand and was struggling to renew his Greek passport. He sent me a copy of an article he had written, a very scathing history of the Greek Orthodox church. At the time he had decided instead to go the the Anglican church near where he lived in Glebe, although I’m pretty sure he has moved on from there. He doesn’t like Calvinists, and most Anglicans in Sydney fall squarely into that category.

“Do you have a friend called Zoe?”

New Testament Greek the next year was an absolute scream. I started realising that Vras had different personas depending on who he was teaching. He still liked stirring people up and freaking people out, but this time, in front of Christians, his weapon of choice was not explicit sex stories but outrageous heresy. Most of what he said went way over my head, but Matt was in that class with me, as well as our friend Ryan and both of them are very keen amateur theologians. They would push back on every point they didn’t like, and also some that they just enjoyed arguing over. My friend Dan was also in that class with me. He would try to speak up too, although is preferred method of voicing his opinion was to try and answer every and any question that Vras asked of the class.

Vras’ favourite method for teaching vocab was to help us link the Greek word with their English words. So, classes went something like “The word for light is phos! Do you know any English words that come from phos? Yes! Photography”. Or like “The word for earth is ygis. Do you know any English words that come from ygis? Yes! Geology, Geography.” Or “The word for life is zoe. Do you have a friend called Zoe?”. No, I didn’t. And I didn’t have any friends called Thanatos, which means death.

What a difference a year made. Instead of hiding at the back that year, it was a real joy to answer Vras’ questions. I was much less self conscious. Dan kept a score sheet of who volunteered the most answers or comments. If you answered a question really well, Vras would reward you with

“Ryan, you are a star.”

It was the highest compliment you could receive, until one day, after a very intense round of questioning, Dan was rewarded with

“Dan, you are a constellation!”

It was during that year that Matt and I started going out and eventually got engaged. Matt used to tie my shoelaces to the desk during Vras’ lectures.

The outrageous stories kept coming. His favourite one to retell was about the time that he was in Iceland and was so very depressed that he wanted to kill himself. But then he went for a walk and found a little Greek Orthodox church in the middle of nowhere, with some monks or priests inside who talk to him and made him feel better. My favourite story he often told was about his days as a student in Germany. He studied under Joseph Ratzinger (you may know him now as Pope Benedict XVI) and he would recount the theological arguments that they had. I thought it was sweet being taught by a man who has fought with the pope.

“This is off the planet.”

Now even the smartest of men must have his point of weakness. For Vras it was powerpoint software. He didn’t really start using it until I took the New Testament subjects, and once he started there was no return. Every week he had learnt a new function or found a cooler template. Every week there were shouts of frustration as, once again, the powerpoint slides had mangled his Greek text into a whole lot of boxes and squiggles. I think to this day he still hasn’t realised that it is not powerpoint’s fault but teh fault of the university computers that don’t have his Greek font installed. But I digress. One week he had discovered the transition technique where each letter comes up one by one and every letter spins a cartwheel before settling on the screen. It took a while to get through the slides that day. We would score extra marks for including the maximum number of pictures during our tutorial presentations.

“Now I know most of you were only born a few years ago, but some of you might remember what happened in 1396.”

And so it went on and on. Matt got a short gig being his research assistant, and I enrolled and enrolled and enrolled in Vras’, eventually passing enough MGRK courses to get my degree! Plus more to spare. Byzantium: Between East and West. Greeks in the Diaspora. Greece and the European Imagination. They all rocked, and we would spend countless hours watching B-Grade Greek films, reruns of Acropolis Now and video clips from ageing Greek film stars.

“How very Freudian!”

This year one of my classmates took two hours to get through her presentation. She was analysing the representation of Greece in the musical Mamma Mia. Each time she showed us a section of dialogue of the movie, Vras would insist that we continued watching to the next song.

“Ooh! I love this one! Gimme Gimme Gimme a man after midnight! Madonna sang this one too you know.”

So I will really miss being in his classes. Even though I have absolutley no memory of a structured class with Vras, he has been one of the most influential and interesting teachers I’ve had. I may not know how to speak Greek and I may have forgotten a lit of information about Justinian and Homer, but I have really come to appreciate the things you can learn when you question things that are assumed. Vras was very good at getting us to do that. One of the people in his appreciation group on facebook put it this way:
“He knows full well that the best way to teach someone is to get them laughing.”

To sum up, I thought I’d leave you with some of the hilarious quotes that have been collected by many of Vras’ devoted students on Facebook. Enjoy!


15 min into our exam, Vras says “Are you all finished yet?” then pushes clock forward – “Don’t ask me any questions I’m conversing with Plato…”

“Those Egyptians were very nasty people! They killed and raped and ate the human flesh and blood! They were cannibals! Have you tasted human flesh?” [to an Egyptian student]

“Have you read ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy…? You haven’t?! Oh my goodness people, we don’t live in a vacuum!”

“You have to be nice to me because I’m writing my magnus opus on violence so I need affection people!”

“The purpose of an institution like university is to produce intellectual disability”

“When are we two going to have sex?” (often said a particular student, once in front of a whole group of visiting professors during the Biennial Conference)

“Look at your shoes…you can jump to your death from them” (said to a student with high heels).

Student (vehemently): The Greeks gave the light of civilization to the world! (ta fota tou politismou).
Vras (deadpan): Was it Philips or General Electric type lights?

“Justinian loved building walls around things…no doubt as a psychological reaction to his wife who was having sex with half the Empire”

(while talking about sex, Vras stops and looks at me)
Vras: How old are you?
Me: 19
Vras: You look 14.
(someone tries to start up the sex topic again)
Vras: please, not in front of the minor.

“Elate paidia. Sit closer. Konta! Konta! I don’t bite, I don’t eat human flesh anymore!”

“Don’t you have a friend called Theodora or Zoe?”

“Do you have a friend called Thanatos?”

The end is near: #6

have been collecting pictures of places and spaces and objects that have some significance to me. Here are some of them.

The last day of uni

How bittersweet. It began with our very last Public Meeting team meeting.

Public Meetings Team
Public Meetings Team

And then onto the Thursday prayer meeting – also my last one! My friend Laura, who organises this meeting, wanted a photo of the group to brag to the other leaders about the number of people who turn up 😛 (I know this isn’t many people but sadly it’s one of the bigger ones! How is it that hundreds of people will go to bible study or public meetings talks or annual conference but not prayer meeting?). Laura had some trouble setting the timer on the camera. This photo took about five minutes to take. This was the third try.

Hooray Thursday prayer meeting!

Then it was onto morning tea with my friend Liz.


And then running into my friend Amanda who was busy rolling up an extensive amount of tangled red wool back into a neat ball. She is going to Melbourne tomorrow and, no kidding, she is preparing to re-stage the “get lost in Melbourne” advertising campaign with her friend while they are there. I followed her to Moore books where she met Mark who has, incidentally, also followed a ball of red string around Melbourne, although apparently in reference to a Something for Kate song rather than an ad campaign. Much less capitalist, Mark 😛

Amanda with her wool.

Amanda with the tangled wool and myself with the neat wool.
Mark took this picture for us.

I realised after I left that I forgot to take a picture with Mark too, so unfortunately I don’t have one to put up. However experts suggest that he probably would have looked something like this:

markymark Mark in Moore books sometime in the past.

After public meeting I stayed back for afternoon tea and I even got to play hackey sack, just like I was in first year again. There I was, in my Wishful Thinking hoodie and my COL shirt, playing hackey with my friend Simon who is an Engineer in the year above me and was one of the cool Engo guys who let me play hackey with them when I started uni. How nice. But the other guys we were playing with were young and/or exchange students so they probably didn’t appreciate the moment so much. You know, it was just a game of hackey.

The end is near: #5

These reflective uni posts are getting so much more frequent this week, and so much more self indulgent.

I’ve had my last class now. It was great. It was in the main quad, the beautiful iconic sandstone building, and it was with Vras. It was pretty much the best way to finish up.

There is one more public meeting to go. On Monday I get to hand over public meetings to someone else, although I still don’t know how that will be! Monday is the last General Council meeting I get to go to. The IT team has promised a chocolate bar to the person who updates their section of the website best, so I have been working to win that chocolate! I’m very proud of myself. I made a sweet banner.
Please, check it out and admire my elite html skilz. Ok. Maybe not that elite… Or you can just check it out to see what I have been doing with myself these last two years. Don’t forget to check out the links on the side bar – I am especially proud of the picture gallery.

This entry is thinly veiled procrastination from my third last essay – I’ve got 1600 out of 2500 words!

The end is near: #4

It’s been an interesting day so far. My last Tuesday at uni and I really do think I am letting it get to me.
This morning I read three psalms in succession. They were very good together: Psalms 113-115. One had a very global focus, one had a very Israel focus and the last one had both. But they were all about God’s glory and power and authority and graciousness to his people. I have been finding it harder to pray recently, but the Psalms this morning made it easy. While I sat at the station and waited for the train I prayed properly, not in the lip service ways that are so easy to fall into. I particularly asked God to help me be helpful in the ways I related to people today – to bring glory to him in my conversations rather than to elevate myself or slander other people (as is often the case).

Wow it was a good thing that I prayed about it this morning because there were heaps of opportunities today for me to do those things. But God was gracious. There were a couple of moments where stressful things happened with Public Meetings, but God gave me clarity of mind and instead of getting mad I was able to pray about things; I found myself being patient and humble. The one time that I broke down it was the exact moment that I ran into a very good and wise friend who had all the right words to say. And in all the other moments there were amazing friends who I didn’t realise I would miss until today. All throughout the the time before, during and after public meeting, they were there thanking me for my work, hugging me or praying for me. These guys were kids, they were the small fry who started uni two or three (or four!) years after me and I was the “leader” who get to watch out for them. But today they were there for me and it was a new thing and it was really really wonderful.

I have two hours of class left to go. And three essays.

The end is near: #3

It is week 12 this week and many of my classes are wrapping up. On Tuesday our lecture for Science, Technology and Social Change surprised us with the announcement that we have no class next week. The end really is near. I’ve really enjoyed the tutorials for this subject, and it has inspired me to create a list.

Alison’s top 5 tutorials and pracs:

5. Social Inequality in Australia
I took this class in 3rd year. I think I attended two of the lectures all semester – but mostly because I had a clash. This prac was so memorable because our lecturer was a bit of a loser. He was really really good at labeling people and then making people conform to these labels for the rest of semester. So, for example, he began with himself – identifying himself as homosexual, and then not pausing to ask the class if anyone else had any contribution on homosexuality and inequality. About halfway through semester, in the week on ethnicity and inequality a couple of second and third generation immigrants including myself, volunteered some stories about the experiences of our parents and grandparents. For the rest of semester I was referred to as “the Greek girl”. Kind of lame. The most hilarious thing was his representation of America as the ultimate evil in social inequality. Every tutorial included at least a short rant about the failings of American society to care for the marginalised. Unbeknownst to the tutor, this particular subject was very popular with American exchange students and we had four in our class. They were very quiet the first month or so, but after week 4 or 5, one of them decided to challenge one of his points. He seemed surprised to hear her accent, and his expression grew more hilarious as the other American students echoed the first girl. His rants lessened in intensity in following weeks.

4. Any GIS practical
What an amazing feeling to create maps! In second year, I met my friend Amelia and we mapped the IT industry in Sydney and produced a report that was 1.5 cm thick full of maps. Even though
I did the printing, the third group member decided she would take the report home for her portfolio. Boo! The other awesome GIS experience was mapping a marine reserve in 3rd year. Can you imagine the incredible feeling of creating a flowchart of commands to create different maps which weighted certain criteria differently? No, you probably can’t, and you probably don’t care.

3. Science, Technology and Social Change
One of my filler subjects for this semester, it was a really weird subject to sit through. There were only 15-20 people enrolled in the class. We sat hrough a 2 hour lecture and then walked across campus for a tutorial. There was only one because the enrollments were so small. Unless I brought my knitting to class I would, without fail, fall asleep during the lectures. Our lecturer was brilliant, but spoke very softly and slowly and repeated herself often. However the tutorials were like nothing else. She had wisely chosen not to make us present every week. Instead she facilitated really stimulating discussions and lots of people were prepared to put their two cents in (it was like no other tutorial I had ever been in). We argued over and waded through complex issues like Obama’s “Green New Deal”, whether a global environmental consciousness exists, the ethics of trading body parts, the ethics of paid clinical trials, the problems of biosecurity and threats of pandemics and the use of biotechnology as art. Wow. I have never thought so hard in a tutorial before.

2. Cities and Citizenship
Pretty much the best subject ever. I found myself in a tutorial full of wonderful friends that I had made on our Condobolin field trip the semester before, and it was the first time that I felt at home in the Geography community. It was such a fun class. Most weeks, our tutor Kurt
would bring a pot of tea for anyone who wanted some. Marita brought wine, cheese and homemade sausage for her presentation on Rome. Bill wore his giant fake moustache during the week on colonial cities. I brought cake on my birthday. We conducted our tutorial on children and citizenship siting on the floor in a circle, because it seemed appropriate for the subject. It was definitely the most friendly and comfortable tutorial I have ever been in.

1. Any subject with Vras
You name it: Modern Greek (both language and culture), new testament Greek or Medieval studies – all of it was like nothing I have ever studied. I don’t even know how to begin explaining the Vras experience. I think I will save this for it’s own special entry.

The end is near #2

It is time for my second installment as I wind down from university life.

There are three weeks to go, and life is feeling very much in the fast lane. In three week’s time, I will have only one outstanding assessment. It will be Vras’ and I’m not actually sure when the deadline is. I have three weeks left to have lunch and coffee with all the people I need to for old time’s sake. I have three weeks left to wrap up eu things and hand over public meetings to the new person… whoever they are. The executive is still working it out.

A couple of years ago, my friend Jacob graduated and he counted down the remaining hours he had until he could count on his fingers! I think I am getting to that point. There is still so much to do and I don’t know how to fit it in. I’ve started wondering if I am doing things for the last time. Is this my last time in the education computer lab? Is this my last time in the university post office? Is this my last (and first!) time in the new luxurious law building? Is this the last time I sit underneath the statue of Gilgamesh? No, it can’t be. I have to go back and say goodbye to all these places! The thing though is when can I fit it in?

But first of all, time to go to class. I am 45 minutes late.