Tag Archives: uni

Belonging and not belonging at the university

After many years of promising to give the university chaplains a proper place to work, the university administrators finally fulfilled their word. Our ramshackle fibro cottage was knocked down to make way for landscaped gardens and we moved into a new building. Desks! Air conditioning! A store room! A fire escape!

In the context of working with university staff it’s given me a surprising sense of security and belonging. Even though I still barely work from the chaplaincy offices, just knowing that there is a desk I can work from makes me feel like I belong here. Legitimately. I belong like all the people I am ministering to. I belong like all the people I am trying to share the gospel with.

I’m scared of what this sense of belonging betrays. It kind of feels like my identity as a Howie (a pastor? a missionary? a harvest worker? whatever I am.) is tied to a room with four desks that I have never actually worked from. That seems a little bit ridiculous! How would I cope if I was doing the work of my peers in France, who aren’t even allowed to be on their university campuses? Surely my sense of belonging should be tied to my identity in Christ. I should sit uneasy knowing that we are given a space to work on a campus where the majority of people hate that we are here. I should stand firm knowing that we are more than conquerors in Christ, and that nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8). Upon reflection I remember that Jesus is a more stable and permanent reality than the chaplains’ offices at Sydney University.

Last week I walked past a woman who runs a cafe on campus on my way into work. She smiled and said hi. And today a security guard that I’ve walked past almost every day for the last year finally replied to my greeting with a friendly nod of the head, a smile and a ‘what’s up?’

This is a different kind of belonging again, the kind where people know who I am. They know I am in their buildings every day. They might not know my name yet, and they might not know what I do yet but I hope I get a chance to tell them over the next 10 months! Place is important, but it’s the relationships that should matter most to me at the moment. This year I think my challenge will be to ground my identity and my work on Jesus first, relationships with staff and students second, and the beautiful campus last.

Heartbroken

Fisher Library is the ultimate in fickle.

Once upon a time – even only 6 months ago – Fisher library and its trendy younger cousin, SciTech Library, were best friends. In fact, it was as though these libraries were extensions of my brain. Housed in these two enormous buildings were mountains and mountains of books that could teach me about anything I wanted to know. And remote access to journals meant that I could learn new things from the comfort of my computer at home.

Now I am out in the real world. I am still a researcher but with no more connections with the uni. Fisher has spurned me.

I’ve known this since August, but the reality came crashing down today on my adventure to Moore College library to track down some material for work. Moore College library was foreign, but friendly. The librarians were helpful and they set me up with a visitors account so I could photocopy things. I couldn’t take any books out which was lame. But I wasn’t offended. I am not and never have been a student there, so why should I feel like it was my right?

After a fruitful time in Moore Library I walked the very short trek to Fisher – my academic home, the building which stores all the stuff that I can’t fit in my brain. My quest was to find out if they had a particular book that I had seen at Moore. Imagine my heartache as I walked past over fifty computers on two floors denying me access to the library catalogue because I no longer had a 13 digit library card number. This building full of knowledge was suddenly cut off from me. Once I could sit at those computers and waste time online, and track down articles, and write up long lists of Dewey Decimal numbers. Today I spent 10 minutes wondering around the library looking for a terminal that would accept me. And then there was the sad sensation of realising that even if I could find my book, I would not be able to check it out. Not anymore.

So now I am investigating an alumni card, but that still won’t give me remote access to the electronic journals. How am I supposed to be a researcher without those resources!? Ugh. It’s awful. My heart has been broken by a library.

The end is here!

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I am no longer a student at Sydney University!

Graduating was a mix of a whole heap of different feelings. There was nostalgia seeing students going to class while I was thinking about never coming back again. There was joy spending the day with Matt and my family, and more joy seeing my friend Susie who came up to see me, and Jon and Ken who were there too. It was so much fun to wear those very old school medieval robes and it was very intimidating to walk up on stage in front of everyone. It was a relief to find out that I did in fact recognise people and that I was graduating with at least a handful of my classmates. It was also a relief to not wear rabbit fur on my hood.

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This is a photo of me wearing one of the most old fashioned hoodies in the world.

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.

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“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!

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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?”

Last essay!

I’ve written 3500 of the 4000 words for my last essay ever. The end is so very very close!
Matt is asleep now. I can hear him snoring softly in the other room. It’s very nice to just sit here and listen to him – maybe the last time I will sit here with an unfinished essay listening to him sleep like this.

Oh… I can really smell the freedom. Only a little bit more to write, and then proof reading tomorrow morning and then it’s over!!

The end is near: #6

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

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The last day of uni

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

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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.

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Hooray Thursday prayer meeting!

Then it was onto morning tea with my friend Liz.

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tea

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 😛

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Amanda with her wool.

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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:

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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!