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Alumni Spotlight – Joel Erickson

An Interview with Joel Erickson

What prompted you to select the KIIS Greece program?
By Fall Semester 2007, I switched from majoring in Telecommunications to a double major in Greek and Latin out of my love of etymology and Classical languages and linguistics. My Greek course was taught by one of the professors leading the KIIS Greece program, and they encouraged us to apply. I thought it was a brilliant idea to spend five weeks in Greece studying mythology and applied immediately.

What were 1 or 2 memorable experiences on your KIIS Greece program?
I have so many memories of that trip but what is likely my favorite memory is learning that the Museum at Delphi has slushies. I thought it was completely absurd but equally awesome that I could have a slushie at ancient oracle. It had such a significant effect on me that, about a decade later–when I was stationed in Kosovo–I decided to take my few days of leave in Greece. I talked a mentor into going with me, and I returned to Delphi where we enjoyed a couple of Delphic slushies.

Another great memory is touring Melos and listening to Dr. King and Dr. Shea discuss the significance of the island as we stopped walking along the path. As I recall it, we stopped in just a shady little spot on the side of a hill, overlooking the sea—it was completely ordinary (but also absolutely beautiful.) As they continued lecturing, it dawned on me that what they were saying was we were standing in the very spot where the Venus de Milo had been found a century plus before. It was a magical experience, but then again the whole trip was magical!

How did your experiences abroad impact your academic/career choices after you returned?
Coming from the flat farmland and cornfields of Indiana, it gave me an enduring love of Greece and all things Greek. I decided to do what I could to work in a field where I could continue to have those sorts of travel experiences. I ended up earning an MA in Linguistics and focusing on the Balkan Sprachbund, which brought me to Bulgaria for a year (and another week long vacation to Greece!) After Bulgaria, I got to spend the summer in Turkey studying Turkish and visiting more ancient Greek and Roman sites, including Troy (although it was, somehow, closed for renovation for the first time in ~3200 years.)

What is your current job / profession?
I am currently a full time MA student of Classics at UChicago (my second MA degree). It has been my dream to pursue an advanced degree in the Classics there since I first went to Greece in 2008. I have been wonderfully lucky to get to take courses on the History of Latin, Hellenistic Imperial lit, Vergil and Sophocles, but also Demotic Egyptian! I supplement my student lifestyle working part time in the Defense industry where I get to play with maps and continue reading about the world.

What are your hobbies/interests/volunteer activities?
I love to read, and I’m lucky enough to be effectively getting paid to do so right now. I love the outdoors — like hiking, running, soccer, swimming, and anything else with a sense of adventure to it. I love to explore the city, biking and running new routes. I volunteered as a firefighter for about a year in between travel experiences, and I would perhaps like to do that again someday, if/when life slows down. I also love reading grammars of new languages and learning new scripts.

Have you received any awards?
I received a handful of awards during undergrad, a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and Critical Language Scholarship during and immediately after grad school (the first time). I have received a handful of awards in the defense industry, including a small plaque from the Jordanian Armed Forces for sponsoring a foreign officer in our training program, and a certificate of gratitude from the Turkish Army.

What advice do you have for other students considering studying abroad?
It’s a cliché, but “do it!” Studying and traveling abroad has been so incredibly important to me. It may seem intimidating to spend so long away from home, but stick with it and enjoy yourself. I recall thinking that 5 weeks was “like forever” and that I was a completely different person afterward. (In retrospect, 5 weeks is nothing after living and working abroad for 10 times that long, multiple times.) Also, don’t be afraid of the application process. Too many people think “they’ll never pick me”—myself included until KIIS! So, instead of writing “I like Greece, I’m a completely unrelated major and only want to go on vacation—pick me,” write a simple plan showing how your desired study abroad opportunity will fit into your life and/or major and what you will do with that experience. E.g. “I am an X year student of Y major, KIIS Greece would give me the opportunity to put what I have learned in context in a real world, intercultural setting.”

In my experience, most opportunities — prestigious ones included — are just out there, un-pursued because “they’ll probably pick someone else.” All you have to do is ask.

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Joel Erickson

KIIS Greece
Greek and Latin
Ball State University

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