Christos Giannakopoulos

Arete: Greek Excellence at Hillsdale

Written by Gordon Behr

Christos Giannakopoulos made the intimidating move from Greece to Hillsdale College along with his twin brother, Stefanos, in the summer of 2014. When they arrived, the brothers were set to play basketball, tackle classes in a different language, and generally face the challenges of adjusting to a new culture.

Christos, now a successful junior, walked me through the experiences that helped him overcome the roadblocks he experienced his freshman year. While the people at Hillsdale were always friendly, Christos specifically had a difficult time integrating into the culture since his initial knowledge of the United States had come exclusively from movies and television shows. Classes like Western Heritage and Great Books, which are heavy in reading and writing, also added to Christos’s yearning for home.

“For those classes, the hardest part was developing vocabulary so that I could write good papers and pass,” Christos said.

The twins also had to learn to juggle their time between classes and basketball commitments. They found that basketball posed its own set of challenges as they had to adjust to different rules and different dimensions of the basketball itself. Despite the extra work and time, Christos believes that the basketball team served a fundamental role in his acclimatization to the United States.

“The bros and the team made me feel like I belonged somewhere and that I have people to go to when something doesn’t go well in my life. They helped me learn the American culture, and adjusting became easier.”

When Christos arrived freshman year, Coach Tharp promised the brothers that the basketball team would always be their home away from home. Since then, they have had a place to go over the holidays with either their teammates or Coach Tharp.  After spending countless hours with teammates—who played a fundamental role in helping him bridge the gap between textbook vocabulary and American slang—Christos became less homesick and grew in his ability to approach people.

College faculty also helped Christos and his brother pass the learning curve. The staff in the writing center taught the twins the ins and outs of paper writing, and professors helped them understand classroom expectations through office hours visits. By his sophomore year, he felt more at ease. At that point he had also finished most of the core classes, so he was able to focus more on the subject he loves most: physics.

Every struggle Christos had with history and English classes was met with an even greater aptitude for science. After working with his advisor on a nebula project last semester, Christos applied to and received two observation nights on a telescope with Kitt Peak Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. Although he did not discover any nebulas that week, Christos added to data that will be used by other scientists.  

This winter break, Christos and Stefanos were able to fly home and visit their family in Athens for the first time in three years. When they returned to Michigan a week later for basketball training, the single-digit weather was no longer foreign to them, and neither was the language. Christos’s toils at Hillsdale have so far paid off, and he looks forward to continuing his study of astrophysics after he graduates in 2018.

“After spending three-and-a-half years in Hillsdale, I feel completely adjusted.  This gives me certainty that I will succeed at Hillsdale College and beyond.”

Gordon BehrGordon Behr, class of 2019, studies politics and economics. He also plays for the Hillsdale College Men’s Basketball team.

Published in November 2018