At 15 years old, Evan Zarkadas boarded an airplane in Greece. A new chapter in his life had begun. Greece had been the place Evan had called home.
Alongside Evan were his father, mother and brother as they entered an airport in Athens. Evan pulled nothing more than a large suitcase behind him, which held all his possessions. They were leaving everything in Greece. Anything Evan and his family couldn’t fit had been donated or sold.
It wasn’t exactly out of the blue that Evan and his family decided to move to the United States. Evan’s mother was born in the United States and she’d been trying to find a reason to come back for a long time. The economic market in Greece was weakening and Evan’s father’s business took a hit. This was the spark they needed to make the move.
When they boarded the airplane, the skies were blue and sunny. Evan was excited for the journey and he settled in for the flight.
That was when disaster struck.
“Well, we took off from Athens and then one of the airplane turbines caught on fire,” Evan said. “We didn’t know anything until we saw from the GPS that instead of the Atlantic, we were heading to Amsterdam.”
Shortly after, the passengers on the flight were told that one turbine had caught on fire. The plane landed in Amsterdam and the airline put Evan and his family in a hotel overnight. The next morning, they were able to board another plane and continued on their journey across the Atlantic. Because of the incident, which caused them to arrive late, they almost missed their plane from New York to Boston.
Finally, they arrived and were able to move into their new home in Rhode Island. Evan’s mother had been born and raised in Boston, so they had family nearby.
“When my family decided to move back to the States, I felt great. Although I knew that I was going to miss the place where I was born and raised, I knew that this new chapter in my life would be truly rewarding,” Evan said.
Although moving to the United States was exciting, Evan didn’t know English. He was 15 years old and had to transition to a new high school. “When I first went to high school, it was different because I was just learning the language, so in the beginning, I was reserved to myself and I did not have many friends,” Evan said. Despite this barrier, it also motivated him to learn English more quickly. “When I got more used to it, I started making friends, joining clubs and everything else that a normal high school student will do.”
Being immersed in American culture gave Evan the chance to learn English in three months. He began to see the language barrier dissolve in front of him. “Being bilingual is a gift. You have two languages in your brain, and you have the ability to translate things in seconds,” Evan said. “When you only speak one language, it’s hard to understand. But just imagine that you have a lifelong translator in your brain that sometimes translates thoughts, ideas or just simple words with the same roots.”
When Evan first began to learn English, he had to translate everything back to Greek. The more he learned, however, the easier it became. “But when I got to learn more and I got to speak primarily English in my everyday life, that translation part faded away and the ability to switch back and forth between the two was something really cool,” Evan said. “English is a mixture of multiple languages. Because of that it has some very peculiar and interesting rules.”
Evan came to enjoy high school. Before he knew it, it was time to choose a college. He’d mostly applied to institutions in the Boston area. But he’d also applied to the University of Maine at Presque Isle. After being accepted into all the schools he’d applied to, he knew that UMPI was the right place for him. “I think UMPI chose me,” Evan said. “Somehow the two of us connected and in UMPI, I saw a perfect reflection of American education: personalized, and for the student by the student. Some of the history professors here also were one of the reasons why I decided to come here, with their incredible work and welcoming faces.”
“Evan is an amazing student and friend. He has a great presence on campus and I think a lot of us students look up to him,” Bethany McPherson said. She is a fellow student at UMPI and is a close friend of Evan’s.
Evan decided to pursue a degree in history and political science at UMPI. He also decided to join the soccer team. But the season had hardly begun when he tore his ACL in practice one day.
No longer having soccer to occupy his extra time, he decided to become more involved in clubs and other organizations on campus. “My dream is to make a change that everyone in the future will remember,” Evan said. “My motto is, if I don’t do it, then no one is going to do it for me. If I want to succeed, I need to work for it and one of the ways to train myself in leadership, learning, communication and many other skills is to get involved on campus and do things that I love.”
“His activity on and off campus is definitely something that shows students what you can accomplish if you work hard at UMPI,” Bethany said. “As for him being from Greece, we all enjoy him sharing his culture and it definitely diversifies our campus. Lyra (Greek violin) is a 15 out of 10.”
Evan had the chance to do many things and his love for the state of Maine grew. “I love this state and I was very happy to find a school here. Maine is truly a magical state and after my undergraduate career here at UMPI is over, I plan on moving to Maine,” Evan said.
Although Evan misses Greece, he enjoys living in the States. It became his home in ways that he could have never imagined. “The most important thing that I personally like about this nation is that if you work hard, you can make your dreams come true. I have seen this many times since I came here,” Evan said.
Evan is on track to graduate from UMPI in the spring of 2020. He’s looking forward to what the future holds for him.