How a math student from Beijing found community in the Hellenic studies program
Greece is the land of Archimedes, Euclid, Thales of Melitus and Pythagoras, some of the greatest minds that mathematics has ever known. So perhaps it’s not such a surprise that Taiyan Liu, an undergraduate student in mathematical applications in economics and finance who comes from Beijing, would find herself drawn to the burgeoning Hellenic studies program at the University of Toronto. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Liu lived for a brief time in Athens after her mother married a Greek man.
Athens is different from Beijing in an infinite number of ways, Liu says, from the food to the ancient architecture to the picture postcard beaches. But mainly, there are far fewer people, and fewer still of Chinese background. She was in high school at the time and feeling out of place.
And while she initially struggled with the syntax and sounds of the Greek language, she excelled in mathematics and physics. So, as a fresh undergraduate student at the University of Athens, she sought a likeminded community and found it with the Department of Mathematics.
But as unrest started to boil over in Greece, Liu and her family moved to Canada in 2013, where she pursued her specialist degree at the University of Toronto. However, yet again, Liu felt out of place. This time, she yearned to find a community with whom she could converse in Greek and reminisce on her teenage years in Athens. On a serendipitous September afternoon, walking down St. George Street, Liu overheard a group of students speaking in Greek. Excited, Liu approached the students and started speaking to them in Greek. They were stunned. Liu asked them where she could find more Greek students, and they pointed her in the direction of the University’s annual student street festival, where she met with the Greek Students Association and learned about two Greek studies courses she could take and the work of Professor Themistoklis Aravossitas.
A generous endowment from the Hellenic Heritage Foundation launched Hellenic studies at the University of Toronto.
“In the class, Professor Aravossitas taught us Greek poetry, Greek music, Greek geography and the local traditions. He combined traditional language studies with the everyday life so that every time I went to that class, it was like I was in Greece,” says Liu. Finding a Greek community at the University of Toronto has allowed Liu to feel like she is at home. In May, Liu expressed her gratitude—using predominantly Greek—at a celebration launching Hellenic studies at the University, thanks in part to a $1.75 million endowment made by the Hellenic Heritage Foundation.
Liu aims to pursue a graduate career in finance. Regardless of what her future holds, Liu is certain that, with a twist of fate, Greek and Greece will always find a way back into her life to make her feel at home.
“When I was very young, I dreamed of being a mathematician, solving math puzzles on a small Greek island. I have loved mathematics and philosophy since I was a child. I consider them fundamental to our nature as human beings. Greece is the birthplace of these two. Maybe from that time, I have been destined to journey to Greece.”
Story by Farah Mustafa
Taiyan Liu speaks at the Hellenic Heritage Foundation gift announcement. Photo: Lisa Sakulensky