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Ancient languages teach students about modern life

Some chose to study Greek and Latin for a challenge. Others wanted to try something different or apply it to something later in life, like translating medieval documents or understanding medical terminology.

Whatever their reason, about 30 students are studying the ancient languages each semester at the Louisiana Scholars' College at Northwestern State University. And they're coming away with lessons on modern civilization as well as how to conjugate verbs.

The classes are offered to fulfill a Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts with a concentration in Latin, colloquially called a degree in classics. The school also offers a minor in classics that can be either Latin or Greek.

The liberal arts college is one of few options for a classical education in Louisiana at the price of a state university. Louisiana State University offers minors in Greek, Latin or a combination for "classical civilization," but the school has suspended admission to its bachelor's in Latin program, according to its website.

Studying the languages has taught many a Scholars student patience, logic and a lot about English grammar.

"I learned more about grammar in Greek 102 than I did in high school," said Nick Bailey, 19, of Alexandria.

Bailey has completed two semesters of Greek and isn't stopping there. The sophomore chose to study the language to set him apart when he applies to medical or veterinary school after college.

"And I wanted a challenge," he said. "There's so much to remember. Everything has a different ending. It's like one big puzzle. It's stressful but fun."

His classmate Chelsea Thibodeaux, 19, of Houma had a different and very specific reason for taking Greek.

"I honestly chose Greek for one reason," she said. "I wanted to read 'The Iliad' in its original Greek. We'll do it in Greek IV."

Lauren Norwood, 21, took a semester of Latin to help in her future career as a nurse. She graduated Friday as one of Scholars' first nursing students.

"I thought it would help me in the medical field," she said. "It's good to know the bases of Latin. I had a medical terminology class and it was 10 times easier."

Surprisingly, though, a few semesters of Greek would have been more helpful when it comes to medical terms, according to her professor.

T. Davina McClain, associate professor of classics, has several students who take both languages.

Eleanor Drobina, 27, completed four semesters of Greek and three of Latin during her time in Scholars. She graduated Friday.

"I started with Greek because I wanted to go to Greece," she said. "I took Latin because most medieval documents are written in Latin. I'm looking at the military (for a career) as a historian or translator."

Although the languages span centuries, Drobina learned about modern culture during the classes.

"It actually teaches you about your culture, where western civilization comes from," she said.

That's something McClain wants her all of her students to grasp and something she thinks everyone could benefit from.

"As a culture we can be so momentary, with (social media sites) Snapchat and Yik Yak, so separate from our past, so arrogant as who we are as a people," McClain said.

"If we had a better sense of history, literature ... religion, art — if we had a better sense of all these things through time I think we would have to step back and look at ourselves more critically. We would understand we're making the same mistakes. ... If we really understood countries and people better, we would understand that. That's why it still matters."

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