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Interview with Mr. John Burke: From an athlete to a classicist

Daisy Halliwell-Woods, Reporter

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Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, (named after the famous Roman general), young John Burke could not have imagined that he would ever be living in Rome.
“I’m living my dream, a dream any classical scholar would want to live,” Mr. Burke says when asked about living in the ancient city of Rome.

As a young boy it wasn’t classics that caught his attention, but it was american football. Like many other boys, he wanted to become an american football player. It was not until later in life that Mr. Burke decided to become a classicist. It didn’t happen overnight, but he “couldn’t believe that he’d never thought about it before.” His beginnings in academic life were not exactly like many teachers’: as a child and teenager, he tended to dislike school a lot and was not a very distinguished student. At the time, Mr. Burke’s is main focus was sports (he was an athlete throughout most of his high school experience); however, in his senior year, he became more interested in academic endeavours, and from there his interest in learning grew. In college Mr. Burke was inspired by a fabulous teacher in classics, who, as Mr. Burke likes to say, was a real portal into the realms of history and philosophy. This opened up a whole new world for Mr. Burke. He took a course in Ancient Greek and in spite of falling “flat on his face” numerous times, he was not swayed by failure and persevered. And from what we can tell, he clearly succeeded in his academic journey.

Now, as a member of the St. Stephen’s fabulous faculty, Mr. Burke continues to make a positive impact on his students, and, when asked, countless students have labelled him as a fun and overall, great teacher.

Mr. Burke has been living in Rome for less than two months, and so far he has loved it. “It’s tremendously gratifying to be here,” he says, and when asked if would like to return to the United States, he admits that he “wouldn’t change it for the world.” However, it hasn’t been all perfect. Most importantly, Mr. Burke cannot speak Italian yet, and not knowing the language often presents a huge problem. However, he is excited and eager to learn, which is, as we can tell, seems to be a recurring value to him. Mr. Burke noted that living in Italy is “hard” but he feels that it is one of the best places to be in. Moving to a new city, a new country, a new continent made Mr. Burke realize that sometimes, even the simplest things can be challenging. From shopping at the grocery store to getting locked in his apartment (twice!), navigating, fixing the wifi with someone who spoke no english… Mr. Burke tells us that “until you do something you don’t know what to expect.” Such experiences repeatedly caused him to think about “all the people you take for granted, the language you take for granted, even the tiniest things that you would never expect you take for granted.” Mr. Burke has two children, a son who is 21 and a daughter who is 16. They both live in the the States, and parting from them was one of the few drawbacks of Mr. Burke’s moving to Rome. “Its one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” Mr. Burke notes.

“No better place to be than right here”
Mr. Burke

We all are extremely happy that Mr. Burke is at St. Stephen’s! He has already proven that he is an amazing addition to the school faculty, and we are excited to get to know him better throughout the year!

Special thanks to Mr. Burke for kindly finding time to answer our questions!

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Interview with Mr. John Burke: From an athlete to a classicist