In My Own Words: L-SHS Art Teacher Miss Helena Protopapas talks about on her move to Japan

In My Own Words

In this installment of In My Own WordsAliza Howe interviewed Miss Helena Protopapas who was a long-term substitute for Mrs. Meg Lau who was completing her Masters of Fine Arts this semester.

I've had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Miss Protopapas, who teaches Design & Illustration this semester, about her experience here at Lampeter-Strasburg, as well as her moving to Japan.

Miss Protopapas is a born artist. At only twenty-seven years old, she's been signed to Warner Bros., sold highly successful albums, and traveled the world as an artist and musician. She is the very essence of a free spirit.

I feel blessed and incredibly fortunate to have her as my teacher; I've learned so much about creativity, confidence, and willpower from her that I can say with certainty that the experience of being in her class has thoroughly changed my life.
Music Video Paper House

What drew you so much to Japan?
I've been interested in comparative religions -- and art, obviously -- since I was a little kid, and I grew up in India a little bit and grew up in Pennsylvania and traveled a lot, and then as I got to, like, sixteen or seventeen, I got interested in Buddhism, and then from that, more Zen Buddhism. And then recently, when I was in college, I took a class on Post-Modernism and studied a lot about art and Buddhism and Zen Buddhism and John Cage... and I just loved sushi. (laughs) I love Zen Buddhism.

I love Japanese printmaking, and I love their architecture. I also think their culture's very emotionally protected and reserved, and I'm the opposite because I'm a very open person and very emotional and very passionate, and I think they're much more like... not cold, but very protective -- protected -- and I think... I think I have something to offer to the kids there, and I'm very like playful, you know, bubbly.

But I think it'll also be a good learning experience for me. I like to put myself in situations that make me feel a little bit uncomfortable, or at least where I feel... just pushed, you know? So that's why.

It's also across the world, far from my very loving, beautiful parents, but.... I moved out on my own when I was eighteen, and then I moved back to the east coast, and then I lived with my mom and my dad -- I lived with my mom during the week and my dad on weekends -- and I'm twenty-seven. And it felt almost like I had failed by coming back after being in the music industry.

I felt like the worst thing that could ever happen would be for me to have to move back to the east coast, and I had to. And it really was a beautiful thing, and it helped me appreciate my family, but yeah, coming back to the east coast was also kind of hard because I got so used to living on my own and being self-sufficient, and I'm just ready. I'm ready to have my own apartment again, have my own space. And it's far away.

Have you been to Japan before?
No, never been to Japan, but I've done a lot of research and I just think that... like, India is beautiful and very different, and I've been to South Africa, I've been to a lot of places in Europe. I think Japan is so different. It's really... everything is super different there.

Have you ever taught in any other country?
I didn't teach in any other country, no.

What made you decide to go into teaching?
Necessity. I came back to the east coast, and I really needed to make money. I worked in an orchard -- like in an orchard teaching people how to pick fruit, basically -- and my dad was like, "You should teach private violin lessons," and I was like, definitely not. No one's gonna take lessons from me. I look like I'm fifteen, I sound like I'm fifteen, I don't know how to teach violin. And he was like, "Yeah, but you've been playing since you were four. You know how to play the violin, and you're very good at communicating, so you should teach."

And then I started -- and then I, like, faked it 'til I made it. I told people that I had taught for four years when it was my first lesson ever, and then before I knew it I was like, "I'm really good, and I'm getting a lot of students."

I also wanted to live abroad, and I went to boarding school for a year in India, and when I was in high school, I wanted to move abroad and live there and not really come back to the U.S., so when I moved back to the east coast, I got an English certification, 'cause I was like, that's a great way to travel, to make money, to have a steady income, but also it's not locked in.
Like if I were to have been hired for a permanent position here at L-S, normally you keep that job until you retire, until you're in your sixties. That idea does not excite me. The idea of staying in one school for thirty or forty years -- that's claustrophobic-feeling. That's really depressing to me. That's just 'cause that's my personality; I like to move around.

So I got my English teaching certification, and I found out that I had to have a Bachelor's to teach in, like, South Korea or Japan, and I was like, oh, so I do have to go to college now, like I really do. So then I was like, well, while I go to college I might as well have fun, I mean, art -- 'cause I am an artist -- and then also, if I'm paying this much money, I might as well get certified to teach in a public school, too. So I got that, and then I did my student teaching here, and then I was like, I'm gonna go to Japan next year -- but I had this window of this spring semester, and they were like, "Oh, well Ms. Lau is going, you should fill in for her," and I was like, "That's perfect."

So that's how I got into teaching, and it just feels like a continuation of what I already like to do. I love high school-aged kids. I love teaching art history and really socially- and politically-engaging work. I love art history. I like to make high-schoolers feel good about questioning things because I'm a rebel.

Have you enjoyed your experience here at L-S?
It has been a dream. The fact that I get to make art and get paid to hang out with high-schoolers and be myself... like, what other job is... ?

What's so beautiful about teaching, too, is if you're having a crappy day or you're grumpy or if you just have a weird morning or something, the moment you step into the classroom, most of the time you have your students there, and you don't wanna show them you're in a grumpy mood, so it snaps you out of it, you know? Because it's really easy to, like, wallow in your misery, but when other people depend on you, looking up to you, you want to present yourself in the best way. So there's also an element of getting over whatever you're going through and showing your best self... And I show all of my selves to you. (grinning) You guys don't have any special treatment. And the students here are fabulous.

--By Aliza Howe, LS News reporter

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