Alexis Phylactopoulos, CYA President, Speaks at AHI Noon Forum on “College Year in Athens: 45 Years in the Service of U.S.-Greek Cultural Relations”
WASHINGTON, DC—On May 28, 2008, AHI hosted a Noon Forum at the Hellenic House on: “College Year in Athens: 45 Years in the Service of U.S.- Greek Cultural Relations” with Alexis Phylactopoulos, the President of the College Year in Athens as the speaker.
Mr. Alexis Phylactopoulos provided a brief history on the College Year in Athens program which was founded in the early 1960’s for students wishing to study the Classics and Greek Civilization while “immersing themselves in Greek culture and society.” Since then, the program has grown substantially and is housed in a central Athens location.
Following is the text of Mr. Alexis Phylactopoulos’ remarks:
In 1966, over 40 years ago, a popular young mass circulation ladies’ magazine carried a story entitled “ A golden year for U.S. youth in Greece” where it discussed in glowing terms the appearance of a new institution in Greece which offered college studies of things Greek to American students. I believe it called College Year in Athens“Greece’s best kept secret”. Now over 45 years later, College Year in Athens, a much larger and mature institution, is still somewhat of a well kept secret in Athens. The reason for this is that its students are drawn exclusively from outside of Greece, and in fact 99 percent of them are from the United States.
Educational relations between the U.S. and Greece have been dominated after WWII by a steady flow of students who would come to the U.S. for graduate or undergraduate study, with many of them ultimately remaining permanently and having professional careers in the U.S. Enrollments from Greece grew at a steady pace in the 50s, accelerated in the 60s and increased at an even higher pace in the late 70s. Through this brain drain, Greece was losing some of its best scholars and professionals to the U.S. This flow has tapered off since Greece’s accession to the European Union in 1981. For reasons that are to a great extent financial, Greece now exports its students mostly to Europe, with the largest number, some 30+ thousand studying in the U.K. The flow of students from Greece studying in the U.S. has been on a steady decline since the early 80s.
On the contrary, U.S. students studying in Greece have been increasing steadily in recent years, at a rate of about 5 percent annually. College Year in Athens has, since the early 60s, been making a significant contribution in this trend of student traffic toward Greece, bringing in some 450 U.S. college students annually to study at College Year in Athens. Some 10 percent of our students each year are Americans of Greek background. These Greek-American students are most welcome in that they act as guides and counselors to the uninitiated. They introduce the other students to the customs of Greek city and village life and the rituals of the holidays and the Christian Orthodox tradition.
College Year in Athens was born out of the favorable conditions prevailing in Greece in the early Sixties and the inspiration of Ismene Phylactopoulou, an enterprising and restless woman who, having studied on a scholarship at Wellesley in the 20s, grasped the right moment to launch a venture aimed at exporting Greece's ancient and contemporary civilization and culture to American university students. She did not do that just as a way of giving back to the U.S. what she had received academically, but also in order to bring forward all that her country had to offer, including the contribution of Classical Athens to our concept of democracy.
The early Sixties brought a series of positive developments, including Greece's association agreement with the European Community. Greece’s image in the U.S. benefited in the early ‘60s from visits to Greece by American men of letters, like John Steinbeck and Robert Frost, visits by US political personages like VP Lyndon Johnson, presidential wife Jackie Kennedy, and senatorial candidate Edward Kennedy. It was then that PM Constantine Karamanlis and his wife Amalia paid a state visit to Washington, to be hosted in great pomp by the Kennedys. George Seferis won a Nobel Prize in literature, Manos Hadjidakis an Oscar for his music in Never on Sunday, Maria Callas performed Norma and Medea in Epidavros and Andreas Papandreou returned from Berkeley to Athens to head the newly-founded Center for Economic Research.
It was in this setting that CYA was launched and attracted the first pioneering class of five students, all female, in 1962-63. The first students were soon to be followed by more in every new academic year—all interested in spending a university year away from their US campus to study the Classics and Greek Civilization while earning academic credits toward their degree and immersing themselves in Greek culture and society. It was the first program of its kind in Greece and one of the few that operated in Europe in those days.
Originally, the difficulties and expense of going abroad were such that the institution was appropriately called College YEAR in Athens. The advent of the jet age and gradual shrinking of the globe has turned what used to be a year-long academic commitment mostly to a semester experience. More and more students choose to study abroad for a shorter period of time than a full academic year.
In spite of the fact that students now come to Greece mostly for one semester, the original recipe remains about the same today, 45 years later: American and some Canadian and even some British students study Greek subjects and learn the meaning of cross-cultural understanding by living in the midst of Athenian society, like real Athenians, in the program's own Kolonaki and Pangrati apartments, and study the wonders of Greece. It is this special type of on-site teaching that has exposed generations of young Americans to the marvels of ancient Greek art and architecture and has brought them into Minoan palaces, the citadels of the Mycenaean world, the temples and the stadia of the Greek sanctuaries, the tombs of Ancient Macedonia and the museums all over Greece.
From the very beginning the program was blessed with extraordinarily good faculty. Among the first were the famous Hellenist H.D.F. Kitto, who taught Attic tragedy to his spellbound students, and the historian A.R. (Robin) Burn. In ancient Greek studies, the historian Peter Green, the archeologists Judith Binder, John Camp, Henry S. Robinson, Yannis Sakellarakis and Nicholas Yalouris, and more recently, Christos Doumas and Nanno Marinatos are notable examples, so are philosophers Raphael Demos and Dimitri Nianias. In Modern Greek studies, Juliet M.H. du Boulay, Nikiforos Diamandouros, Alexis Diamantopoulos, Alexis Dimaras, Theodore Frangopoulos, Kimon Friar, Michael Herzfeld, Edmund Keeley, Paschalis Kitromilides, Catherine Koumarianou, George Savidis, Philip Sherrard. Thanos Veremis and Speros Vryonis also belong to this impressive group.
During the last 20 years the program has grown in size, developed a summer school that teaches Greek language at all levels, and most importantly, has maintained standards of academic excellence. It has also managed to acquire its own facilities next to the Kallimarmaro (Marble) Stadium in downtown Athens, offering 20,000 square feet in a marvellous location and historic setting. The funds for the acquisition have been collected largely thanks to our trustees, who have also been enormously helpful in other ways as well. CYA Trustees are drawn both from the U.S. and from Greece, and they are prominent in academia, business and professional world.
College Year in Athens was formed as an American 501(c)3 not for profit educational institution, incorporated in the state of Delaware. Its offices in the U.S. are in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1997 College Year in Athens formed a subsidiary in Greece, a not-for-profit educational organization, the International Center for Hellenic and Mediterranean Studies (DIKEMES), in order to represent College Year in Athens in Greece and to provide diversified educational services.
The school offers about 30 courses each semester (and some 10 sections of Modern Greek language), which are divided into three programs or curricula: Ancient Greek Studies, Modern Greek Studies, and International Relations/European Studies. The Modern Greek language is offered at all levels as part of the Modern Greek Studies program, and CYA is particularly proud of its team of Modern Greek Language instructors. The very popular and highly regarded method of teaching Greek to foreigners, Ellinika Tora, is the one used at CYA and has been developed by two of our senior Modern Greek instructors, Dimitra Dimitra and Marinetta Papahimona.
The Faculty are Greek professors and specialists in their respective fields, American and Canadian researchers who made Greece their home and reside permanently there, or Europeans who avail themselves of the opportunities offered by the EU Labor regulations. Most of them are Ph.D. holders. Instruction is done interactively, the way U.S. students are accustomed to, and good use is made of modern teaching techniques (Powerpoint presentations, etc.). Of course the greatest benefit of being in Greece is to be able to use the archaeological sites and the museums as a classroom. All our Art and Archaeology classes are held in situ. Many others in History, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, use the Greek landscape and society as a learning environment.
Part and parcel of the academic program is field trip instruction. Our students visit practically every part of Greece from Crete to the Argolid, to Olympia, to Delphi, while certain classes go to Macedonia, Mystra, Marathon, Sounion, and other sites around Athens. In these sites they are given instruction for which they are accountable. They are not tourists; they are travellers with paper and pencil.
College Year in Athens is a selective program and admits its students after careful scrutiny of their applications. Its reputation is that of a rigorous school where academic challenge is comparable to that which they face at their home institutions. The average GPA is 3.4 and the most popular majors are Classics, History, Political Science, Anthropology and Psychology, but students come also from such fields as Accounting, Biology, and Journalism.
Where we are extremely attentive is student services. There is a whole team of dedicated individuals whose work is to orient students upon arrival and to look after their emotional and adjustment needs and their welfare. The security and health of our students is our first priority. Another task of our student services is to feed students into part-time jobs and internships with Greek NGOs.
Whenever possible, we create opportunities for hands-on experience in archaeology and conservation work. For example, an archaeology practicum was organized for volunteers of our incoming Spring semester students this year, at an unexcavated site at Voula, near Athens. Some of our students participated for two weeks in this dig, where they exposed an early Byzantine Church and they themselves were exposed to the mysteries of field archaeology, along with the hard labor of an excavator and the bitter cold of Athens in January.
Our students come from all parts of the U.S. and from schools that vary in size, liberal arts colleges, as well as State schools. We have had students from 438 institutions. We have about 7,000 alumni and a recent count shows 365 of them in academic jobs—teachers, professors, deans, of whom about 170 are university professors on Greece-related subjects. We are now in the fortunate position of accepting for enrolment the students that our former students, now professors, send to us. You can imagine the enormous influence and goodwill in favor of Greece that is generated by these 7,000 individuals. Greece’s most valuable commodity is the soft power it emanates because of its ancient past, its contribution to democratic ideals, and its present language and culture. These former CYA students, many of them in positions of high influence and visibility in the U.S., are life-long spiritual friends of Greece and torch bearers of this soft power that Greece represents.
In this context, it is very difficult to understand why Greece puts up barriers in the flow of students from the United States to Greece. This flow is beneficial to Greece in many ways: it brings valuable currency exchange into the country and creates young philhellenes. The main barrier is the complexity of the process for obtaining a student visa.This is a complex, drawn out affair that has three stages: one that starts with the submission of a number of documents by the accepting school to the Greek authorities in Athens, one that involves the submission by the student of another set of documents (some of which are very time-consuming to obtain, like an FBI report) to the Greek Consulate in the U.S., where a subsequent personal interview is required, the student sometimes having to travel hundreds of mile, and one that starts as soon as the student arrives in Greece, where he has to obtain a residence permit since the original visa has a standard duration of only 90 days. I do not claim that the Greek authorities should have no regulations for issuing visas to incoming students. I claim that these regulations should be reciprocal to what is demanded of Greek students studying in the U.S. Undoubtedly these regulations could be simplified, and certainly the visa granted can be for the duration of the program of study and for multiple entries. In essence, the Greek authorities need to raise their level of sophistication and treat a student as a student and not regard him or her as an economnic migrant or refugee.
It is becoming increasingly clear to all of us that education is no longer an activity confined to the walls of the campus or the frontiers of a country. Americans, more than anybody else, have become painfully aware of the need to internationalise themselves and a good way to begin is by internationalising the American university campus. The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act of 2007 has gained strong bipartisan support in Congress and has been endorsed by more than 35 higher education and educational exchange organizations. It aims to make Americans know more about the rest of the world as part of their undergraduate education and it promotes the recommendations put forth by the Commission of the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program. This initiative aims at increasing the number of college and university students studying abroad to 1 million in 10 years.
U.S. society has realized that more and more of its youth have to have an educational or work experience abroad. This is the cause to which College Year in Athens is dedicated: making its students global citizens who understand and appreciate other cultures. Socrates put it so well two and a half thousand years ago when he said, “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, I am a Citizen of the World.”
Attached please find a foto of Mr. Phylactopoulos' visit to AHI.
For additional information, please contact Nick Larigakis at (202) 785-8430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.
Alexis Phylactopoulos, CYA President, Speaks at AHI Noon Forum on “College Year in Athens: 45 Years in the Service of U.S.-Greek Cultural Relations”