College Students Complete Inaugural AHIF Foreign Policy Study Trip to Greece and Cyprus
WASHINGTON, DC—From June 25–July 10, 2009 the American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) sponsored a group of nine Greek American college students for the inaugural AHIF College Student Foreign Policy Study Trip to Greece and Cyprus. This new program aims to introducing future Greek American leaders to the core foreign policy issues important to the Greek American community and their impact on U.S. interests in the Southeastern Mediterranean region. The trip began with briefings in Washington from June 25 to 26, followed by a series of activities and briefings in Cyprus (June 27 to July 2) and Athens (July 3-9).
The program is open to Greek American and Cypriot American college students in good academic standing who are studying political science, international relations, history, and/or foreign affairs.
The nine students selected to participate were: Lia Seremetis, University of Cincinnati, OH; Lydia Pappas, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA; Irene Venetia Ginakakis, New York University, NY; Jason Demetrios Vergados, Merrimack College, Massachusetts; George Balafoutis, University of Chicago, IL; John Tyler Gazetos, University of Wisconsin at Madison; George Papadopoulos, DePaul University, Chicago, IL; Vangelis Katsikiotis, Catholic University, Washington, D.C.; and Nicholas Papacostas, American University, Washington, D.C. The group was led on the trip by AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis and Director of Media Relations C. Franciscos Economides.
“I was honored to have had this wonderful opportunity to lead such an exceptional group of Greek American students to Greece and Cyprus for a hands-on experience to introduce them to the foreign policy issues concerning the U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus,” said Larigakis regarding the successful outcome of the inaugural student foreign policy trip. “The AHIF looks forward to continuing to offer this program as long as there is continued interest and support. And I feel certain there will be both,” he concluded.
The program began on June 25, 2009 at AHI in Washington, D.C. with a briefing from Ambassador Thomas J. Miller, president and CEO of the United Nations Association of the United States of America. Miller previously served as Ambassador to Greece and State Department Special Coordinator for Cyprus. The students were also briefed by AHI Legal Council Nick Karambelas Esq. and Nick Larigakis.
On June 26, the AHIF hosted a breakfast briefing at the Capital Hilton Hotel featuring remarks by Embassy of Greece Defense Attaché Brigadier General Ilias Leontaris, U.S. Department of State Greece Desk Officer Ilan A. Goodman, and U.S. Department of State Cyprus Desk Officer Terry Netos.
After the breakfast the students visited the Embassy of Cyprus for a briefing from Ambassador of Cyprus Andreas Kakouris, followed by briefings at the Embassy of Greece given by the Consul Constantinos G. Alexandris and Press Attaché Aristotelis Papageorgiou, concluding the first leg of the program in Washington.
After their arrival in Cyprus, the students went on a guided day trip to the ancient site of Kourion and archaeological excavations at Paphos on June 28. On June 29, meetings were held with Marios Garoyian, President of the House of Representatives; Ambassador Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Technical Committee on Property Issues; George Iacovou, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and current Presidential Commissioner; Androula Lanitis, Director of the Press and Information Division; and Yiorgos Christofides, Director of the Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The group also visited the Filakismena Mnimata (Incarcerated Graves) at the Central Prison, the Tymvos (War Cemetery) and Colocassides guard post (viewpoint of Nicosia buffer zone).
On June 30 the students visited the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia where they met with U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Frank C. Urbancic, Jr. The next stops that day included a guided tour of the Cyprus Archeological Museum and a meeting with Loukis Loukaides, former Deputy Attorney General of Cyprus and former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights.
On July 1, the day began with a presentation by Titina Loizidou regarding her successful property rights case against Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights, and a presentation by Miltos Miltiadou, Senior Press and Information Officer of the Cyprus Press and Information Office. Afterwards the students took a guided tour of the Famagusta free area where they saw two video presentations at the Cultural Centre of Occupied Ammachostos (Famagusta) regarding the Turkish invasion and continued occupation of the area.
On July 2, a morning meeting took place with Archbishop Chrysostomos II, followed by a visit inside the United Nations controlled buffer zone where they visited the old Nicosia airport, an area that remains mostly unchanged since Turkish military forces invaded Cyprus in 1974.
On the students’ first full day in Athens on July 3, they visited the American College of Greece, DEREE to meet with Dr. Todd G. Fritch, Vice President for Academic Development and Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies and Nick Jiavaras, Executive Vice President, Office of Institutional Advancement and Administration. The visit to the college included a briefing by two professors and a tour of the campus. A lunch briefing was hosted later that day by Dennys Plessas, Vice President of Business Development Initiatives for Europe, Middle East and Africa for Lockheed Martin at the Aigli Restaurant at Zappeion, followed by a meeting with Professor Theodore Couloumbis, Director General of ELIAMEP (Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy) to discuss Greek foreign policy.
Over the weekend of July 4-5, the group toured the Acropolis and visited the new Acropolis Museum.
On July 6, the students met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs representing the North America, Cyprus, Turkey, FYROM, and Balkan country areas. The students next met with a representative from Greece’s main opposition party, PASOK. The representative, Dimitris Droutsos, serves as director of the Diplomatic Cabinet of PASOK and advisor to the PASOK leader George Papandreou on Foreign Policy and International Relations. The day came to a close with a reception at the Grand Bretagne Hotel hosted by the hotel’s General Manager Timothy Ananiadis.
July 7 the students returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meet with representatives from the ministry’s departments of European External Relations, NATO and the WEU, concluding the visit with a briefing given by a representative of the North America department. The last stop of the day was the Greek Parliament, where the students met with the members of the Special Permanent Committee on Greeks of the Diaspora, chaired by Nikos Tsartsionis. Later that afternoon, the students had time to unwind and relax while on a very enjoyable private cruise to the island of Aegina on board the Eleutheria. This cruise was hosted by long-time AHI member Aris Drivas and Drivas Yachting.
On July 8, the students met with Colonel Demetris Katsios at the Ministry of National Defense. The two-hour meeting focused on the many contributions of the Greek armed forces around the world as a member of the western military alliance. Later that afternoon the students met with Achilles Paparsenos, Director of Public Relations for the Secretary General of Information and Press, followed by a meeting with Ambassador Alexandros Mallias, the former Ambassador of Greece to the United States. Later that evening, the students visited Archbishop Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece.
On their final day of July 9, the students returned to the Greek Parliament where they exchanged dialogue with the members of the Committee on Defense and Foreign Affairs, chaired by Krinio Kanellopulu. Following the visit to the Greek Parliament, the students met with Marios L. Evriviades, Assistant Professor of International Politics at Panteion University, Athens and then with Evripidis Stylianidis, Greek Minister of Transport and Communications.
For their final briefing, the students met with U.S. Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard and other officials at the U.S. Embassy. The trip concluded with a farewell dinner hosted by the AHIF later that evening at the Grande Bretagne Hotel. During this event, the students each had the opportunity to express their impressions of the trip (see “Student Quotes”).
Here is what the students had to say about the trip:
“This trip truly helped us better understand the core foreign policy issues important to the Greek American community. We are much more aware of what is being done on the ground with these issues and what we can do as Greek Americans within our local community.”
– George Balafoutis, University of Chicago.
“This foreign policy trip not only showed me that there is much more to Greece and Cyprus than their histories and beaches, but that the two are becoming dynamic countries. Of course, both have their issues, and that is where intelligent and motivated young adults of Greek and/or Cypriot origin have to be knowledgeable and relied upon to do their part in ensuring Greek and Cypriot relations with the United States arrive at a zenith and stay there. This foreign policy trip brought to the forefront the critical issues Greece and Cyprus have to deal with everyday and motivated me to do my part in creating a positive liaison as an American citizen, and of Greek origin, between the two countries and the U.S. The twenty-first century presents Greece, Cyprus, and the United States with critical issues that must be addressed; however, if the historic allies do not stray off from one another and stay united in resolving the problems, I see a bright future for all parties involved.”
– George Papadopoulos, DePaul University.
“I became passionate about my Greek heritage and family roots when I was young. That passion grew as my parents told me about the troubles yet ultimate glory of ancient Greece. However, in recent history, it seems that Greece faces more troubles than glory. Fortunately the American Hellenic Institute has taken on the responsibility of addressing those troubles, not just within Greece, but also within its diaspora. This is no easy task. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in AHIF’s first foreign policy student visit. It has helped me to understand Greece and Cyprus’ main problems as well as to further develop my emotional connection with them. This opportunity has also opened my eyes to the educational work that AHIF contributes in order to advance the best interests of the U.S. on issues of importance to Greek Americans. I am willing and able to help support and advance the goals of AHIF in order to heighten awareness of Hellenic troubles and to help restore its past glory. I wish to thank the members of the AHIF for this new program as well as those who support this institute and its work.”
– Jason Demetrios Vergados, Merrimack College.
“The AHIF foreign policy trip gave me cultural, political, and personal intellectual insight and I’m indebted to all those who made it possible for me to attend. I’ll probably spend the next decade trying to rediscover the bliss and understanding I found periodically during this expedition. Whether it was the scholars and political figures we met in Athens or the locations including beaches, the Acropolis, Nicosia airport, and Famagusta, poignant memories were made.”
– John Tyler Gazetos, University of Wisconsin at Madison.
“The AHI trip is something I will never forget. I am returning to the United States with new friends, amazing memories, and as a more learned person because of this foreign policy trip. I wouldn't trade those two weeks for anything.”
– Lia Seremetis, University of Cincinnati.
“This trip opened my eyes to a whole new world. It’s easy to sit down and read a book about an event and make an opinion about what the world is like. I got the opportunity to see with my own eyes one of the world’s greatest tragedies on the island of Cyprus. For me this trip changed my life, and I’m proud to say now that I feel compelled to do my part and make a difference.”
– Vangelis Katsikiotis, Catholic University.
“Not only did this program enrich my own knowledge and world view, but it has allowed me to disseminate knowledge to other Greek Americans.”
– Irene Gianakakis, New York University.
“This trip both allowed me to become knowledgeable about Greek American issues as well as making me feel more connected to the issues and the Greek American community.”
– Nick Papacostas, American University.
For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at email@example.com. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.
College Students Complete Inaugural AHIF Foreign Policy Study Trip to Greece and Cyprus