College Students Complete Second Annual AHIF Foreign Policy Study Trip to Greece and Cyprus
WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) sponsored a group of seven Greek American college students for the second annual AHIF College Student Foreign Policy Study Trip to Greece and Cyprus, June 17 – July 2, 2010. This second year program aims to introduce 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 on June 17 and 18, which were followed by a series of activities and briefings in Cyprus (June 19-24) and Athens (June 25 - July 2). Photos of the trip are available by clicking here.
The program is open to Greek American and Cypriot American college students in good academic standing who are studying political science, international relations, history, law or foreign affairs.
The seven students selected to participate were: Arviri (Roula) Adonakis, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Leah Barkoukis, Georgetown University; John Papaspanos, Seton Hall; Georgea Polizos, Florida State University; Alfonso Romero, University of Cincinnati; Michael Savvas, San Diego State and Ellen Youssios, Queens College, QUNY. AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis and AHI Director of Government Affairs and Media Relations C. Franciscos Economides led the group on its trip.
“I was honored to have had this wonderful opportunity to, once again, lead such an exceptional group of Greek American students to Greece and Cyprus for a hands-on experience and introduce them to the foreign policy issues concerning the U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus,” said Larigakis regarding the successful outcome of the second annual 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.”
The program began June 17, 2010 at AHI in Washington, D.C. with a briefing from AHI Board of Director and Legal Counsel, Nick Karambelas Esq. and AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis. Following the briefings, the students visited the Cato Institute for a meeting with Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president, Defense and Foreign Policy Studies.
On June 18, the AHIF hosted a working breakfast session at the Capital Hilton with State Department officials, which included Senior Greece Desk Officer Adam Scarlatelli, Cyprus Desk Officer Terry Netos, Public Diplomacy Officer for Southern Europe and Caucasus Ruth Ann Stevens-Klitz, and Office of Southern European Affairs Intern Melanie Ciolek.
After the breakfast the students visited the Embassy of Cyprus for a briefing from the Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States, Andreas Kakouris. Briefings at the Embassy of Greece followed and were provided by the Deputy Chief of Mission Ioannis Vrailas, Consul Constantinos G. Alexandris and Press Attaché Aristotelis Papageorgiou. Later that afternoon the students departed for Cyprus.
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 20.
On the first full day of meetings on June 21, the students began the day with a meeting with Yiorgos Christofides, director, Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, followed by a guided tour of Nicosia. After lunch, which was hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Ministry, the students visited the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia where they met with U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Frank C. Urbancic, Jr and his entire substantive staff, a total of 11 persons. It was a very impressive display of hospitality that underscored the importance that the embassy gave to the student’s visit.
On June 22 the students had meetings with the Honorable Marios Garoyian, president of the House of Representatives, and Archbishop Chrysostomos II, which were followed by a guided tour of the Byzantine Museum. The day continued with an important visit to the Presidential Palace for a meeting with Presidential Commissioner George Iacovou, and a working lunch hosted by Senior Press & Information Officer Miltos Miltiadou.
During the remaining part of the day, the students took a trip to the Turkish occupied area where they viewed first-hand Turkish troops, destroyed and desecrated churches and cemeteries. The visit culminated with a stop in the ghost town of Famagusta.
On June 23, the day began with a visit to the UN Committee on the Missing Persons in Cyprus, which is located inside the UN buffer zone. After, the students visited the House of Representatives to meet with Averof Neofytou, chairman, House Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. Later, long-time supporter and friend of AHI, Mr. Efthyvoulos Paraskevaides, chairman and CEO, J&P Ltd., welcomed the students to his 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 June 24, a morning meeting took place with the Honorable Alexis Galanos, mayor of Famagusta, followed by a briefing at the Colocassides guard post in Nicosia and 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.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Spyros Kouvelis hosted a welcome dinner for the students upon their arrival to Athens on June 24.
The first full day of briefings for the students occurred June 25 when the group met with various departments at Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With the A2 Department for Cyprus the students met its director, Ambassador Dimitris Yannakakis; with the A3 Department for Southeast European Countries, the group met with Counselors Franciscos Kostellenos, Despina Koukoulopoulou, and Olga Anagnostopoulou; and with the A4 Department for Turkey, the students met with Counselor Periklis Boutos and First Secretary Lili Grammatika.
In addition, the students received a foreign policy briefing at the American Embassy in Athens.
The day concluded with a relaxing reception at the rooftop garden restaurant of the Grande Bretagne Hotel hosted by the general manager, Tim Ananiadis.
On June 26, the students visited The Center for Hellenism at the Damianos Foundation at Schinos Loutraki, Corinthos. This wonderful afternoon excursion was hosted by long-time AHIF member, Damianos Constantinou, who spent many years in building up this beautiful center nestled within a natural setting. Constantinou led the students on a personal tour of the expansive grounds and center, and afterwards, hosted a splendid barbecue dinner. The students enjoyed a private cruise to Aegina Island as a way to relax midway through the program on June 27.
The students resumed a busy schedule on June 28 with meetings with Spiridon Adonis Georgiadis, member of the Permanent Committee for Hellenism and Greek Diaspora, Andy Dabilis, executive editor, The National Herald and briefings at the Foreign Ministry from the A7 Depratment for North America: Ambassador Chryssoula Aliferi, and Counselors Nikos Kotrokois and Maria Zissi. They also met with Marios L. Evriviades, assistant professor of International Relations, Panteion University, Athens.
In the evening, the group was led on a tour and briefing at the very impressive headquarters complex of one of Greece’s leading private companies, S&B. The tour and briefing were led by long-time AHI member and supporter, and S& B’s Chief Executive Officer, Efthimios Vidalis. After, Vidalis hosted a wonderful dinner for the students at a nearby restaurant.
On June 29, a luncheon briefing was hosted by Lockheed Martin at the Grande Bretagne Hotel. Hosting the event was Dennys Plessas, vice president, Business Development Initiatives for Europe, Middle East and Africa for Lockheed Martin. Following the luncheon, the students went on a private tour of the Greek Parliament, and afterwards, they were warmly received by Konstantinos Vrettos, chairman of the Parliament’s International Relations & Defense Committee.
Later that evening, a visit was paid to The American College of Greece, DEREE. There, the students were given a campus tour followed by dinner that was hosted by Dr. Todd G. Fritch, vice president for Academic Development and dean of Graduate and Professional Studies.
On June 30, a very important briefing was held at one of Greece’s prominent think-tank organizations, ELIAMEP (Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy. Here the students were briefed by noted Greek foreign policy expert, Professor Theodore Couloumbis, director general of ELIAMEP and Ambassador Alexandros Mallias, former Greek ambassador to the U.S., to discuss Greek foreign policy. The group later visited the extraordinary new Acropolis Museum were they were given a private tour that also included the museum’s president, Professor Emeritus Dimitrios Pandermalis. A working luncheon was also hosted at the fine museum restaurant by Panos Geroulanos, minister of Culture and Tourism. The day concluded with a visit the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, His Beatitude Archbishop Hieronymos II.
On July 1, the students visited the Greek Ministry of Defense where informative and detailed briefings were provided by multiple officials, including: Ambassador Dimitris Chronopoulos, director general of Defense Policy & IR; Hellenic National Defense General Staff Col. Dimokritos Zervakis, Defense Policy Division; and Hellenic Army General Staff Brig. Gen. Alkiviadis Stefanis, director of Defense Planning & Programming Division.
The final afternoon in Athens presented the students with unique experiences that were highlights of their trip. First, the students were warmly received by President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias. During the meeting, the president underscored the importance of programs that afford students the opportunity to visit Greece in order to gain a better understanding of multi-faceted issues. Following the visit to the Presidential Mansion, the students were presented with a special opportunity that few are afforded when they went to the Hellenic Army Special Forces Training Center for briefings and demonstrations by the Z’MAK Unit of the Special Forces. While at the camp, the students saw demonstrations that included urban assault tactics, field maneuvers and a number of amphibious assault exercises—all with live ammo. After the demonstrations, the unit’s top military brass hosted a luncheon for the group.
The two-week trip ended with a farewell dinner hosted by the AHI Foundation at the Grande Bretagne Hotel. The dinner was attended by numerous individuals that the group met with during its stay in Athens, including: Konstantinos Vrettos, chairman of the Parliament’s International Relations & Defense Committee; Ambassador Chryssoula Aliferi, director, A7 Department for North America, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Andy Dabilis, executive editor, The National Herald, and George Economou, AHI-Athens chapter president.
Students Recall “A Once in Lifetime Experience”
“The AHIF foreign policy trip was a once-in-lifetime experience that I will never forget. It allowed me to see firsthand what I have read in books thereby enhancing my understanding of the issues. In Cyprus we were able to go to the ‘occupied area’ and see the desecration of a Greek Orthodox Church and the ghost town of Famagusta, which is still surrounded by barbwire. Combined with the official meetings we had every day, the trip was very insightful and brought a present day perspective to the long standing issues that affect Cyprus.
“In Athens, we were fortunate to be in the heart of the city while traveling to different locations for our meetings. These official meetings proved extremely informative because it showed us how the government and other organizations are striving to keep Greece in the forefront politically, culturally, and economically.
“In the end, this trip allowed me to see Greece in a different light. Like most Greek-Americans it is a place of summer vacations, however, this trip helped me to see Greece as a nation improving its global snapshot on a daily basis. It brought into perspective the need for young Greek-Americans to stay connected with their ancestral past and to help maintain a strong, vital nation that is well represented not just within the European Union but also worldwide.”
—Aryiri (Roula) Adonakis
“As “political animals” of the world’s superpower with strong connections to our ancestral homelands, Greek and Cypriot Americans can exercise a very powerful role in advancing the interests of the U.S., Greece, and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. While growing up, I have always heard about the foreign policy issues that everyone can point out, but very few can quickly and effectively explain.
“Through our participation in the AHIF program, we are now equipped with a deep understanding of the complex issues and the knowledge of how we can help resolve them. In the age of the new-media, we have many means by which we can illuminate the injustices facing Greece and Cyprus and to create a sense of urgency for a change in policy. Furthermore, through our meetings with government officials, business leaders, professors, and journalists in Greece and Cyprus, we have the tools to provide talking points and sound arguments to any audience from a university lecture hall to a senator's office on Capitol Hill.
“It is my hope that we always bear in mind the observations and insights gained during this trip and to always stay vigilant and proactive in helping to fulfill the mission of the AHIF as we continue our studies and enter into our careers. Our collective challenge now is to utilize our knowledge and abilities to strengthen the next generation of the homogeneia in order to improve not only our own country, but also Greece and Cyprus.”
—John Papaspanos, Seton Hall University, B.S. in International Relations, Fulbright Fellow—Energy Security at Aristotle U, and Class of 2014—University of Pennsylvania Law School.
“AHIF's foreign policy study trip enhanced not only my understanding of global politics but also contextualized some of the most fundamental issues relevant to the field and study of conflict resolution. The ability to travel to the occupied area in Cyprus demonstrated first hand the nature of enduring conflicts and will enrich my studies in my final year of graduate school. Furthermore, having not only the opportunity to speak with some of the highest figures in the public and private sector in Greece and Cyprus, but also being fortunate enough to share these experiences with six other driven, intelligent and like-minded students contributed to making the cumulative experience truly unforgettable. This trip will prove vital for my continuing studies, internship and future career opportunities—and for that, I am extremely grateful to AHIF.”
“In Cyprus, our briefings meshed perfectly with our trips to the occupied north, where we saw first-hand the devastating impact of the illegal occupation. Our hosts in Greece and Cyprus treated us not as students on a study trip, but as respected guests and future leaders. After each meeting, I felt that we had seen it all, that nothing could top the educational merit and impressiveness of the trip to up to that point. From briefings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meeting President Papoulias, each experience was unique and unforgettable.
“I came out of this trip with a deep-felt sense that I have a place in the debate and that I can make an impact on Greek-American issues. I know that as a result of these two weeks, I will carry a strong commitment to working towards Greek and Cypriot issues for the rest of my life.”
—Alphonse D. Romero
“I am very grateful for my family and the spirit of Hellenism which they have instilled in me. They raised me to be proud and knowledgeable of my background and rich cultural heritage. It gives me great pride to say that I am Greek American and I believe that being a part of this unique demographic gives us the responsibility to defend the vital relationship between our two homelands, Greece and the United States. Understanding the nature of this relationship is very important, which is why I am so grateful to have been a participant on this trip. The opportunities which we had to meet with and question various officials of such a high caliber such as foreign ministers, current and former ambassadors, the Archbishops of both Greece and Cyprus and even the President of Greece himself, Mr. Papoulias, were priceless. Visiting the Turkish-occupied territory of Cyprus and witnessing first-hand churches and cemeteries that have been desecrated was extremely humbling for me. It is one thing to research and read about a topic extensively, but it is a completely different experience to be able to see injustices such as these directly in front of you. I plan to use what I have learned from this trip to further advocate these issues both within my university and academic community and to the fellow Greek Americans of my generation. Armed with the knowledge we have gained from this trip, we are in the position to inform others and raise awareness within our communities and I believe that we are truly capable of making a positive difference in the future.”
For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected]. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.
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