2019 Service Trip to Greece

2019 Service Trip to Greece

Καλώς ήρθατε από την Ελλάδα Fulbright ταξιδιώτες! Nine Fulbright alumni and friends of international education embarked last month for a Service Corps Trip to Greece May 17-26. The Fulbright Association’s first service trip to Greece started from the beautiful city of Heraklion, capital of the island of Crete and brought together Fulbrighters and friends for 10 beautiful and adventurous days to explore the country’s legendary thousands-year history, its rich contemporary culture, and its beautiful Mediterranean geography – and had the opportunity to give back by participating in volunteer projects and connect with the local Fulbright network along the journey.

Our traveling group came from different backgrounds, with different Fulbright experiences, and friendships and connections were made almost immediately. The group members were all very positive and open to exploring the beautiful country of Greece, interacting with locals, and eagerly supporting even the service component of the trip.  Greece couldn’t have welcomed a more enthusiastic group of travelers.  This collection of wonderful, knowledgeable, energetic, giving, funny, and warm individuals made the trip incredibly special and memorable.  After that trip I made those people friends for life.

Learning more about MInoan civilization from Professor Kostas Georgakopoulos

Greece is most famous for its ancient civilizations, and with personal lectures from archaeologists and historians, participants delved deeply into its vast history. A trip to the Bronze Age archaeological site of Knossos featured Professor Kostas Georgakopoulos as a guide, who provided the group with extensive information about the Minoan civilization. Historians say this site was first settled in the late Neolithic era, around 4000 years ago. They visited the archeological museum of Heraklion, which houses numerous Minoan artifacts.

“The visits to the historical sites and sights were top-notch,” commented Lehman Fletcher, one of the participants. “The university visits, and the winery visit on Crete, gave us some person-to-person opportunities.”

Another highlight was a cooking class and visit to the local Boutari winery, one of the most famous wineries in Greece. The chef of the winery, Maria, offered participants a cooking class in classic Greek dishes mousaka, dolmadakia, and dakos. Participants tried their hand at Greek cooking – a little trickier than it looks!

A cooking class with chef Maria

We took a day trip to the island of Spinalonga to learn history a little closer to today. Originally, Spinalonga was not a separate island, but connected to Crete. However, during the Venetian occupation of Crete, the island was carved out of the coast for defense purposes, and a fort was built. During Venetian rule, salt was harvested from salt flats around the island. The island was subsequently used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957.  It is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. The last resident, a priest, left the island in 1962.

After Spinalonga, we visited INSTAP, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study for East Crete. The Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) was established as a non-profit organization in the United States in 1981. The goal of INSTAP’s grant program is to promote knowledge of the Aegean region, and to support archaeological fieldwork and research focusing on the chronological span of the Paleolithic period through to the 8th century B.C.  To that end, INSTAP has awarded more than 3,000 grants to individual scholars and organizations from more than 15 countries. We had the opportunity to visit the institute and meet Dr. Brogan, the institute’s Director and a Fulbrighter himself, who gave us a tour. We learned about the process of sampling the soil and cleaning artifacts.  From there we were able to admire the breath-taking Ha Gorge.

We left beautiful Crete and arrived in Athens where we met with the Doctors of the World. They made a presentation covering their program and the current situation of refugees in Greece, who are still arriving every day from different parts of the world. Our traveler, Dr Erna Olafson, made a presentation to clinicians of Doctors of the World concerning the book she co-authored, Trauma and Grief Component Therapy for Adolescents.

Maria presents a Certificate of Appreciation to Dr. Tom Brogan

Next, we visited Marathon and were able to share feelings and passion of the archaeologists working the excavation at Plasi. The director of the excavation, Dr Yiannis Papadatos, gave us an introduction to the history of the area, provided information about the current archaeological excavation, and offered the group the opportunity to partake in a few of the excavation steps.

In the evening we were invited by the Fulbright Association of Greece to visit the first university of Athens. Maria Gazouli, the president of the Fulbright Association, who had been extremely helpful and supportive in organizing the trip, made introductions along with members of the US embassy. Dr Lee Fletcher gave a touching speech for our group. The group was also offered a tour in the first university of Greece, which now serves as a museum of university history. The tour was followed by cocktails and finger food provided by the Fulbright Association of Greece.

We had the opportunity to discuss the benefits of American universities to motivated Greek undergraduate students who were interested in going abroad for graduate studies.  Our travelers introduced themselves, discussed their backgrounds, and gave amazing tips for studying in the US, followed by a Q&A session.  Fulbright Commission and Fulbright Association representatives were also present and introduced.

We visited the archaeological site of Kerameikos, one of the largest districts of ancient Athens, located on the northwest edge of the city.  As suggested by its name, the Kerameikos (from the Greek word for pottery) was a settlement of potters and vase painters, and the main production center of the famous Attic vases. The parts of the Kerameikos that were located near the riverbank suffered continuously from flooding, and so the area was converted into a burial ground, which gradually developed into the most important cemetery of ancient Athens.

Then we visited the Ancient Agora. The Agora was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural center, and the seat of justice.  Dr. John Camp, the director of Ancient Agora of American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA) offered us an exclusive tour to places in the ruins where tourists aren’t normally allowed to visit https://vimeo.com/166798518

In the afternoon we visited the NGO Praksis (Programs of Development of Social Support and Medical Cooperation), a non-profit organization which helps social groups in need (like refugees or the homeless) through specific programs and access to medical. There were discussions with our group  and we donated reading glasses provided from the EnvisionFulbright and Restoring Vision program.

Our last day of the trip we visited the rocky outcrop known as the Acropolis, housing the temple and sanctuary of ancient Athens dedicated to the goddess Athena. The most celebrated myths of ancient Athens, its greatest religious festivals, earliest cults and many decisive events in the city’s history are all connected to this sacred area of the city.  These unique masterpieces of ancient architecture combine different orders and styles of classical art in a most innovative manner and have influenced art and culture for many centuries. The Acropolis of the 5th century BC is the most accurate reflection of the splendor, power, and wealth of Athens at its greatest peak; the golden age of Pericles.

Click here to see more photos from the trip, or click here to learn more about the Fulbright Association’s Travel Programs.

–Maria Kostavasili
Senior Fellow, Fulbright Association

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