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

June 20, 2019 0

Celebrating the Fourth of July in Malawi

Celebrating the Fourth of July in Malawi

The mission of Fulbright is to build international bridges between the United States of America and the rest of the world through education, service, and people-to-people connections. The Fourth of July is a great time to reflect upon and celebrate these values – which participants of our newly launched 2018 Service Corps Trip to Malawi had the opportunity to demonstrate!

While the trip officially began today, many participants embarked on the long journey to southeastern Africa early in order to arrive in Lilongwe City just in time to celebrate the Fourth of July at the United States Embassy in Malawi. At the embassy, they had the pleasure of meeting Ambassador Virginia Palmer, the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Andrew Herrup, and fellow Fulbrighter and Public Affairs Officer, Edward Monster. What an exciting way to celebrate international friendship, and the perfect opening ceremony to what is sure to be a meaningful service trip!

The group will return tomorrow afternoon to the embassy for a formal USAID briefing, before departing for Zomba City. In addition to connecting to local schools, clinics, and other community centers, participants will contribute to a water quality monitoring project and help plant fruit trees with the Forest Research Institute of Malawi. After a full itinerary of volunteering, meeting new people, exploring the beautiful landscape of Malawi, and learning more about current USAID projects, the trip will come to a conclusion on July 15th.

This is the Fulbright Association’s second official Service Corps Trip to Malawi, following a successful program of cultural exchange and volunteer projects in 2017. Click here to learn more about the Fulbright Association’s travel programs and other service project opportunities.

—Alison Aadland




July 5, 2018 0

Service Trip to Albania, Macedonia, and Greece — Reflections by Kathy Parkison

Service Trip to Albania, Macedonia, and Greece — Reflections by Kathy Parkison

“All you have to do is twist the silver wire into curliques and shapes to fill the mold.” The artisan expressed how “easy” it was, walked away and left me struggling with the tweezers, the incredibly fine silver wire, the mold and a less than perfect understanding of how filigree was made. Turns out, you need to have enough curliques and ovals and circles so that they will stay in the mold when the mold is raised – much harder than it looks. We won’t mention how many times I lifted the mold and everything fell out! As a result, I have a much deeper appreciation for the delicate workmanship of filigree, the patience it takes to make it look right, and the time and talent needed to make a piece of jewelry. My piece of art is shown below!

Intricate filigree art leaf

Woman working on filigree art project

I was participating in a cultural camp with Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB), Albania – a non-profit that is dedicated to keeping cultural heritage alive in the region. CHwB brings students and recent graduates from around the region to work on projects. This year’s project was arts and crafts – so we studied filigree, rug making, dry and wet felt making, and embroidery and then the students then take those crafts and develop a business plan. Albania has a very high unemployment rate and small businesses are viewed as key to the future – but entrepreneurship is not something most have been taught prior to this two-week camp. As Americans, we have a chance to tour a beautiful country, learn about its long past, answer questions on America and owning a business, and most importantly, develop friendships that last a lifetime.

For many, Albania would not be on the short list of countries to be visited but that is a mistake. The country is lovely, the people are friendly, and the food is excellent – all desirable attributes in my mind. But participating in a cultural exchange with the camps of CHwB, adds a level of interest and interactions that a regular tour cannot hope to match. And that is what makes a Fulbright Association trip so different – the ability to interact with a county and its people at a much deeper level than just touring.

If you are familiar with the Balkans, you know that the area has been the center of unrest for much of the 20th century. In fact, World War I first broke out in the Balkans before engulfing the rest of the world. So the hatreds and unrest run deep in the area. CHwB brings together students from across the area, has them live and work and study together (in English), with the hope that they will learn that “the other” is not to be feared. In addition, as these are credit bearing college courses, there is content and grades for the students. This year’s camp in Kruja, (said with the j having a y sound), was focused, as noted above on traditional Albanian arts and crafts.

But the market for selling the traditional arts and crafts is somewhat limited so part of the camp was examining ways that these crafts could be updated and sold to new markets. Albanian men, for example, used to wear traditional felt hats with each village having its own distinctive design. A man could recognize where a man was from simply by looking at his hat. But today’s men do not wear the traditional hats, so other than tourists, there is not much of market for these hats. BUT, the artisan has worked with a designer in Paris, France to turn these hats into lamps – a creative use of a traditional product!

The Fulbright program was begun after World War II with the goal of helping Americans understand the world by sending us to live and work abroad AND by bringing students and professionals to the United States to understand us. As members of the Fulbright Association, we share the vision of increasing understanding and developing friendships across our countries.

Many of us love to travel but touring through a country without truly interacting with the locals is not my idea of traveling. For 9 of us, this trip gave us the opportunity to meet with students, help them develop their business plans, and see a country that most Americans know little about. Thus, a trip with the Fulbright Association is not a regular touring trip (if it is Tuesday, it must be Belgium type of trip) – it is a deeper interaction with the people and culture and history of the area. We came home with a much deeper understanding of the region and an appreciation for its issues.

—Kathy Parkison

A group of smiling travelers stand outside a van. They are holding a Fulbright Association banner and a placard for Cultural Heritage Without Borders.

June 13, 2018 0

Building ‘Pathways to Peace’: 2017 Service Tour to Malawi

Building ‘Pathways to Peace’: 2017 Service Tour to Malawi

If you’ve never ridden into an unfamiliar African village and been warmly embraced with singing and dancing after your small van has bumped along on an unpaved, dusty road with more naturally-grooved speed-bumps than trees alongside it, you really can’t fully appreciate how the Fulbright Association’s Service Tour in Malawi came to plant 1700 trees in a watershed area in the village of Naphambo near a river in Zomba.

That is just a glimpse into our delegation’s powerful experience in Malawi this past July. Through the Fulbright Association’s Travel Program, Fulbright alumni have the unique opportunity to further their international exposure and make an impact. The Association organizes two types of purposeful travel programs: Insight Tours are primarily educational, while Service Tours focus on volunteering and fieldwork. The Malawi trip marked a key milestone along a journey that began in 2014. In 2015, the Association officially aligned its travel program with the Pathways to Peace strategic framework, establishing key areas for collective impact that guide our service projects. The Malawi trip became the nexus of three of those impact areas: Global Health, Sustainability, and International Education. The trip also built upon the foundation laid by our institutional member Mercer University’s “Mercer on Mission” trips to many similar locations.

Water and sanitation is a critical issue in Malawi, where water pumps are shared among entire villages and trees are often used for fuel for firewood and cooking instead of preventing sediment run-off into rivers. During their time in country, the Fulbright team worked alongside villagers, the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD SEA), and the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM) to promote sustainable watershed management by planting trees and grasses as part of the Watershed Improvement Project. They also visited local schools, orphanages, and clinics, as well as the Mulunguzi Dam and UNESCO World Heritage Site Cape Maclear. The team’s work received press attention, including two feature articles published in The Nation, Malawi’s national newspaper.

The Fulbright delegation had the opportunity to meet with more than 15 stakeholder groups over the course of nearly 2 weeks. These included members of the Malawi-U.S. Exchanges Alumni Association (MUSEAA), the Malawi Ministry of Health, the World Bank, USAID, Water for People, Rotary International, Dignitas International, Emmanuel International, and YONECO. Part of the team also had the chance to meet William Kamkwamba, who became famous as the author of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” after building a windmill out of bicycle parts, tractor fans, and plastic pipes at the age of 14, when a drought left farmers like William’s father without any income. William was discovered through the local media when his windmill launched and actually worked. He was invited to speak at a TED Global conference in Tanzania, which led to him being sponsored to attend the African Leadership Academy. He went on to attend Dartmouth College and now lives in the United States.

The tour not only served as a direct-impact experience where participants helped plant trees and buy bicycles and recorders for community radio clubs, but also as an opportunity for fact-finding for the Fulbright Malawi team in support of an anticipated multi-year grant proposal aimed at assessing water quality and monitoring, sanitation, and high school graduation rates for girls in rural Malawi. If the project successfully receives funding from Coca-Cola’s Project RAIN (Replenish Africa Initiative), it could ultimately impact and improve the lives and health of between 37,500 and 50,000 people in in both peri-urban and rural areas surrounding the Chulu Chosema and Naphombe village in Malawi. The initiative would actively participate in long-term capacity building to promote an innovative “Model Village” concept that would be scalable and used in multiple areas throughout the country. It would also promote sustainable approaches to water, health, sanitation, and education services; and would contribute to improved health and livelihoods, especially in marginalized areas, and focus on dramatically increasing the educational opportunities of young girls throughout the target areas.

Among others, the Fulbright delegation included Dr. Zipangani Vokhiwa, Mercer University professor and President of the Georgia Chapter; Kim Eger, Vice President of the national Fulbright Association Board of Directors and Chair of the Pathways Initiative; Dr. Gale Workman, a journalist, professor, and International Rotarian; Dr. Sharon Nickols, a professor and former dean at the University of Georgia; and Dr. Jack Allison, a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Malawi from 1966-1969. During Dr. Allison’s tour, he wrote a number of songs and jingles to promote public health, one of which became a #1 hit on Malawian radio stations. As the delegate went from village to village, singing the songs they learned from Dr. Allison, they found that to this day, many in Malawi still know his songs by heart. Song and music is one key component of how the Fulbright Association grant proposal intents to facilitate sharing of best practices related to sanitation and hygiene, and Dr. Allison has graciously agreed to help write and record some new songs for the RAIN grant-proposal project.

Kim Eger shared his excitement about the depth of connections built on the trip and the future of the Malawi team’s work, saying: “So called ‘downtime’ was rare on this trip. It was usually filled up with something not initially on the agenda, but where one contact led to another — often through the extensive network of our Fulbrighters. The multiple avenues for strategic partnerships sprang up from many directions daily.” As the Malawi delegation moves forward with their grant proposal in the months ahead, we look forward to sharing their work and its impact with members of our Fulbright community.

To see more photos from the Malawi trip, click here. These photos were taken by delegation participant Sabrina Khan, who generously served as the trip photographer! For more information on the Fulbright Association’s Travel Program, click here

 —Kalyn Cai, Communications Intern

September 29, 2017 0

Reflections on my Fulbright Service Trip to Serbia

Reflections on my Fulbright Service Trip to Serbia

“You need to ‘sling’ the mortar into the space, not shove it in. Here, let me show you.” Thus began my introduction to historically accurate stone structure repair. As a Fulbright alum (the country of Georgia in 2005), I was used to being flexible and thinking creatively about situations, but this was a great new learning experience.  If my Fulbright experience was cake, this trip was icing on the cake.

Fulbright Alumni Service Trips are a different kind of traveling. Although other tour companies might promise educational touring, these Service trips offer a unique blend of education, service learning, historical monuments and touring of the countryside. In addition, we were paired up with students who were participating in a Regional Restoration Camp, run by Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB), a Swedish nonprofit. Students and young professionals from all over the Balkans attend these camps. For these students, CHwB offers an intense academic experience learning about design principles and historical restoration techniques while working with artisans, architects, civil engineers and so on. While part of the purpose of the camps is indeed historical restoration, another underlying purpose is to promote peace in the region. Having these students live and work (in English no less) with fellow students from around the region lets them learn and better understand their fellow Balkan neighbors.

We were to work in Eastern Serbia in the wine cellars of Rogljevacke (near the Danube River). The students actually lived in the wine cellar region while we were based in nearby Negotin, Serbia. CHwB mixed up the faculty and students into four groups: the roof crew, the stoners (my group), the mud crew and the survey crew. Note the safety equipment.

Our task was stone work. First you must sift the stone/sand mixture to isolate out the sand. Sifting took much of one day. Then you begin the mortar process by throwing water onto the stones (so the mortar will stick). And then comes the actual ‘slinging’ of the mortar into the joints.

Each group had their own set of chores. For the mud group, first you mix the water and straw into the dirt and get it to the right consistency. Once the mud is mixed, then you wet the walls with a paintbrush and water so the mud will adhere. Then you have the fun chore of putting the mud onto the walls by hand. I do believe the students and faculty alike enjoyed that part.

In addition to working with CHwB, the Fulbright trip emphasized touring the wonders of the country. As an ancient civilization, Serbia had Roman ruins, beautiful cities, and lovely monasteries and nunneries. There was even a very early civilization, the earliest in Europe (about 9500 BCE) located at Lepenski Vir on the Danube.

Lastly, the trip included soft diplomacy through visits with government officials, faculty members at various institutions, embassy officials, ministry officials and fellow Fulbrighters across the country. Takeaways from these visits include: All of them emphasizing that the war mongering past of Serbia is in the past; a true desire to be good citizens of the world; a wish for closer ties with the U.S. and U.S. businesses; a desire to join the EU, a love of their country and a desire to share it with all of us.

Overall, I had no idea what the true impact of this trip would be on me.  I had no idea it would be so much fun to spend two weeks with fellow Fulbright alumni, that it would be so much fun to learn historical restoration techniques, that I would enjoy learning the history of the area, and that I would so enjoy the country and its people.  Fulbright alumni are so easy to travel with, so much in love with learning and so ready to welcome you into their fold.

I would highly recommend all Fulbright alumni (and their partners) to travel with a Fulbright Association Service Trip. It is a wonderful way to see a country; to help that country on its economic, political and social growth patterns and to meet a group of fellow alumni that will forever be your close friends.


Guest post by Kathy Parkison

July 8, 2016 0