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Sciences

ACT – A Great City a Fine Education, and Experiences of a Lifetime

The American College of Thessaloniki is a beacon of learning in the exciting port city in Northern Greece. In his website greetings Panagiotis Vlachos, PhD, President of Anatolia College, notes that, “ACT is the tertiary division of Anatolia, a private not-for-profit educational institution founded in 1886. ACT has been a bridge connecting America to Greece and South East Europe. It is one of the few institutions outside the United States with full, free-standing U.S. accreditation by NECHE, and EU validation of its ACT’s comprehensive curriculum offers Bachelor’s degrees in Business with four concentrations, Biological Sciences, Computer Science, Business Computing, Psychology, Political Science and International Relations, English with two concentrations, a Master of Science (MS) in Hospitality and Tourism Management, a Master of Science (MS) in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) with four concentrations.

ACT also runs combined degree programs in collaboration with renowned U.S. and EU educational institutions, offering students the opportunity to pursue degrees in various additional disciplines such as Hospitality & Tourism, Engineering, and more.

The ACT campus, located in Pylaia, is on an 80 acre wooded property overlooking the city of Thessaloniki.

The beauty is palpable, but the story of a great institution generally needs to be told. Dr. Stamos Karamouzis, PhD, ACT Provost, spoke to The National Herald about the revered school.

“Throughout its 140-year history our institution has overcome adversities that include two major wars and several conflicts and crises. Now we are pleased to report that our institution is thriving,” Karamouzis said.
“Every day close to 5,000 students and members of the faculty congregate at our campus and form a vibrant learning community, where students of 40 different nationalities meet a diverse faculty body to engage in discourse characterized by sharing and mutual respect. In addition to knowledge acquisition, the hallmarks of the ACT experience are critical inquiry and service to others. The ACT curriculum promotes open inquiry in a conscious and systematic way, in order to broaden students’ horizons, cultivate their talents, enhance their understanding of the world, and prepare them for a life of empathy.”

The natural beauty that embraces students and staff alike, is never taken for granted. Karamouzis emphasized that, “at ACT, we strongly believe in the role that the environment and in particular Gaia plays in fostering intellectual growth; that is why we have built and continue to expand a beautiful campus on a hill, overlooking the Aegean Sea. Under the Grecian blue sky and amid a plethora of ancient trees and shrubs (cypress, olive, plums, pomegranate, etc.), our students have the opportunity to use our state-of-the-art educational facilities in pursuing their educational goals. This is the same environment that, a few miles to the East became the birthplace of Aristotle, while a few miles to the West, the birthplace of Alexander the Great.”

Those who know Thessaloniki love it – but many people are not aware of its charms and qualities. Karamouzis sings its praises to TNH: “Thessaloniki is a seaside gem with a rich cultural history. American students find themselves at home right away in this compact, modern city with over 100,000 university students and two of the largest universities in northern Greece, the campuses of which are within the city’s center, making the city itself a vibrant mix of local residents and college students. Thessaloniki itself is a rather small city where one can walk the city, navigating the streets on foot. Visitors are pleasantly surprised by the level of English spoken by the local population, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the fashion forward sense of style in clothing and interior design. Walking about, you will find that there are many options for food, entertainment, activities, and cultural events – everybody can find something to do and enjoy.”

Another interesting part of the city is its historical importance. Thessaloniki, founded in 315 BC, was named after the half-sister of Alexander the Great and is featured in the Bible, its residents being the recipients of the letters of the Apostle Paul.

“The modern city maintains ancient buildings, arches, and ruins from the civilizations and empires that have made Thessaloniki home throughout the centuries,” Karamouzis added, and he continued by noting that, “Thessaloniki is an east-west crossroads providing easy access to other destinations by bus, train and plane. Just an hour away to the south-west lies Mount Olympus, home of the ancient Greek gods, and an hour to the east is Chalkidiki, with some of the best olive groves and beaches in Greece. Many European cities are within the range of two-hour flights that are available through the SKG Airport.”

He said that, “for one who might wonder why to choose to study in Thessaloniki for their study abroad experience, our students would tell them that the location is the ideal place because the size is large enough to find everything you are looking for and small enough to live like a local and get treated like an individual.”

Karamouzis explained, however, that “college life in Greece is a bit different than the campus experience in the United States. Students in Thessaloniki balance their academics with their social life while living in the community, surrounded by people of all ages.  Studying abroad at the American College of Thessaloniki provides US style academics and support services, while allowing students the opportunity to live like a local. The ACT housing is located in safe, residential neighborhoods, where students live amongst the locals and get in sync with the Thessaloniki pace of life.”

The Pandemic has upended many institutions, schools not least among them, but
ACT successfully confronted it. After the initial outbreak in the Spring, “in Summer 2020, ACT prepared for an on-campus delivery of its programs and developed the necessary infrastructure to accommodate real-time electronically mediated instruction as well. However, as the pandemic crisis persisted, in November 2020, ACT moved to the remote synchronous mediation of all programs which was extended to Spring 2021 terms as well. In Fall 2020, 90% of students registered for their courses, which is a direct measure of the low student attrition which was maintained in Spring terms as well. Given the prevailing perception in Greece that remote delivery is not as effective as in person instruction, such results testify that ACT adapted to the new modality of course mediation successfully.”

Faculty designed their courses “from the ground up in order to apply the most appropriate pedagogical approaches to remote delivery and follow a uniform approach as to the technologies used in line with the ‘flipped classroom approach’, Karamouzis said. “Material was shared online before each session to facilitate both practices, where applicable, and the Q & A session for each workshop. All training material and announcements were uploaded on the Faculty Development Program webpage on ACTivity, ACT’s Learning Management System (LMS). Regarding assessments, faculty continued to use Turnit-in via Moodle for assignments and research projects to safeguard academic integrity in online classes.”

He further explained that, “in designing courses for the remote mediation of their courses, instructors have used the same policy for credit award applied to face-to-face instruction, i.e., one credit equals two hours work outside of class for each contact hour. Courses mediated remotely carried the same credit hour requirements as face-to-face courses and were reviewed by content experts to ensure that the workload and student engagement required were equivalent to standard credit hours. To receive credit for a course, students have complied with all academic requirements as outlined in the course. Remotely-mediated courses contact hours included (not limited to) synchronous lectures, labs, small group discussion and case-based learning activities.”

To support the remote mediation of programs, ACT has been trying new hybrid classroom technology, including whiteboard capturing systems in select rooms. These systems provide interactivity with software while using the regular whiteboard, enabling instructors to create online review material. Classrooms have also been equipped with a webcam that is used to facilitate the live-streaming of a class to students who are joining remotely.

“ACT continues to invest in hybrid classroom technology, with a goal to create five hybrid classrooms in the next three years,” Karamouzis added.”

As the world moves away from the pandemic, however, the focus returns to ACT’s core function, creating extraordinary educational and life experiences for the students.

“Studying abroad is a challenge. If one is up for challenges, then this one can be considered one of the best and most important experiences that a student can add to their resume during the college years. By studying abroad, one builds life skills that will help them make better-informed decisions throughout their life and career based on the experiences they gain during their time abroad. Through the study abroad experience, students get out of their comfort zone, but at the same time have a team of professionals supporting them while they immerse themselves in a foreign country, experiencing a different culture with different habits, traditions, language, and everyday life practices than the one that they have been used to.”

For young Americans, studying in Greece also gives them the opportunity to navigate a modern country with ancient roots and gain a first-hand look at the country that gave birth to democracy and laid the foundations of science and other fields of endeavor.

In closing, however, Karmouzos returned to the personal. “Studying abroad is an intense experience through which students often build lifelong friendships, make decisions about their future career, and add to their growing professional network.  The study abroad experience is an opportunity to make intentional decisions about the habits the student wants to cultivate and the experiences they want to live during their time abroad. Some students focus on meeting locals, traveling to historical and cultural sites, learning the language, participating in a local sport, club or organization, or professional networking. Through the whole experience, the students gain a more complete understanding of themselves and the confidence needed to reach for their life goals.”

And the experience does not end with graduation. Karamouzis said, “our alumni network is probably one of the most solid among higher education institutions in Greece. We organize a wide spectrum education, social, and networking events during which alumni re-engage with the school while reinvigorating old connections and making new ones. There are countless stories of alumni who have helped others find a new job, assisted them with relocating to a new country, offered insights to a career path, became mentors to recent graduates, made business deals, and moved their practice forward. Those ties are for life and with tangible impact on our alumni’s lives.”

ACT- American College: Hot School in Second City

The students who partake of Study Abroad programs grow academically, and as persons. Thanks to the effort and dedication of teachers and officials of ACT-American College of Thessaloniki, many of the young men and women who attend don’t want to leave, but they are thrilled to be able to bring back to the United States the experiences of a lifetime.

 

The testimonies of two recent alums follow:

Elliott Williamson

I live in Ontario, Canada and I recently graduated with two degrees: an honours Bachelor of Arts and Science in psychology/media studies and a concurrent Bachelor of Education. During the summer of 2019, in my third year of university, I chose to study at ACT-American College of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece. I appreciated the similarities between my university and ACT; including small classes taught by highly educated professors, accessible school grounds, and the extensive library and resource selection.

While at ACT, I enrolled in a course titled: The History of Thessaloniki; what better way to learn about a city than taking a course about its history while living there? I enjoyed the scheduling and interactivity of the course. We had class from Monday through Thursday, and on Fridays we explored the city to learn about its history, visiting museums, city landmarks (the White Tower), and other significant locations.

As someone who firmly believes in the Piagetian theory that social behaviour plays a profound role in learning, I appreciated that the students within my international group were all attending the same school and excursions. We visited Ioannina and the monasteries of Meteora, Athens and the Parthenon, and many other historic locations as a group. The resident assistants further enhanced my experiences in Thessaloniki. They created an interactive scavenger hunt to encourage us to independently group up and explore the city. My team won (of course). My confidence and knowledge were significantly impacted by the events and activities organized in and out of the classroom.

Moving forward in my career, I have thought a lot about my time studying in Thessaloniki. One of the greatest pleasures of a career in education is flexibility in location. As an ACT alumnus, I feel confident that I could work as a teacher at ACT one day. Finally, now that I have travelled alone, I have minimal fear about applying to teach outside of Canada. My experiences in Greece are some of the most incredible experiences in my life, mainly due to the friendly and supportive individuals, beautiful scenery, and extraordinary learning opportunities. I doubt my memories will diminish or fade!

Jason Eichner

I am a 22 year old living in Boston, Massachusetts. I currently work for an investment management firm, but recently graduated from Bentley University with a combined undergraduate and graduate degree in finance. In fall of 2021, I had the opportunity to spend a semester of my senior year in Thessaloniki, Greece at the American College of Thessaloniki (ACT). While initially nervous to embark on a journey over 5,000 miles away from my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, I was met with open arms by the ACT community. Meri Halilaj and Lirika Sola, both previous students and now lifelong friends, helped me navigate my way through ACT and the city during my first few weeks in Greece.

I instantly felt that I was in an environment that encourages academic and personal growth. For instance, in order to receive exposure to topics that I have had little experience with, I enrolled in an art history class and a Greek language class. Just a few weeks into the semester, I noticed that ACT’s program provides many opportunities for hands-on learning and collaborative projects. This is extremely beneficial for students across all fields of studies because it allows room for growth. I was not even halfway through the semester and I already felt comfortable reading sentences in Greek and having simple conversations. Just a few weeks prior I could not even recite more than five letters in the Greek alphabet. Also, to this day, I can still comfortably read Greek and identify pieces of historical art that I learned about in my art history class. This is a testament to the professors and curriculum at ACT that fosters an environment where students can become the best versions of themselves.

Additionally, being able to experience the vibrant city of Thessaloniki while attending ACT was an incredible experience. The city is filled with energy, history, and culture. From the White Tower to the Rotunda to the Archaeological museum, everywhere I went I had the opportunity to learn a new part of history. I am forever thankful that I had the opportunity to study abroad at the American College of Thessaloniki and learn about such an important and historical city. My time in Thessaloniki was priceless and is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

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