ATHENS – College Year in Athens (CYA) was revolutionary when it was established in 1962 – it was the first study-abroad program in Greece for Englis- speaking undergraduates – and it has thrived for more than half a century by continuing to innovate, inspiring and delighting young adults with new experiences. This fall, CYA initiates its brand new Gap Year Program with the invitation: “Escape the virtual, go real in Greece.”
CYA's president Alexis Phylactopoulos, who can testify to the importance of bridge building for individuals and nations after years of service in the Greek Foreign Ministry, including the embassy in Washington, shared his excitement for the new program with The National Herald.
“The program is scheduled to begin Sept 21, 2020 and runs through November 28. It's ideal for Greek-American students who want to discover their roots. No student visa is required – just regular tourist visas are needed.”
CYA is a not-for-profit educational institution that offers semester, academic year, and summer study abroad programs in Greece that has been a cultural and educational bridge between the United States and Greece for over half a century.
The Gap Year Program was developed after it became clear that students and their parents want to fill the `gap year' some chose to have between high school and college with a special experience.
The program's theme is, Learning from the Ancients: a Hands-on Approach to Life from the Ancient Times to Today's Healthy Living, and it promises students to be “an exceptional way to enrich your academic and life experiences.”
Phylactopoulos said, “it has elements that provide students with an immersion into Greek culture for 10 weeks. For example, they participate in a five-week archaeological excavation in the seaside Athens suburb of Voula. They will be working every day on a real excavation next to Greek university students.”
There will also be two interesting and educational trips to Delphi and especially the Peloponnese, where, “there are incredible sites from Corinth to Mycenae, Epidavros, Nafplion, Olympia and other places. They will learn about both ancient and modern Greek history,” he said.
The program includes workshops on Greek dance and cuisine, and for one week they will be actually tending an ancient garden on the wonderful island of Kos. “We call this Hippocrates' Garden – he was from Kos and the medicinal herbs are identified in his writings. And we explore the theme of Wellness.”
Along with special programs there will be plenty of visits to sites around Athens – the Acropolis and its museum, historic walks around the town, the Greek Parliament, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center etc. – all guided by CYA faculty.
There is extra value this year Phylactopoulos said, “because COVID-19 has put big questions in the minds of many parents: `Is it worth sending our children to college for their first year during the pandemic, when classes will still be held online and when contracting the disease on campus will still be possible? Or can I send my children to my country of origin so they can immerse themselves in ancient and modern Greek culture?”
They will also learn Greek with the program's language classes.
The CYA Academic Center is located next to Athens' glorious Kalimarmaro marble Stadium and houses classrooms, the library, the student lounge and cafeteria, and computer facilities.
Students are housed within walking distance of the CYA Academic Center in CYA student apartments located in the Pangrati neighborhood of central Athens.
“Discovering your roots is important, but even if the student is not Greek-American the program offers very valuable outcomes,” Phylactopoulos added.
Students discover and experience how one learns about the past and the origins of the elements of modern life by being taught the methodology of archaeology and the conservation of artifacts. They learn about the thinking of ancient Greeks – like Hippocrates – and how strongly it has affected modern life and dynamics, like the quest for healthy living.
Asked if he had participated in an archaeological dig in his youth, Phylactopoulos replied “no – I would have liked to, but such a thing was not available at the time. Perhaps I want CYA – which is operated by people like me – to give young people, Greek-Americans, an opportunity we missed in our lives.”
All of his efforts in behalf of CYA are labors of love for him because CYA was established by his mother, Ismene Phylactopoulou, a graduate of Wellesley College who received the Doctorate of Humane Letters from DePauw University in recognition of her achievements in the study abroad field.
The phrase “life altering experience” is not a cliché in the CYA context as it appears frequently in the biographies of its alumni, rooted not only in their experiences, but also in their perception of how much faculty and staff care about them.
That was manifested this year when Coronavirus hit. CYA from the start kept abreast with CDC and Greek government guidelines for health, safety, and travel. “We moved to protect the students early,” Phylactopoulos said. “In late February we invited a doctor to speak to them and answer questions … we didn't have any cases, thank goodness.”
Although CYA swiftly transitioned to online teaching for students who remained in their apartments, by March 13 they were recalled by their universities. Nevertheless, they successfully completed the semester by through distance learning in their home countries.
CYA now expects to run a full fall 2020 semester in Athens – with 40 students rather than CYA's usual 150, “but we are seeing tremendous interest in Spring 2021,” Phylactopoulos said. There is strong interest for both independent semester students and for CYA's faculty led programs of short duration – 1 or 2 months – featuring professors from various universities.
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