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For College Year in Athens, Big Anniversaries Are Just the Beginning

College Year in Athens (CYA) is the first study abroad program in Greece for English-speaking undergraduates, offering academically outstanding semester, academic year, summer and winter study abroad programs.

CYA, which is currently celebrating its 60th anniversary, was a unique and groundbreaking endeavor when it was born in 1962. The School was special from the start, beginning as a humanities destination that attracted distinguished scholars to its academically demanding and inspiring program. Gaining broader appeal as it evolved over the past 60 years, more than 11,000 students have studied at its wonderful facilities right next to the beloved ‘Kalimarmaro – Beautiful Marble’ stadium in the Center of Athens. Theoni Scourta, Executive Vice President and Head of Academics – College Year in Athens, said that, “two things stand out, and both were the basic elements for the very solid and strong foundation of our institution: first, the academic quality of the program set by the great academic personalities who worked and taught here: people such as Raphael Demos, A.R. Burn, H.D.F. Kitto. The second, is the caring environment that was first cultivated by the founder of our school, Ismene Phylactopoulou, and this has permeated all our services and the program as a whole. Caring for the students, everything from their health to their academic life; caring for the faculty by creating a nurturing environment that helps them develop both pedagogically and also as researchers. In the trajectory of the life of our school these two qualities remain in the core, and guide all our decisions and plans, giving assurance to partner institutions, parents, and students.”

That the world has changed dramatically since 1962 goes without saying. Asked what are the elements in the CYA experience that endure from its founders’ original vision, and what are the new features shaped by changes in culture, technology, and Greece as a whole, Scourta said, “what endures is the ethos and the determination to run a program that we are all proud of, one that is our constant in this ever-changing world. This ethos, and our founder’s original vision, respect tradition, but at the same time it is in its essence completely revolutionary, making change a tradition.” She further explained that, “being in an institution where one educates the next generation makes connection with the changing word a rejuvenating inevitability. Here at CYA, we are in honest and open communication with this next generation of students, always embracing technological and cultural changes.”

CYA is always ready to face new realities like the Greek Economic Crisis and the COVID pandemic – and to not just set aside the challenging experiences but to build upon them, especially regarding educational methodology and technology.

“The fact is that we at CYA approached this COVID situation with positive attitude, and we viewed flexibility and the constant readjustments of schedules and curriculum as part of the design solution and not as a problem,” Scourta revealed. “That helped us imagine a more diverse way of learning. With online teaching, what was perceived as an anomaly in the process of learning at a study abroad program before the pandemic, we turned into a tool that helps us connect our classes with professors and other classes across the Atlantic; a tool that helps us bring more resources into the classroom.”

CYA keeps close connection with its alums. About 11,000 have graduated from this institution the past 60 years and approximately 250 are currently teaching at U.S. institutions.

CYA has different platforms through which they maintain a steady and direct communication both with alums and current students. “And there have been many cases when their comments and suggestions have informed our next steps,” she said.

“Creating an engaged, supportive alumni network is crucial to an institution’s success. For CYA, alums play an ongoing role by sharing their experience and spreading the word about the school and its mission,” Scourta emphasized.

One of the ways alums stay in touch is through The OWL Alumni newsletter which is published twice a year and brings together in-depth features, news from campus, students, faculty, and upcoming alumni events and opportunities.

CYA also hosts events and receptions for alums in Greece and the United States in conjunction with conferences. They recently held an alumni reunion trip in celebration of its 60th Anniversary.

“In July, we welcomed alums from each decade to Athens to stay in CYA apartments and follow a detailed itinerary that reconnected them with what they knew from their past experience in Greece,” Scourta said, adding that “we also introduced them the changing face of Athens. All participants had a fantastic time; many said it was the ‘trip of a lifetime.’”

CYA has also created an executive education program for alumni and all who desire a CYA public education program. The CYA Hellenic Executive Program brings CYA’s rigorous academic profile in an online format to all interested and those who wish to further their knowledge on all topics associated with Greece, from ancient civilization to modern-day development. CYA recently completed its third executive education seminar on Greece’s modern history and is preparing a specialty course focusing on Greece’s relationship with Turkey and the latter’s claim over Greek territory and islands.

“CYA has also launched a series of virtual lectures to stay connected with our community and engage with our students, alumni, friends, and partners,” she said, adding that “CYA’s Virtual Lecture Series is a forum for exchanging thoughts in a virtual environment and a podium in which people related to our institution and active in their community can share their expertise or experience with a broader public. CYA has presented 20 such virtual lectures; all can be viewed at http://shorturl.at/GTZ04.”

The keys to not merely surviving but thriving in the future are innovations and  initiatives. Scourta spoke about CYS’s new and coming programs.

“Our most recent program is a post-baccalaureate in classics, a program designed to help college graduates improve their engagement with scholarship as well as their classical language skills, and take courses that prepare them for admission to graduate programs. CYA offers the opportunity of full-time, intensive study for one year with an array of courses such as languages at all levels, Epigraphy, Archaeological Drawing, Excavation fieldwork, etc. along with structured academic support.”

In addition to social and practical challenges, the  lingering COVID pandemic also has had broader cultural and intellectual effects, including attacks on the political and scientific establishments. Scourta is optimistic, however, saying, “I believe this next generation of students will look for depth and substance in what they study and they will embrace science and knowledge, rejecting unsubstantiated ‘truths’. At the same time, she believes the model we have seen the past decades where there is over-emphasis on business and STEM is flawed. “I believe the shock that COVID brought into our world will facilitate a reconciliation of STEM with the humanities and the social sciences. After all, we are all trying to understand our world, and a dialogue between those who study STEM and those who study history, philosophy, anthropology, etc. is needed.”

Scourta believes that, “this makes our program at CYA even more relevant to this generation of students who need to think about the big questions, to see their role in life, in their community. To come and study philosophy in Athens, to visit sites such as the Parthenon where the concept of humanism is fully realized as one stands in front of it, to visit the Athenian Agora and see the value of civil participation and responsibility – we , here at CYA, think they are particularly needed experiences in these post-COVID times.”

CYA is a non-profit educational institution under U.S. law, based in Cambridge, MA and governed by a Board of Trustees. Its trustees are distinguished members of the academic and business communities of the U.S. and Greece.

STUDENT TESTIMONIALS

‘As an archaeology student specifically, it was amazing to see the things that I had learned about in my courses in person. I would get so excited walking past the Acropolis, or going to see various museums (especially the NAM). It really helped get a physical sense for what I’ve been studying. Even not through the lens of an archaeology student, though, it was an invaluable experience. I truly feel that being immersed in another culture for four months allowed me to develop a greater understanding of the world and the interactions between various peoples, as well as to more fully understand the perspective of those living in Greece specifically and Europe in general. It helped me to get a sense of cosmopolitanism I was lacking before. It certainly didn’t hurt that Greece was beautiful, either! I would have found it a valuable experience even if it were not directly relevant to my field of study. Moreover, I do think that learning about the ancient world (as we did on the field study trips) can be useful even for those not studying it, to broaden their understanding of how our modern world came to be.Emily Bigioni, Tufts, CYA Fall 2021

‘As a classics major, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus on in the field. By taking the Strangeness of Ancient Greece course, I learned that I want to study more than just history. Through the Interconnections in Bronze Age Aegean course, I realized that I enjoy studying material culture but that archaeology is not my passion. CYA has helped narrow my path to focus on literature, which my history and archaeology background supplement. CYA also strengthened my desire to become a high school Latin teacher! Studying abroad was the best way to explore ALL of the major sites and see the works that I studied in my art history course at Grinnell. It’s different seeing the sites and artworks in person than on a screen. I also became more independent!’Kendall Yim, Grinnell College, CYA Summer 2022

‘Studying abroad was easily the best time of my life so far, and everyday since I have returned home, I have taken time to fondly reflect on my time in Greece and abroad. As someone who had never previously traveled outside the United States prior to CYA, I naturally was very uncomfortable moving to a foreign land where the native language was not mine, and I felt uneasy my first couple weeks in Pagrati. Fast forward four months to May 12th, my departure day back to Michigan, and I have not cried harder than I did that morning getting into a yellow taxi one last time. I jumped out of the comfort of what I knew in the U.S., and what I thought was going to be a terrifying free-fall turned into the most enjoyable four months. Moving to and exploring Europe allowed me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, helping me realize that I actually love seeking adventure and newness. I found a home in Pagrati, not just because of Athens’ rich historical beauty but because of the people I chose to surround myself with. From my classmates who have become some of my closest friends to Kekkos’ very own Dimitri and Katarina to my CYA professors, I loved who I spent time with this past semester. I have never felt more confident that studying abroad was the best risk I have ever taken. Take chances, seek passionate work, cross your own comfort zone, and do it all with a smile. Studying abroad has instilled in me these values that have inspired the way in which I approach my life post – graduation and beyond. If there’s no risk, there’s no reward.’ Emily Morgan, University of Michigan, CYA Spring 2022

 

‘With CYA, I took courses that I never have before (at school, I have only taken STEM courses). I was able to learn in a different way this past semester, and it was amazing seeing what we were learning in the classroom play out in the field. I gained public speaking skills through my multiple presentations for classes, and taking these classes forced me to think in ways I haven’t before. Outside of class, I met so many different people and experienced a way of life that was similar yet different to back home. It was an amazing experience and I can’t speak highly enough about it. Having an open mind is the key to experiencing it all! The food, music, etc may be different from what you’re used to but try it all out if you can! By participating in as many opportunities as I could that CYA offered, I had an extremely enriching experience while studying abroad. I was definitely nervous going abroad, but reaching out to other students in the program makes it so much easier to adjust. I would also say, if you can, take classes unlike any others you have previously taken! I did this and absolutely loved my courses, and it has influenced what I will be taking for my final year in school.’ Mary Wallace, Harvard, CYA Spring 2022

 

 

 

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