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Education by Visitation: AHIF Sponsors Student Trips to Greece & Cyprus
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: C. Franciscos Economides
August 10, 2009—No. 61 (202) 785-8430

Op-Ed:

Education by Visitation: AHIF Sponsors Student Trips to Greece & Cyprus

 

WASHINGTON, DC—The following Op-Ed by Nick Larigakis appeared in The National Herald 7-30-09.

Education by Visitation: AHIF Sponsors Student Trips to Greece & Cyprus

By Nick Larigakis

July 28, 2009

I recently had a wonderful opportunity to lead a group of nine exceptional Greek American college students on the inaugural American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF)College Student Foreign Policy Study Trip to Greece and Cyprus.

The aim of this new program is to introduce our future Greek American leaders to the core foreign policy issues important to our community with the hope that they will have a better understanding of these matters and their impact on U.S. interests in the Southeastern Mediterranean region.

During the course of two weeks the group met with over 40 high ranking individuals from the government, the think-tank community and the private sector. The trip included meetings with the president of the parliament of Cyprus, a number of ministers, the chairmen of key foreign policy committees of the Greek Parliament, numerous meetings with foreign ministry officials, officials from the defense ministry, main opposition party leaders and academics. There were also visits to U.S. the ambassadors to Greece and Cyprus, the Lockheed Martin corporation, and others.

As is expected with such endeavors, various fine cultural and social functions were included and a visit to the recently opened Acropolis Museum was one of many highlights.

While I was very optimistic departing Washington, I really wasn’t sure how successful this trip would be. By it’s conclusion I was ecstatic about the first year’s outcome!

The students came well prepared and were very active during the meetings, engaging the presenters in each with succinct and challenging questions. The briefings they received were extremely valuable and informative. All the students commented on how much they learned and how enlightening the whole experience was.

As it related to Cyprus, one student said:  “…it was informative and educational because it brought to the forefront the issues which we as Greek and Cypriot Americans need to know about the Cyprus issue.”

The on-site visit were very important to the education of these youngsters, especially in Cyprus, where the students had the opportunity to visit the old Nicosia airport inside the U.N. patrolled “buffer zone” and to see where time has stood still for 35 years since that fateful day in 1974 when Turkey illegally invaded Cyprus. The desolate windswept airport is only a few miles away from the bustling modern day city which is today’s free Nicosia. Being there helps one to understand the scars and is a painful reminder that Cyprus is still a divided country. The ghostly, hollow shell of the terminal building, the bullet holes in the walls, the rotting, bullet-shredded airplane still on the tarmac, just as it was that day 35 years ago, served as a sobering illustration for these students of the injustice that has been perpetrated against the people of Cyprus. This feeling was enhanced by viewing Turkish soldiers, only a few hundred feet away, leering from their observation posts with guns as we rode near the “Green-Line.”

While in Greece, an informative briefing was provided to the students by representatives of the Greek armed forces at the Greek Pentagon. One student said, “It provided us with Greek military information which gave us the best perspective on Greece’s leverage in that region, and throughout the world, because of Greece’s NATO participation.”

Until now, I was concerned about the next generation Greek American advocates as the need will continue for there to be activists within our ranks to continue to address the complex issues pertaining to U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus. This trip helped to ease my fears—somewhat. For although there seems to be an interest in partaking of such educational trips (AHIF received 18 inquiries for nine available spaces), it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that programs like this continue to be supported and students are encouraged to participate. There is no better educational tool than travel. It provides a perspective that cannot be obtained from any text book. For its part the AHIF will continue to offer this program as long as there is continued interest and support. I feel certain there will be both. The AHIF program is focused on foreign policy issues, however, there are a number of other wonderful programs that exist that offer a more diverse curriculum such as the AHEPA Journey to Greece program and the Archdiocese’s Ionian Village. I  encourage all parents to advocate these programs to their children.

So, was the AHIF inaugural program a success? One student who had never visited Greece or Cyprus before called it a “Life changing experience.” Another said:

“This foreign policy trip not only showed me that there is much more to Greece and Cyprus than their histories and beaches, but that the two are dynamic countries. Of course, both have their issues, and that is where intelligent and motivated young American adults of Greek and Cypriot origin have to be knowledgeable and relied upon to do their part in ensuring U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus arrive at a zenith and stay there. This trip brought to the forefront the critical issues Greece and Cyprus have to deal with everyday and motivated me to do my part in creating a positive liaison as an American citizen between the two countries and the U.S.”

Was this a good beginning? I think so!

 

Nick Larigakis
Executive Director
American Hellenic Institute

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For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.