Perhaps now more than ever, Greece’s pristine and majestic landscapes, open-air cultural sites, and relative success with the coronavirus offer a unique opportunity for foreign students to study in Greece.
College Year in Athens (CYA), established in 1962, is the oldest Study Abroad non-profit educational institution in Greece. Acting as a cultural and educational bridge between the U.S. and Greece for almost sixty years, it offers outstanding academic programs (semester, year, winter and summer), Virtual Internships and Gap programs all of which embrace the vibrant experience of day-to-day contact with the people, the monuments and the landscape of Greece.
Speaking to Greek Reporter, Alexis Phylactopoulos, the president of CYA, says that the institution “brings people together and makes Americans get to know Greece. A country that is safe, stable – a country that has a lot to give to the world.”
The program boasts of an extensive range of academically-outstanding courses and unique learning opportunities. Spanning a wide range of disciplines from ancient to contemporary studies, the curriculum is enriched by hands-on learning opportunities and on-site classes.
It also places emphasis on learning beyond the classroom, offering each student a hands-on learning experience in the rich and diverse environment of Greece.
Many classes are held on-site, adding a new dimension to learning and a global understanding of the subjects.
“We were learning about the Acropolis and standing in it. We were learning about the Ancient Agora and standing in it,” says Caroline Pace, 2016 CYA student.
A significant portion of the semester is also devoted to field study, designed to both supplement classroom material and provide a deeper understanding of Greece.
Gigi Papoulias, a former student in the 1990’s says that “it is almost indescribable the feeling that you get standing at an ancient site and having the professor tell you every detail of what happened here, how it was built, how people lived here and everything Greece is about. You can’t be untouched by this.”
CYA organizes educational trips to Delphi and especially the Peloponnese. Students learn about both ancient and modern Greek history by visiting ancient sites at Corinth, Mycenae, Epidauros, Nafplion, Olympia and other places.
For Freya Evenson another former student, there is no comparison to the experience of the field trips: “The experience of the landscape, the monuments, the history, the culture and the people all come together in these tours. There is no comparison. You can’t read about it, you can’t smell or taste the salty air through a virtual tour. It is an unbelievable experience to be able to stand at the Acropolis, to walk through those columns. There is nothing that can compare to the actual experience.”
CYA was established by Phylactopoulos’ 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 field of studying abroad.
“The school was started from a ‘crazy idea’ my mother had sixty years ago,” Phylactopoulos says. The Asia Minor refugee “wanted to create the first organization to allow American students to study in Greece. She thought that there was an opportunity for Greece. She also wanted to give back to the U.S. what she had received in terms of education and advancement.”
Phylactopoulos is justifiably proud of what CYA achieved throughout the decades of its existence. “After all these years, CYA has created 10,000 philhellenes.
“Almost 300 of those students have become professors, teaching subjects related to Greece,” he tells Greek Reporter. He adds that some of the CYA students who came over to Greece to study eventually stayed permanently in the country.
Among them is Gigi Papoulias. “CYA was a turning point in my life which pointed me in the right direction. After I graduated in 1995, I came to live here. Not as a student, but as a normal Athenian resident living and working in the city. This changed my life.”
All CYA programs are conducted in English at the Athens-based International Center for Hellenic and Mediterranean Studies (DIKEMES), located next to the Kallimarmaro (Marble) Stadium and the National Gardens, in the very heart of the city.
CYA is different from other similar institutions in that it is a city-school. Students live right in the bustling city of Athens, in apartments located in the area of Pangrati, near CYA’s academic center. They wake up in the morning and they are in a nice, safe traditional Athens neighborhood. They live like Athenians. They get up in the morning and they see the Acropolis.
“Studying archaeology and anthropology Greece is the best place to think about both,” says Caroline Barnes, of 2018 class. “Coming from New York, I am used to to the fast-pace way of life, but here in Greece I learned to chill out a bit more.”
Anna Wichmann, of 2019 class notes that “the warmth of the Greek people and the Greek culture really helped me feel at home here”.
Phylactopoulos says that “being next to the museums and the sites and how all this merges into their studies. This cannot be replicated…In a way, we do not just convey knowledge, we teach them about a different way of life.”
CYA’s main program is the semester program. “It’s called ‘College Year in Athens,’ but it’s not a year – it’s a semester — either a Fall or Spring semester,” the program director says.
“A student comes over and studies four or five courses in English – and the student gets a transcript which is registered in the student’s home institution and the student gets credit. So the student’s time in Greece counts as part of the student’s university work,” the CYA president notes.
“Most students are from American universities but they are not just U.S. citizens. Many other nationalities come. The idea of studying abroad is embedded in the culture of American universities,” he adds.
CYA also offers summer courses and a winter session. Summer is an exceptional time to study in Greece with a choice of unique CYA courses tailored to combine academics with authentic experiences, taking advantage of the sun, the sea and the vibrant summer culture from Athens to the surrounding islands. Each four-week course/session consists of 60 contact hours.
The Winter session is a three-week program in January, which offers classes in Anthropology or Archaeology. Those are short-term, intensive study abroad opportunities open to students interested in extending their semester or for a short stand-alone program over J-Term.
“It offers the opportunity to a student to learn about the methodology of archaeology and the every day-to-day life of the scientists in the field. After all, Greece and Athens is an open classroom,” Phylactopoulos says.
Gap Year Program
In addition, the “Gap Year” Program was developed after it became clear that students and their parents want to fill the gap year some choose to take 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 Ancient Times to Today’s Healthy Living,” and it promises students to be “an exceptional way to enrich your academic and life experiences,” the course director explains.
“The spirit we want to instill to our students is that they should be open to other cultures. At the end of the day, they fall in love with the people, the country, the culture. All we hear from these students when they go away is ‘What an experience it was!’ ‘How life-transforming it was!'”
Looking back on the contributions of the school his mother established in Athens to Greek-American cultural relations over the past 58 years, Phylactopoulos says “CYA’s contribution to the Greek-American educational relationship is that it has created around 10,000 alumni who are now spiritual friends of Greece.”
For more information on College Year in Athens, please visit their site here.