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There may be turmoil on the TV and in the papers, but the Euro is cheap and District students are still traveling abroad to Greece.
For students at George Washington and American universities studying abroad in Greece this summer, professors and administrators reported no issues and enjoyed local hospitality.
“When 15 students and I left for Greece [on June 25], we had no idea that the economic crisis would explode, so we were not particularly worried,” says Andrea Tschemplik, the director of undergraduate studies at AU and the head professor for the university’s students in Greece this summer.
Tschemplik notes that everywhere she went while staying at the American College of Thassaloniki she experienced “nothing but kindness and good cheer.” When Tschemplik and her students would go out to dinner, they sometimes received free desserts.
“I updated the Study Abroad Office at American University on a regular basis reassuring them that the ancient practice of philoxenia (loving the stranger/guest) would always trump political turmoil,” Tschemplik says via email.
AU monitored the situation via the professor, U.S. State Department alerts, and through an independent security analysis company, said Brita Doyle, assistant director of AU Study Abroad.
Meanwhile, GW students headed to Greece a bit earlier in the summer, as originally planned, avoiding the brunt of financial crisis with their early June trip. In the District, the Embassy of Greece made sure to note on its website that ATMs were available to tourists, unlike locals.
Mark A. Rallkowski, associate professor of philosophy and honors and head professor of GW’s summer study abroad program this year, says he and his students saw Greeks out at all hours of the day. Athens was “buzzing with energy at life,” he notes, but there were moments that weren’t as celebratory.
“We did see evidence of protests and violence: Some shops and restaurants had been destroyed by fire, leaving big holes in otherwise functioning buildings; in some places marble steps had been chipped away by protesters who used the marble fragments as weapons against the police,” Rallkowski says. “We were also told by the locals we met that many people they knew were suffering very much. However, we did not see this suffering firsthand.”
Doyle and Shay Laws, GW’s study abroad advisor, say their respective schools do not plan on altering any future study abroad programs in Greece, although they will continue to monitor the situation.
Currently, Greeks are bracing for a fresh round of austerity measures as part of an agreement with the country’s creditors that will keep Greece in the eurozone. If Greece were to default on its debts (the IMF has insisted on debt relief as part of the bailout agreement), it could create global economic shockwaves, affecting nations in the eurozone and beyond. By most accounts, anti-austerity protests (which had, at times, become violent) have subsided.
“While I was there I was reading American media accounts, and I was shocked by the negative portrayal of what was happening,” AU’s Tschemplik says. “We did not see any violence or desperation even when we spent time in Athens. I was told by a Greek friend that some of the American media (CNN) was streaming footage from last year’s demonstrations.”