The 3rd European Conference of the Forum on Education Abroad (Oct 5th-7th, 2016) is taking place in Athens at a crucial time for Greece as well as Europe. Our country, in its sixth year of the crisis, is still looking for ways to escape the past and move forward, while Europe is trying to reinvent itself. The conference theme, “Living Change: Education Abroad in 21st Century Europe,” is thus timely, focusing on the transformation Europe is going through and the perceptions and expectations of American students as they experience this transformation.
Europe is currently facing a series of challenges: an economic crisis in the South, an unprecedented influx of refugees, a deficient European Union governance structure, Brexit with its possible consequences, and some acts of terrorism. All of these challenges have led to a rise in Euroscepticism, and are foreshadowing a potential rise of extreme right-wing parties that hovers the horizon. The picture today is a stark contrast to the peaceful history-filled, museum visiting land that Europe was a few years back. How can we explain this new Europe to our education abroad students? How can we describe the changes that are transforming a traditional study abroad destination?
Greece is the right place for this discussion. By being situated at the crossroads of two worlds, it has always been an influential player in the middle of major geopolitical alterations, despite its small size. Today is no exception – Greece is navigating through two major crises involving Europe, economic and refugee, with over sixty thousand people presently trapped in the country.
Given Greece’s history, it seems quite apropos to hold the European Conference for education abroad in Greece–it gives us all the opportunity to stay connected through this period of change, discuss key educational issues, exchange views on how to inform and prepare our students at this critical time in European history.
This conference is about experiencing change. It is hosted by CYA (College Year in Athens), an institution, which has been devoted to excellence in study abroad for the past 54 years. CYA is an educational organisation that focuses exclusively on study abroad, using the city both as a classroom and as a field for volunteerism. Central part of the academic program is field trip instruction and experiential learning.
Hosting the 3rd European Conference of the Forum on Education Abroad and coordinating around 400 people from all over the US and Europe is a task Greece clearly benefit from. Information is shared, lessons are learned, and best practices are presented and discussed so that Europe, and Greece, can keep moving forward.
This conference, along with a variety of workshops that are hosted at the CYA premises, form a unique educational environment that fosters groundbreaking views, perspectives, and experiences of academic excellence. These are the materials Greece’s future should be made of; the only thing we have to do is seize the opportunity…
Alexis Phylactopoulos is the President of CYA (College Year in Athens – cyathens.org) and Chair of the Organising Committee of the Forum on Education Abroad 3rd European Conference.