As the recent blog posts attest, last week the program made its first ever visit to Athens, Greece.  Greece currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union and has suffered through some of the worst economic conditions in Europe for the past 6 years, so it was a great opportunity for the students to get a different perspective on Europe.


The group was greeted by 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) and sun when we arrived, certainly a dramatic break with the cooler and cloudier climate of Brussels.  The students had the first afternoon free, but many tagged along with Professors Birchfield, Hayes, and Knox-Hayes for a traditional Greek dinner on a charming side street not far from the hotel.  The next day, the students were in full intercultural learning mode as they took a tour of Athens’ legendary Acropolis and heard about the important role Athens played in the development of modern political systems. After the tour the students and faculty visited the new Acropolis museum to see some of the artifacts recovered and restored from ancient Greece.  Later in the week, the group also visited the Benaki museum, housed in the impressive former home of Emmanuel Benakis.  On display the students saw 8,000 years of Greek arts, from metal work to ceramics to traditional Greek clothing.  The group also toured the Ministry of Defence’s National War Museum, and were treated to an extraordinary tour hosted in part by the director of the museum itself!  The museum’s collections and displays covered a massive range of combat, and included a donated private collection with some very interesting weapons, including ornate dueling pistols.

As with the rest of the program, the students were in Athens to do serious work.  On Tuesday they engaged in a question and answer session at the Hellenic Parliament with the chairman of the Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, followed by a tour of the Parliament:

They also took briefings from a range of scholars at the Hellenic Foundation on issues ranging from Greece’s economic crisis to foreign and security policy.  Toward the end of the week, the students had four hours of intense interaction with policymakers and advisers at the Foreign Ministry, where as usual our students asked very insightful and probing questions addressing some of the biggest challenges facing Greece and the EU.

As the recent appearance of podcasts on the blog shows, the students didn’t leave these issues in the briefing room.  They took it upon themselves to organize group discussions on the rooftop of our hotel (with a lovely view of the Acropolis)

on the issues and themes they have been wresting with in Athens and throughout the program.  Dr. Hayes had a chance to see one of these discussions in progress, and had this reaction on Twitter:

The week ended with a trip to the remains of Poseidon’s temple, where the students enjoyed a brief swim before a seaside dinner followed by sunset and moonrise at the temple.

The group ended their time in Greece with a free day on Saturday, and a number of the students took advantage of the time to see parts of the city they had not yet experienced, and more than a few sought out the storied turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea.

All around a work hard, play hard experience for everyone…just the kind of extraordinary education the students have come to expect!