Greek students receive experience of a lifetime

For Mariza Tzouni, a student at Greece’s Aristotle University of Thessalonkini, the most worthwhile learning opportunities are those that challenge her to discover new ways of thinking. “There is an incredible diversity of knowledge and perspective in the world and I, for one, want to take advantage of that.”

From left, Christina Galliou, Fotini Tavlaridou, Maria-Iordana Toulika, Isavella Vouza, George Stremplis, Aikaterini Delikonstantinidou, Tatiani Rapatzikou, Penny Koutsi, Christina Gkountona, Mariza Tzouni and Konstantinos Chatzipapatheodoridis

From left, Christina Galliou, Fotini Tavlaridou, Maria-Iordana Toulika, Isavella Vouza, George Stremplis, Aikaterini Delikonstantinidou, Tatiani Rapatzikou, Penny Koutsi, Christina Gkountona, Mariza Tzouni and Konstantinos Chatzipapatheodoridis

Thanks to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Canada-Greece Fund, which celebrates 70 years of Canada-Greece relations, these international opportunities are now a reality at York University.

This past July, Tzouni was among a group of 10 Greek students and one professor invited to attend a two-week summer school at York. The program was hosted by York International and 12 York student volunteers, some of Greek heritage and some having just returned from their own summer abroad at Beihang University in Beijing, China. The summer school was designed as an enrichment opportunity for students from Greece and at York that would demonstrate the University’s commitment to international students and its collaborative relationship with the local and international Greek community.

“This visit launches an era of closer relations with our sister universities in Greece,” says Martin Singer, dean of York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, who visited partner institutions in Greece with a York delegation last fall. “These exchange opportunities, made possible through the generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, enrich the university experience for visiting students and York students alike.”

Mamdouh Shoukri address students at York from Greece

Mamdouh Shoukri addresses students from Greece

With a growing community of more than 5,000 international undergraduate and graduate students, the summer school program reflects York’s active role in embracing Toronto’s unique international character, incorporating this diversity of culture and perspective throughout its academic curriculum and developing innovative programs that build relationships with international partners and solidify its reputation abroad.

For two weeks, the visiting students worked alongside the York students as they were treated to a wide range of academic and cultural experiences, including lectures, tours and interactive workshops. They learned about various topics, from astrology to geography to anthropology, and visited Toronto cultural landmarks like the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Distillery District and the Danforth. A strong learning focus for the visit was centred on Canadian multiculturalism, bilingualism and the First Nations, and learning about the Greek diaspora in Canada.

For visiting student George Stremplis, these experiences had a profound academic impact that he says will influence his future studies. “I could not imagine that I would be so lucky to experience so many new things coming to York, making good friends and learning so much from our lectures that would help me shape my academic interest furthermore.”

Martin Singer welcomes Greek student Christina Galliou to York

Martin Singer welcomes Greek student Christina Galliou to York

“On top of the educational benefits offered by the summer school program, this was a unique opportunity for me to interact with like-minded York students and visit the most multicultural city in the world,” Tzouni says. “I met people from across the globe, participated in extraordinary lectures and presentations, delved into the history of my people in Canada and created strong bonds with my fellow visiting students and the students and professors at York. I cannot express enough thanks to York University and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for making this extraordinary experience possible.”

The students even had the opportunity to meet with Mamdouh Shoukri, York’s president and vice chancellor, as he shared his experiences of growing up in Egypt and visiting Thessaloniki.

A highlight for the students was their visit to the Greek Canadian History Project (GCHP) at York’s Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, which was founded by PhD student Chris Grafos and Professor Sakis Gekas, the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair in Modern Greek Studies. The GCHP collects and preserves primary source materials that reflect the history and experiences of Canada’s Greek immigrants and their descendants and brings significant attention and resources to York’s Modern Greek History program.

“The archives provided our students with an overall understanding of the Greek diaspora in Canada, which was enhanced by the opportunity to speak and engage with Greek-Canadians in Toronto’s Danforth community,” visiting Greek Professor Tatiani Rapatzikou recalls. “It was an emotionally intense and life-changing experience for us all.”

From left, student Isavella Vouza, Marilyn Lambert-Drache, student George Stremplis and Mamdouh Shoukri

From left, student Mariza Tzouni, Marilyn Lambert-Drache, student George Stremplis and Mamdouh Shoukri

In the face of current socioeconomic hardships in Greece, these were precisely the types of experiences that the Stavros Niarchos Foundation hoped to create for students when they established the Canada-Greece Fund in June 2013 with a $1-million gift to York. The gift was secured with the help of Robert Peck, Canada’s ambassador to Greece, with support from York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and the Hellenic Heritage Foundation (HHF). The HHF is a Toronto-based charitable organization that is dedicated to promoting Hellenic culture and heritage in Canada and has been helping to make York an international hub for Hellenic studies over the past 20 years.

The summer school program also served as a launching pad to kick off the inaugural year of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Undergraduate Exchange Scholarships, which will support international students from Greece wishing to study at York on exchange.

“York is proud of the relationships it has established with academic institutions from around the world and the opportunities we have created for both our students and students from partner universities to study abroad on exchange,” Marilyn Lambert-Drache, York’s associate vice-president international, explains. “The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has been a strong partner of York over the years and this valuable summer school experience is opening up new opportunities to strengthen this partnership. We are already discussing joint courses, virtual collaborations and conferences that will, hopefully, also involve other Greek partner institutions.”

And while she was only here for a short while, Tzouni knows that for her and her fellow visiting students, this experience will have a profound impact on the future. “This summer school introduced us to a unique experience that we may not otherwise have had the chance to participate in, if not for the generous support that made this program possible. The visit has given me a fresh perspective on my studies and, for many of us, may even bring us back to study at York in the future.”

Students from academic institutions in Greece wishing to study at York on exchange can visit the following links for more information:

Undergraduate students: http://yorkinternational.yorku.ca/files/2014/06/Stavros-Niarchos-Foundation-Exchanges-at-York-University-For-Students-FW15-16.pdf

Graduate students: http://yorkinternational.yorku.ca/visiting-students/international-visiting-graduate-student-scholars-ivgss/

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