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International students flock to Greece to study crisis

Khalid feels “At home” in the streets of Athens and Sheila sees “encouraging signs” of economic recovery in Greece, but Clemence admits to feeling “overwhelmed” by the “human impact of the crisis.”

International students have gathered in Athens this spring to take part in field trips organised by their respective universities, in New York and Paris.

They are there to observe the effects of the economic crisis in Greece, a country that has become a case study for those reading economy, political science and journalism.

In just a week or ten days, they wanted to see, meet and, above all, understand what happened in this small country that brought into question the very idea of European union and shook the foundations of the international financial structure.

“I can’t help feeling like a tourist,” says 21-year-old Khalid Esmail, frustrated, after a week of meetings with Greek political experts and decision-makers.

The young Canadian, a student at the Menton branch of Paris’s Institute of Political Studies that specialises in Mediterranean studies, has adopted an unconventional approach to the project.

“I chose to study the country through a very specific medium – street art,” he says.

Graffiti bears witness

Khalid tries to define the rage he sees sprayed onto walls around Athens, graffiti that bears witness to a crisis that has prompted some Greeks to migrate and plunged others into poverty.

Sheila Lalani, 26, and 30-year-old Dyanna Salcedo are American MBA students at New York’s Columbia University.

Together with their group, they met a selection of Greek economic experts, even Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras.

Their theme was “business strategy during a crisis”. Travelling from one appointment to another onboard a sleek mini-bus, they met with Greek business leaders who have made their way onto the world stage, a jewellery company that is opening one store per week in China or the CEO of the world leader in mobile advertising, explained Katerina Sokou, a former Kathimerini journalist – and current Columbia student – who organised the trip.

“My sentiment is that the leaders we met are very optimistic” regarding the future and economic growth in Greece, a country facing a sixth year of continuous recession, Dyanna told AFP.

Sheila, who is as charmed by the orange trees in full bloom as she is distressed by the Greek capital’s dilapidated buildings and streets, said she felt “privileged” to be in Athens during the ongoing Cyprus crisis. In Greece, she believes there are “encouraging signs” for growth in the tourism industry and infrastructure.

“The question now is to know how much longer the country can take the recession,” says Dyanna.

“Nobody wants to think about what would happen” if Greece can’t fulfil its commitments and has to leave the eurozone, she adds, hiding her face in her hands.

More than just analysing the crisis

For a group of nearly 50 students from the Paris-based Centre of Journalism Studies (CFJ), the trip to Greece was about more than just analysing the crisis.

Each year, they undertake an internship in a different country, where they publish a journal; in Greece, the students are writing for the Parthenon Post.

They have all experienced some sort of cultural shock during their trip.

Some, who had the televised images of violent 2012 protests in mind, were pleasantly surprised by Greek hospitality, the shaded terrases and the temperate spring.

Others, passionate fans of ancient history, were moved to find themselves in the cradle of democracy.

“Covering a protest below the Acropolis is no small thing for a journalist,” says 23-year-old Clemence Fulleda.

Fulleda was nonetheless “overwhelmed” from her very first day, after a student protest which she found distressing.

A lost generation

She found herself facing a lost generation – the generation she belongs to.

Greece tops all European countries in unemployment rates, with a general rate of 28 per cent which rises to nearly 60 per cent for those up to 25 years old.

“Students and their parents, all without exception, said they had no future in Greece, that they scraped through, without me even asking them… People (here) are at the end of their tether. I had not realised… it is a shock.”

[AFP]

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