Education Minister Niki Kerameus’ recent announcement may not make front-page news stateside, but the potential impact will be felt imminently. The Greek government is planning to attract thousands of foreign students to study in Greece, and by definition this involves collaboration with leading universities nationwide.
According to the New York-based Institute of International Education, 5,200+ American college students are currently enrolled in study-abroad programs in Greece. This number likely does not factor in the number of American students in high school, faith-based programs such as the the Greek Orthodox Church’s Ionian Village Camp program, and college immersion programs such as the National Hellenic Society’s Heritage Greece Program, which has sponsored 500+ students.
The fact is that 90 percent of the students involved in study-abroad programs in Greece are not of Hellenic descent. This is further substantiated through my own observations in my capacity as a trustee of Boston College and our own program that involves over 1,200 students abroad including those taking part in study-abroad experiences in Greece.
I often hear that the annual trip to Greece with the family is the panacea that ensures the survival of Hellenic heritage. Imprinting the stamp of culture, identity and heritage is more than days spent on a beautiful Greek beach and dinners at a taverna. Our own studies of our Heritage Greece Program demonstrate that study-abroad shared experiences, especially with students from Greece, is both a game and life changer.
We are at a critical juncture and crossroads and need to mirror Minister Kerameus’ bold program with a rallying cry to encourage Greek-American youngsters to take advantage of the opportunity to get involved with educational and cultural immersive programs in Greece. The Greek government should be applauded for realizing the importance of the Greeks of the diaspora and should provide additional funding to promote such efforts. The return on such an investment will be exponential. Augmenting these efforts with online resources is yet another means to a common end: sustaining Hellenic heritage in the diaspora for the long term. This needs to be a national priority for us as a community.
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Drake G. Behrakis is chair of the National Hellenic Society.