It was 1949 when a group of hopeful young scientists boarded a ship and sailed across the Atlantic, leaving behind a Greece devastated by World War II and in the grips of civil strife. They were the first batch of Greeks to receive a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States, thus launching an exchange of knowledge and know-how that continues to this day.
From 1948, when the Greek program first started (it is the oldest in Europe and the second oldest in the world after the Philippines), and right up to the present, the program has never stopped sending Greek students to America and welcoming American scholars, researchers and artists to Greece. Among the 5,000-plus students to have benefited from the program over these seven decades, are the likes of theater director Karolos Koun, poet George Seferis, novelist, translator, poet and essayist Edmund Keeley, experimental theater stage director and choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou, Benaki Museum director Angelos Delivorias, poet, art critic and art historian Eleni Vakalo and scientists and businesspeople who have built acclaimed careers abroad. An educational experience in a foreign land is life-changing, said the young senator for Arkansas William Fulbright, who founded the student exchange program in 1946.
It was the statement of a visionary. Indeed, here’s what one of the American scholars said at this year’s event presenting the Greek and American recipients for 2017-18 and honoring the program donors, hosted by US Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt and his wife Mary at their home in Athens, and attended by Education Minister Costas Gavroglou:
“Thanks to Fulbright, I’ve visited places where our world still seems to touch the world of the gods. I’ve walked along the Acheron River, listened for prophesy in the rustling oak leaves at Dodona, and felt stalactites drip onto the back of my neck as a silent boatman ferried me through the caves at Diros. I’ve retraced Odysseus’ homeward path through the Ionian Islands and paid tribute to monsters Hercules had slain in the Peloponnese,” said writer and filmmaker Steven Tagle from Amherst in Massachusetts, who last year participated in the postgraduate research program of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University.
Ambassador Pyatt noted that what makes the Fulbright program great is not just that it reinforces scientific and academic training, but also that the participants themselves become ambassadors of their country’s culture, history and way of life.
Executive director of the Fulbright Foundation in Greece Artemis Zenetou spoke of the huge role played by the donors who have supported the scholarship since its inception, making it possible to help students even in the toughest of years. It is this ability that has made the Fulbright a standard-bearer for meritocracy and high-caliber scholarships but also the generosity of the donors who recognize the important work it does.
Scholarships were awarded to 61 Greek and American recipients this year, in fields such as human rights, architecture, museology, criminal justice, fine arts, microbiology, musical theory, public administration, medical technology, communications and social business initiative.