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Classical connections

Photos by David Satran and illustrations by Jeff Chase

Study abroad program draws link between ancient journeys, contemporary migration crisis

When David Satran and 18 University of Delaware students departed for Greece in January, they anticipated three weeks of discovery immersed in sunshine and antiquities. There were also connections to be made, and not simply between flights.

Satran, assistant professor and director of the University’s Associate in Arts Program, hoped to connect stories from the ancient past with those of the present day. Students hoped to adopt skills that would allow them to connect better with the rest of the UD community upon their return.

Cynthia Papettas, a sophomore health behavior science and nursing major, said that it was her position as a resident assistant that initially inspired her to apply for the program. “I was interested in broadening my global awareness,” Papettas said. “It is important to me to be able to understand others’ cultures, and to be willing to immerse myself in a different atmosphere, as some of my international residents have had to.”

During the Winter Session program, students were led through a unique biblical and classical literature course alongside staff experts from the Athens Centre. The group delved into ancient texts while they traversed the same archaeological, religious and natural sites that provided the settings for the stories. A theme quickly emerged.

Citing examples in the Book of Genesis and the Odyssey, Satran said, “You don’t need to go far into biblical or classical literature to engage in migration.” In learning about Greek history, he added, “it became really evident that this, too, is a story about occupation and the movement of peoples.”

However, the program wasn’t only rooted in the past. Greece, located along the Mediterranean Sea, has become a major stopping point in the pathway of migrants traveling from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. Satran encouraged his students to look up, both from their books and from ancient ruins, to better understand the contemporary migration crisis.

“This year, I was really intent that students would have a better appreciation for the people we were engaging with on the periphery of our travels,” said Satran, who brought the group to the neighborhood of Voula, home to Athens’ old airport and now a refugee center. “The difference between study abroad students as compared to the people of, say, Syria or even characters in these ancient texts is that refugees are leaving their homelands not by choice and are making a really perilous journey. It is really poignant and we’re trying to take the course materials and show just how topical they are.”

Students also had the chance to talk with Daphne Matziaraki, greek-born director of the Oscar-nominated documentary 4.1 Miles and graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. The film tells the story of an influx of migrants traveling by boat to the Greek island of Lesbos, just 4.1 miles from the coast of Turkey.

“Meeting with Daphne over Skype was one of the more cherished experiences I got while I was abroad in Greece,” said Papettas, herself also of Greek heritage.

Papettas recounted a story told by the director that continues to resonate with her. “She explained to us that she saw a mother and her children wash ashore. Daphne asked the woman why she would put her children at such a dangerous risk, as the children almost drowned while they floated to shore. She told Daphne that they would either die staying in their country, or die trying to fight for their lives to find refuge.”

Erik Walther, a senior economics and finance major, also noted that the meeting with Matziaraki changed his view on the migration crisis and the world. “It just makes you realize that we are not only U.S. citizens but global citizens, as well.”

Such lessons were exactly the point, according to Satran. “Being away really, I think, allows these students to understand how sweet a homecoming can be. It allows them to more deeply engage in the course material and to better understand the current crisis,” he said. “That’s the transformation. That’s the Delaware Difference.”

The Athens English micro program will run again in Winter Session 2018. Students are encouraged to attend an interest meeting on March 23 or April 4 from 2-3 p.m. in 77 East Main Street, Room 105. Students may also contact David Satran, explore the Institute for Global Studies website, and apply online. Applications close at 5 p.m. on April 20.

About the Institute for Global Studies

The Institute for Global Studies was created in 2009 to enhance the international dimensions of teaching, research and outreach at the University of Delaware. IGS provides leadership and support for programs and experiences that contribute to the education of informed, skilled, open-minded citizens of the world.

Best known for coordinating the University’s study abroad program, IGS also awards scholarships and grants to faculty and students for a number of global opportunities, and administers internationally-recognized State Department-sponsored programs such as the UD Fulbright Initiative, Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leaders Institute, Mandela Washington Fellowship Program for Young African Leaders, and most recently the Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders on Women’s Leadership (SUSI-WL) program.

IGS sponsors such signature events as Global Month each fall and country-specific celebrations each spring.

IGS collaborates with other global partners on campus, including the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Confucius Institute and the Center for Global and Area Studies. In addition, IGS partners with Enrollment Management to coordinate the UD World Scholars Program.

See more of the Institute for Global Studies’ story by following along on Twitter and Instagram.

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