Students who studied abroad in Ioannina, Greece with Taso Lagos, Foreign Studies Director for Hellenic Studies in the Jackson School, worked with local Grecians to raise 420 euros (about $546). They donated the proceeds to an Ioannina charity during Spring Quarter.
The program, part of UW’s Comparative History of Ideas, had T-shirts printed with the logo of the University of Ioannina, the local university that UW is affiliated with.
Lagos explained that there is not any collegiate paraphernalia such as T-shirts for sale in the area. He hoped that, by working with locals, that the program will be successful.
“The idea of doing this entrepreneurial project is intriguing because I’ve been thinking about it for the last few years: How can I give back to Greece?” said Lagos.
Greece is still recovering from the start of the economic crisis in December 2009. As of January 2013, Greece had an unemployment rate of 27.2 percent, particularly among young people, who have an unemployment rate of 59.1 percent, according to Eurostat.
“Watching the economy here is very difficult for me so I wanted to do something to see if I can help,” said Lagos. “I don’t want to pretend that we have the answers. The idea behind the T-shirt project is to really be a collaborative partner, to work with Greek students, to work alongside the folks here…We want to work with them to utilize their ideas, their energy, and to do something that all of us will be proud of.”
Lagos, a native of Greece, has returned to his homeland every year for the past 20 years. It is his fourth year with the Ioannina program, which is more “ambitious” now than it was when it first began, growing in size from 10 students to 20 students, and including programs as the T-shirt project and an extended overnight trip to the neighboring Albania.
Ioannina is in the northern part of Greece and close to the southern part of Albania. Lagos described the topography of Ioannina as “very different from what you see in posters depicting Greece, of sandy beaches.” Instead, the area is described as “Swiss-like” surrounded by mountains and a nearby lake. The city, consisting of roughly 80,000-90,000 people, is what Lagos considered to be different from Athens primarily in its atmosphere, lacking the intensity that large cities, such as Athens, have.
“It really draws you in after a while,” said Lagos.
Another goal Lagos had for the program was for his students to experience a full immersion program in not only the Greek language but the Greek culture, and learning about the political and social situations of the area. Students are in class Monday through Thursday, learning about Greek language and culture in a classroom setting, but on Fridays and on some weekends, are on day-long excursions exploring local sites and museums, learning about Greek people first-hand.
During the Ioannina program last summer, Lagos began to document the experiences of him and his students through a travel blog.
“The idea was to give a voice and try to talk about what was going on here on the ground in terms of Greece and my impressions,” said Lagos. “From there, it evolved into something a little big larger.”
The blog, which can be found at http://journaloftheabroad.wordpress.com/, attracted a diverse group of readers, some from Greece, some from other countries, and Lagos began to expand the content of the blog from his own experiences to news, local events, and local items concerning Greece, updating the blog several times a day.
Lagos hopes that the blog will continue to grow in other ways as well. “My hope is that students will start to use it to take ownership of it. By that, I mean that they would be able to supply, doing items that they will write. Up until this point, it’s something I’ve been doing, once in a while we’ve had contributions, I really want students to take ownership and start to supply it with content and expand it a little bit.”
Although the blog has been focused primarily on Greece, Lagos changed the name of the blog from “Study Abroad in Greece” to “Journal of the Abroad” to encompass all study abroad experiences. Not only does Lagos want UW students to contribute more to the blog, he wants students from other countries to contribute as well, a process that is slowly starting. “We had a student that was [studying] here in Greece, from Ukraine, and she’s contributed some pieces about what’s going on in Ukraine. I want to get more of those kinds of voices… that have thoughts that are interesting that relate to the issue of international events and news.” To get involved, students can contact Lagos through the blog.
Like the blog, the Ioannina program is expanding and changing. For future programs, Lagos hopes to expand the program by not only adding a site visit to Albania, but to Istanbul and the Balkans to exchange ideas with other countries and to give the program “a real multi-national feel,” said Lagos.
Lagos also wants to develop more projects that would focus on the economy, environment, politics, and, of course, continue to develop the T-shirt project and other entrepreneurial projects.
“It’s a labor of love,” said Lagos.
By Melissa Croce