In 2014, Webster announced plans for a new international campus and study abroad program in Athens. The first group of Webster University students to participate in the “Odyssey in Athens” program arrived at the campus in September 2015 to explore and study historic sites in Greece as well as the region’s rich history and culture.
“With its extraordinary artistic, intellectual and cultural heritage, Athens is richly endowed with resources for formal study and experiential learning,” said Guillermo A. Rodríguez, director of international projects for Webster’s study abroad program. “Greece is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, Western literature, the Olympic Games and much more, and is a great experience for students who wish to study abroad while also seeing the cradle of democracy firsthand.”
“Odyssey in Athens” is open to all Webster University students at all of its locations as well as all students from accredited institutions who are interested in this unique study abroad experience, including students from members of the Webster International Network of Schools (WINS), “Odyssey in Athens” affiliates and other associate institutions. Students can participate in the program for a semester, an entire year or for a summer.
The location of Webster’s Athens campus is in the historic area known as Plaka – at the base of the Acropolis and near the ancient Agora, as well as the National Archaeological Museum, the Cycladic Museum and the Benaki Museum.
Two buildings house classrooms, a computer lab, library, administrative offices and a cultural center. Students have an opportunity to be independent by living in shared furnished apartments in the Plaka area - right next to the Webster-Athens campus. Apartment housing includes kitchen facilities, air conditioned or fan-equipped rooms, laundry facilities and Internet.
Students also have access to a wide variety of cultural events, including concerts, recitals, dance and theater, international trade shows, conferences and symposiums, public lectures, gallery exhibits, sports events and marathons.
The “Odyssey in Athens” curriculum is unique in that it offers a diverse variety of accredited upper-level courses. Students can continue their programs of study and earn college credit that transfers back to their home institutions. There are no specific program requirements, but students are encouraged to take full advantage of the Greek language and culture courses.
All courses are taught in English by distinguished faculty from the United States and Europe. Courses surveying Greek civilization from the ancient times to the present cover art and archaeology, ethnography and culture, history, literature, politics and language. Courses with an international or cross-cultural focus include anthropology, business administration, communication, history, literature, political science, international studies, international relations, philosophy, music and economics.
In addition to the academic program, other class offerings could include traditional Greek dancing and cooking classes to a community service learning course where students work at rescue centers for injured sea turtles, camps for war refugees, and on other public service projects.
Excursions are an integral part of “Odyssey in Athens.” Students have an opportunity to learn firsthand about ancient sites. Mycenea, Epidavros, Meteora, Monemvasia, Sparti–Mystras and Delphi are a few of the destinations that Webster-Athens students visit. Students also take organized trips to the Greek islands. The cost of university-organized group travel is fully covered by the program fees. Students may use their free weekends to travel on their own. Travel within Greece is easily available from Athens at a relatively low cost.
Once their academic obligations are met, students are free to live their own lives and are encouraged to take full advantage of the cultural and recreational activities available to them. They also can participate in or attend any of the sporting events organized by Webster-Athens, including men’s basketball and soccer, and women’s volleyball. Similarly, student organizations such as the International Student’s Association and community service opportunities, such as working with the endangered sea turtles through the non-profit organization, Archelon, are popular choices for Webster-Athens students.
According to Dina Skias, director of student affairs at Webster’s Athens campus, the end of the spring semester came much too quickly for the “Odyssey in Athens” study abroad students.
“Overall it was a very productive semester,” Skias said. “The students were amazing and eager to learn about the Greek culture and society. They learned firsthand about current issues and were enthusiastic to get involved with opportunities that were presented to them. They also met many interesting people along the way.”
The semester was filled with many cultural and educational activities, such as multiple excursions around Greece that allowed the students to immerse themselves in the culture and history. Students had the opportunity to learn firsthand about Ancient Olympia, Delphi, Mycenae, Epidaurus and the monasteries of Meteora, in addition to the first capital city of Greece, Nafplio. Before the excursions, students attended lectures about the sites as part of their Greek Art and Archaeology course.
In addition to excursions around Greece, the students had several field trips to museums and archaeological sites in Athens. The majority of the sites visited were within a 10-minute walk from the Webster-Athens facilities.
Juan Carlos Jimenez, a senior Physics and Music student from Goucher College, said, "Coming to the ‘Odyssey in Athens’ program through Webster University has been one of the most influential experiences of my life. Being located in close walking distance of the Acropolis really puts me in the center of life here in Athens and it has allowed me to have a very independent experience because I could access anything I needed. The program itself is full of excursions which really gave me a strong grasp on what Greece is like outside of the city as well."
“Odyssey in Athens” students also participated in several cultural activities – from learning traditional Greek dances to learning how to prepare favorite Greek dishes. These activities helped them to feel more connected with the Greek culture and gave them a chance to socialize with their professors and other students, Skias said.
Jennifer Whitt, a junior International Relations student from Webster’s home campus, said that activities such as traditional dance and cooking classes, and visiting historic Greek villages such as Olympia, Delphi and Nafplio really immersed her in the Greek culture. “The staff members at Webster-Athens are absolutely phenomenal and have helped me broaden my cultural horizons and grow as a young adult,” she said. “I cannot thank them enough for all that they have done here to make my study abroad experiences one of the best times of my life!”
“Odyssey in Athens” students also were involved with several community service projects throughout the semester. They helped care for injured sea turtles at the Archelon Sea Turtle Rescue Center and participated in various projects for refugees in Greece. One of the projects involved making sandwiches for refugee men, women and children who set up camp around the port of Piraeus. The students, in addition to faculty and staff, collected money for the purchase of ingredients to make more than 300 sandwiches which were then delivered to the refugees. Similarly, students collected and donated supplies for the refugee camp, Eleonas, which houses approximately 1,000 refugees and is in constant need of diapers, baby food, canned milk, sanitary items and medicine.
Celia Welch, a junior Anthropology and Sociology student from Goucher College, said being able to do service allowed her to see firsthand the extent of the refugee crisis instead of relying on news reports for her information. “I was able to reflect on my experiences and it allowed me to really think and analyze what I was experiencing,” she said.
“This time in Greece will always remain with them, as Greece has become their second home,” Skias said. “We wish them well on their future endeavors and encourage them to stay in touch with their Webster Athens family.”
Everyone says that studying abroad is one of the best things you can do while you are in college. They were not lying. Having the opportunity to study abroad in Athens, Greece, was the chance of a lifetime and is one of the greatest highlights of my life. It developed me as a student and young adult in an ever-globalizing world. I hope to never forget the memories and friends I made while on the adventure of a lifetime.
Although the Webster Athens campus is one of the newest global campuses opened to Webster students, it is well-equipped in facilities and staff for the students. The staff is what really made the campus so wonderful. The Director of Students and professors helped to create a community and foster meaningful relationships through the excursions hosted by the university, Greek cooking classes in the apartments, and always being willing to be there for the students. They were constantly going above and beyond. For example, when one of my roommates came down with appendicitis and needed immediate surgery close to the end of the semester, the staff was with her every step of the way and came and cooked for us days after her procedure to ensure that she was well-attended-to. Additionally, many of the professors were native Greeks who were able to give well-informed insights into the culture, history and current state of Greece.
Currently, there is a lot of talk about what is happening in Greece, from their financial crisis to the Syrian Refugee influx. Many people fear that the country is unstable; however, there could not be a better place to study abroad for Webster students! The economic state makes shopping a guilt-free pleasure while having access to fresh foods, handmade souvenirs and delicious food. The sites are stunning, from the Acropolis to the first Olympic Stadium. Greece offers treasures for the professional historian or the occasional art appreciator alike.
The classes offered were just as life-changing, from the scuba diving class that allowed you to earn a diving certification to the Greek language class that gave you the ability to speak to the locals. The most impactful class offered though, was the community service learning course. This course was one of the most meaningful experiences throughout my time in Greece and gave me the opportunity to volunteer throughout the semester at a Sea Turtle Rescue Center, called Archelon, and a Refugee Center, named Caritas. By volunteering at these organizations, I was able to see global suffering first hand of both wildlife and mankind. At Archelon, my fellow students and I would wash injured turtles, help to feed them, and maintain their temporary habitats in hopes that, once they recovered, they could be released back into the wild.
At Caritas, I served as an assistant in the kitchen which served refugees a free meal, and I also helped to lead them from public areas, where many of them had just arrived in the early morning, to the refugee center to receive donations and other amenities. Additionally, my colleagues and I hosted a Holiday party at the Refugee Center for children in December by raising support and organizing the event. More than 100 children and their families came and were able to play games, watch live entertainment and be fed. Because of this class, I was able to see that community service benefits everyone. It benefits those in need, the volunteers, and ultimately the culture or situation of a street, neighborhood, or even a country. For volunteers, it gives an opportunity to understand the history, threats and challenges of another being. For example, I would have never have had the opportunity to understand and study the events happening in the Middle East, whereas before, I knew little to nothing about the war happening in Syria. By volunteering at Caritas, I feel that I was able to see history in the making and empathize better with those fleeing from the war.
When I wasn’t in class or volunteering, I was leaning how to be an independent young adult and how to submerge myself in a rich, different culture other than my own. The apartments for the students had a full kitchen for us to learn how to cook and grocery shop for ourselves. When I wasn’t cooking authentic Greek foods or seeing architectural wonders, I traveled to nearby countries to experience other European cultures. I also made friends from Webster University and the University of Athens who became my traveling companions and closest comrades.
Professionally, I was able to make global connections and experience organizational problem solving and communication. My experience volunteering and being in a classroom setting helped to develop my teamwork abilities with people from all over the world who were involved in humanitarian efforts and my interpersonal relationship skills were developed from my experiences in and out of the classroom.
After four short months in Greece, I am a certified scuba diver, a beginning Greek speaker, and a person who has changed for the better. I cannot thank the University and Greece enough for giving me the experience of a lifetime. I can only hope that the Athens campus thrives and allows other students to have as an amazing experience as I did.