It’s evening in Athens when the music starts. It’s a welcome call to IU study abroad students; after days of travel, meetings, and too many handshakes to count, the 24 business students finally have a chance to pull back from conference room discussions and take to the bustling crowds of the city. Though they’re far from home—well over five thousand miles from the Bloomington campus—they find themselves falling into place alongside Greek students, eagerly joining them in a pastime that both groups know well: dance.
American dances, like many things in the United States, are direct. Think of the Cha Cha Slide—the lyrics literally give you instructions! IU students quickly find that’s not the case in Greece. There’s certainly no enthusiastic voice telling you which direction to slide, when to clap your hands, or just how smooth to cha-cha.
In traditional Greek dances the spirit of community forms itself into a circle of dancers. Anyone can join and you don’t need a partner. Outsiders are welcomed into the circle and learn the steps in real time by following the people on either side of them, no translations necessary. The act of inviting outsiders into the circle is philoxenia, friendliness towards the stranger, a concept as ancient as the dance itself…and it works just as well today as it has throughout history! Despite the differences in their steps, the students meet each other on the dance floor and move to the music, sparking a connection that burns across any cultural divides.
IU’s connection with Greece didn’t start with dance (as groovy as that might be). Over 70 years before these students connected with their Greek counterparts, one of IU’s most recognizable figures made his way to the Mediterranean. Herman B Wells was initially called to Greece on behalf of Indiana University in 1946 to observe the first election following World War II. An outspoken advocate for international partnerships, Wells encouraged connections with Greece and its culture—as well as all world cultures—long after returning from the trip. In 1950, the first summer language workshop in less commonly taught languages was conducted under the encouragement of President Wells. The next year, he established the International Center on the Bloomington campus for student use, and the connection to Greece was not forgotten.
The 1960s saw the establishment of the Modern Greek language studies program at IU, compounded by the work of professor and translator Willis Barnstone, who helped develop the Modern Greek Program and enabled students to flourish in the subject. Historians Barbara and Charles Jelavich trained graduate students and supervised dissertations with Greek topics, and IU expanded beyond foreign language studies to also support academics, diplomats, and artists, among others, all of whom worked to expand knowledge and appreciation of Greek culture. From a single visit and budding relationships with Greek universities, IU saw a groundswell of efforts to increase collaborations and enabled students to explore opportunities between institutions, building a bridge between Indiana and Greece that has cultivated an environment of collaboration and growth over the last 75 years.
Professional and academic outreach to Greek institutions continues with robust support from international networks, like the Institute of International Education (IIE). Through IIE, a large organization that connects universities across the world, IU delegates recently met in Athens, Greece, with over 50 other American and Greek universities at the Pharos Summit 2022: Greek-U.S. Collaboration in Higher Education to help establish sustainable partnerships between institutions. With the foundations, resources, and expertise of Greek partners compounded with those of IU, students and faculty on both ends of the connection reap the benefits of the global exchange of ideas. Delegates at the Pharos Summit particularly focused on faculty collaboration, joint research, and student exchange opportunities.
“This was my first visit to Greece and I was very impressed by the quality of the institutions and their willingness to partner,” said Associate Vice President for International Affairs Shawn Reynolds. “There are many opportunities for future collaboration in joint research and student mobility. Greece will certainly be a very attractive destination for our study abroad efforts.”
Study abroad opportunities abound at IU, made possible by faculty and students with specific goals and learning outcomes in mind and the motivation to achieve them.
Professor Tatiana Kolovouis a senior lecturer at the Kelley School of Business and native Greek, leads the annual short-term study abroad experiences in Greece that allowed these 24 business students to immerses themselves in the social, professional, and academic cultures of the country. To be clear, this isn’t a tourist trip for leisure and entertainment. Over the course of just ten days, her students attend nearly ten professional meetings, explore museums and local businesses, and give professional advice and consultation to Greek businesses seeking to expand internationally. Like Herman B Wells, Kolovou treats the experience as an opportunity for academic and professional growth between international partners. That’s not the only way Wells’ efforts inspired her, Kolovou says.
“Herman B Wells had an unending enthusiasm for Greek culture on the IU campus,” she explains, “and not just Greek life—Greek culture. He attended every club meeting, every dinner, every celebration. Knowing how passionate he was, encouraging and supporting our students… I was very touched. He knew who we were as Greeks and wanted to share the beauty of the culture we take so much pride in.”
Kolovou’s annual trip works to expose students to that very culture. Though many activities in the study abroad experience are professional or educational, the students get the chance to explore life in Greece from a social perspective, too—and the culture shocks that come with it. An amused Kolovou details Greeks’ fanatic love of coffee, very fancy nightclub dress codes, their philosophical discussions as a means of casual conversation, and of course dancing. Greek students learn 374 customary dances in high school! Compare that to American square-dancing lessons in gym class, and it is clear why IU students get such a surprise on the Greek dance floor.
It’s an invaluable opportunity for students to experience culture firsthand, and engaging with Greece in person nourishes growth and connection between students much faster than studying it in a book would.Tatiana Kolovou
Kolovou’s enthusiasm is shared across departments, with long-standing study abroad programs traveling to the country from the Hamilton Lugar School for Global and International Studies (HLS) to the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Frank Hess, director and senior lecturer with the Institute for European Studies at HLS not only participated in the Pharos Summit, he takes students on his own study abroad experience each year.
I have been spending significant amounts of time in Greece annually for over 25 years. The beauty of the country is exceeded only by the hospitality of its people. Greece’s geographical position, history, and widespread competence in English make it an ideal destination for a variety of study abroad programs. The faculties of its universities are industrious and eager to develop ties with American institutions that will expand the horizons of their research and benefit their students.Frank Hess
Ultimately, this is what international university partnerships aim to achieve: growth and connection, whether it’s through research, business, technology, art, or (of course) dance. Herman B Wells started his journey toward Greek partnership with a single visit. He brought back with him a drive that he shared with the people around him—motivation to explore the possibilities of international connection. Through faculty-led study abroad and institutional partnerships, the connection to Greece and global exchange remains as strong today as it was in the mid-40s of Well’s visit.
Did this story inspire you to connect? You can explore study abroad opportunities in Greece like the O’Neill School’s Civic Leaders Program led by Paul Helmke exploring history and democracy, Frank Hess’s Food and Cultures of Greece, or Tatiana Kolovou’s Business Culture of Greece.
To explore IU’s primary partnerships or connect with researchers in Greece (and elsewhere around the globe), check out IU’s registry of partnerships