Fulbright Foundation Greece promotes education, culture and exchange between Greece and the United States for more than 60 years. The story of a hallmark educational foundation unfolds below:
Fulbright Greece, established in 1948, is the oldest Fulbright Program in Europe and the second oldest in the world.
At the age of 20, Rita Pipinopoulou- Panouria embarked on a nine-day journey to New York in 1955 as one of the first generations of Greek Fulbrighters. Far from her home in Larissa, Greece, Rita excelled, immersing herself in academic and cultural life at the University of Kansas. After the academic year, she went on to explore much of the United States, an experience that enriched her understanding and enthusiasm for American culture. By way of Greyhound bus, Rita rented a pillow for five cents per trip, travelled through the nights and visited U.S. cities by day— San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Chicago, to name just a few. “People outside of the U.S. do not realize how vast and diverse the country is. It makes it very difficult to generalize,” says Mrs. Panouria.
“Fulbright is about bringing people together from different countries, age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds”.
Senator J. William Fulbright spearheaded the Fulbright program after the Second World War to foster educational and cultural exchanges that he believed would oppose the conflict and violence of nuclear war. It was established under the premise that intimate intercultural understanding, the kind experienced by Mrs. Panouria during her grant period 60 years ago, could promote peace of global proportions.
Fulbright Greece, established in 1948, is the oldest Fulbright Program in Europe and the second oldest in the world. Since its inception, the program has served as a major cultural and intellectual bridge between Greece and the United States, providing grants to more than 5,000 American and Greek citizens to study, lecture and conduct research in each other’s countries.
According to Artemis Zenetou, Executive Director of the Fulbright Foundation in Greece, the key to the relevance and success of the program is its synonymy with mutual understanding, education, and the “multiplier effect”—the fruits of the exchanges are inevitably shared among peers, communities and nations. “Fulbright is about bringing people together from different countries, age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds. This process is necessary just as much today as it was when the program began. We are proud to instigate and be the hub for these exchanges,” says Mrs. Zenetou.
As Executive Director, Mrs. Zenetou is eager to innovate Fulbright initiatives and cultivate partnerships across the globe. Fulbright Greece, has organized programs like the “New Symposium.” In collaboration with the International Writing Program (IWP) in Iowa and under the auspices of the Department of State, this program attracted more than 40 writers, poets and artists from 20 different countries to the Greek island of Paros. “Through their stories and experiences, they became excellent ambassadors of our country,” says Mrs. Zenetou. The “Great Ideas” series was another Fulbright initiative, organized with the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, that called on leaders in the U.S. to have public talks in Greece from a broad range of topics—from business and agriculture to art. Among the notable speakers were Glen Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Richard Levin, former president of Yale University; Jim Giannopoulos, CEO of Fox Film Entertainment; and Ruth Faden, Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.
The Foundation will also engage Fulbright alumni, and academics and teachers of Greek origin in the U.S. to promote study abroad opportunities in Greece.
Recently, Mrs. Zenetou has aligned Fulbright Greece with the new agenda of the Institute of International Exchange (IIE) that ambitiously aims to double the number of students who study abroad by the end of the decade. The Foundation will play a vital role in promoting Greece as an educational destination by developing a comprehensive list of study opportunities in the country and coordinating cultural and educational programs between Greece and the U.S. The Foundation will also engage Fulbright alumni, and academics and teachers of Greek origin in the U.S. to promote study abroad opportunities in Greece. This initiative not only marks another dimension to the relationship between Greece and the United States—it also reflects the significant advances made in Greek universities.
When the Fulbright program first began, educational opportunities in the country were limited due to language barriers and a traditional understanding of available subject matter. Although there are still few courses offered in English, the language is now spoken in all Greek universities, and independent research programs are also available for non-Greek speakers. Additionally, Greek universities now attract students interested in a diverse range of subject areas—like marine biology and sociology, not only classics and archaeology. These changes have made Greek universities more accessible to international students.
Its aim is global, but the success of the Fulbright program begins with investments in individuals.
And Fulbright Greece is actively pursuing further advancements. For the next three academic years, the Foundation is committed to emphasizing scholarship programs that will have an immediate impact on the Greek educational system. These will be short-term grants for educators and scholars who have established careers and hold professional positions in universities, research centers, and schools in Greece. Grantees will benefit from establishing international networks and linkages, and return to Greece to apply new expertise.
Its aim is global, but the success of the Fulbright program begins with investments in individuals. “It is like planting seeds and it takes some time for them to blossom,” says Mrs. Zenetou. “Some results will be beautiful flowers with a short life. Others are trees with a longer life that produce fruit and carry on for years.” This often gives birth to unexpected projects that become significant aspects of one’s life work.
In the early 1960s, Greek educator Nicholaos Lichnaropoulos travelled to the United States with a Fulbright grant— nearly 40 years later, he presented Fulbright with a book. Dream Journey is a detailed account of his experience from the initial interview with Fulbright, his flight to the U.S., the people he met, and lessons he learned during his period abroad. The book is a manifestation of the diary Nicholaos kept in order to share with his family the journey that he writes, was beautiful and marked his soul permanently. It changed him personally and professionally—aside from geographical and cultural impressions, he was particularly impacted by his experiences and the knowledge he gained from the U.S. educational system.
Kristina Williamson, American artist and photographer from Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania, was awarded a Fulbright to Greece in 2004 where she photographed daily life on Kythera—an island in the southernmost point of Peloponnese on the way to Crete. In 2014, years after her grant period, she published a monograph where she explores the intersection of art, ethnography and globalization in her intimate study of the Greek island. Kristina writes affectionately of Stavroula, one of the first individuals she photographed in the village of Perlegkianika, as the woman stood peacefully against the backdrop of a grey stone wall. “Through this work, I had wanted to share the island’s story in photographs, but the Kytherians had larger plans, accepting me warmly into their community, lives, and homes,” writes Kristina.
Fulbright fosters organic diplomacy, proving for generations how individual journeys created through education can weave together nations in peace.
Williamson is a part of Art Supports Education – Fulbright Alumni Art Series, a program launched in 2010 as a way to encourage grassroots funding for Fulbright’s transformative grants. This is just one way Fulbright Greece is working to ensure the future of the scholarship program. With 500 euros or less, donors receive a work of art that would cost much more if purchased from a gallery. “Despite a tightening budget, the support of scholarship and education is more critical than ever. Education is the key to developing the future labor force of the country – as is maintaining ties and synergies between the U.S. and Greece.” Since the art program is subsidized by the Department of State, the entire donation enters the scholarship pot— the cost of paying the artists is through the grant. “It is a way our alumni artists pass the baton,” says Mrs. Zenetou, “creating a work of art and helping to support future grantees.”
The investments made in individuals by Fulbright are shared in various ways with local communities and often manifest in a global capacity. “Because Fulbright grantees always find a way to give back,” says Mrs. Zenetou. The dedication to the program continues for years after a scholar’s or artist’s grant period and this is a testament to the strength and impact of the program.
According to Mrs. Zenetou, “Fulbright is about a journey without a particular final destination. It is about stories that go on for long periods of time, often for generations.” Fulbright’s success resides in its ability to cultivate empathy through education and exchange, through the development of international friendships and partnerships that mark individuals and communities permanently. In this way, Fulbright fosters organic and intimate diplomacy, proving for generations how individual journeys and relationships created through education and mutual understanding can weave together nations in peace.
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Article photos by Alexandros Manopoulos and Fulbright Foundation Greece courtesy