Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fulbright Greece

How do you say hello to an ambassador?  With a firm handshake and confident look into the eyes...just as I was taught in cotillion lessons as a seventh grader.

As a Fulbright grantee, I had the opportunity to put those lessons to work last week.  The greeting, not the dancing.

The biggest hightlight of our trip, outside of the academic enrichment and touring experiences that comprise most of each day, was the opportunity to attend the Fulbright (Greece) Annual Award Ceremony on Wednesday, June 22.  To be a Fulbright grantee is an honor like no other.

The awards ceremony and reception was hosted by Mr. Thomas Miller, Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Athens.  The guest list included all current Fulbright scholars (Greek citizens ready to embark upon their exchange to the U.S., American citizens either finishing up their year in Greece or just beginning their exchange), Fulbright Alumni, Fulbright donors, the Executive Director of the Fulbright Foundation in Greece (Artemis Zenetou), and Ambassador David Bennett Smith.  Oh, it might seem obvious, but our group (The Fulbright Hays Seminar Abroad group) falls into the "current Fulbright scholar" category.  In all, there were, perhaps, 125 people in attendence.

The Miller's residence was spectacular.  At least the back yard was; that is where the reception was held.  The multi-level home, faint pink (if I recall correctly) with a red tile roof and a patio that stretched across two thirds the length of the home, served as a lovely backdrop to the lush green grass that covered much of the expansive back yard.  Magnolia trees and azaleas were among the rich landscaping.  A fountain bubbled in one part of the yard.  The weather was pleasant and dry.  As I took in what I saw, I could have easily been on Longridge Avenue.

The Fubright Foundation in Greece hosts an Awards Reception once a year; our group just happened to be in Athens at the time of this year's gala.  Lucky for us! I did my best to meet as many of these bright minds as I possible could.

I had a long conversation with a young Greek who is a pianist; as a Fulbright Artists and Art Scholar he will be studying at UCLA for a year.  He was most interested in knowing if he would really need a car while in LA!  Boy, will he learn a lot from his American experience!  I met 3 Greek graduate students who will be studying architecture: at Berkely, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT.

I spoke with a research scholar who is a professor at one of the Universities in Athens.  She is a plant biologist and will be collaborating with an expert at Harvard University from the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.  Obviously my conversation with her about her field of expertise was extrordinarily superficial; if only my father-in-law had been there!  He would had a lively conversation with her, I'm just sure of it!

At one point I found myself without anyone to talk to; I simply walked up to a couple and extended my hand to them.  He was a Fulbright alumnus who had flown down from Thessolaniki just for this event.  His wife was a PhD and taught at the Univerisity of Thessolaniki...I can't remember which department!  He does architecture-related work, with a focus on construction/preservation in areas, like Greece, where seismic activity is great.  When I told him that our group was going to visit the Parthenon and the New Acropolis Museum the next day, he mentioned that one of his jobs was to, basically, engineer the security of the statues in the museum in the case of an earthquake.  Wow!
I chatted with three members of the American Embassy.  One was a student intern from Winchester, MA, who had been studying abroad for the past semester and (on somewhat of a lark) applied for an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Greece.  Much of her internship involved handling administrative details for the Special Olympics, which were to begin within days.  Another woman was a Greek American.  She had lived her whole life in the U.S. (again, in New England) until her broadcasting job brought her to Athens for the Olympics in 2004.  There, she met her husband and settled in Athens.  The last member of the Embassy's office staff I met was one of the administrative assistants, a native Greek who had worked at the Embassy for over 30 years.  We all agreed that she was the one with the true inside scoop!

Finally, I picked the brains of the two young American graduate students who were finishing up their year in Greece.  Their experiences had been extraordinary and life changing.  "As an old person" (which is how I often describe myself), it is so envigorating to see young people embrace the lives that stand before them, ready to be experienced.  I could only think of David, over and over again, as I spoke with these young women, and as I heard echoing in my mind the many Fulbright alumni with whom we have met during our tour...."Oh my gosh," I kept thinking to myself.  "David needs to do this.  He would be the perfect Fulbright Scholar."  (As I write this I'm finding myself saying, "Well, what about Erin and Philip?  Wouldn't they be equally perfect in those shoes?"  Proud mom that I am....of course!  I suppose I haven't thought that far ahead!)

Back to the garden reception.  I had seized the moment and engaged with many people within this extraordinary group.  Yet I could hardly believe that my own name appeared on the heavy stock program.  American Scholars.  Summer Fulbright-Hays Cultural Enrichment Seminar.  It's right there.  My name.  The honor of a lifetime.

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