The students spontaneously organized a collaborative painting activity on the beach at sunset.

Fayette professor leads study abroad experience in Athens

This summer, Aris Karagiorgakis, assistant teaching professor of psychology at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, offered a unique study-abroad experience in Athens, Greece open to all Penn State students.

Fourteen students enrolled in the immersive six-week program, which featured two concurrent courses, Introduction to Psychologies of Religion (PSYCH 230) and Cross-Cultural Psychology (PSYCH 232).

The group explored famous monasteries, ancient ruins and temples, including the Temple of Poseidon and the Temple of Aphaea on the island of Aegina; visited the Byzantine and Christian Museum, the Jewish Museum of Athens, the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art and more; and even toured the Hellenic Parliament.

Daily lectures and activities — including cooking and dancing lessons — explored Greek culture, environmental attitudes, mental health stigma, education and science, their economic crisis and more. The group met with a social worker at Caritas Hellas, an organization dedicated to helping refugees and migrants, and learned about homelessness in Athens on the Shedia Invisible Tour.

Nina Papathanasopoulou, a faculty member of the College Year in Athens program, provided guest lectures along the way. Participants also had the opportunity to meet students at the American College of Greece, who shared their educational experiences and perspectives.

Student testimonials

“This summer was my first time participating in a study abroad opportunity and my first time out of the country,” said Nina Dillon, a Cranberry Township resident expected to graduate from University Park in 2024. “It was cool to relate the material we were learning outside of the classroom to the material we were learning inside the classroom. There was this bakery that my classmates and I would go to every morning before class, and we really connected with the owner, Dimitris. He taught us a lot about Greek culture.”

“All of us became good friends,” said Rachel Tambor, a junior psychology major at University Park. “I would recommend studying abroad to any student. I think it is really important to get out of your comfort zone and experience different cultures. It's a great way to make friends and new memories.”

"The classes connected me with the rich history and unique culture that has developed in Greece over time,” said Charmaine Wood, a senior psychology student from Claymont, Delaware. “Studying abroad helps us become more open-minded and increases our mindset of being global citizens. The latter of which is crucial in this digital age where we are all so connected, in my opinion.”

“I was a little nervous as this was my first time out of the country, but it was the most influential and life-changing experience,” said Aubrianna Navaroli, from Warren, Pennsylvania, who expects to graduate from University Park in 2024. “As a molecular biology student, I have not had a lot of time to explore my other interests academically outside of biology, so being a part of the program allowed me to branch out and learn about an equally interesting field.”

“In short, it was the best experience of my life. It definitely changed me as a person for the better and I learned so much about my Greek heritage and my American nationality. Being immersed in the culture of my ancestors made the entire experience way more personal,” said Olivia Moukas, a senior English major from New York City.

Creating space for discovery

“Studying abroad provides students with the opportunity to have a unique collective experience with peers that can’t be duplicated class to class or destination to destination,” said Karagiorgakis. “When designing the itinerary for a six-week program, I’m able to build in time for organic opportunities and choices. For example, the group suggested that we all paint together on the beach at sunset. It was an absolutely unbelievable experience that the students coordinated themselves and made possible.”

Karagiorgakis will again offer this study abroad experience in the summer of 2023, open to all Penn State students, in addition to the Psychologies of Religion (PSYCH 230) in Istanbul, Turkey during the week of Spring Break in March 2023. Interested students may contact him directly at [email protected].