A World Apart, Connected

By Jamie Tario

Despite the looming uncertainty surrounding international travel and study abroad programs, SUNY Empire State College’s long tradition of empowering students and preparing graduates for the rigors of the world endures.

When former President Jim Malatras and Francesca Cichello, executive director of international education at SUNY Empire, traveled to Athens, Greece, and Prague, Czech Republic, in early 2020, their objective to expand existing, immersive academic and personal experiences for students seemed simple.

But Malatras, Cichello, Elias Foutsis, president of New York College in Athens, and Sotiris Foutsis, general manager of University of New York in Prague, decided simple didn’t work. As a collective, and in response to a dynamic global student body, they instead created new avenues for exploration through a blend of innovative technology and interactive, rich experiences cultivated to introduce students studying abroad to the societal shifts through the centuries and how that history has shaped our world today.

What better way to learn about ancient Greece and its influence on politics, law, art, literature, economics, and philosophy than to go to Athens and dive into a curriculum focused on the origins of modern society? Living like a native for two weeks in New York College-provided housing, SUNY Empire students will enjoy archaeologist-guided field tours of ancient monuments, such as the Acropolis, the Athenian Agora, and Delphi. With a campus located within walking distance from the historic neighborhood Plaka, the House of Parliament, the National Library, the National Gymnastic Association venue, and the National Garden, the possibilities for excursions exploring history are endless.

In Prague, where the word “robot” first originated, students can walk the Malá Strana district and search for hidden messages in the world’s oldest astronomical clock. Some students may opt to stay for a two-week residency, while others may choose to extend their adventures abroad for as long as two years while earning a degree in business administration, communications and media, international relations, psychology, English language and literature, or information technology. In-development programs will focus on the cuisine that has shaped Czech culture and timely international policy topics. Coursework will examine topics ranging from the effects of mass migration in Europe — and the resulting needs of displaced refugees — to marijuana laws in the U.S. and Europe. Both of these new programs will be offered to students through a virtual exchange program, allowing them to interact and learn in virtual classrooms based in New York.

While SUNY Empire students have been fortunate to experience Athens and Prague for decades, students in those cities have never had the privilege to study in New York state. And now they will. During visits to New York College and UNYP, Malatras signed new partnership agreements with each institution with the goal of contributing to cross-cultural learning, enhancing international relations, and broadening the global perspectives of students.

The Athens and Prague exchange programs were scheduled to begin in August 2020 and January 2021, respectively. Both are currently on hold due to current international travel restrictions because of COVID-19, but SUNY Empire State College and its partners at New York College and UNYP remain committed to honoring its study abroad and exchange programs.