This summer was a special experience for two young Greeks who participated in the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Institute (BFTF), June 22-July 24 2017. The institute is organized under the auspices of the State Department and hosts 55 students ages 16-18, from 45 European and Eurasian countries and 10 U.S. States. It is organized by a multinational staff of directors and mentors that support the fellows throughout the whole institute. The BFTF takes place every summer for four weeks at Wake Forest University in North Carolina
This year, Greece was represented by Spyros Bazios who recently graduated from high school in Lesbos and by Efthymios Skoufas, who is a 2010 BFTF Alumni invited to participate as a mentor.
As Efthymios states: “It is a unique opportunity for a young person to live and exchange ideas with 54 other young fellows from around the world and participate in specially-designed lectures and activities that focus on civic engagement principles. The fellows also familiarize themselves with the American educational and political system, as well as with the everyday life of Americans, obtaining a complete picture of the American culture throughout their stay.”
Spyros is 18 years old and recently graduated from the 4th High School of Lesvos. In March he applied for BFTF 2017 and a few months later he found himself in Wake Forest University, as the Greek BFTF fellow. In his own words: “Anything I had heard or read about the BFTF could not come close to the feelings or the experiences I obtained during my stay in the U.S. Everything surpassed my wildest expectations.”
The program consists of four distinct parts, with the first week focused on lectures and activities delivered by university professors. Their main themes are debating, conflict resolution, social responsibility and environmental awareness.
The second week consists of a trip to Philadelphia and Washington D.C., during which the fellows visit historical monuments, the Constitution Center and governmental agencies. The most remarkable moment of the whole trip is the visit to the State Department.
As Spyros states: “The visit to the State Department and the activities and simulations that took place there helped define us as BFTF fellows. It was a particular honor to meet with U.S. diplomats and discuss with them in depth about the unbreakable bonds that connect Europe and the U.S.”
After the conclusion of the road trip, the fellows return to North Carolina for a 10-day homestay with American families, with the aim to obtain a full overview of the culture and way of life in the U.S.
According to Spyros, “The homestay with my American family helped me understand their lifestyle and it was full of new experiences and unforgettable moments. The fact that my roommate was the fellow from Turkey, who became one of my best friends, made it even better. I am extremely thankful to all the families who opened their homes and their hearts to the BFTF fellows.”
The institute concludes with workshops on civic engagement. The fellows develop their ability to intervene and provide solutions for problems back in their communities and become young leaders and change-makers. Most of this week’s activities are led by the mentors of the institute.
According to Efthymios: “The teaching methodology is extremely important, as it is based on peer-to-peer education and ensures that the fellows obtain the knowledge and the resources they need to use in their own future initiatives. Every mentor of the BFTF pursues studies in a different field and brings a different perspective to the institute. We try to prepare the fellows in every possible way and set them up for success upon their return to their countries.”
The BFTF employs a group of seven mentors, three of them being Europeans and Alumni of the institute. Efthymios, who is in his fifth year of studies at the Department of Pharmacy of the University of Patras, was selected for a second consecutive year as a mentor and part of the staff.
As he describes: “Our tasks extend to every part of the BFTF, from practical issues of preparation for events and workshops, to whatever the fellows need throughout the whole month. It is a beautiful and rewarding experience, through which we strive to guide them in the best possible way, given our previous experiences in international conferences. Above all, we are extremely proud to see the fellows bind together as a group and form lifelong bonds of friendship. Every year, the institute leads to a creation of a global family of young people who are determined for change.”
Finally, Efthymios and Spyros stated: “We would like to thank the U.S. Embassy in Athens for the support in every step of the BFTF.”
For more information regarding the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Institute (BFTF), please visit these social media links:
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/BftfWakeForestUniversity/
Instragram : https://www.instagram.com/bftfwfu/