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The Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship changed the lives of two young Greeks from Kozani

18 September 2014

Michalis Chaintoutis -- From the moment the results of the selection process came out and up to the 28th of June, I hadn't actually realized what BFTF really held for me. "4 weeks in the United States of America with young people from all around Europe and the US, interested in the field of study I have been dreaming about ever since I was child; diplomacy". This brief overview of BFTF sounds shallow and mediocre to all BFTFers now. However high my expectations of the whole stay in America might have been, they were all exceeded from the very first days of the Ben Franklin program.

Dr. Allan Louden, the founder of the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute, didn't need a lot of words to summarize the main objectives of the Program, when he talked to us on the first day; "First, on the 26th of July you will not be the same person as you are today. And second, on the 26th of July all of you will be crying." Back then, we all thought that both statements were too profound, yet it did not take us long to confirm them ourselves.

I still remember the 28th of June as if it were yesterday. I was the first to arrive at the gate to Washington, DC of Frankfurt Airport, along with Anna, the Greek fellow who went to the same program in Purdue University, Indiana. Soon, Facebook-familiar faces started showing up. I had already talked to most of them on Facebook or Skype but meeting them in person was a totally different issue. After all the fellows flying to America from Frankfurt gathered in front of the designated gate and after some typical questions were asked to break the ice, we all decided to roam around the airport together until the boarding time. Although we barely knew each other, we soon found ways to come closer and discovered loads of common passions and interests. And the global friendships so began.

BFTF is only the beginning, in the sense that it was the first step towards a path I never thought I would find myself driven in. BFTF changed me for the better and shaped me to who I am today, giving me a brand new perception of community and a strong enthusiasm to keep working hard to pursue a career in diplomacy, as a delegate of my country abroad. BFTF is the best way for an older teen to learn about the opportunities and challenges of civil society and gain knowledge and experiences that will equip him/her for leadership roles. Inspired by BFTF, I have already started to search out similar programs, related to international relations, debate and advocacy, and I will be taking part in the MEU Creta 2014 and the "Peace Building in Eastern Europe" Conference in Chisinau, Moldova and Kiev, Ukraine, a Program organized by BFTF 2010 Alumni.

I am so lucky that the region of Kozani was selected for the Greek representation for BFTF 2014 and I am so lucky and honored to have been selected among so many equally-skilled students.

Again, special thanks to all my fellow BFTFers! I cannot wait to see what the future holds for us and how far each fellow will go in life!

 

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Anna Almpani -- This year I was given the amazing opportunity to travel to the U.S.A. as a part of a -now very special to me- program, named Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship, or simply B.F.T.F. The program's main aim is for young students, aged from 16 to 18, to develop respect and understanding towards each and everyone's cultures and differences but also learn how to practice diplomacy. And thanks to the U.S. Department of State I can now say that I have met and become friends with kids from the United States but also from 34 different European countries. The mutual respect that we now have for each other cannot be denied. But it ended up being more than just respect. We now call ourselves a family. Our mentors are now more like friends to us. The other participants of the program not just friends or best friends. We are like siblings. And we know that we're always going to be there for each other.

All in all, I truly believe that this program has changed in a way my point of view. I've learned that everything that is said about countries and its people is not, in any case, always true. I developed friendships that I am sure are going to last for the rest of my life and if I had the chance I would push the "replay" button. B.F.T.F. is a once in a lifetime experience and I am so grateful I got to be a part of it.

 

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