GoAbroad Interview

Katie Sievers - Associate Director of Campus Relations

Katie Sievers - Associate Director of Campus Relations

Working from College Year in Athens' North American office as the point of contact for students and their schools before departure, Katie helps students prepare for life-changing semesters and summers in Greece. Katie was led to the field by international experiences in Uruguay, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout Europe. She is dedicated to ensuring students have their own positively transformative adventures abroad.

How long have you been with College Year in Athens (CYA)? How were you first introduced to CYA?

I’ve been with CYA since July 2015. One of my best friends had studied with CYA while we were undergraduates, and I knew the program by its wonderful reputation. I knew I wanted to go into the education abroad field and live in the Boston area, and when I saw CYA had an opening in Cambridge, I applied immediately and was welcomed warmly by the amazing team!

Biking in Greece
Biking through the beautiful Greek countryside!

Why do you think Greece specifically is a great place to study abroad?

Greece, and Athens specifically, is a place where history is palpable and contemporary conversations are extremely poignant. For an international relations or political science student, for example, studying migration in Greece is important in understanding the refugee situation, one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. And as the birthplace of democracy, Greece is an ideal location for classics or history students. There is truly no academic discipline that is completely separated from Greece, and our professors really bring those disciplines to life through on-site courses and study-trips to key sites in Athens and other parts of Greece.

Greece is a beautiful, hospitable country with so much to offer!

What is the ideal College Year in Athens student like?

It’s impossible to sum up an “ideal” student in specific terms. Our students come from vastly different backgrounds and have hugely varying interests, both academically and personally. One of the fantastic things about CYA is that we offer an extremely wide curriculum to encompass this diversity, and as a metropolitan city Athens is the prime location to pursue anything from the arts to business to volunteer service.

Describe an average day in the life of a CYA student.

Let's follow the path of an art student interested in theatre; let’s name her Athena. Athena wakes up and makes breakfast to eat on her balcony, overlooking the neighbor’s garden in the Pangrati neighborhood. She heads to the cafe next door, where she’s greeted with a cheerful “Kalimera, Athena!” and a cookie as she orders a cappuccino freddo.

Visiting the Acropolis
On site at the Acropolis

She heads to class, walking a few minutes down the road, stopping every once in awhile to pet the friendly neighborhood street cats, and walks upstairs to her class in the Academic Center. Glancing out of the classroom window at the Acropolis (which will never get old), she and nine classmates discuss contemporary Greek politics and society; using her artist’s lens, she reflects on how the political situation globally and in Greece has impacted the street art she has seen in Athens.

Athena heads to lunch in CYA’s cafeteria, where she chats with classmates about their plans for the night; they will be going to a theatre performance downtown (part of the 2017 Documenta exhibition) at one of the 100+ theatres in the city. After her next Modern Greek language course, she meets with a professor about an upcoming paper, spends some time doing classwork in the library, checks her calendar (at this time tomorrow, she’ll be volunteering at a gallery down the street), then heads out for a run across the street through the National Gardens. As the sun goes down and her Greek neighbors start to head to dinner, Athena and her friends grab souvlaki (a delicious gyro for under 2 Euros!) on their way to the theatre.

What does a typical College Year in Athens orientation package include?

Orientation starts before departure, when I take accepted students through two webinars, a visa webinar and a general orientation webinar, to prepare them for arrival. Once they arrive in Athens, they spend the first week in orientation activities adjusting to their new home. Students participate in sessions on academics, safety, and living in Athens, and they have a chance to ask questions in a Q&A panel. They also go on neighborhood walks through various parts of Athens to help them navigate the city, find the closest grocery shops and fresh fruit markets, and discover new favorite coffee and dinner spots.

Though English is widely spoken in Athens, all students participate in a “Survival Modern Greek” crash course, where they learn the Greek alphabet and key Greek phrases, so even students who opt not to take full Modern Greek language courses will start to feel comfortable seeing and hearing the local language. There are also social events and dinner parties in the evenings to give students a chance to meet their new classmates!

College Year in Athens staff at the 2016 Forum European Conference in Athens, Greece
With a colleague during the 2016 Forum European Conference in Athens

How does CYA help students cope with the change in environment and culture?

The thorough pre-departure and post-arrival orientation schedule helps students manage their expectations and prepare for a period of adjustment. There is a full on-site staff, including our executive director of student affairs who has over 20 years of guidance experience, available daily to help students cope with homesickness or culture shock, and there are periodic appointments available with an additional therapist. There is also a faculty academic advisor to help students with any academic questions or concerns.

Ultimately, I think if students are uncomfortable, it means they’re doing something right! Part of going abroad is pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone, so we provide the resources to make sure students can articulate that experience and feel supported throughout the semester.

What do you think the biggest benefit of studying abroad with CYA is?

As the first provider of study abroad experiences in Greece, CYA is well-established and connected within the Athenian and Greek community. We’ve been in Athens since 1962, and we have all the resources that come with over five decades of commitment to giving students a rounded, excited experience; this benefits our students because they have access to a wealth of not only ultra-qualified professors and outstanding academic opportunities (such as going inside the Parthenon...not an everyday thing!), but also very interesting extracurricular opportunities.

We help dozens of students each semester arrange volunteer or internship-type experiences; students have done everything from volunteering at theatres to serving at local soup kitchens to assisting beekeepers...the possibilities are endless. We also have a wide network of organizations and clubs for students to join in extracurricular activities, such as playing with a local sports team.

I think our deep roots in Athens help students make their time abroad more valuable, both personally and for their future careers.
Friends out for drinks in downtown Athens, Greece
With CYA colleagues in downtown Athens - can’t beat that view!

Is there anything new in the works we should look out for in 2017?

Keep an eye out for our upcoming business curriculum, new practicum components (such as working in archives...a real treat for history majors!), and an amazing philosophy summer seminar in Athens (PSSA) series! We’re particularly excited and honored to be welcoming as guest lecturer for our first PSSA the distinguished contemporary philosopher John Hyman, a professor at the University of Oxford. We’ll also be building our academic program more concretely around two pillars: contemporary studies and classical studies.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

My favorite thing about my job is talking to students who are nervous about studying abroad and hearing that nervousness changing to excitement over the course of a conversation. Whether students have never been on an airplane before and want to hear what it’s like to fly over the Atlantic, have parents who are nervous about the safety in Athens (it’s very safe!), or simply want to know what the food in Greece is like, it’s always rewarding to experience that shift from “Can I do this?” to “I can do this, and I can’t wait!” I consider myself pretty lucky to have a job where I come in smiling and leave each night feeling even more energized.