GoAbroad Interview

Barry Tagrin - Founding Director

Barry Tagrin - Founding Director

Barry Tagrin is founding director of HISA, holding a bachelors degree in Political Science from California State University Long Beach and a masters degree with honors in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Teaching for a living, Barry believes in the dream of learning and sharing knowledge. He has lived and worked in Pamplona, Spain and was language and literature coordinator in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He is also a Fulbright scholar for American studies in Egypt and spent four years with Texas A&M in Koriyama, Japan. When founding HISA, Barry envisioned an experiential study abroad program that could benefit students in their most sound, insightful selves.

When you settled on Paros Island in 1981, you "envisioned an experiential study abroad program that could benefit students in their most sound, insightful selves." Was this the seed that eventually blossomed into the Hellenic International Studies in the Arts?

Yes. With this vision in mind, I contacted members of the local community and a group of supporters, including the Mayor at the time, and arranged for a set of buildings: studio, darkroom, classrooms, and a student center, as well as our own accommodations building. The program just took off from there.

The idea had been percolating in your mind for nearly a decade. What served as the inspiration to finally start programs?

On a personal basis, I had been teaching abroad for quite some time and wanted to settle down permanently on Paros. There is something about the island that is absolutely conducive to creativity, it might be why so many artists have settled on Paros. I always wanted to be able to enable aspiring artists to have time and opportunity to reach new artistic clarity and depth, so when I had the opportunity to launch a program, with the support of American educational institutions, on Paros I seized that chance right away.

You are no stranger to traveling, living, and working abroad, having interned in Japan, taught in Spain, worked in Malaysia, and studied in Egypt. What makes Paros Island the ideal place to study abroad?

Besides being lovely, and having an ancient, classical history and culture, Paros has a very supportive community and a homelike atmosphere. It is also perhaps one of the safest locations in the world for a study abroad program, with a community open to hosting young students of varying ethnic backgrounds and diverse personal goals. It also has a central location.

Paros is a short boat ride from many fantastic, unique Greek islands. It has urban and rural elements within walking distance, and just such a gorgeous natural setting that you can’t imagine without experiencing firsthand, such as the sunsets on the Paraleia or the smell of wild herbs in the hills. This is a real treat for students, and for us!

What do you think the biggest benefits of international experiences are?

There are many, but perhaps most important is the opportunity to live and study in a vibrant foreign culture. Studying in Greece in particular adds to that a long history of artistic and academic achievements from which one can gain perspective, understanding, and inspiration. Gaining knowledge in an international environment broadens one’s sense of perspective and can help define one’s personal, artistic,and career goals. 

How has your multifaceted experience abroad helped you in managing the Hellenic International Studies in the Arts?

Hosting university students requires a deep understanding of the diverse nature of students’ individual goals and ambitions. In an experiential study program such as HISA’s, students require both a sense of personal freedom and a sound, inspirational, and supportive communal atmosphere. Problems must be dealt with in a sensitive, understanding manner, and each student seen, importantly, as an individual with a unique personality.

HISA offers both semester and summer courses. When do you see the most participants? How should participants select what time of year to attend?

Selection of program sessions is of course a personal choice for each student. Generally, all HISA semesters, summer included, are filled (from 25 to 30 students). We value a one-on-one mentoring style of teaching, so we try hard to keep a very low teacher student ratio, usually one-to-four. Summer programs are more densely active and intensive, and semesters give students more time to develop their work and immerse themselves. Students should consider their own goals and tendencies when choosing which session(s) to attend.

Cultural exchange is an important part of study abroad. What cultural activities does HISA provide international students?

Our cultural immersion module is quite significant. HISA’s Historical Sites and Art and Cycladic Culture courses, as well as standard program visits to multiple island and classical sites, offer a very wide range of cultural activities. We’ve also built into the program optional opportunities to visit galleries, local exhibitions, religious and social festivals, and commonly invite local artists for classroom and excursions visits. Finally, students have the option of studying Greek with HISA, which enables them to explore the Greek community more thoroughly. 

Safety while studying abroad is a typical concern not only for students but also their parents. How do you ensure the safety of participants?

As I mentioned above, Paros is a uniquely safe environment, virtually crime free. Nevertheless, HISA has built up over the years a very close relationship with the local community, including members of the police force, the city government, and health officials. All of this helps reinforce the sense of community HISA offers. Students feel at home here very quickly, and with the knowledge they gain early on from an in-depth program orientation, they understand and respect the cultural and social requirements needed to make their experience a safe and enjoyable time.

HISA has been operating for more than a decade. What is its greatest achievement since its founding in 2000?

That’s easy. We’ve in effect built a worldwide HISA family, hundreds of whom still write us and keep close in touch with HISA and each other. We are happy to have been able to provide this opportunity for students for over a decade.

What can we expect from the program in the next five years?

We hope to add more courses, both core and elective, that the next generation of student’s may profit from. We also intend to strengthen our internship and scholarship opportunities, as well as continuing our commitment to helping students gain entrance to graduate programs, via HISA teacher recommendations and providing access to career opportunities.