When I first found out that I would be spending nine months in Greece performing research for my doctoral dissertation as a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grantee, there were some who thought that I was not making a wise decision. “Why would you want to go to Greece now?” they would ask. “Haven’t you seen the riots and unrest in the country?” Beset by a severe economic crisis that has generated international headlines, Greece is a country that is experiencing historic and turbulent changes. It is precisely for this reason, though, that I decided to go to Greece to perform research.
Being of Greek descent, this was not my first visit to Greece. It was, however, the first time that I would spend an extended period of time in the country. Interestingly enough, a number of people that I met while there expressed the same proclamations of surprise that I had chosen to come to Greece at such a difficult time as I had heard back in the United States. “Why did you come here when you could have stayed in the United States?” I would be asked, or “Why would you want to come to Greece when most young people in Greece want to immigrate?” Far from being dissuaded, I became ever more enthusiastic about my research.
My Fulbright research focuses on the impact of social media and other new media, such as blogs, on the public sphere, civil society, and the political environment in Greece. Social and new media have played a prominent role as conduits of information and activism in Greece throughout the crisis, and also served as popular sources of news even prior to the crisis. Over the course of my Fulbright experience, I had the opportunity to conduct interviews with individuals from a variety of different fields, including politicians, journalists, bloggers, and activists, regarding their own experience working with social and new media tools individually or as part of the organization, media outlet, or political party that they were a part of, as well as their evaluation of the impact such online tools have had in Greece. Having the opportunity to speak to a broad range of individuals representing the full range of the ideological spectrum was a truly educational experience for me, providing not just interesting findings for my research, but also an introduction to a diverse array of perspectives regarding the present situation in Greece.
One of the objectives of my research is to provide insights as to how social media and online tools can be used at a time of economic and political crisis in a Western country with a democratic system of governance. I believe that my Fulbright experience allowed me to accomplish this goal. My time in Greece was extremely positive; an experience that I will not only look back upon with fond memories, but one which also encouraged me to expand my research on this topic, even as a Fulbright alumnus.
As a Fulbright U.S. Student, I also had the unique opportunity to serve as a cultural ambassador in two ways: As an American-born student in Greece, I was able to share my cultural, educational, and even political experiences with ordinary Greek citizens on almost a daily basis. From participating in a U.S. college fair for Greek students thinking of studying overseas, to sharing knowledge about how the U.S. political system works and how it handled its own recent economic recession, I was able to connect with locals who were genuinely curious to learn about my life and experiences in the United States. Since returning home, I have been able to draw upon my Fulbright experiences in Greece and share a different side of the country and its culture. While the international media has often focused on Greece’s present-day financial troubles, I have been able to share a more positive slice of daily Greek life with friends, colleagues, and scholars.