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A group of students sitting on a bench outside the building of the York University, engaged in conversation and enjoying each other's company.

Toronto scholarship exposes Greek students to “different perspectives and ways of thinking”

When Alexandros Balasis, then a fourth-year undergraduate student at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, arrived at York University in Toronto in 2019, “I saw a university system that I really liked,” he said. “I got hooked from the very beginning.”

Balasis, who was studying history, had traveled to Canada as a Stavros Niarchos Foundation International Visiting Scholar, and when he says he was hooked, he means it. He stayed on at York for a (second) master’s degree and is now pursuing a PhD in history at the university, focusing on Greek migration to Canada in the wake of World War Two.

“The scholarship gave me an opportunity to clarify my goals,” he said.

The SNF scholarship experience offered a different kind of clarity to PhD candidate Grigorios Iliopoulos, who studies contemporary literature related to Toronto. “This was the perfect program for me,” he said. “I worked on material referring to Toronto, but this was my first chance to see the place.”

“When I got to Toronto, I walked the streets and got a much better idea of how the city and the residents worked. I got a sense of scale that is much different than in Europe and it felt like there was a huge difference in how we perceive space. I acquired a different understanding of the perspective of the authors I’ve studied,” said Iliopoulos, whose research focuses on, as he describes it, diasporic Toronto literature.

His time in Toronto included gathering library material unavailable in Greece that “will have a huge impact on my dissertation,” meeting academics and authors, and attending events relevant to his work. “Yet, most of all this program gave me the opportunity to further my understanding of Canadian culture and exposed me to different perspectives and ways of thinking.”

Encouraging exposure to new perspectives and new ways of thinking has been our aim in supporting a wide range of international scholarship and educational exchange opportunities, especially—given the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s (SNF) Greek roots—between Greece and other countries.

The Greek Diaspora Fellowship Program brought scholars from institutions in the United States and elsewhere to collaborate on research and teaching with colleagues at institutions in Greece. AFS Intercultural Programs has offered high school students from Greece the opportunity for cross-cultural exchange experiences. The Modern Greek language learning platform staellinika was developed, originally as Rebooting the Greek Language, by a transatlantic team at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia that included members from Canada and Greece. The SNF-supported Gefyra (“Bridge”) partnership between the SNF Center for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser and the SNF Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture at UCLA brings collaborative events to the public and opportunities to students.

PhD candidate Alexandros Balasis has also been involved in Istorima, an SNF-supported project in Greece to employ young people to capture and preserve oral histories.

“The foundation changed the course of my life,” he said of his interactions with SNF-supported initiatives. “My experiences, both in Toronto and later with their Istorima project in Greece, gave me the opportunity to understand how much I like history. It made me decide to keep open to opportunities and take advantage of them.”