Glimpses of Greece

After just over a week spent in Stockholm and a Study Tour in Athens, Greece, it’s hard to believe that I’m already nearing the end of my second session as well as the end of my study abroad experience. In this blog post, I’ll talk about the course I took this session and what I learned from the Study Tour. 

Comparative Economics

The course I’m taking this session, Comparative Economics: Global Risks and European Responses, is taught by professors Fairouz “Fei” Hussien and Stylianos “Stelios” Papaioannou. Fei researches the long-term impacts of deregulation at the Stockholm School of Economics, and Stelios is an Assistant Professor of Marketing and Strategy at Mälardalen University.

In our first lectures, we looked at different types of economic systems that countries have, environmental economics, and we were introduced to the Greek Crisis—which was the main focus of our Study Tour.

Since this comparative economics course analyzes how European and U.S. responses to economic challenges differ, the content of this course really captures the benefits of studying abroad. While economics courses at American universities can be very Americentric and focus on economic issues only through a capitalist model, this course allows you to reflect on your experiences with the Scandinavian and Greek economies you’ve been interacting with.

Exploring the Greek Crisis

While the Study Tour in Athens, Greece was essentially 3 days long with 2 days of travel, it was organized in such a way that it felt like I was there for weeks. The goal of our study tour was to gain an understanding of how the Greek crisis, a financial crisis that started in 2009, began and affected Greece’s economy.

We first looked at how the Greek crisis impacted the agricultural sector by going to a pistachio farm on a Greek island called Aegina. Here, we talked to the Head of Pistachio Producers of Aegina. He talked about the rise and fall of family farms in Aegina as well as how the Greek crisis did not necessarily make the industry worse but that immigrants and young people became more likely to produce pistachios.

After a day of exploration, we had a packed day with four guest lecturers. The first lecturer was a jeweler who gave insight into the business perspective of the Greek crisis. He explained how the 2009 crisis gave rise to criminality and higher operating costs that threatened his business and others like it. He also mentioned how, by joining the EU, Greece adopted the Value Added Tax (VAT), which limited his profits and caused him to create cheaper designs and to transition from gold jewels to silver jewels. And as many Americans experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, he also described how his business became more impersonal and less reliant on maintaining personal connections with customers.

Next, we heard from a doctor and embryologist who talked about how the crisis impacted Greek families and fertility. He noted how Greece has a relatively low birth rate and a population that is decreasing faster than the rest of the EU and went on to explain how the Greek crisis led to a decrease in social programs which made having a child come with more uncertainties. Interestingly, he also noted how the Nordic countries have great family policies and welfare that makes people more comfortable starting a family.

We then took a trip to the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF), which was created to help stabilize the Greek banking sector in response to the 2009 crisis. Their representative shared that they feel they have been able to effectively restructure Greek banks in a way that sets them up for success in the future. They hope that their efforts can prevent another financial crisis and can make Greece a stable part of the EU.

Our final lecture was from our professor, Stelios. He talked about Greece’s steps to recovery since the 2009 crisis. The instability of Greece after the crisis is apparent in the fact that they had seven governments in just six years. And while Greece has consistently improved their debt rating since defaulting on their debt, their stagnant unemployment and record amount of overall debt remain big concerns for Greece, so much so that some call Greece a “debt colony” that is no longer sovereign. 

Other Observations

It wasn’t always apparent that Greece was recovering from a financial crisis when exploring Athens. In the time I spent exploring Greece, I saw so many shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions. Interestingly, there was often a person standing outside of each business trying to convince you to come in, which is something I’ve never seen before. Also, it could be somewhat annoying to enter a store and have a worker follow you around the entire time, but one upside to shopping in Greece is that you can negotiate for better prices. Greeks are often willing to give you a better price if you can offer cash. You can also find at least one gelato shop on every block.

Greece is also the most picturesque place I’ve traveled to. Every site looks like it’s straight from a postcard. I was surprised by the mountain ranges you can see just outside the city, and we had a great view of them when spending an afternoon at the beach and when traveling by ferry to Aegina. I also took a trip to the Acropolis where you can see the Parthenon—the amount of Greece’s history you can see around you is fascinating. It makes sense that I took more pictures on my Study Tour in Greece than I did throughout the rest of my time studying abroad.

Finally, our class dinner on the last night of our study tour was a highlight. It was a long climb up many flights of stairs to get there—but it was worth it. Our view from high up allowed us to overlook Athens and its many white, bright buildings over an impossibly long distance.

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