For nearly a decade, since the time of the economic crisis, every spring, 24 students and graduates of Indiana University, Bloomington, are divided into groups and study the political, cultural, legal, and economic context of Greece, learning about the culture of the country, observing the habits of the Greeks and live their daily lives for ten days, but mainly they offer solutions and professional advice to Greek entrepreneurs who want to expand into the foreign market.
Their first contact with the history, political, economic, legal aspects of Greece takes place in their classroom in January, and a few months later, in May, they visit Athens and other cities and islands. Student and postgraduate research is part of the Business Culture Greece program, the inspiration and “soul” of which is a dedicated Greek, a dynamic woman and remarkable academic.
Tatiana Kolovou is a senior lecturer at Indiana University with a Business Communication specialty at the Kelley School of Business (considered the 10th best in the U.S.) and explains the rationale and idea of this program.
“Everything started when I went to Indiana in the United States in 1984, 35 years ago, to study and finally to live permanently, I had a family, and now I teach there. Mostly I have specialization in cross-cultural communication,” said Kolovou.
“The idea for this program came about at a Christmas party in 2009 when the rector asked me about Greece’s financial situation and then I told him that it is not just a Greek matter but also for all of Europe and therefore students should learn what is really happening. So, in 2011, I came to Greece with 20 students and one assistant and they all returned with excitement. Since then, I go once or twice a year, sometimes with 24 undergrad students and sometimes with 24 postgraduate students, separately.”
To this day, Kolovou has brought more than 300 students to visit Greece. “Let’s say it’s an academic trip with business meetings and it’s not purely tourism. There are initially around eight to nine business meetings that we do, while going to museums and walking around the city so that students get in touch with Greek reality. For example, this year we will go to Aegina to visit the pistachio cooperative where the children will go to the fields and learn about the production and export of the main product of the island. All this research that students do is their job. In the end, we will look at a subject on the political, economic, legal, history of Greece as well as on issues related to the European Union,” Kolovou told ANA-MPA and pointed out that the main objective of the whole project is to learn how active and entrepreneurial it is in Greece.
“I wanted to change the mindset of Americans who believed that the Greeks are lazy. I wanted to do something to help show the true face of my home country. That’s why I started the program and, of course, will continue it. Besides, what I seek and want every time I come back to America from Greece is for my students to tell those around them that Greece is not what they thought. Many even say that this journey has changed their lives. Do not forget that these are 19-year-olds some of whom have never before left the United States. They often believe any image they see through the press, on television, and it is totally different from what they see here. It opens their mind, they see something else and they love Greece,” she noted.
This year, Tatyana Kolovou’s class at Indiana’s Kelley School of Business will focus on the Greek company My Odyssey, a travel agency.
“We make thematic trips to Greece, highlighting our country’s culture, products, gastronomy, and history. Our headquarters are here and also in Shanghai, China, where we launched Hellas House this year. We have found that China’s market is opening up; people want to travel not only three months a year, but all year round. So they come all year round,” says Fokion Drossos, co-owner of the company, who added that their next step is to establish themselves in the American market.
“With this program, Indiana University students worked on how to develop our business as best as possible in both America and China. There were three teams for America and three for China who presented us with their ideas and suggestions. It is very important for us because it gives us internal information from young people who have an opinion and know not only the U.S. market, but also China.”
As Mr. Drossos noted, “Students have approached the issue globally and have helped us with their proposals that are substantial and targeted, and indeed we will follow some of their recommendations. That is why I would urge other Greek companies to join this program, Business Culture Greece.”