When you’re a student, there are moments—both on and off-campus, both big and small—that you know will stick with you forever, even as you’re experiencing them.

For one group of students at the University of Illinois, studying abroad in Athens, Greece with the help of the Reveliotis Family Hellenic Travel Scholarship was one of those key moments.

“It was so special to explore the country and see the different cultures and traditions,” said Janna Fouly, a senior majoring in social work. “I loved trying to learn the language and trying new foods. My experience was so good, I wanted to stay longer.”

Fouly was one of five students who traveled to Athens this summer after receiving this year’s Reveliotis Scholarship and one of four who participated in “Social Work 330/561,” a two-week, international service-learning course based in Athens.

The award—which is supported by alumnus George Reveliotis (BA, ’96, history) as part of his pledge of $1.5 million to the Department of Classics—is given to Illinois students who have demonstrated scholastic excellence in classics and a keen interest in Hellenism.

While the trip abroad was memorable on its own, it was the service aspect that made it stand out to Fouly and her social work classmates. As part of “Social Work 330/561,” they were able to learn directly from four non-governmental organizations focused on the needs of refugees fleeing to Greece, ranging from social services, psychological support, educational support, and material support, such as providing food and clothing.

“We sat in on social work meetings and law and job appointments and were able to really see how they help these people,” said Alexis Tzortzis, a social work major with a minor in psychology. “It was eye-opening to see that we don’t necessarily handle situations the same way—not that one is good, and one is bad, but it was just interesting and informative.”

While Tzortzis and her classmates prepared for the experience by taking an eight-week course on Greek culture on campus, they said the cultural immersion is what turned it into a core memory.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Jessica Burgess, a first-generation and returning student studying social work and anthropology. “I learned more about myself and the world, made lifelong friends, and gained [a new] perspective about my own potential to make change.”

She said that experience wouldn’t have been possible without financial support in the form of the Reveliotis Scholarship. Other recipients said the funds allowed them to fully enjoy their time abroad, without having to worry about finances.

Now, the students are taking what they learned and applying it to their future.

“I hope to continue to do work that increases the accessibility of resources to those who have typically been discouraged or disadvantaged,” said Brooke Wilson, a social work major with minors in public health and psychology. “Gaining insight into how a different culture does similar work will allow me to think outside of my U.S. cultural box in future work.”

That focus on improving intercultural competence was a common thread among the recipients.

“[This experience helped me] see that we will always have our own biases, but staying and continuing to be curious is more important,” said Fouly. “[It helped me] build my cultural competence and my lens to learn and help more. I truly gained so much and will be taking everything I learned with me for the rest of my life.”

This year’s fifth Reveliotis Scholarship went to Kyriaki Karavasis, a Greek-American mechanical engineering major with minors in Spanish, Greek, and math. She attended the Lambda Project Standard Intensive Modern Greek Course in Athens to improve her Greek speaking skills and learn more about her culture.

To learn more about investing in the future of our students, please contact Ai Niemeyer.

Dania De La Hoya Rojas

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the School of Literatures, Cultures & Linguistics Fall 2023 newsletter.