Ithaca's official sister city, Elios Proni, Greece, will play host in October to 10 travelers from Ithaca, who will attempt to bring a taste of their twin city back home to share.
The trip is one of several projects funded this year by a $100,000 grant to Cornell's Institute for European Studies (IES) from the European Union. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the European Union provided funds to institutions to help educate communities on aspects of European life and history.
The "Getting to Know Europe" trip to Elios Proni, Oct. 3-11, will include two nights in Athens, a ferry ride to Cephalonia and a day trip to the nearby island Ithaka, of Homer's "Odyssey" fame, for which Ithaca, N.Y., is named.
But the trip's underlying purpose is not just to show the travelers a good time. The participants -- among them teachers, a librarian, a wine expert, a city public information officer, a tourism official and a Cornell Chronicle writer -- are expected to engage in projects in Greece specific to their careers or interests. The knowledge they gain through the trip will then be shared back home, with final reports on the cultural exchange also expected when the trip is complete.
"The 'Getting to Know Europe' exercise is intended to help people to get to know Europe in a different sort of way," explained Gail Holst-Warhaft, director of the IES Mediterranean Initiative, who will be leading the trip with Sydney Van Morgan, IES associate director. "We want them to engage in a way that's not just touristic, but will have some consequences."
Trip participant Sarah How, a Cornell librarian, was drawn to the opportunity to visit Greece in part from her work in collection development for the library. During the mid-1990s, she was responsible for setting up Cornell as a European Union depository library.
In addition, How's personal interests include literacy and the encouragement of reading. A member of the Family Reading Partnership, a local organization that promotes early literacy, How said she's interested in visiting a school in Greece to see how reading is taught and encouraged there.
Despite the grant and its focus on Greece and Europe, the Modern Greek language program at Cornell almost ceased to exist a few years ago.
In 2003, as Cornell was about to drop funding for the teaching of Modern Greek, Holst-Warhaft serendipitously connected with some Greeks originally from Cephalonia at a concert in New York City. When they learned that Holst-Warhaft had had a lifelong love affair with their country and had even translated into English the beloved Cephalonian poet Nikos Kavadias, they ended up saving modern Greek at Cornell. Much to Holst-Warhaft's surprise many months later, the mayor of the Cephalonian capital, Argostoli, traveled to Ithaca to present a $10,000 check to fund the Modern Greek program.
Holst-Warhaft and others then secured supplemental funding from other sources, and eventually, Modern Greek was back at Cornell.
Then, with the opportunity to "twin" with a European city, Holst-Warhaft felt that a municipality in Cephalonia would be an excellent choice, given the heartwarming gesture of the Argostoli mayor. Elios Proni was eventually suggested as a good match, given its abundant tourism, winery trade and natural beauty.