Thursday, March 10, 2016

Greece Trip Day 3

To begin the day we met our tour guide, George, and he brought us around the different sectors of Athens and gave us some social and political information about the city. He guided us through the politically divided area and explained the significance of that specific area's opinion. A fact that was quite interesting was that there are Neo-nazi representatives in parliament. We then sat at a coffee shop and had a discussion with George about his opinion on the country's economic turmoil. He provided vital information about Greece's entrance to the eurozone and the false statistics that were reported, causing a lot of the economic distress.

We then were split into teams to complete an activity in which we navigated through different blocks of the city and questioned small businesses about their economic situations as well as the reasoning behind many closed shops. We found that most shops have been struggling since 2008, and many shops closed down. However, coffee shops and cafes seemed to be one of the only businesses that were generally unaffected by the crisis because apparently nobody can stay away from a cup of coffee no matter the price. It was very authentic and hands on to be able to talk to the Greek businesses first hand, and get a primary opinion from everyday people who are affected by the declining economy of Greece.

After our tour we met a group of economists in a conference room at KEPE, and they discussed the economic crisis with us in depth. A woman named Riza gave us a detailed overview about Greece's role in the eurozone and in the European Union. She broke down the current issues of the European Union for us which consisted of the refugee crisis, the United Kingdom's potential decision to leave the European Union, and the failing of Greece's economy. She noted that the Euro is having a negative effect on Greece's poor economy because it is a fixed currency by the Eurozone, which revokes Greece's ability to devalue the currency in an attempt to regain a little control over their economy. We had a group discussion on the factors and consequences of the crash and learned that the unemployment rate is at about 26%, and the national GDP has decreased by nearly one third since the crash began in 2009. She informed us that the bailout loans given by Germany were used to pay off pre-existing loans, which isn't helping money filter into the actual economy itself. We also spoke with the director who explained that innovation is necessary if the Greeks want their economy to improve, and a social scientist filled us in on the refugee situation, and how nearly 850,000 refugees have crossed through Greece in the year of 2015. She told us that most European Union countries have closed their borders recently, so many refugees are getting stuck in Greece which they only intended on using as a path due to the fact that it is the frontier connecting the Asian countries to the European countries. This information was very helpful when we continued to learn about the refugee situation in our later meeting with Action Aid. 

The second meeting we had regarded the refugee situation in Greece. Going into the meeting, many of us did not understand the severity of the situation. For most of the group, our opinions of the refugee situation changed significantly. The reasons for so many refugees entering Greece became more apparent due to the living conditions in their previous countries. Our group agreed that Greece shows a lot of strength by the way that they are handling the refugee situation. Despite the economic struggle, Greece is welcoming towards the refugees and are trying to help in any way possible. 

Later on in the evening, we attended dinner at the Hellenic American Union. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner on the roof top overlooking the Acropolis, accompanied by live music and Greek dancing. After enjoying the food and watching the performances, we were then able to have our own Greek dancing lessons. Everyone in the group had great enthusiasm to learn something new! 

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