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A trip to to Greece to research economic, refugee policies

June 1, 2017
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University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy students with refugees in Greece.

A group of 20 students from the Ford School of Public Policy traveled to Greece during spring break to study two pressing issues — recession and refugee crisis.

In some ways, Greece was an unlikely choice for the students of the International Economic Development Program, which offers them an opportunity to conduct policy research in an emerging market economy.

Greece is relatively wealthy and developed—it ranks 29th globally in GDP per capita. But in recent years, it has faced many of the same economic problems seen in nations more commonly classified as emerging market economies.

“Hearing the perspectives of high-level policymakers and economists was something I couldn’t find in a book or research paper,” said Fandi Achmad, a IEDP student who went on the trip.

Previous IEDP cohorts had travelled to Cuba, Brazil, Myanmar, and other nations. This year’s trip, the 17th since the program’s launch in 2000, was only the second to conduct research in a European Union country.

The class was divided into four research groups at the beginning of the program, two for each crisis. The four groups studied the lead up to the economic crisis, the aftermath of the economic crisis, the refugee situation from the perspective of EU-Greece relations, and the refugee situation from the perspective of Greek citizens.

Diplomatic Office of Prime Minister Tsipras meets with IEDP students

During their visit, the students met with some of Greece’s top economists and with the Prime Minister’s advisers. They attended meetings with representatives from the UN Refugee Agency, the International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children—three influential NGOs working on the refugee crisis.

The group also met with U.S. and Turkish ambassadors to Greece. And they visited the country’s largest refugee camp, which allowed them to see the human consequences of successful and failed policies firsthand.

Other students commented that the experience at the refugee camp humanized the crisis–one that has had ripple effects around the world.

Beyond the chance to study public policy in a nation contending with timely challenges, students had opportunities to hone leadership and administrative skills. They wrote research and funding proposals, made travel plans, and arranged the meetings with Greek officials.

Alan Deardorff, John. W. Sweetland Professor of Economics and this year’s IEDP faculty lead, said that he was impressed at how smoothly the trip went. “I attribute that to the quality of student leadership,” he said.

A breathtaking view of sunrise in Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens. (Photo credit: Fandi Achmad)

Krisjanuardi Aditomo, who wanted to learn more about Greece’s tepid economic recovery, said the student-led aspect of the course made the trip particularly meaningful. Generally, professors determine what students study, setting a syllabus, he said. “But in IEDP the students decide the issues.”

Ultimately, the trip, with policy-relevant meetings, cultural explorations, and of course, Greek food, informed students’ research or career objectives and broadened their U-M experience.

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