MERG Fact-Finding Trip to Cyprus

by Chris Burke
Apr 11

Hello and welcome to the final blog post for this year’s MERG Fact-Finding Trip to Cyprus. We are currently on the plane back to Boston and I cannot help but feel incredibly grateful for the experience that we have had over the last eight days. My research is focusing specifically on educational policy for refugees and the extent to which these policies are effective. Cyprus is the country with the highest per capita number of refugees out of any country in the European Union, but due to the “Cyprus Problem” that occupies every aspect of life, the refugee crisis is often overlooked. I had the honor of meeting with NGO leaders, academics, and government officials to get a comprehensive view of what is being done to support refugees students in the country.

One meeting that stood out to me was on Wednesday afternoon when Alex and I were able to interview one of the co-founders of Sistema Cyprus, an NGO that provides afterschool orchestra activities to low-income and underserved students in Nicosia. Many of the students taking part in the program are refugees who were enrolled in a local school that had been shut down a few years ago and are now all scattered at different schools throughout the city. The organization was established shortly after the school closed and largely is comprised of students who were enrolled in it. We learned so much about the challenges that many of these students face in the school system, and the positive effects of programs like Sistema Cyprus. At the end, Alex and I were able to watch some of their weekly rehearsal, which was the last one before a show that had been postponed three times already due to COVID.

Both inside and outside of interviews, every moment in Cyprus was a learning experience. We all read so much about the country leading up to the trip for our research, but we were only able to fully internalize what it all meant when we stepped foot in the country and saw it for ourselves. We heard personal accounts of what it was like the day the checkpoints opened in 2003. We watched the UN Peacekeepers walk the buffer zone to check to make sure nothing had changed. We saw the Turkish flag on the mountain looking over Nicosia and we celebrated Greek Independence Day. And while our eight days gave us so many insights into life on the island, we are all ready to start planning our trip back because there is still so much to learn about the history, the politics, and the people of Cyprus.

Speaking on behalf of the whole group now, we feel the only way to end this series of blogs posts is with some thanks. First, thank you to Elizabeth Kassinis, our on the ground contact and a Fletcher graduate now working at Caritas Cyprus who helped us tremendously before the trip and even met with a group of us twice while we were there to help with our research. We look forward to dinner next time you’re in Boston. Second, we would like to thank our faculty advisor, Professor Prodromou, for providing us with an immense amount of wisdom and guidance in conducting field research for the first time. And lastly, thank you to the IGL for the support on this project from the moment the 2020 group started planning up until now. Thank you. Efharisto. Tashakir.

(In front of the checkpoint with Fletcher alum Elizabeth Kassinis!)

(Meeting at Home for Cooperation inside the UN Buffer Zone with UNFICYP)