Amelia Karayianis ’16, Global Citizenship
Amelia Karayianis ’16 is the embodiment of Becker College’s mission to provide a transformational experience that prepares graduates to thrive, contribute to, and lead in a global society. It is not only focused on the development of global citizens, but also offers a first-in-the-nation Bachelor of Arts in Global Citizenship. Karayianis will be in the first cohort to graduate with this degree.
“The global citizenship major focuses on us as individuals in a globalized world and what we can do individually to make it a better place,” Karayianis explained. “I’ve participated in hands-on programs that ensure I’ll graduate with real-life experience, rather than just classroom learning through lectures. To be successful in social justice, human rights, or environmental sustainability, you have to be aware of the cold, hard truths of the world; the global citizenship program teaches us those truths, but maintains a degree of optimism.”
Karayianis grew up in Massachusetts with strong ties to her Greek heritage, eating the food and learning the traditional dances from her first-generation Greek-American grandparents. She has always been open to and interested in other cultures as a result of her upbringing. Her interest in human rights and social justice began with a high school class that focused on genocide and human rights violations across the globe throughout history; her desire to make a difference in the world has blossomed since then.
“Ensuring that the rights of every human in the world are met and preserved is what I am most passionate about,” she said. “When I hear about human rights violations occurring today, I can’t help but feel deeply for those affected. I want to find ways to make these problems relevant to those who are not personally affected by them, because with enough international attention, any problem can be tackled. I have learned at Becker that no problem is too big, as long as there is a group of committed global citizens working toward a solution.”
During a gap year after high school, Karayianis decided to explore another culture by becoming a foreign exchange student in Portugal through AFS Intercultural Programs. There, she lived with a host family and attended a Portuguese high school, enhancing her passion for travel and learning about other cultures. She knew she wanted to continue to do both in college. After first enrolling at a college in Pennsylvania and studying abroad in London and Valparaiso, Chile, Karayianis transferred to Becker specifically for the new global citizenship major, which was officially launched in October 2014. Becker’s program diverges from similar majors at other schools through its emphasis on “servant leadership” and developing a deep sense of responsibility for stewardship of the world. “I’ve had an active role in shaping the program and my own education, which has been an invaluable experience,” Karayianis said.
Part of that experience included a trip to rural Jamaica in the spring of 2015, where Karayianis and other students and faculty members volunteered at local schools, which were overcrowded, understaffed, and underserved. Children there would often arrive hungry. At one school, Karayianis and her fellow volunteers worked on a farm that had been established to provide food for the students. At other schools, they were able to teach lessons and provide students with individual help and attention.
The volunteers were housed by Jamaican families, who gave them the unique opportunity to be truly immersed in the culture of the island. “We were able to share stories and perspectives with people from a culture very different from our own,” Karayianis said. “In fact, my roommate was an international student from Sierra Leone, and that gave everyone an amazing opportunity to learn and share about three cultures. The trip allowed us to see the real Jamaica, not just the tourist areas. It was truly an unforgettable experience.”
Karayianis has especially appreciated her time at Becker because all students are encouraged to become global citizens, regardless of their major. “Since we have global learning outcomes here that are included in every area of study, it’s inevitable that you’ll be exposed to some global aspect of whatever you’re studying,” she said, adding that she likes that Becker focuses on local as well as global issues. “Within Worcester itself, there are so many opportunities to better the local community, and you can often do it within walking distance through a community partnership.”
During her senior year, Karayianis was one of four Becker students who were selected for the Millennium Campus Network Fellowship. At the completion of the program, she and her group, who represented the We Are Global student organization, were recognized with the Audience Vote Award of $250 for their final project, “Worcester without Borders.” She also spent part of her winter vacation volunteering to help refugees arriving on the shores of Lesbos, Greece, with her mother, Anne Sroka, Becker College chief of staff. Karayianis wrote “Strangers Like Me: Up Close and Personal With the Refugee Crisis,” about her experience, which was published on Huffington Post.
Following graduation, she is exploring ideas that include joining the Peace Corps and eventually working in the field of human rights, possibly under the umbrella of the United Nations. “I think in my field of study, individuals often stumble upon a specific issue they become passionate about, and then dedicate their time and efforts to that specific cause,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll find my cause through further travel and volunteer opportunities nationally or abroad.”