The Lesvos MESPOM experience - Prof. Dr. Thanasis Kizos

January 28, 2020

MESPOM is jointly operated by a consortium of 4 European and 2 North American Universities, each location presents its own unique set of learning opportunities.

This week Prof. Dr. Thanasis Kizos from the University of the Aegean on Lesvos shares his reflections on the MESPOM experience in Greece.

You have to be brave enough and open to adventures to decide to attend the MESPOM program, to travel to different countries, to get in touch with and experience different cultures and educational systems. MESPOM is an enriching experience, but also challenging, in the sense that it can take you off your comfort zone academically, emotionally and personally.

Sometimes students consider that these challenges and benefits are only for them, but this is far from the truth. The classes are equally challenging for those of us, involved in teaching, mentoring and in general assisting students. I still vividly remember my first encounter with this audience in the very first batch of MESPOMers, so long ago, I would rather not say how long … I was awed –and a bit shocked- by the fact that I had to deal with a truly global audience, very far away from my own comfort zone and teaching experience.

My involvement was in the Ecosystem Management course, a mandatory course that attempts to bring students to face real world research, with all its uncertainties, complexity, barriers (language, cultural) and lack of data that are typical of applied research. Field trips, lectures, meetings, interviews and also an introduction to another real world skill: working in groups. While it is not easy and group dynamics are complex and not always fair to all members of the group, but at the same time, this is also a very real situation in almost all lines of work related to Environmental Management. I sincerely hope that after students graduate they will see the value of what now may seem as burden

What has changed all these years? We are not the same. My personal research interests have shifted slightly from rural development and landscape change into farming systems’ management and climate change adaptation, but always with a focus on management and policies, local and broader. This change reflects the broader conceptual and management changes in the scientific fields related to environmental management (and what is not related to it today?). What has not changed is the location of Lesvos and its setting. We want to use it, not just as our real world case study in management, but also as a setting for an enjoyable experience outside the classroom as well (with field trips, cultural events, opportunities to meet professors outside their offices and lecture rooms, etc.). Especially during the last few years that students spend a whole semester here, we get to know them better and we hope that they are able to enjoy their time here more.

What has also changed is the students and how they interact with each other and with us. A sea of laptops, mobile phones, tablets awaits in the classroom. I know, this seems like luddite thinking, but my real pleasure in teaching is that every class is slightly different, depending on where the actual conversation in the classroom takes us. OK, there is a message that will be discussed in the end, but the real advantage of having such a wonderfully diverse audience –geographically, disciplinary, culturally- is that new angles are always brought up.

This is also a good place and opportunity to thank all those extremely bright people that came here on Lesvos and listened, debated, disagreed, argued, questioned what I said during lectures, field trips, meetings and presentations. You are great. Sometimes I think that you believe that only you have learned from this experience, but this is not the whole truth: we and I personally have learned so much more... Especially to all those that have worked with me for their thesis: Logan, Manavi, Thor, Sarah, Diana, Gia, Olivia… cheers…

So, I look very much forward to welcoming you here! Best from Lesvos.

Thanasis Kizos