Business News

In the crosshairs: Foreign students in Greece

Kerstin Waurick | E+ | Getty Images

For students studying abroad this summer, living in Greece during the debt crisis may not be as bad as it seems. Greek citizens are only allowed to withdraw a maximum of 60 euros a day, but students on exchange programs are not subject to the same capital controls; they can take out additional funds, depending on the cap imposed by their card issuer and cash available at the ATMs.

"The effect of the financial crisis on our students has been very limited," said Timothy Barton, director of student services at Arcadia University's College of Global Studies. "Our summer students, who have one more week left in Greece, were not faced with any unavailable services. Day-to-day life has not changed that much."

Read More Greece timeline: It all started in 2001 …

Arcadia University's summer program in Athens has been running for more than 20 years. This upcoming fall, all 18 of the students traveling to Greece from eight universities, ranging from small liberal arts colleges to large state research institutions throughout the country, are still planning to do so. Arcadia's program is just one of the 100 or so study abroad programs offered to more than 3,600 American students each year in subjects such as political science, economics and archaeology.

Barton has received questions from concerned parents asking if the program will continue to operate. Even though the program will run as scheduled this fall, Barton noted that the staff at Arcadia University is continuously monitoring conditions to make sure students will be safe before traveling. 

"We are following the bank regulations closely and are advising students based on what our staff, which includes several ex-pats, sees on the ground," said Barton.

Study abroad programs in Greece

Global LEAD is another study abroad program, where students can travel to Athens, Santorini and Crete for a month. Now in its sixth year, the program focuses on humanities courses such as "Global Citizenship and Civic Engagement" and "Leadership: Global Theory & Practice" and is affiliated with Oglethorpe University in Georgia. With the current situation in Greece, they recommend students have two types of cards to access money (for example, a debit and credit card) and to call their bank prior to departure to notify it about upcoming travel plans.

In the event that cards stop working, Global LEAD has a backup method for students to access cash where parents can purchase a certain amount of money through an online checkout process with their credit card. Because this is processed like a domestic transaction, the program is able to circumvent any potential international complications. The team at Global LEAD then converts the U.S. amount to foreign currency, and the program director can withdraw the funds for the students abroad, ensuring they get the cash they need. 

Read MoreCNBC recap: A week in Greece

"We have run this study abroad program in Greece through several other economic crises," said Carolyn Prebil, Global LEAD's director of marketing. "It may look rather tumultuous from the pictures everyone sees in the media, but in actuality when you are there, it is very much business as usual."

Global LEAD students have not had any problems withdrawing cash. Although, Prebil stated the program is advising students to replenish their supply of local currency at their convenience and not wait until they have very few euros left to take money out of the ATM.

David Horner, president of the American College of Greece, the largest accredited American college or university in Europe that offers courses in 21 different majors, said that at this point, his school is also able to process payments by students and parents normally. If there is a need for added support, like cash advances, the school will provide it. 

Since the American College of Greece has not dealt with any such conditions to date, they could not provide an exact dollar amount they would grant students in its contingency plan. However, Horner noted, "Our commitment is to do whatever is necessary to support students who face unusual circumstances, when and if such circumstances arise."

After official figures showed that 61 percent of Greece voted "no" in a referendum against a bailout package, thousands of Greeks took to the streets waving their flags in solidarity with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Read MoreGreece's 'fantasy politics' ringing alarm bells

Both Global LEAD and Athens College stressed that the political demonstrations in the city are typically well organized, isolated incidents. In addition, the U.S. Department of State has not issued any travel warnings on its website for Greece. 

"Actually, Athens is a much safer environment than most U.S. cities," claimed Horner. "That said, we maintain close communication with the U.S. Embassy in Athens and monitor all relevant social developments."

Sarah Sapirstein, a student in Arcardia University’s “Of Gods and The City” program, stands in front of the Erechtheion Temple on the top of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
Courtesy Sarah Sapirstein

The Greek crisis did not stop Sarah Sapirstein, a 21-year-old political science major and senior at the University of Vermont, from studying abroad this summer. Sapirstein participated in Arcadia University's summer program, called "Of Gods and the City," which centers on ancient Greek history and culture for about one month. She decided to go abroad to take classes in art history and the classics, since she did not have time in the school year to fit them into her schedule. 

"Considering the crisis, I was probably here for what was not exactly the typical summer trip to Greece," said Sapirstein, who is originally from Alexandria, Virginia. "I experienced zero sense of insecurity as a foreigner and noticed no sense of chaos on the ground."

During her stay, Sapirstein kept in touch with her parents daily. She did not have to wait in line at the ATMs or have trouble accessing money. Sapirstein was able to use cash and credit cards to pay for items. When she walked by ATM lines, Sapirstein did not see any "bustle or rush from the people trying to get their cash." However, she did notice police officers standing by ATM machines to make sure there were no problems.

Read More

Sapirstein stated that, despite the economic woes of the country, she would return to Greece, because her trip was meaningful and the atmosphere was still inviting.

"This is an exciting time to be a student in Greece," said Sapirstein. "I felt like I was a witness to living history in the birthplace of democracy. Overall, I would come back to Greece." 

By Christine Lenzo, special to