Copenhagen to Athens to Kos: A hop, skip, and a jump from SEFI to ICL



Following last week’s meeting of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) in Copenhagen, I enjoyed a post-conference dinner with colleagues, explored Copenhagen’s old town in the morning, and then jetted off to Greece for a second international conference–this one on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL). I spent a day in Athens en route, inspiring a deep sense of awe! For an architect like me, visiting the Acropolis is a must, and the experience was even more uplifting than I’d expected. I loved Athens and I will certainly return!

The photo album in this post includes photos of the day I spent cycling around Kos with my colleague, Dr. Stephanie Ferrall, and also from my one-day layover in Athens. It also provides a glimpse into the conference events to show what the work of a traveling researcher really looks like.



The highlight of the ICL conference was getting to know colleagues with similar interests. I particularly enjoyed getting to know the Portuguese and Sri Lankan delegations and the keynote speakers.

Presentations were interesting and informative and I’ve posted photos of Anuradha Peramunugamage (from Sri Lanka), Stephanie Ferrall (USA), Christina Aggor (Ghana), and Rovani Sigamoney (currently from France) presenting their work.


Dr. Ferrall’s ICL keynote

Stephanie was a big reason I attended. I submitted a paper for this conference after seeing she was listed as a keynote speaker. Stephanie and I were research fellows in Dublin together at DIT during the academic year 2014-2015. Stephanie is a world expert in engineering education pedagogy and in supporting LGBTQ+ students. She is currently the national president of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE). Her work focuses on inclusivity and “revolutionizing diversity” in engineering schools. Stephanie’s keynote speech at ICL focused on classroom diversity whereas the keynote she delivered the week before, at SEFI, described large-scale patterns and philosophies regarding diversity. At ICL, Stephanie was honored by the International Society for Engineering Pedagogy (IGIP) with its highest award, the Nikola Tesla chain.


My ICL presentation

I was also drawn to this conference because much of my research has to do with engineering students’ experiences of collaborative learning and that is the core subject of the conference.

At the ICL conference, I presented one line of my analysis, a study of Middle Eastern women’s experiences studying engineering abroad in Ireland. I collected interviews with eight such women over a period of four years. You can download “Middle Eastern Women’s Experiences of Collaborative Learning in Engineering in Ireland” at this link: The citation for the paper is:

Chance, S. M., Williams, B. (2018). Middle Eastern Women’s Experiences of Collaborative Learning in Engineering in Ireland. International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL) in Kos Island, Greece, 2018.


Bike tour of Kos Island

As there were a few days free between SEFI and ICL, I’d gotten to spend time exploring Kos with Stephanie before the second conference. I posted some photos of us on Facebook with a notable but unanticipated effect. A colleague of mine from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA, Christopher Kochtitzky, took notice and reached out to connect with Stephanie since their goals for changing the world overlap.

img_0173Thus, one of my top accomplishments of this conference was connecting my colleagues from the CDC and ASEE. Soon Stephanie and Chris will be working together. They will connect engineering educators and students with the CDC’s new initiatives to increase physical activity across the US population and to improve public transportation, particularly with regard to accessibility. Stephanie will be able to tap into Chris’s experience and policy research and Chris will access Stephanie’s national contacts to help achieve CDC goals.


On the Acropolis in Athens

The best surprise of my trip to Kos was meeting and getting to know Rovani Sigamoney from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This organization does amazing work. UNESCO was created following WWII to help preserve cultural monuments, artifacts, and places. Today it seeks to get better educational opportunities to the world population and to improve living conditions. I’ve always admired UNESCO’s work but saw it as a big, far-away organization. Now I see ways I can contribute, and I’m getting straight to work! Thanks, Rovaini, for the fine job you’re doing with the engineering division!


UNESCO’s Rovani Sigamoney

On the last evening of my trip, I dined alone. The waiters provided my favorite dessert, although it wasn’t on the menu, and they made it a gift. Shortly before that, I had snapped a photo of the Kos police station in the evening light (see the end of the photo gallery). Little did I know I’d be back at that station in the morning, to report that I’d dropped my purse.

Into every life, a little rain must fall, and in this case, my purse fell off the back of the e-bike I had rented to get around town on the last day. With the generosity of many different people, I managed to make my way back to London late Saturday night. Now I’m working to recover all those bank cards and government-issued photo IDs. Thankfully, though, I still have my health and my happiness and great memories of Copenhagen and Kos, and friends new and old.

Don’t Cry for Me Thessaloniki… The Truth Is I Never Left You

The places I’ve been live on in my soul.  Glimpses of them flash across my mind throughout the day, inspiring me to be part of making great places and to live life to the fullest.

When I was in Thessaloniki, I tried video recording a cool reflection I found.  (You’ll want to turn the sound down–I don’t have software for editing these yet and the street noise is a bit loud.)

But see how much the reflections change with the slightest shift of perspective or moment in time?

A Parting Glimpse of Greece

Timber cross-bracing supports a central dome.

Here’s one last, spectacular Byzantine church.  I was lucky to find it in my last moments in Thessaloniki.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is located just beside the old city wall, in the northwestern quadrant of the city.

Exterior brick work.

Here’s the name of the church.

A unique system for venting candle smoke to the outside.

Beautiful frescos.

Lighting system.

Sights and Sounds of Thessaloniki

Reflection in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki was amazing!  I had most of a day to explore the city before the conference started.  I had no trouble getting around and the Greek people were amazingly helpful.

Inside the down of the Agia Sophia church.

I was lucky to be exploring the city on a Sunday because all the churches were open for celebrating mass.  I observed christenings in two different churches–one that has a basilica (Christian cross) plan and another with a Byzantine cross plan (where all the arms have equal length). The basilica plan is typical of Roman planning (of Roman Catholic heritage) and the other (like San Marco in Venice) is typical of Greek Orthodox planning.

This area was under control of the Ottoman Empire for a period of time, after it belonged to the Roman Empire, and the Ottomans worked to convert the Christians to Islam.  There are Roman and Byzantine scattered artifacts throughout Thessaloniki.

I missed the actual baptism and anointing, but after that a team of women dressed the baby head to toe. Here the parents presented the fully-dressed child.

I particularly enjoyed visiting the Greek Agora (which became a Roman Amphitheater during Roman occupation of the area) and the Museum of Byzantine Culture.  I had visited the Museum of Byzantine Culture for just an hour on my own, so I was thrilled when the conference included a dinner plus tour there as well.  I felt like a kid in a candy store!
I’m not one to dwell on negatives, but I will mention a couple of oddities of my stay in Greece. There were two bus loads of riot police parked in front of my hotel the entire time I was there.  One week prior to my arrival, the police had reclaimed the building a few doors down.  It had been held by a group of anarchists for the past five years.  I could see burn marks on the underside of the balconies of the building as I walked by.

All set up outside for the after-baptisim festivities.

In the past, I had heard that the riots I’d witnessed in Rome were organized by anarchists from the Balkins, and not by Italian people.  I’ve been in or near Rome for two, both of which were in response to visits by President Bush the second.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that claim, but it certainly seems possible to me now that I’ve seen the anarchists in action in Greece.

Despite the potential for chaos, I felt quite safe everywhere I went in Thessaloniki, even when I was out by myself.  However, I didn’t get a chance to visit the oldest part of the city where it’s acropolis is located, so I can’t speak to the atmosphere of the whole place. But my hotel was allowing the police to use the facilities from time to time, and things felt stable enough to me.

I love to see depictions of saints holding models of churches. This one appears to have a Byzantine cross plan.

There was also some sort of transit strike on the morning I left. I had to take a cab to the airport instead of city bus, and my flight to Rome was delayed for an hour.  After we finally landed in Rome, the folks at the airport forgot to deliver one buggy of luggage to the baggage claim.  That delayed about 40 of the passengers, including myself, for about another hour.  I helped get that sorted out by alerting the airport personnel to the problem.

Each time they enter the church, they visit each important relic. And kiss each and every one!

Overall, I was amazed at how orderly the others on the flight were in loading the plane and, later, waiting for luggage.  Several of them even waited for my luggage–the very last of the set–to emerge before they set off for the city.  They went out of their way to make sure I was okay!

In the interim, I had helped people make their connections by providing advice on how to have baggage delivered directly to their homes.  It was great to be of assistance!  (It wasn’t the first time I awaited lost luggage in Rome.)

I lit a candle in honor of Dave’s dad.

The flights themselves were great.  I managed to get window seats on three of my four flights. As I write this, we’ve just flown over the Ligurian coast of Italy (where Dave and I spent a week this past summer).  I must admit that the mountains that looked so scary from the passenger seat still look scary!  We blew a tire when we accidentally went off-roading.

On another note:  it feels terrific to know the landmarks of Italy and of Rome well enough to get around without a map.  Yesterday, when the busses of Rome were detoured around the city center, I was able to help many tourists find their way.  I don’t even need a map for getting around Dublin, because I spent so much time apartment shopping on line before I arrived!

Headed to Thessaloniki

I’m learning the ropes of budget flights in Europe because I’m headed to Greece for an engineering education conference. Heather and Dave warned me about baggage limitations in Europe! (No wonder people wear so little on vacation at the beach here! They’re not allowed to bring more than a Speedo with them!)

My bag was 2cm too deep. It fit in the bin, actually, but the wheelbase hung over.

Penalty = 50 Euro for that leg of the flight alone. More than that flight cost! Someone in the customs line gave me a helpful tip: checking the bag online saves a little money. Thus, I bought airport wi-fi service (5 Euro) and paid “just” 31.25 Euro to check it for the second leg. The upside is that now I have wi-fi to commune with you!

Better luck to me next time! And luck I may need….

I just realized that although I brought my Irish Residency permit and passport, I didn’t carry my work permit with me (it’s a full sized page and I don’t normally carry it). I sure hope I can get back into Ireland without it! I’d better go ask the Irish Fulbright Office for advice….