Staff Spotlight: Jan Motyka Sanders

Resident Director, Athens and Regional Director for Mediterranean Programs


What is your favorite travel memory?

As a student in Greece I spent a Greek Easter holiday on the island of Patmos. That’s the island where the Apocalypse of St. John happened and there’s an important monastery there now. You can probably imagine what Easter might be like there. Problem was, there were no hotels or pensions in the village near the monastery.

We found a room with Mrs. Eirene in her home and, because it was Easter weekend, the entire village was fasting and there was virtually nothing available to eat. We survived on Mrs. Eirene’s Easter biscuits and a few pickles. This was just perfect because I know this enhanced our experience of the Easter ceremonies. By Sunday, we had been adopted not only by Mrs. Eirene, but by others in the community and enjoyed a truly memorable Easter lunch with all of them.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current institution?

I have acquired the ability to accept and learn from some of the small things which, as a younger director, I would have viewed as irritating problems to be confronted and managed. Some rules and policies, particularly around health and safety, are to be strictly followed but others are bendable. I have grown in empathy and patience by being a small player in the students’ lives as they learn, sometimes from bending rules, from life in Athens.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

Like so many students, there was one – let’s call him Mike - who arrived in Greece with his life all planned out ahead of him. Mike would spend a semester here and then return to the US to pick up where he left off. What happened instead was that Greece sent him on a small detour that really turned into one of those roads less traveled that we all know are supposed to be what we are looking for. He missed the turn that would have taken him up the ranks of some large consultancy firm (where I know he would have thrived) and ended up instead winning a pair of remarkable scholarships. The first allowed him to travel the length of South America, no strings attached. The second allowed him to return to Greece to live and research Greek Orthodoxy, particularly Orthodox Monasticism. This might not be the road you think you want to take, but who ever really knows for sure?

If you could go on any program that your institution offers, which one would you choose and why?

That’s an easy one: Havana. The students who come to Athens so often find themselves in a place for which they can find no parallel - a European capital that is, in so many ways, not European at all, at least not in the way Paris or Rome is. As a student in Cuba I would be placing myself in a situation similar to the one my students find themselves in: new language, new landscapes, different ideas of urbanism and living in a city, different ways of coping with small day-to-day needs, completely out of my comfort zone. I am not sure I can even imagine the challenges I would need to confront but I’d love to give it a try!

What makes your institution unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

The Athens team is unique in our flexible and personally tailored approach to the enhancement of student learning, curricular as well as co- and non-curricular. And, because each student is an individual, this is something we engage in student by student.

I was especially proud of the Athenians at a recent study abroad conference held here in Athens. Though we are few in number, our impact at the conference was, I thought, relatively large and really highlighted the holistic way we work with students.