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Earlhamite selected to deconstruct democracy in Greece

October 31, 2017

Olivia Tienin ’20 was one of just 24 undergraduates in the world who was invited to participate in the fifth annual Athens Democracy Forum hosted by journalists from the New York Times.

During a whirlwind week spent debating the challenges that globalization is presenting in the world, Tienin met with renowned academics, politicians and corporate business leaders representing some of the most influential brands and organizations in the world. She also heard talks from Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations; Kevin Rudd, the 26th prime minister of Australia; and Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector and human rights activist.

“I didn’t realize the magnitude of the Forum until I got there,” Tienin says. “It wasn’t just about the New York Times. It was about meeting so many people you see in the news and to have the opportunity to ask them questions you normally couldn’t.”

As a Politics major who recently enrolled in the “African Democracy and Dictatorship” class on campus, Tienen had plenty of questions to ask about democracy’s role in developing countries.

“I’m from Burkina Faso and we have many issues with democracy,” Tienin says. “I wanted to know how older countries succeed in terms of democracy and what we can do. What should be done? Is democracy good for African nations or is it simply being imposed on us?”

Tienin spent a week in Athens and lived at the American College of Greece with other students selected to participate by the Global Liberal Arts Alliance, which is managed by the Great Lakes Colleges Association. In addition to attending the three-day forum, Tienin got to sightsee and visited many of the ancient Greek temples she had only previously seen on television.

While the thrust of the forum was around the challenges and opportunities that globalization is presenting across the world, the forum began with a debate on “Globalization: friend or foe.”

“The most important part is that we got to see democracy from different perspectives,” Tienin said recounting several lessons she learned from the delegates on hand from the conference.

“I heard from people who said, ‘don’t treat people like simple voters, treat them as citizens,’ and ‘you don’t export democracy. You import it.’ Those messages really resonated with me.”

Tienin’s experience in Athens is an example of Earlham’s distinctive approach to the liberal arts and the kinds of opportunities Earlhamites have to become citizens of the world. Earlham helps students combine disparate interests and opportunities into a cohesive plan that helps them make the most of their education. The EPIC Advantage offers a funded internship or research experience for all students before graduation.

“When I saw there was an opportunity for students to travel to Greece and discuss democracy across the globe, I immediately thought of Olivia’s informed perspective and thoughtful contributions to our class discussion,” says Jennifer Seely, associate professor of politics. “I knew she would make a terrific participant and I’m so proud she was selected to go. She represents some of the best of Earlham, as well as the generation who will further shape democracy on the African continent.”

Tienin didn’t initially share her professor’s assessment of her qualifications.

“I almost didn’t apply, Tienin says. “I didn’t think a first-year student like me would be chosen to participate in a major event like this. Jennifer and a friend of mine really encouraged me to apply and I turned the application in right before the due date.

“Since returning from Athens, I have gained a lot of self-confidence,” she says. “I was surrounded by many interesting and highly motivated people. The conference taught me that there are still people who are fighting to make this world a better place and that I would definitely like to be part of that goal.”

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

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