GLOVO-

As my volunteer leader’s hat so simply states, “Be the Change.” During my time here in Greece, I was determined to live up to this mantra. In accordance with my GLI theme: Inequality, Justice and Injustice, and my topic of focus: Human Rights, I made extensive preparations a semester prior to work with ACTIONAID, Doctors without Borders, or Amnesty International. I was in constant email correspondence with these organizations, my university (DEREE: The American College of Greece), and some Greek friends to make this dream a reality. I kept thinking to myself what an opportunity this would be to work with any one of these prestigious, dedicated organizations while at the same time studying in Greece. However, when I arrived to Greece, not only was I over-whelmed by an entirely new atmosphere, but I also realized that being accepted as a volunteer at any of these organizations would not be an easy task, because I did not speak Greek and I was there on a Student Visa. It seemed that many volunteer organizations were cautious about accepting anyone with a Student Visa because they may be a liability to their organization (even though this was an un-paid position). Moreover, after speaking to personnel in Student Affairs, Career Services and the study Abroad Office, I realized that even if they were to accept me in the long run, I would not be able to pursue the kind of work I was passionate about. More than likely I would be stuck in an office taking care of administrative work.

Determined not to give up yet, I kept getting my voice out there-talking to administrators and students about what I wanted to accomplish, hoping to find a group with common interests to mine. I considered creating a new women’s club or society on campus to collaborate on women’s issues in Greece; however, an advisor warned against this because of the time required to approve a new club and the DEREE students’ lack of dedication to extracurricular, off-campus activities. Since that wasn’t a viable option, I then turned to the possibility of an on-campus internship, discovering soon after that all the internships were already taken. Luckily, in the end I did find my niche, or rather my niche found me. A week later a volunteer leader from an upwardly mobile organization called GLOVO recruited me to be a part of her group. GLOVO is an organization whose mission was to educate and help young people to develop the skills to make a meaningful impact on their society, and to educate them on how volunteerism can benefit both the society and the individual. In Greece, I found that most of the people I spoke to had a negative view of volunteerism, thinking that it made little difference to society and only served to prop up bad organizations that exploited volunteers to do their jobs for them. Contrary to the general consensus of the public, I found the work I did to be both rewarding and eye-opening, despite the pushback we received from many businesses or citizens who didn’t want us meddling in their affairs. During one of our events, we helped to pinpoint the few places in town that were accessible to persons with disabilities to increase awareness on this issue. Furthermore, in another event we helped to launch the opening of the Solidarity Now center in Athens-a center which aims to help those most affected by the financial crisis in Greece. With the opening of the center in Athens, now Greeks, immigrants and refugees can obtain legal services free of charge.

Since that day that GLOVO found me, I have not only felt welcomed and impassioned by this diverse group of people, but I have also felt like I found my home away from home. I was even invited to attend the GLOVO cruise, which rewarded us volunteers by cruising and volunteering around the Greek and Turkish islands. During my time in Greece, I felt so fortunate to be surrounded by a group of young, like-minded peers with such huge hearts. Each and every person had a different story as to how they came to GLOVO and incredible backgrounds to match. They were also so excited to teach me about the Greek culture, language and history, while also learning about mine. By volunteering with GLOVO I was able to make lifelong friends, and become exposed to opportunities I wouldn’t have ever dreamed were possible.

Lessons of Culture Shock

When you imagine your study abroad experience unfolding, you never imagine the drawbacks, the low points…you never imagine that culture shock will happen to you. I am here to tell you that you’re wrong. Listen to Professor Udo Fluck in the Pre-Departure Seminar course, because you will probably go through just about every stage of the Cultural Adjustment curve… Because, if you don’t, you should probably wonder what went wrong.

The first month I was in Greece, I sank into a very dark place. About $400 was stolen from my gym locker, I left a brand new LG Android phone in a taxi, and I was feeling very degraded as a woman, constantly being harassed as I walked to school. Not to mention the fact that every time I went to Carrefour (the grocery store down the block) I was left in an annoying state of perplexity, unable to ask the employees for help to find that jar of peanut butter that I desperately NEEDED. It seemed my only friend in this situation was google translate. At one point, all I wanted was to book the next flight home to Missoula. I felt that in Missoula I would be safe. I could avoid all these potentially threatening situations and no one could take anything more from me. I also felt that I didn’t deserve this opportunity, nor the unconditional love I was shown by my parents. I went to bed every night filled with mindless regret; wondering what life-changing opportunity I could have used that money to finance; or, what quality pictures I could have taken with my fancy new phone. I tried to cut down on money for food, and wouldn’t let myself do anything I considered ‘fun’ for the next month or so.

After considerable time, it began to dawn on me, after the consolation from my parents, new friends, and support circle in Greece. These were all things that I had lost, and I could get them all back if I wanted. However, what I could not get back is the time and memories I was wasting in a country that I may never return to, with friends that I may never see again. I needed to cut myself a break and think pragmatically. When I returned to Montana, I would simply work that much harder to earn the money I had lost and I would live at home to cut down on spending. Beyond that, I had to take a hard look at my values. Anas told me something one day. He said that, “there will be times in your life where you may have nothing, and there will be times in your life where you may have everything. Don’t worry about the times you have nothing, because the point is that you will never truly have nothing in life. It’s all about perspective.” Not only was I letting my mistakes define me, but I was also letting temporary, material things come in the way of experiences and friends that might last a lifetime. I realized a valuable life lesson that day-one that will stay with me for a lifetime. Money and material items are temporary entities that come in the way of happiness. And furthermore, the obstacles I will inevitably encounter in another culture are a good thing. Culture shock sets off an internal transformation of sorts which forced me to realize the value and emptiness of money, and establish faith in my own unconditional worth and ability to persevere.

Simply Thankful

What I learned from my study abroad trip to Aghia Paraskevi, Greece is to sit back and relax a little-to find tranquility withing a tantrum of events beyond my control. Not to settle for complacency, or contentment, but to seek a slice of un-rivaled happiness. I found myself overcome with excitement at the thought of my unfilfilled purpose on this earth. But I also came to terms with the hard truth that I will never be able to do it all or have it all in this world. I don’t want to. I want to live for the small unforgettable meet-cutes with strangers I will probably never see again. I want to spend every waking moment living-truly living. I never want to take a deep friendship for granted, nor can I afford to. I learned that money is replaceable but experiences last a lifetime.

IMG_0685

Here’s a quick look back at the group of the people who made my experience unforgettable.

IMG_1940

And a thank you to the special people who will always remain in my heart.

To Omar: Someone once told me that you are the type of friend that only comes around only once in a lifetime. I think that person was wise beyond their years. You were my rock throughout this journey. Beyond that, you will continue to inspire me with your loving, forgiving nature and the humor and kindness that you show to every stranger, acquaintance and friend that crosses your path. I hope to see you in Egypt soon, my friend.

To Anas: Thank you for instilling in me a new-found sense of pride in my origins, and pushing me to be a better Muslim. I marvel at your dedication to your studies and your knowledge about world history, news, and politics. Although I will never forget the chilling stories you have told me about your home country of Lebanon, I will also never forget the strength and perseverance with which you bore these trials in your lifetime.

To Omiros and his family: Thank you so much for letting me stay with you. Staying with you, I learned the true meaning of Greek hospitality. Someday, I hope to return the favor.

To Alyssa: I hope you will continue to be the powerhouse woman I came to know, love and respect during our wild, Spring Break adventures throughout Europe. I hope you return someday to Paris and live your dream… the city that stole both of our hearts.

To Georgia and Gabriela: You were the best volunteer leaders I could have ever asked for, you taught me that volunteering is simple-it is a way of life and a privilege to those who choose its path. Thank you for putting up with my horrible Greek accent and embodying the true sense of the word: leader.

To Sarah, Elise and Rachel: You may have been my roommates but I consider you family. Deep down inside I hope that our story will echo that of the Sisterhood of the traveling pants, and that we may reunite one day to hear about the beautiful lives that we have all chosen to lead..

Looking back on the trip all I can think is how the time was stolen from me, and incessantly worry if and how anyone will remember me. But this is silly. for It is enough for me to have touched the lives of a few, good people and for them to have touched my life in return.