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How Volunteering with Refugees in Greece Changed Me

by Breanna Booker
How Volunteering with Refugees in Greece Changed Me | AIFS Study Abroad

While studying abroad, so many days seemed to be the best days I had ever had. I would see new sights and think something along the lines of, “Is this real life?” or “Am I actually witnessing something so incredible?” Studying abroad was filled with a million memories and I would gladly sit down with anyone and blabber on about all of the wondrous places I saw while I was away. My mind was continuously blown on, what seemed to be, a daily basis. I would live in each moment, that seemed to pass to quickly, hoping I would never forget its magic. Yet, as incredible as it was to watch the Eiffel Tower as it sparkled at night, the best thing I did while studying abroad had nothing to do with scenery or a structure that had been built.

You don’t know what life is like in another place until you witness it firsthand; behind the scenes of tourist shops and all-inclusive resorts.

Traveling has a way of showing you how little you know, while teaching you so much at the same time. It makes you feel small, as you feel yourself grow.

Out of all of the places I visited, nothing compares to the weekend I spent on a service trip on a little Greek Island right next to Turkey. The trip was called “Meaningful Engagement,” and it truly was just that. We spent our time helping the island get ready for tourist season. We painted, cleaned, and offered a hand to whomever needed it.

Then we spent a day with unaccompanied minors from all over the Middle East. This opened my eyes to so much. It has taken me awhile to write about it, because the experience wasn’t something anyone could take lightly. It opened my eyes to things I already knew, but didn’t quite understand. I have heard about the terrible things that happen overseas for so long, but until you witness something firsthand, you can’t quite comprehend its affect.

They’re in the news, but you don’t learn their stories.

I heard testimonies from people who had dealt with these terrors. I never could have prepared for the information I was given, but I have now grown from it.

We all hear about the terrifying battles being faced in places in the Middle East. I have watched countless videos showing the seemingly insuperable voyages they set off to in order to find an ounce of freedom. I hate to admit it, but even with all of my knowledge about the war and the suffering refugees, I had no idea how bad it really was.

How Volunteering with Refugees in Greece Changed Me | AIFS Study Abroad

I had never played soccer, before I went on that trip, but I happily attempted to play with them. Nothing I saw while traveling abroad compares to seeing a smile on a refugee’s face and somehow they were always smiling. That’s the crazy thing. After what they have gone through, you would think they wouldn’t remember how to smile, but they do it more than anyone I know. We danced traditional Greek dances together – or maybe I should say we tried to dance Greek dances together. In actuality we were tripping over our feet and laughing so hard our stomachs hurt. I have never felt so carefree, while feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders.

While visiting the unaccompanied minors, I was taught so much. I will never forget the way these children were so alive. I learned to smile. No matter what life throws at me, for now on, I will take it with a upturned lips. I know the haunting inside of them had to be brutally overbearing; they have gone through and seen so much and their fight is certainly not over, but they taught me that there is nothing that could happen to me that could ever wipe away happiness from my face. Those who are seeking asylum are on the run from terrifying conditions that no one outside of their situation can fully grasp. We have the choice to help. Refugees are as brave as it gets: they take the risk of crossing into a foreign country to find help and I learned what it’s like to be a helpful hand, letting them know that they are not alone.

This post was contributed by Breanna Booker, who studied abroad with AIFS in Athens, Greece.

How Volunteering with Refugees in Greece Changed Me | AIFS Study Abroad

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