By Chris Shaddock
A couple weeks ago I went on a service trip for the American College of Greece, the school I have been studying abroad in. The Meaningful Engagement Service Learning Trip, as it was referred to as, was a school trip in which I, along with a mix of Greek and American students, went to the Greek Island of Samos where we spent time with teenage refugees. The point of the trip was to get students more interested in community service, as well to teach them how to organize a community event.
Samos is an island within the eastern part of the Aegean Sea. Because there is only a mile wide distance between the island and Turkey, it is a common place for refugees from the Middle East to migrate to. Greece and the Greek Islands in general have been a common route for refugees to get into Europe. This is because the many islands within the Aegean allow for the refugees to leave from Turkey and island hop across the islands all the way to Greece in which they can then find access into Europe. There are around 62,000 refugees in Greece. Unfortunately, boating through the Aegean Sea is not completely safe as around 2,500 refugees drowned in the sea in the past year.
For the service project we spent the weekend hanging out with some teenage refugees. None of us were entirely sure what to expect with the teenagers. Most of us had little to no interactions with refugees, and none of us could really understand the experiences they had gone through in their life. While I was not too worried about how the teenagers would be, I was curious about how they felt towards Americans. For the most part, America has been generous to refugees, but the travel ban sort of changed that, especially considering that most of these refugees were from the countries in which the travel ban blocked.
When we actually met them though, they were all extremely nice. In fact, they were by far the nicest teenagers I have ever met. Overall there were around 20 of them and they all came from a lot of different countries such as Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia. With the exception of one girl who was being sent to live in Holland, all the teenagers were boys. Before we met them we were briefly informed about their situation. Most of the teenagers do not actually have a family with them. This is something that can happen with refugees as relocation tends to fracture families, and in some cases people to get left behind.
While the teenagers are not in a great situation, they are doing better than most refugees. The camp at Samos is a pretty good one. They have access to the internet, allowing them to communicate, and the minors in particular get a lot of attention from humanitarian organizations who get them involved in activities as well as educating them. For the most part, the biggest problem that the teenagers suffered was uncertainty of their future in regards to where they would be and how they would live.
We did a lot of different activities with them. We played soccer, in which they were a lot better than me, played various camp games, danced with them and painted a mural together.
What I enjoyed the most was playing soccer with them. While they were a lot more skilled than me, I was a lot faster, so it made for some challenging games. I also found out that a lot of them liked to run, which was something I was able connect to them with. They were also hilarious, as quite a few of them were hitting on some of the girls in the group. When I talked with them I usually asked where they were from and what they liked to do for fun. Although I had many questions about what their life was like as a refugee, I did not want to ask because I wanted to get to know them rather than dig into something that could be too personal.
In the end of it all, we were exhausted. I like to think that means everyone had a lot fun, which was ultimately the point of the service project. If any student is planning on studying abroad in Greece, I would highly recommend doing the Meaningful Engagement Trip. The school does one annually, and they typically go to a different area every time. It was one of the best experiences I have had studying abroad, and gave me a better understanding of situation with the refugees.