Destination Greece: Sun, Studies and Service

As summer approaches, some us are fortunate enough to look forward to a visit to Greece. There are several study abroad or learning opportunities for students that would like to learn about and experience Greece – both classical and modern Greece. Programs are increasingly incorporating elements of local volunteering and community service to help their students establish deeper connections with the local communities that welcome them for the summer. I highlighted some of the stories of young visiting volunteers and interviewed a couple Greek organizations that offer volunteering opportunities for Reinventing Greece.

Journey to Greece students prepare for their volunteer service with the 2010 Special Olympics.

Here is part of that story and the link to the full feature (which is the best part!).

Young people are volunteering while visiting or studying in Greece.

The next generation in the U.S. – young adults from adolescents to about 30 years of age, often referred to as the millenials – want to change the world. Young Americans of Hellenic descent are among them. There are young people from this country volunteering while visiting or studying in Greece. In the process, they are gaining new understandings of Greek society, establishing relationships with people in local communities, deepening their ties to their heritage, and learning important lessons about teamwork, community, leadership and citizen diplomacy.

U.S. millenials volunteer more than any previous generation, according to USA Today, and corporations have found that one of the best ways to attract this next generation as employees is to offer paid time-off to volunteer.

National leaders are recognizing that this desire to have an impact and change the world for the better extends beyond borders. In May 2011, The Next Generation Initiative participated in the Global Diaspora Forum, hosted by the State Department and other partners. We saw national leaders and donors of international programs recognizing and discussing the value of diaspora organizations in strengthening U.S. relations and partnerships with other countries in many fields. One areas of discussion was youth volunteering. Young people are seeking opportunities to go back to their countries of heritage, or other countries, to volunteer.

This trend is evident among Hellenic American youth. In a national student research study conducted by the Initiative in 2010, young Greek and Cypriot Americans overwhelmingly expressed an interest in traveling to Greece for volunteer, internship, study and work opportunities. Students and young professionals report that it is challenging to find information, in English, on community organizations and businesses that offer volunteer or partnership opportunities for diaspora youth.

To address this interest, The Next Generation Initiative would like to help its next Reinventing Greece student and young professional team find opportunities to join their peers in Greece and give back to local Greek communities.

Welcome to phase one in this effort: ask questions and learn.

We asked local non-government organizations (NGOs), community action groups, educational institutions and others about their volunteer programs and community service experiences to learn about opportunities for diaspora Greeks or friends of Greece to give back while they are visiting or studying in Greece. We found that study and travel abroad programs are increasingly incorporating service work in their programs. We are sharing some of their stories here.

As we search for opportunities for our team, we invite you to read about the initiatives we are discovering, and reach out to them to join their efforts if you will be visiting Greece this year. We also invite you to share more of your experiences with us and our readers in the comment section below.

See the stories of young volunteers and read interviews with Greek organizations that offer volunteering opportunities on Reinventing Greece:


Back to School Special: Take a Bus to Your Future

I thought I was long beyond the days of that late August/early September Back to School feeling.  Yet here it is.  It is September. I am back in the U.S., back to Washington, DC, after nearly three months in Greece. People that were on vacation in DC in August are back to their offices and their emails. People that were on vacation in Greece in August are back to their offices and their emails.

Acting on the old Back to School feeling was simple enough: buy crayons (or, I suppose, laptop), set alarm much earlier, get re-acquainted with desk.  The subject matter, teachers and classmates would change, and sometimes the technology, but the routine, while different from the summer routine, would be quite similar to the previous year.

This new feeling is more difficult to act upon. There is no real transition:  my work is the same, and I never really stopped for summer; I just worked from Greece.  Now that I am back, however, people are asking about my experience in Greece, and I still have some assessing to do to truly answer their questions, and the questions I still have.

I already started this process in August, while still in Greece. In a way, I had no choice – I spent a lot of time on buses this summer. Greek KTEL buses with no wi-fi. This included at least three seven-hour bus rides, among several others. At first I dreaded it, wondering what I would do to pass the time besides eating potato chips, but I found myself looking forward to the refuge of being disconnected and finally having time to think. I took care of simple, daily tasks: short-term to-do list, shopping list, drafting emails in a Word document to send later. I read a book for a while. This did not take up seven hours, so eventually I ended up reflecting more deeply on what I was seeing, hearing, experiencing and perceiving in Greece this summer. Then I reviewed my short-term and long-term personal and professional goals.

Now I am recommending the experience. I recommend going beyond the usual logistical preparations to return to a pre-summer routine. What better time than September to really examine what you’ve experienced, where you are going, where you want to go, and how you want to change your world?  Disconnect for a good seven hours.  Put yourself on a bus if it’s the only way you will stay put for that long (it’s the only way I can stay put). Reflect.

And buy some crayons.