In less than two weeks I decided to live in Greece for two months. But this was quite spontaneous and, for me, the adventurous decision became one of the most instructive and valuable experiences that have happened to me so far.
My arrival in November in the small village of Polykastro in northern Greece was a bit disappointing. My expectations of skipping the grey winter in Germany in white, airy clothes at the crystal-clear sea turned out to be a naive and nonsensical cliché. It seemed to me that I had landed in the probably coldest and most boring place in Greece. But appearances are deceptive, I quickly settled in and fell in love with the village with the unusual number of pharmacies, tempting bakeries, and the view of the mountains of North Macedonia.
However, my real reason for coming was not to try all the baked goods but to do voluntary service at OCC. The team, which consists of around 20 members from all over the world (including the Czech Republic, Kurdistan, Catalonia, Iraq & Portugal), immediately welcomed me and made me feel at home. I valued my time and the togetherness here so much that I decided on turning the original two months into four.
My everyday life consisted of helping out in the “Community Cafeteria”, a place where, for example, people from the nearby refugee camp can come together to relax and socialize in a safe atmosphere. I also help out in the “bike space” to facilitate mobility and we offer other leisure and sports activities. At one point I taught a computer course with another volunteer, but now I’m responsible for teaching English and, since just recently even German.
Here I get to feel how prejudiced and ignorant some Europeans are, and how deeply thinking in terms of stereotypes and racism is present, including myself. Many parts of the system seem to be trying to make the often involuntary stay for refugees as cumbersome and nerve-wracking as possible.
For me now it’s not just random people, but friends and colleagues who have been forced to leave their countries and adapt to completely new traditions, customs, and mentalities; ho suffer from the complicated bureaucracy, not having seen their families for years, and are disadvantaged in so many areas. I have learned how incredibly important it is to change perspective and learn about people’s fates and experiences to get a better understanding of their problems and situation, but also to recognize and break prejudices and racist narratives.
In conclusion, I would like to recommend everyone to take advantage of opportunities like this, to educate themselves and help out where they can. Because you not only help others, but also yourself, and as uncomfortable as it may sound at first to break out of your “bubble”, the nicer and more valuable it is to know the beauty and diversity of other cultures and to expand your comfort zone. From my four months here I will take away far more than just a few souvenirs, and I wish everyone to have a similar experience at least once.