Miriam in Thessaloniki, Greece // Final Report

A new chapter arrives what to do with the old one?

I flew and I go to the light I slide

nothing I don’t want to think

A thousand analyses and as many solutions

I talk, I talk, I talk, but I don’t live.

Let’s go further with you around the world,

I’ll go on a journey without a destination.

This is part from a Greek Song I started to love very much recently and I believe it fits quite well to my final report. The name of the song is Pame pio pera (πάμε πιο πέρα) from Mariza Rizou and the title can be translated into lets go further. The song talks about a journey with many possibilities but without a concrete destination except being present in the moment.

My chapter in Thessaloniki ended two months ago. And since then, I play the procrastination game with my final report. On the one hand I had various things to do but on the other hand I was delaying the reflection. What would be the outcome? Would there be a final evaluation? Does there have to be an outcome? I had kind of weird feeling towards this evaluation although when I think about it, I had a huge development in the last year. For instance, I found out about a lot of things that I don’t need in my life… That sounds pretty grim, but it is actually not.

But first things first to sum up what I have been up to in my year in Greece:

I was working for one year in the project management department of an international NGO called United Societies of Balkans. There I was planning different activities, I went to organizational meetings in Greece and other parts of Europe such as Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, or Malta. Additionally, I worked there as trainer and organized different learning activities for the NGO. Moreover, I was involved in writing reports and project applications and other office related work. The character of this experience was more like a full-time job working experience than something you would consider as voluntary service, but that was something we agreed on before I went there.

The NGO USB is an international youth organization that works in international projects that spread awareness about human rights (mainly among young people) and other societal issues in order to speak up for equality. They organize international and local activities. Furthermore, they work as umbrella organization organizing ESC volunteering opportunities within different organisations in Thessaloniki and in the area of Chalkidiki: https://www.usbngo.gr/en/united-societies-balkans-usb

To be honest, when I reflect now about my expectation towards my voluntary service in Greece they are very different to what it became to be in the end. My original expectations were to dive into another culture, learn a new language and get some working experience and above all get some relaxed time and summer vibes after my bachelor and master studies. Maybe as well travel a bit and see different parts in and around Greece.

Reality kicks in and the voluntary service involved quite some work and a loooooot of travels. Chaotic city which made it easy for me to fall in love and chaotic and for me quite alien-like Greek culture. I think I was a little overconfident on how I could fit it because I already spent some time abroad in southern European countries and south America, too. To generalize in these kinds of situations is a deathly mistake you can make because you put the prejudice about how some countries are similar in some way over the individuals. And additionally, you compare yourself and how open you are in different phases of your life. But of course, you evolve, and you don’t have the same expectations, the same needs, and the same boundaries as maybe four or even seven years ago. So, after quite a short time I realized that (of course) your expectations don’t fit into the reality.

And now I want to apologize for generalizing a loooooot in the next paragraphs. Even though I talked about not generalizing and putting people in boxes in the prior paragraph (about people from southern Europe and South America). And now, I will exactly do that. In this moment I am not capable to sum up my experience differently. If you cannot deal with that, then maybe just listen to the song I quoted in the beginning and skip the rest of the article. It describes my experience quite well in form of an atmosphere and not bare words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XryjGc4CJqg

So, Greece:

The Greeks system is unfortunately quite dysfunctional (no too many surprises there) and most of the people have massive issues to survive. I am thinking about if I did not have enough sensitivity to understand the people struggles at the point when I was there. Because in some moments I experienced them for example as xenophobic because a lot of times Greek people prefer to have for instance Greek neighbors, and they blame foreigners for things that go wrong in their country. Politically speaking they are not too wrong. I am not saying that Greece is innocent. Their system faced (at least as far as I remember) always issues with corruption and nepotism (the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs). And there is still this weird spirit of being Greek which is connected to the philosophers from the ancient world as inventor of the modern democracy. But it for sure derives not without any reason. My theory is that Greece was extremely disadvantaged in European politics, or the measures taken were not implemented in the system because of the system itself. It feels like the Greeks are done with politics because it just gets worse for them. People work in two or three jobs at the same time to basically survive. It’s a sad reality, where maybe the illusionistic memory of better times because the stereotypical thought of Greece encloses still this veil of mythology, the implementation of the Olympic games and as well the ancient philosophers that laid the foundation for democracy. But even though this descriptions and weird analysis feels very negative at the same time it feels authentic from the people’s side and its part of the whole country which does not consist basically of Santorini: White buildings, blue roofs, sunsets the beach and the sea without people and problems.

At the same time, when you are in Greece you find extreme caring and helpful people showing you support and affection even though you are not very close (yet). People take you home to their parent’s place and everybody is very inviting to share their culture and homes. In Thessaloniki you find a very vibrant city with a large night life. You encounter incredible young people that lead you through this massive chaos. You meet other volunteers who totally get your relationship to this city and accompany you with a lot of understanding because they go through similar experiences. In Greece you have this extremely beautiful and incredible landscapes of both the mountain and seaside. They collide with big ugly cities with massive square blocks of houses side by side with Byzantine churches or ancient temples.

By writing this report/reflection, I realize that I miss this country of contradictions already. And I feel that the report is incomplete because it doesn’t grasp the full experience but maybe it is not supposed to do that. I am still not sure what the country and the voluntary experience fully means to me, but I don’t have to figure this out now. Step by step. As the Greeks would say sigá-sigá (σιγά-σιγά) which translates into slowly slowly.

Πάμε πιο πέρα

Με πολλή αγάπη για σένα, Ελλάδα <3


Miriam was hosted by United Societies of Balkans on the project “Global Difference Makers”, financed by the European Solidarity Corps and JUGEND für Europa.