16 May 2019

Students Experienced Greek Refugee Crisis by Volunteering at Athens Nonprofits

A Greek refugee crisis-oriented study abroad during spring break 2018, developed by Virginia Commonwealth University’s “VCU Globe” and Athena Study Abroad, has been named a finalist for the “Innovation in Cultural Awareness” award from GoAbroad.com, a website for people to find and compare international study, volunteer, intern, and teaching programs. Students and staff from VCUarts Qatar took part in the study trip.

Nicknamed the “Athena/VCU Globe in Greece,” the program offered its participants a unique opportunity to learn about Greek culture, the refugee situation and responses in Greece, and to serve the refugee populations within Athens. VCU recently decided to schedule this study abroad program again for March 2020.

Students devoted about 20 hours of service, hosted by Athena and its refugee crisis partners in Greece, to volunteering with the Pampiraiki Warehouse and City Plaza Refugee Accommodation. Students also took a close look at the development and organization of responses to the refugee crisis through: visits and discussions with a local nonprofit, The Orange House shelter; lecture-based visits to migrant neighborhoods of Athens; and a visit to the US Embassy. Students’ goal was to understand the culturally specific development of organizations affected by immigrant population needs and local customs, attitudes and values.

Orange House works predominantly on providing a healthy psychological environment by facilitating learning activities and creative programs.

Athena/VCU Globe in Greece also included culture trips (including lectures) to ancient Greek sites, modern multicultural market visits, and interaction between students from VCU’s Virginia and Qatar campuses.

VCU faculty, aided by Athena staff, debriefed students to help them approach the challenging questions that the refugee crisis elicits on personal and international levels, and to help them share their different experiences absorbing life abroad.

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