This semester, Innovate@BCSW is following the experiences of several BC Social Work students who have embarked on international field education placements in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. This is the third post from Skylar Chew, who is working in Mytilini on the island of Lesvos, Greece.
When I read the prompt for my third blog, “Write about successes and relationships you’ve cultivated with peers, at work, and/or with integrating into the local culture,” I laughed out loud as I was sitting with my coworkers at our favorite café, happily drinking my now favorite Greek drink Rakomelo—a warm distilled drink with spices and honey. “How will I ever be able to write about this in only 500 words?” I thought to myself, for one of the most defining parts about my internship has not only been my work in the shelter, but the beautiful friendships I have created and the personal growth I have experienced through seeing others live their lives (and consequently living my own life) a little bit differently than the way I have always known.
I honestly do not know how I can possibly describe the relationships I have formed here except to say that I love and adore the people on this island with all my heart. Since I arrived, my coworkers have not only invited me out every night, but have done so in a way that has made me feel genuinely welcomed and wanted. Their invites have never been out of pity for the “lonely foreigner,” but have been out of warmth, kindness, and the Greek hospitality that I have grown to admire. In fact, many times I have felt so included that I wondered if my friends here forgot that I’m not Greek. For example, people here stay out much later than back home, and the first few times I tried to go home around midnight, my friends looked at me with confusion and asked, “Where are you going?” They did not realize that in my head I was looking at THEM in confusion thinking, “Are you serious? I’m going home! It’s a weeknight and I have to exercise in the morning, go to work, and do this, this, and this…” I could not understand how they could be so at ease just sitting and talking late into the night when there were “so many things that had to be done” the next day.
However, I must admit that I now not only accept this culture, but fully embrace it. I have laughed with my friends here as they have heard me say “Oxi” instead of “No” while Skyping home, have witnessed me drinking espressos at all hours of the day, have swayed me into liking the motorcycle better than the car, have caught me whispering small Greek obscenities under my breath, have convinced me that a day cannot pass without consuming Feta cheese, and have seen me look at my watch at 1:00 AM and say, “Oh, it’s still early.” And although some things such as staying out late at night and getting my nose pierced (sorry Mom!) may seem to my fellow Americans like silly and irresponsible actions, they actually demonstrate how I have miraculously been able to let go of stress and worry here. Always an extreme perfectionist and someone prone to anxiety, I have been amazed at how much my Greek peers enjoy every small moments and how they value happiness and relationships far above achievement, money, and “getting ahead.” I have loved being with them as I have not only experienced a different way of living, but have seen the beautiful parts of me, that have been lost during the past few stressful years of graduate school, come back to life.
A few people here have told me that they really love how much I smile and laugh. When they say this, I am surprised by how right they are in that I laugh SO much here (and not just small giggles, but full-belly, laugh-until-you-cry laughing). But what they don’t realize is that this has not always been the case in recent years and the joy I show here is actually because of their very warmth, kindness, generosity, and way of life. One night when my roommate and I were talking, he told me, “Skylar… ‘Opou gis kai patris,’” which is a Greek saying that essentially means, “Wherever there’s a land there’s a home.” I love this phrase so much as it wonderfully expresses the Greek value of hospitality that I have so graciously benefitted from. I am so grateful to the people on this island more than they will ever know for how much they have made me feel at home here. I cannot believe that I am leaving in two weeks as I feel like a giant piece of me belongs in Lesvos. I pray that as I return to America or wherever else God takes me next, that I too can embrace others as much I have been embraced here. I also hope that all I have learned, and the precious Greek parts of me that I have gained (aside from just my new nose piercing) will remain with me as I continue on wherever I go.