Saturday, August 6, 2011

Our Top Ten Service Team Experiences

We celebrated and packed tonight. And we also reflected on the highlights of this experience. Here are our favorites.

1. The bachelor party. How many other teams have been lucky enough to make the guest list at a Greek bachelor party? Um, none. We danced, learned to toast (“Yia Mas!”) ate lamb cooked three different ways, and were completely embraced by Greek hospitality.

2. Greek salad. We learned that you eat it with every meal, and that the block on top of the lettuce and tomatoes really is feta cheese.

3. Greek soccer. So there we were, having a nice, quiet meal at Petousis,, down the street. Suddenly, the place exploded in a restaurant-wide unison cheer: Heraklion had just scored a point against another Greek soccer team. Pandemonium ruled—as does Greek soccer.

4. Raki. Distilled from leftover grapes, shots of this drink are what foreigners call “firewater. “ The locals claim it can be used medicinally. Right.

5. Sam and her children. We guess that not every service programs includes not only a fabulous team leader, but also that leader’s fabulous children, who translate, teach the volunteers to dance, help them shop, and join them for pizza. Thank you, Millie, Lia, Gabriella, Antony, and Alice!

6. The Handakas Hotel and its family. It’s not quite right to call it a hotel. It’s more like a town square, where the locals gather to talk, play cards, and watch the news. Then, they make dinner for their guests. And breakfast the next morning.

7. The taxi strike. OK, it was a bother. We had to drag our luggage around. But protest like this isn’t unusual in Greece. Protest signs are everywhere and about everything. It’s best not to take the media coverage too seriously. By the time we left, the strike had been “suspended” until September.

8. Dancing. Everyone dances the traditional Greek dances. Kids learn them about the time they learn to walk, and then do them with everyone else at parties, weddings, and end-of-school celebrations. We learned these dances, too. Sort of. Everyone welcomed us to the circle, though, and we got points for trying.

9. Day trips. We’ll file this under team bonding., as we remember the weekend jaunts to the ancient ruins of the palace of Knossos and to the dramatic island of Santorini.

10. The kids. They’re noisy, smart, funny, and serious about being bilingual. They are challenging and competitive. They tease and hug. They have boundless energy. And they all dance

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Flexibility, Flexibility

When we first got here, Sam told us we would need to be “flexible.” Now we know what she meant: “Think like a Slinky with a good heart and a sense of humor.”

This is because, as much as we might prepare, tomorrow will most likely look nothing at all like today. This is summer camp for these kids, after all, and their schedules, motivation, and temperaments are as variable as ours. Last week we had 14 fifth- and sixth-graders; today we had 3. And these included the very best student in the class, who volunteered to “translate for the others,” to the most challenged, who said, with his head in his hand, “I cannot do.”

Luckily, we knew enough by now to table the synonym worksheet and the Bingo game we had planned. Instead, we gave our star student—and her sidekick—a few challenging Wordsearch puzzles while we worked with our struggling student on basic nouns and verbs. Regular school teachers should be so lucky.

I’m not sure how our volunteers did this in the pre-Internet days. We are saved daily by quick access to online worksheets, word games, conversation starters, and teaching ideas. What did people do when they couldn’t Google “ESL?”

On the other hand, our most successful activity so far was our own inspiration: a scavenger hunt. Would these kids think it was fun to go scouring the school grounds to find out what was hidden in the corner by the teachers’ office or how much Nestea costs in the school store? Whoa. We have succumbed to their pleas and will do it again tomorrow. And that will be our last day. For now.

Monday, August 1, 2011

On Distance

“You must go to Santorini!” Before we left home, almost all of us heard this. So yesterday, we took the two-hour-plus boat ride to this dramatic island. It not only may have inspired the tales of Atlantis, but also stole the show in the more recent The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Santorini is a fantasy island: whitewashed buildings all trimmed in blue, labyrinth streets, and 400 churches crowded with holy icons, all stacked on sheer vertical cliffs that rise as high as 1,000 feet above sea level. It is also stacked with tourists; there is very little wriggle room. The only space smaller than the distance between sunscreen-slathered tourists was the six-inch distance between our bus going up the hill and the other bus coming down.

Santorini was lovely, for sure, but it is not this Greece that drew us here. Back at the hotel Sunday night—exhausted and trying hard not to be cranky—we felt like we were coming home. After all, we danced at the party here Friday night, we know how to get around town on buses that don’t say “tour” on the side, and when we dragged into school today, it felt exactly like Monday morning. Even the kids were droopier than usual. It’s a long way between Santorini and Saint Martina School.

Friday, July 29, 2011

How Quickly They Learn

In yesterday's class, Dimitris said Arnold Schwarzenegger was a "loser." This came during a small-group conversation as we looked at People magazines's portraits of the last century's 100 top American celebrities. These kids may not be too sure about the difference between "they're" and "their," but they know almost all of People's celebrities: Mohammed Ali, Jennifer Lopez, even John Lennon. American culture has clearly infiltrated Crete's middle schools.

The week has not been an exactly easy ride. The kids are restless. It's oppressively hot. We're often not very sure what we're doing. And in our class, at least, the range of proficieny is vast--from the 15-year-old girl who could probably teach the class, to the shy 11-year-old boy who struggles with basic vocabulary.

And yet. They are wonderful kids: smart, goofy, and willing to spend time with a bunch of Americans who think they can help steer them, in some small way, toward successful adulthood--without losing any of their Greek heritage.

It's a heritage of utter hospitality. As I have been sitting here in the hotel lobby, for example, one of the women who helps run the place handed me a kok, a sweet, fabulously delicious Greek treat. Other women are peeling fresh vegetables in the kitchen. They're getting ready for a bachelor party here tonight for a relative who is getting married Sunday. There will be somewhere between 150 and 200 people and a menu of lamb, chicken, and who-knows-what-else. They will dance the siganos and the haniotis, two Greek dances that Sam's daughters taught(or tried to teach)us last night. And then on Sunday, they will close the hotel down and all go to the wedding.

We'll play tourist this weekend, then return for our second week at school.

And by the way, I didn't disagree with Dimitris.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Smarter than a fifth-grader?

Am I smarter than a fifth-grader? Joanna and Irini would say, "No way!" (I'm sure there is a Greek translation.)These 10- and 12-year-olds stayed with Kevin and me for their entire free period today, trying to teach us Greek words and phrases. After much head-slapping and groaning, they seem to have decided we were hopeless. "See you tomorrow!" they called as they left, which we took as both an optimistic sign and also a clear indication of their bilingual superiority.

We have now taught for three days. Every morning a bus picks us up at 8 at our hotel and delivers us to Saint Martina School, about 10 minutes away. We return to the hotel at about 1:30. In between, we teach three 45-minute classes and use one free period to recuperate.

In some ways, it is more challenging than I thought it would be. We plan many of our activities on the run. Some work; some clearly need re-thinking. And the kids vary in their English comprehension. Some can write a coherent paragraph; others have trouble with basic vocabulary.

It is also more fulfilling than I imagined (see Joanna and Irini above). The kids are eager to learn, even in this very hot weather on their summer vacations. I am also thrilled to see my daughter becoming attached to the third- and fourth-graders she and Samantha are teaching.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, it seems nothing like a hotel. It’s more like a big house with lots of bedrooms and a big dining room. It is impossible to tell the owners from the relatives from the guests. Here in the lobby, they gather to talk, play cards, and feed us. They don’t speak much English, but they hug us and laugh with us. We hear there's a party here Friday night; I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Kalimera (hello)!

By Mary

We are a far-flung group here. Lara lives in Newfoundland on an island where she watches whales up close from her front yard. Samantha is a college student in North Carolina, but hails from, well, everywhere, currently Texas. Brenda is a California
mom who likes kick-boxing. Kevin, Maggie, and I are the Minnesota reps, telling everyone over and over that yes, it does really get that cold up there.

For the next two weeks we're going be a pretty tightly-knit group. We've come to Crete under the umbrella of Global Volunteers, an organization that sets people up on vacations that include service. We're pretty pleased that our own service--teaching English--happens to be in this tropical island just south of mainland Greece.

We've been asked to teach English here because kids can't get into college without it. The public schools only offer two hours of English a week, not nearly enough to get that English diploma. So families either have to send their kids to private schools or hire tutors--an impossiblity for many families experiencing Greece's long and severe economic slump.

It's not that any of us have any expertise in teaching English as a second language. That doesn't matter, the Global Volunteer staff has told us; you just need to help these kids become better at conversational English. So when classes started this morning, we went forth--with some guidelines, some lesson plans from former volunteers, and of course, some well-deserved trepidation.

It's a summer camp for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade. I have to admit I was secretly hoping for younger kids, but Kevin and I wound up with the fifth and sixth graders, those boisterous but often-lovable tweens. And our class includes both--16 of them (more or less, depending on the day) who, we learned, love to compete with each other in word-search games, but don't care so much for writing paragraphs. We are revising as we go along.

Our coordinator here is Samantha Pinakoulaki,a tightly organized and very kind woman of British birth, who met her husband here when she was in a touring dance company. Twenty years and five children later, she and all her kids are bilingual--and all help with the program. The kids work in the classrooms as translators--and often as managers. Thank goodness.

We're staying at the Hotel Handakas, a small hotel where the owners feed us with fresh produce from their garden just outside. Patiently, they also teach us Greek and treat us as loved family. That's pretty much how we're feeling.

Monday, March 21, 2011

University of MN on Global Volunteers program in Greece

Friday, March 18th, 2011:
Last full day today. Awoke and gathered in the lobby in our usual fashion, trickling in just before or just after 8am. Had our breakfast, stared at the clouds which look full and threaten rain and discussed the previous nights’ adventures. The bus arrived on time and we trundled up the mountain one last time. By now the people of the center are used to our presence and shouts of Kali-Mera! greet our entrance. We finished some crafts, had some delicious Greek pastries provided by the center and then went up the hill to practice parade marching in anticipation of St. Spiro’s participation in the Easter parade. After a couple turns around the circle we joined in the fun and marched with them.

It is amazing, at least to me, the way these people so easily let us in to their lives, allowing us to come in, sit with them at their table, use their materials and participate in their activities – all without argument, judgement or a second thought – we were included by them. There’s a lesson in that.

After parade practice we got a surprise, a trip down the mountain a little ways to the local monastery. We paired up, held hands and proceeded down. The monastery was quiet, serene, peaceful as well as beautiful. Quite a setting there up in the mountains. We were treated to candies and a hearty ring of the bell by the nuns present. We were allowed to roam a bit and take photos, an opportunity we made good use of. After our visit we passed back through the stone archway and up the winding road to the St. Spiro center once again.

We took some more photos, had some small conversation and played basketball for a few minutes and then it was time for lunch for the people at the center. Aphrodite was particularly aware that it was time for us to say goodbye and posed for many photos with us as well as giving most of us hugs. As the bus pulled away we got yet more waves from some of the guys who had eaten quick so they could play more basketball. Though it was not a grand farewell it was a fond one.

I think we’ll all remember our brief encounter with the people at St. Spiro, from George the atomic bomb kicking whirlwind to Yanni of Canada fame to Kaite who really loved playing ball, it was a joy to share a brief moment in their lives and share in their spirit of caring and openness. Once back at the hotel we enjoyed what we’ve come to expect, a delicious and filling (or over filling) lunch, with pizza made especially for us.

In the afternoon we went our separate ways, some napping some visiting the beach or going into Gazi or to Carfore one last time for a look around and some chocolate. We then met up to travel into Heraklion for a farewell Gyro dinner. Sam cried when we gave her her winter had which would especially equip her for her next visit to Minnesota when we would all see her again. We all had taken our pictures in the hat as well for an added dimension to the gift which Brook promised to get a college made and a print sent to Sam as a keepsake of our visit. It has been an amazing week with amazing people, both Greek and American, and it has been an experience none of us will ever forget. It has been a week of surprises, both large and small, from finding out we wouldn’t be teaching in the schools, to Sami leaving, to the unexpected treat of the monastery today – there were a lot of twists and turns for a short spring break trip such as this. Through it all the kindness, patience and generosity of everyone we met and the flexibility and willingness to just go with it from the Global Volunteers team means I can confidently report we didn’t just meet our goals but we exceeded them, and we had a great time along the way.

Quote of the Day:

“Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Monday, March 14, 2011

Former Volunteer Posts AMAZING YouTube Videos!!

We at Global Volunteers are privileged to work with so many wonderful volunteers, partners, and supporters each and every day.

Last week, one particular volunteer, Graham, truly knocked our socks off when he shared a 9-part video series he had created about Global Volunteers and posted on YouTube!! These videos feature the travels and experiences of numerous Global Volunteers (particularly one tight-knit group from New Jersey) and we welcome you to take a look at these exceptional videos by using the link below.

Thank you, Graham!! And for the rest of you... ENJOY!!

Global Volunteer Retrospective Video (Greece):

Friday, February 25, 2011

Apokries on Crete!

Are you interested in volunteering in Greece? Well pack your bags for several weeks of service work AND good times if you opt to serve in February or March. The three weeks before lent, Greeks celebrate Apokries or Carnival. It is a celebration that offers:

"a chance to escape everyday monotony and enter into a world of party, fantasy, jinks and 'kefi' (high spirits) ... a feast of dance, wine and meat before the sacrifices and fasting of Lent."

The purpose and tradition of this celebration are as follows:

In Greece the Carnival started in Ancient times, believed to be as a worship to Dionysos, the God of Wine and Feast. In the Orthodox tradition Apokries is the preparation period before Lent. Apokries means literally saying goodbye to meat - Apoxh apo kreas - apo-kreas. In Latin the roots of the word Carnival has the same meaning - 'carne' is meat and 'vale' goodbye." ~ Quotes courtesy of

If you would like to learn more about this festival, please visit the following link:

If you would like more details about when you can volunteer on Crete with Global Volunteers in 2011/2011, please visit the following link:

We hope to hear from you soon, and our host communities and children are eager to welcome you to their home!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Considering Volunteering on Crete? Here's A Sneak Peek!

Does the idea of volunteering abroad overwhelm you? Think it might be a bit stressful?? Have no fear! Global Volunteers' does everything possible to address the normal stress of travels and getting settled into a new community. Please read on to learn about the Orientation that all Global Volunteers take part in (yes, it is a part of every single service program!) and see an example from a 2010 team in Greece!!


Global Volunteer's proprietary onsite orientation and team-building process focuses each team member's ability to give of themselves fully, and has been cited as one of the most valuable, if unexpected, benefits of participating on a team. Following this orientation day -- conducted by Global Volunteers local staff and host organization representatives, project leaders and consultants -- you begin work.


Examples of Orientation outcomes, courtesy of Sam, Greece Country Manager!

Team goals were identified under the following five areas:
1) FUN

More speifically, volunteers identified these goals & interests:

To play
To make friends
To help others
To experience Greece
To relax
To bond with people
To teach children
To see the world
Interact with local people
To provide service
To see a different country
Meet new people (and possibly) friends
To experience working with different kids
To experience culture

Team characteristics were then identified:
• Flexibility
• Punctuality
• Cooperation
• Enthusiasm
• Helpful
• Prepared
• Respect


If you think volunteering on Crete is right for you, please don't hesitiate to give us a call!! You can reach us at (800) 487 - 1074. You can also visit our website to request info and 'Like' us on Facebook!! Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

University of Minnesota Student Group to Volunteer on Crete!

The University of Minnesota will be joining us for an alternative spring break this year on Crete!! We're very much looking forward to their week of service, and we encourage other univeristy groups to consider this exciting volunteer opportunity as well. Read on to learn more...

Today, students are joining our teams in greater numbers than any time in the past!

We're collaborating with universities, colleges and high schools across the country to integrate service-learning components into broad-based curricula such as:

•field experience in development and foreign aid
•direct assistance in public health and health care
•"real-world" experience in foreign language studies
•cross-cultural communication and international relations

Additionally, service programs offer the student opportunities to enhance interpersonal skills, problem-solve professional situations in an intercultural context, and enhance critical thinking skills.

Organize a group of six or more, obtain special discounts, and magnify your assistance abroad. Intact groups of six or more can join any scheduled team with spaces available. Exclusive groups of at least 12 volunteers may select non-published dates or join a formed, public team!

Contact a Volunteer Coordinator at (800) 487-1074 for more information on your 2011 student group volunteer opportunities!!