Lauren Haley, a BA Anthropology student, spent a month working with migrants and refugees in Athens with the help of Santander Universities Go Abroad funding.
Following a successful application for Go Abroad funding, I spent 4 weeks in Athens volunteering with refugees/migrants. Despite extensive attempts, the informality of organisations supporting refugees/migrants due to lack of central funding meant it was quite difficult to plan ahead. However, the flexibility of the Santander Go International Bursary meant I could still receive this financial support by providing evidence part way through my placement. When arriving in Athens, through the initial outreach I made prior to flying, I was put in contact with an autonomous organisation who provide teaching by volunteers in squats, as they cannot access state-facilitated education.
Hence, during my stay I ran classes in Maths and English for both children and adults, as well as one on one tutoring with some pupils. Additionally, I ran play/activity sessions for the children in sports/art/music. As this was my first time teaching, this opportunity allowed me to gain competences in planning and leading classes for students of a variety of ages and levels. I also gained practical competences in relation to working within a cross cultural environment and negotiating the complexities of working with displaced people. Moreover, I met so many amazing people and returned with a humbling insight into the situation for refugees in Athens.
On returning to England, this experience has provided me with the confidence and experience which has encouraged me to persevere with such volunteering endeavours. Consequently, now I am teaching English with refugee children and adults as a volunteer with two London based charities. Moreover, as I now enter my third year, going international has led me to reflect on my post-graduation plans. I feel motivated to become officially qualified in teaching English as a foreign language, with the view of returning to Athens on a more long-term basis, and channel my future work plans in this direction.
As a student from a low-income background with the stresses of rent to pay during summer break I would not have been able to ‘Go International’, particularly as an unpaid volunteer, without this bursary. I thought my application would never be successful, however I gave it a go and ended up gaining an amazing opportunity which has most definitely progressed my personal and professional ‘development.’ Thus, I highly recommend those who qualify to grasp this opportunity.