Your Guide to Volunteerism and Travel in Greece: Sam Pinakoulaki
Meet Your Guide to Volunteering While You Travel in Greece
Samantha Pinakoulaki is Global Volunteers Greece Country Manager, having joined the team in 2005. As country manager, she manages all aspects of the service program in Greece including the logistics, project assignments, and cross-cultural experiences, making sure that all volunteers have a safe and meaningful experience. When Sam is not busy leading teams, she works in the marketing department on various projects. When on a service program in Greece, Sam will be your guide on everything – culture, volunteering, development, and travel in Greece.
How a Brit Came to Greece
Sam was born and brought up in Hertfordshire, England, and was the third of four children. She says she recalls her childhood with fond memories and a highly supportive family, who spent a lot of their time driving her to dance competitions most weekends. Sam says she always had a passion for the arts.
At the young age of four, Sam was given her first pair of tap shoes and from then on, she says, her life was just dancing. At the age of 12, she auditioned and was offered a place at an all-girls performing arts school called Arts Educational School in Tring, Hertfordshire. It was a boarding school where the curriculum was split combining academic lessons in the mornings and the arts (Drama, Dance, and Music) in the afternoons. She graduated at the age of 16 with Honors in Dance.
After that, she continued her studies at a higher level at a performing arts school in London, studying Drama, Music, and Dance. While she was there, she won a contract with a dance company and spent the next five years traveling the world. For her last contract, she traveled to the island of Crete in 1989 where she met her husband, who was a musician. She fell in love, got married, and never looked back.
She tells of arriving in Crete and meeting her husband: “It was Friday and we were due to open the show on Saturday so we spent many hours in rehearsals with the Greek singers. There was also a Greek band and the cutest bass player ever! Looking back, it probably was love at first sight. It didn’t occur to me that he spoke English as I shared my thoughts about him with my fellow dancers – how cute and good-looking he was.
“Lo and behold, the next day he came up to me and, in perfect English, told me if I needed help with anything, I could count on him! Long story short, I ended up staying in Crete while the dance company moved on to another Greek island a month later. Twenty-seven years later, we are married and have five amazing kids. Our eldest works for Global Volunteers as well. Three are currently studying at different universities in Europe and the youngest is in junior high.”
A Short Interview with Sam
How did you first learn about Global Volunteers?
“In 2004 Global Volunteers started a new partnership with the Municipality of Malevizi on the Island of Crete, Greece. It was a four-week summer school program for local elementary kids run by Global Volunteers. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom with five kids from the ages of six months to 12 years old. I was so determined to learn the Greek language that, as my kids were growing up, I wasn’t speaking English to them. So when I received a flyer from their school offering a summer program in conversational English, I jumped at the opportunity and signed them up.
“At that time, there was a Volunteer Team Leader who flew in to lead the teams (Mr. Warren Williams), but he spoke little Greek and our host didn’t speak English. So one of my kids volunteered me as translator for the final celebrations! Thus, under the remarkable guidance of Warren Williams (my mentor and dear, dear friend) a year later I was offered the position of Greece Country Manager. To this day, I still don’t know who put my name forward to translate, but it changed my life and I’m glad they did!”
“Sam is extremely outgoing and positive. She obviously enjoys her work and the people with whom she works. Her effusive personality and her wonderful sense of humor are qualities that make her a joy to be around. Sam is very bright and knowledgeable, which makes spending time with her highly educational.”– Greg Potvin, retired elementary school teacher and volunteer in Greece
What compels you to work for Global Volunteers?
“There are a number of reasons that drive me to continue to be a part of Global Volunteers. I can hardly believe it’s been 12 years now! Their vision and mission, their core values, and obviously the Philosophy of Service are all compelling to me. The essence of being part of a “worldwide” family and the genuine love I feel from and for my colleagues. To be able to enjoy a job that is so meaningful and fun, that you forget that it is actually your job!”
What is one of your favorite parts of your job?
“The whole “team leading” role has to be my favorite part of the job – introducing the volunteers to my community and culture is extremely satisfying, plus I get to be a kid again, working with children 80% of the time!”
Why should volunteers spend a week or two in your community?
“There are so many reasons to volunteer and travel in Greece! If they join me here in our community, Malevizi, I guarantee they will be able to experience many, if not all, of the following:
- History: Visit the Minoan Palace of Knossos and museums
- Culture: Take part in one of the many cultural celebrations
- Hospitality: Become part of the hotel’s “family”
- Ridiculously delicious food: Enjoy Greek salads, moussaka*, feta cheese, Greek yogurt, olives, and so much more
*Moussaka is one of the most famous Greek dishes and consists of a layer of sliced potatoes, a layer of sliced zucchini, and a layer of eggplant covered with ground beef topped with a béchamel sauce – delicious!
- Sandy beaches: Relax on the beautiful sandy beaches
- Warm climate: Enjoy the warm climate and the fresh breeze
- Breathtaking landscapes: Take a local bus and enjoy the views
- Mountainous villages: Hire a car and become a “true Greek” by enjoying a coffee in a mountainous village coffee shop
- Santorini Island: Take a short ferry ride to Santorini Island, famous for the best sunset in the world!”
When people think of travel in Greece, they may not be thinking of volunteer vacations, but a guide like Sam is one of the best reasons to do this. She and the children so eager for your help to learn more English.
Why do you recommend a Global Volunteers service program in Greece?
“I would say you should come to volunteer and travel in Crete, Greece for the following reasons:
- Our community is a convenient ten-minute drive from the airport. We are in the picturesque town of Amoudara, which lies in between six kilometers sandy beaches and rugged mountainous terrain.
- The hospitality of the local community is incredible.
- The food is delicious and easily adaptable to accommodate vegetarians.
- The immediate terrain is flat and wheelchair accessible and the community very safe.
- If you want to make a difference, give back, help others, feel valued, become part of a team, become one with the community, establish relationships, feel a sense of purpose, and use your skills in a productive way, come volunteer and travel in Greece!
- Our service program is ideal for all ages and all strengths of mobility.
- Solo travelers, families with young children, retirees, grandparents wishing to serve with grandchildren, students, and absolutely anyone who can converse in the English language and LOVES kids, this program is for you. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and work in a different environment doing something meaningful, while waging peace and promoting justice for all!
- The opportunity to travel in Greece before, during, and after your service program will teach you so much about this gorgeous country and its history and culture.
- Take the plunge! Travel in Greece! Serve in a country, on an island, in a community so rich in history, culture, and beauty. Work hand in hand with our community partners and on projects that genuinely need Global Volunteers’ assistance.”
“If you want to make a difference, give back, help others, feel valued, become part of a team, become one with the community, establish relationships, feel a sense of purpose, and use your skills in a productive way, come volunteer and travel in Greece!”– Samantha Pinakoulaki, Greece Country Manager
What Volunteers Have Said About Their Greece Team Leader
“Sam was wonderful! She loves the kids and her job and it shows. Sam also wants us all to have fun while providing such amazing services to the kids. She is helpful in every way!”
– Ellen Judson, marketer
“Sam is a marvel. She is fun, high energy, and good-natured. She is very aware of group dynamics and addresses issues/topics fully and without hesitation. Sam gave us the information we needed to interact with the Cretan community members we were in contact with. She was great on all accounts, helping us to have a great personal experience!”
– Ruth Solie, retired librarian
“Sam is the best. She provided a bridge between the staff, community, even guests as needed and volunteers. Loved the cultural experience which Sam facilitated so well.”
– Mary Sue Voth, retired librarian
Samantha Off The Clock
Sam says that between family and work, she doesn’t have tons of free time. Since three of her kids are in college, she says it’s pretty rare that they are all together. She says she especially cherishes the holidays when all “my chicks” return home. She says, “That’s when our household turns into a “crazy” place. One thing’s for sure – there is always, I mean always, music playing in the background. As a family, we like to karaoke and dance. We like to watch movies munching on crisps (potato chips) and go shopping. We also like to take part in charity events, the last one being a 5km color run.
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