Septuagenarians Bob and Judy Nix have always had a passion for making a difference, especially in the lives of children. Volunteer travel had always been on their bucket list, so when Bob’s sister Linda Murphy asked them to join her on a service program in Greece with Global Volunteers, they were ready to go. In an interview with Greece Country Manager Sam Pinakoulaki, they share their reflections on the joy and “serendipty” of teaching students in Maleviziou.
How do you describe your Greece volunteer vacation?
Judy: The service experience in Greece exceeded my expectations on every level. It was truly an experience of a lifetime for me. I feel blessed spending time with my husband; no meetings, reports, and electronic devices. What’s more, the opportunity to help students advance their English skills brought joy to both my husband and I. We felt we made a real difference – and are grateful we could experience this together. How fortunate we were to serve in beautiful Crete!
Bob: It was a chance for me to give back to the “world community,” in addition to the local volunteer activities we are involved in at home. I have always loved working with young people, and volunteering in Greece showed me just how much kids really are the same worldwide. Our previous travels around the world have been as tourists on organized tours. Nothing compares to this service experience, with the total immersion in the culture!
What, specifically did you learn about the Cretan culture?
Bob: I have always been fascinated by Greece, so this experience was a wonderful way to provide me an authentic glimpse into its history and culture. After all, Greece has had a profound effect on world history, language, and culture. What I didn’t expect to see first-hand was the impact of the last economic downturn and crushing taxation levels to meet the EU demands for austerity. One conversation in particular with a young student comes to mind. She got very emotional sharing with me about her family’s financial struggles.
DId you form any relationships with the students or volunteers?
Judy: There were so many! Starting with my fellow team members. They were professionals from diverse backgrounds, and our interactions were always interesting and lively. Then there was Tenia, our teacher at the school. She would spoil us by preparing Cretan snacks and home-baked goodies for us on many occasions. But that’s not all! The staff at the Hotel Handakas allowed us to experience the authentic hospitality of the Cretan people – showering us with kindness, and preparing their amazing Cretan cuisine.
Bob: In addition, I was lucky to form relationships with two charming 17-year-old girls. Chryssa – who’s from Albania – and Eve made strong impressions on me. They were both very passionate about achieving English proficiency in order to attain good jobs and make a better life for themselves. Because they don’t believe there are adequate opportunities in Greece, especially now with high youth unemployment, they openly shared with me their hopes, dreams, and their goals to study at a university in either the UK or Netherlands.
“Nothing compares to this service experience, with the total immersion in the culture!“Greece Volunteer Bob Nix
How do you think you contributed to the host community?
Judy: My biggest contribution was to Maria, a 53-year-old student studying for the English proficiency exam. Maria has been a community health nurse for the past 26 years, but was seeking entrance into a vaccine and infection prevention program at the University of Crete. Together, we prepared a letter of introduction and a resume of her many years of experience. Every evening after she had completed her written assignments we would talk, and I was able to coax her to provide relevant information about her capabilities. After drafting four versions of her resume, I felt we’d managed to present her experience and qualifications in the strongest manner possible. I’m hopeful that with these new documents she’ll be able to secure herself a place on the program she so wants to attend!
Bob: I worked with students of all ages. With the younger ones I asked and answered simple questions because their English proficiency was low. My primary assignment – which also turned out to be the best and most rewarding – was working on conversational English with the older students, aged 15 to 18. They were amazing; many of them having studied at Tenia’s for the past three to six years. Their conversational fluency and logic was an eye-opener for me as they shared their hopes and dreams for a better life after graduation.
What do you tell your friends and family about serving with Global Volunteers?
Judy: It was an experience of a lifetime! I share our adventure with family and friends often, about how each day was a learning experience. While I now know more about Greek history and culture than before I served, it’s the Greek people that were the best “serendipitous” surprise – so warm, kind and helpful. What good luck that our Global Volunteers team was comprised of the most interesting women, who were so genuine, fun, and a joy to spend time with. Then there’s our wonderful leader Sam, the positive spirit behind this endeavor. Finally, each evening as the taxi took us to our little Handakas Hotel, I’d be anxious to be “home” and be greeted by our hosts Paul and Katerina, and knowing our cook Susanna had once again made us too much of something wonderful to eat at the end of a day of service.
“It was an experience of a lifetime.”Greece Volunteer Judy Nix