How a school trip changed my life, career and the way I see the world
By: Bethany Melvin
Over the summer, I was fortunate to spend nearly four months in Greece working with a non-governmental organization, NGO, by the name of Schedia Stin Poli to film my first solo documentary on the ideologies of immigration they are implementing in efforts to integrate the Roma community and refugee populations into the Greek society and culture in the city of Thessaloniki, Greece.
This was the first time I had been so far away from home for so long, especially considering I chose to go to college in my hometown. It would be an understatement to say I came to Shenandoah expecting to take this career path. I came to Shenandoah University as a freshman chemistry major on my way to pharmacy school before I switched my major two more times to land in Media & Communication. In this major I have discovered my passion for telling people’s stories, and that every person across every border has a story to tell. It’s our job to tell those stories!
I never really wanted to leave my home, but after an amazing experience with Shenandoah’s Global Citizenship Project, GCP, I got bit by the travel bug. In March 2019, I attended a GCP trip to Greece. This opened the doors that would later lead to my documentary process. I met the NGO in Thessaloniki, Greece along with the founder and two highly respected volunteers, all of whom are locals to the area in Greece where I would spend most of my summer. My GCP experience sparked a chain reaction of events that led to the idea of going back to Greece and making that idea a reality. I signed up for another international trip through Shenandoah, began communicating with the contacts I had previously made in Greece, received advice from experienced travelers on campus, borrowed the necessary equipment for filming, quit my job and began freelancing and finally, bought my ticket to Greece!
It was finally happening, I had less than three months to prepare. All of this couldn’t have prepared me for the amazing summer to come, though. From language barriers to hot climates to difficulties navigating the many cities I explored, my trip was perfect in every imperfection. I loved all of the details about my trip, from the beginning to the end. On my journey, I saw the high peaks of Mt. Olympus, stood by the stadium where the Olympic Games began in Athens, Greece, spent my 21st birthday in a traditional Greek way, rode a motorcycle up the twists and turns of Meteora where holy monasteries sit in the rock formations, ate gyro after gyro and so much more. With little knowledge of the Greek language, I was able to learn a good amount in order to have basic communication or to at least begin a conversation in the native language. This was a huge challenge because Greek is very difficult!
However, coming back home I am discovering a dense Greek population right here in Winchester and the surrounding area, which has led to many great networking opportunities and makes me feel like I’m right back in Greece.
Now that I am back in the states, I am in the process of editing and forming my documentary with the hours of footage I have. I filmed interviews with volunteers, parents and children affiliated with the NGO and locals in the community who are also dedicated to integrating members of the community. I spent much time with the children at festivals and street events and met children from all walks of life. The NGO works specifically with Greek families, refugees from the Middle East and their children, and members of the Roma community. Needless to say, I saw and met a lot of people and heard some incredible stories.
For those who have not traveled, I can’t encourage the idea enough whether you are going to the next town over, exploring your own hometown, traveling cross country or going miles and miles away over oceans! No matter where your travels take you, the people are what make the experience memorable whether it’s the people you meet or those you travel with. Four months abroad and I can’t wait to go back!
For more information on Schedia Stin Poli, their Facebook is linked here