Story by Max Read
As I arrived in Greece for my first co-op at the European Public Law Organization (EPLO), I tried to avoid having too many expectations. I knew little about the country and even less about the organization I’d be working for. The few things I knew about Greece came mostly from news reports about the ongoing economic crisis, austerity measures, and the influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. I also knew a bit about Greece’s ancient culture and philosophical contributions and more than a bit about its most attractive islands and beaches. Piecing together a comprehensive idea of the country and its people from the news, history books, and travel guides was a dangerous task, but in the lead up to my trip I had begun to imagine a country rich in cultural and natural resources but plagued by economic hardship and political upheaval. Global co-ops are all about being exposed to new cultural and professional experiences, and my experience in Greece certainly lived up to that mantra.
In previous travel experiences, I had always made an effort to keep an open mind. Going on co-op in Greece was different. The long process of application and preparation, as well as the daunting six-month commitment meant that Greece was always on my mind in the months leading up to my departure. I was excited, extremely apprehensive, and committed to letting my journey surprise me.
The organization I worked for, the EPLO, has an ongoing relationship with Northeastern, so there are always a few co-ops there in addition to a fluctuating number of interns from around Europe. All the interns lived together in a house owned by the organization, situated next to its office in a beach town a couple hours south of Athens. Living and working closely with young people from around the world was one of the most rewarding aspects of the co-op experience at the EPLO. I learned more from cooking, traveling, working, and hanging out on the beach with the fellow interns, than I could have in any classroom on campus. Sometimes I felt that, as a Californian with relatively few roots in the Northeast, even hanging out with my fellow co-ops from New England felt like being immersed in a new culture.
By the end of my co-op, I had made every effort to experience as much of the country as possible. Some of my experiences confirmed my preconceived notions about Greeks, especially their deep sense of pride in their heritage and hardiness cultivated by centuries of oppression at the hands of their Turkish neighbors. The natural beauty of the Greek islands and heavenly seafood also lived up to my highest expectations. On the other hand, I was constantly surprised by the generosity and genuine kindness of the overwhelming majority of Greeks I met. It may be a simplistic interpretation of a foreigner, but it seemed to me that centuries of oppression and years of economic stagnation had endowed in the Greek spirit a deep commitment to humanitarianism, charity, and kinship. I hardly heard a Greek utter an unkind word about the refugees arriving on their shores, nor did I ever get the sense that Greeks tolerated much self-pity. In my short time living there, I gained a world of respect for the Greek people, their history, and their enduring contributions to civilization.