Aegean to Appleton: The Man from Utopia

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By Savvas Sfairopoulos

The idea of returning home after Fall Term added zest to the last few, profoundly monotonous days I had to spend at Lawrence. My desire to roam the streets of Athens and visit the landmarks that adorn the city was indescribable, but I have to confess that revisiting Greece and meeting with friends was a rather trenchant, and utterly surreal, punch in the face.

Everyday, at precisely 9 a.m., I would get the tram to go to the gym. The first few days rolled about quite peacefully; I would wear my headphones the entire time I was on the tram and stare out the window, admiring the old houses that decorated the route. As time went by, however I started to realize some rather appalling details. The most noticeable of those was the fact that several compatriots of mine would distance themselves from people of color when the latter entered the tram. At first I ignored this phenomenon, with only minor expressions of annoyance, Nevertheless, after several conversations with some of my Athenian friends, I came to understand that something incredibly appalling was in the works.

With recent wave of Syrian refugees that came through Greece in hopes of finding a friendly place to call home, the Greek government had to take several severe measures to try to contain the situation. Government officials reopened an old taekwondo stadium, which had been abandoned after the Olympic Games of 2004 in order to shelter all the Syrians who did not manage to cross the borders to other European countries. These people, I noticed, were used as an excuse for the politically far-right Greek party, Golden Dawn, to advance their fascist political agenda in a “patriotic” guise. This kind of subterfuge poisoned many people’s minds into thinking that “all immigrants are evil.” Such behavior is unbecoming of any human being, and should be condemned as abhorrent.

I have often found that it is easy to be appalled by the cocky attitude of some privileged individuals, but what are you supposed to do when you realize that, even unwillingly, you might be acting as one? Spending a mere three months here at Lawrence was enough for me to undergo a metamorphosis. Coming into this institution, I was infatuated by the large amount of opportunities that are offered to me as a Lawrentian. Soon enough, however, I, too, started complaining about the tiresome details of college life: the cafeteria not offering my favorite kind of food, running out of culinary cash and so on.

However, as I conveyed the beauty of being a Lawrentian to my friends in Greece, I realized that I was overdoing it. Trying to avoid talking about a transformative experience is hard, but remembering that not everyone is as lucky as you are is more important. With limited finances and various relationship crises, each one of my Athenian friends has to go through their own personal Odyssey. I realized that studying at an institution like Lawrence is a privilege, especially when compared to the hardships that my acquaintances have to face.

The purpose of this article is not to dishearten my fellow compatriots, nor is it to function as an anti-government propaganda. It is an outcry for compassion. Going back home for the winter break may have been, in part, a saddening experience, but it was also a powerful remembrance of my duty to the less fortunate.