When I was in college, I don’t think I could’ve told you what makes a person a refugee, but now I am part of the management team for a refugee camp in Greece.
I graduated from University of Mobile in 2009, and at that time the refugee crisis wasn’t as large as it is now, nor as much of a political lightning rod.
I wasn’t your typical UM student. I avoided most social events, and when I did attend, I normally acted like I was too cool to be there. I made decent grades, but for the most part I was a lazy student. I was a student without a plan for the future. Instead, I was just trying to enjoy my time in college, and then worry about the future later.
However, in spite of my best efforts, UM had a really big impact on my life. In fact, one college course would change the course of my life.
Fall semester of my sophomore year I took Philosophy 101 with Dr. Ted Mashburn. Surprisingly to me, I loved the class, mainly because I felt challenged by the class in a way I hadn’t been before. I had no idea what I wanted to major in at the time, so I decided to major in Humanities in order to take more classes that he taught.
I learned a lot from Dr. Mashburn. I learned the benefit of questioning ideas instead of blindly accepting them, that having doubts can actually strengthen your beliefs, that healthy disagreement is a good thing, and that it’s okay to not have all the answers.
One thing in particular made the biggest impact, though. Once, while talking about the two years he spent in Israel in the ‘70s, Dr. Mashburn said, “You will never be able to fully understand yourself or your own culture until you immerse yourself in a completely different culture.” He then went on to say that he thought we should all leave the U.S. and spend a significant amount of time overseas. That day hit home for me.
I took his advice to heart. After graduating, I spend a couple years in Central Africa, and then I spent three years working for a refugee resettlement agency in Nashville, TN.
Today, I am part of the management team at a refugee camp on the island of Kos. We work in close partnership with UNHCR to meet many of the basic needs of some of the most vulnerable people in the world, most of whom are fleeing conflicts, wars and extreme poverty in the Middle East and Central Asia.
I never expected to have this work as my career, but I can honestly say that there is no group of people that I could be more honored to serve. I encourage you to find a place to volunteer with refugees. Get out of your comfort zone. Leave the US, whether it’s for three weeks or three years. It won’t be easy, but most great things aren’t. Assume little, question everything, and it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers right now. I certainly don’t.