Our group is on the tail end of week two now. Everyone warned me that this Dialogue of Civilization would go quickly and, wow, were they right.
I’m in that weird point in time now where it feels like we’ve been here for forever, but at the same time it seems like we just arrived yesterday. I’ve come a long way since my sleep-deprived and wide-eyed arrival in Thessaloniki, excited by every passing car and stray cat (though I still love the stray dogs).
In the past week, I’ve learned about Greek language, food and music in class. I climbed the steps to the Upper Town (nearly suffering a heart attack in the process) and sipped lemonade at an open cafe at the top, admiring the breathtaking view of the city below. I’ve eaten incredible Greek food—gyros, soutzoukakia, halva, tulumba and souvlaki, to name a few. I explored the local open market and picked up freshly grown produce. I toured a beautiful vineyard and learned the proper way to sample wines. I swam in the Mediterranean Sea with Mount Olympus, home of the gods, visible in the distance.
Despite having all these remarkable experiences, my confusion navigating downtown and my inadequacy with the Greek language keeps me humble, reminding me that I haven’t been here very long. Some important things are coming up that once seemed like events in the distant future.
The deadline for my first story is tomorrow. I’ve finished my reporting on it—16 interviews in all, though eight of them were quick person-on-the-street questions. Still, it’s a lot more interviews than I usually do for my articles. I filled my reporter’s notebook from cover to cover (including front and back pages) just with interviews from this trip. I even had to frantically start scribbling notes on the cardboard back of my reporter’s notebook during one of my interviews, to which Isabelle (seeing my distress) graciously responded by ripping out some pages from her own notebook.
The day after tomorrow, I’ll be flying out to the Greek island of Chios with two other students and our professor Mike Beaudet to report from a Syrian refugee camp there. I’m confident in my abilities and the team that we have going, but as I’ve been reading more articles about the island in preparation for the trip, I’m getting nervous.
One article by Al Jazeera especially stuck with me. In it, a refugee laments that the media treats the camp like a “zoo”—coming in, taking photographs, filming the deplorable conditions that refugees live in and then leaving the camp without having a positive impact.
Is this what we’re doing? These stories need to be told. But at the same time, doing a story like this is inherently exploitative. Though well-intentioned, we will be benefitting from the suffering of other human beings. And that can be a tough pill to swallow.
An easy way to justify it is to say that covering the plight of refugees will translate into donations from home for the camps. But in another case covered by the Al Jazeera article, a refugee whose art exhibit was written about said he did not receive donations after the story was published.
I know the others on our team have this concern at the forefront of their minds as well. I hope that if we cover the issue as sensitively as possible and depict the people with respect and empathy that we can produce a piece that we’re all proud of.
This blog post also appeared on the Northeastern University School of Journalism website.