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Volume 7 Issue 4 Highlights

 
AM Team for UIndy

Study and Research

FROM INDIANAPOLIS TO THE ACROPOLIS: A CASE STUDY IN GREECE VOLUNTOURISM WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF INDIANAPOLIS

Michael J. Diacin, PhD, Department of Kinesiology, University of Indianapolis

Jennifer L. VanSickle, PhD, Department of Kinesiology, University of Indianapolis

For this issue of the research forum section of The VolunTourist Newsletter, we are pleased to share the experience of students and faculty from the University of Indianapolis who spent approximately ten days on a voluntourism trip to Greece. This case study provides details of the overall engagement for participating students and faculty in support of the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games. Dr. Diacin and Dr. VanSickle explore the reactions of students to both the voluntary service and the tourism elements of the trip and provide some insights as to how similar such programs could be structured and what might be expected by other universities considering a similar program for their students and faculty.  

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Introduction

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Researchers who have examined motives of volunteers have found various reasons as to why these individuals donate their time and efforts. Those reasons were altruistic in nature as providing a service in order to help or contribute to the good of their community was identified as a significant reason why volunteers donated their time and effort (Cuskelly, McIntyre, & Boag, 1998). In addition, volunteers were motivated because serving provided social benefits. Among these benefits were opportunities to interact with others and build a personal or professional network (Doherty & Carron, 2003). An opportunity to receive tangible rewards (e.g., volunteer uniform or other mementos) also served as a motivating factor (Caldwell & Andereck, 1994). Individuals have also served because volunteering with an organization provided opportunities to develop leadership skills as well as opportunities to gain first-hand experience with regard to planning and executing an event (Elstad, 1996). In summation, the motivations for volunteering at major sporting events and for other types of human services have received most of the attention within research focused upon volunteerism.

Volunteerism that takes place within an academic environment has been identified as service learning. Giles and Eyler (1994) described service learning as a form of experiential education where learning occurs from both action and reflection. When engaged in service learning, students often work with others in order to better their communities as well as enrich their own lives.

The beneficial outcomes associated with engagement in a service learning initiative included a greater understanding of and appreciation for those individuals the students help. For instance, Greene (1998) conducted a study of college students who participated in an occupational therapy program that served disabled individuals. As a result of their service experience, students developed a greater empathy for and understanding of the daily challenges they faced. Students also gained a newfound respect for disabled individuals’ ability to manage everyday activities. A study conducted by Curran (1998) found that service-learning experiences positively affected the attitudes college students possessed with regard to mental retardation.  Over 80% of the students reported that they perceived individuals with mental retardation were similar to themselves. Gent and Gurecka (1998) reported that students who engaged in a service learning initiative gained a greater sense of civic responsibility.

The Experience

The opportunity for University of Indianapolis' students to engage in a unique and memorable service learning experience occurred in June, 2011 when this group traveled to Athens, Greece to volunteer their time and efforts for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games. In addition, the group visited several incredible landmarks such as the Acropolis, Temple of Poseidon, and the Ancient Agora. The group, which consisted of 18 students from various majors, spent nine unforgettable days in Athens and three more on the island of Aegina. The purpose of this article is to share the experience we referred to as “Voluntourism.” Program participants served as volunteers with the Special Olympics World Summer Games. In addition, the trip included opportunities to engage in tourist activities that included visits to some of the major attractions in Athens and surrounding areas.

"Going on our voluntourism trip, I did not fully understand how lucky I was. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to working the Special Olympics. I was more interested in seeing Greece as a country. This quickly changed. The first hour of the first day I worked was eye opening. Watching the athletes compete and talking with them just took me aback. I loved interacting with the athletes and being able to make friendships with a lot of them even though some spoke other languages."

Mark, a student participant from the University of Indianapolis

The volunteer element of this experience was fulfilled through our time assisting Special Olympics in the bowling venue or with the bowling event. Program participants served in a variety of roles. Many of our students served as lane assistants. As lane assistants, they helped direct the bowlers to their assigned lanes, ensured that rules were followed, and maintained the pace of play. Program participants also assisted with record keeping duties, organizing award ceremonies, and various other event management duties. We volunteered our time over the period of five days. Each day, we worked a shift of 7-8 hours long.

When we were not helping Special Olympics, we  provided participants with opportunities to visit some of the renowned landmarks in Athens and surrounding areas. A group outing was staged to visit the Acropolis. We joined many other tourists at this sacred area in Athens to appreciate the history that has shaped the world we live in today. We visited the Parthenon, Athens’ most identifiable landmark and the centerpiece of the Acropolis. We also visited the most ancient theatre in the world, the Theatre of Dionysos. It was incredible to think that performers displayed their talents to an audience in this area more the 2,000 years ago!

The tourism aspect of our experience included an outing to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. About an hour’s drive from Athens, this area is known for its sparkling blue waters and incredible views of the setting sun. Pictures can do some justice in expressing the serene beauty of this area, but it must be seen in person in order to fully appreciate the landscape and peacefulness of the area.

Lastly, our tourism aspect included a three-day stay on the island of Aegina. We enjoyed the clear blue waters and radiant sunshine as we relaxed on the beach and shuffled around Aegina Town, the main tourist center on the island. We also visited the temple of Aphaia and the monastery of Agiou Nektariou, both located on the island of Aegina. 

A challenge when constructing this experience was to establish a balance of volunteer activities with tourist activities. We established five days worth of volunteer activities with Special Olympics and another five days focused upon tourist-related activities. Overall, our participants were happy with the opportunity to engage in a “voluntourism” trip. The blended format worked well because the volunteer aspect gave the participants a sense of purpose. This made the experience so much more than a typical vacation. Students’ comments indicated they found volunteering with Special Olympics to be a very rewarding experience that really enlightened them with regard to the importance of service. Mark said, “Going on our voluntourism trip, I did not fully understand how lucky I was. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to working the Special Olympics. I was more interested in seeing Greece as a country. This quickly changed. The first hour of the first day I worked was eye opening. Watching the athletes compete and talking with them just took me aback. I loved interacting with the athletes and being able to make friendships with a lot of them even though some spoke other languages.”

Austin also commented on the opportunity to serve and the value service had upon him. He said, “This trip has shown me how influential and important volunteer work can be, and I want to continue to help others. I feel like I’ve learned so much about others on this trip. But most importantly, I have learned that no matter where one is from, or what disabilities they have, we can all be united through service. Also, knowing I was a part of helping that event come to life has impacted me in such a positive way. It has shown me first-hand how a little bit of volunteer work can go a long way.”

Sunset in Greece

Insights, Lessons Learned & Future Recommendations

If we had to do it over again, we would’ add additional days to the service element. Activities at the bowling venue continued  after our commitment to  Special Olympics ended. During the planning process we assumed that our participants would be ready to end the volunteer portion of the trip after 5 days and be anxious to start touring. However, we found the opposite to be true. Rachel’s interest in spending more time volunteering was also an interest held by others. She said, “If I could have changed anything about this trip it would have been to spend more time volunteering with the athletes. One of the main reasons that I went on this trip was to help out with the Special Olympics and I felt like five days just wasn’t enough.”

One thing that would have been useful for communicating with parents and other interested individuals back home would have been the creation of a Facebook page or web site where updates could be quickly and easily posted. Updates could have been given on a daily basis that would be readily available to families who had their children traveling with us. Frequent communication took place with University personnel who could transmit messages to interested individuals. Although participants took it upon themselves to communicate with family members regularly, having an outlet that would have been accessible to interested individuals 24/7 would have been one thing that could have been added.The reason why we suggest this was because of demonstrations that were taking place in Syntagma Square during our visit. While we were visiting, protestors formed near the Parliament house on the Plaza. The gathering was a few hundred meters from the hotel where we stayed. As a result of news reports that were viewed by parents and other folks back in the United States, they were understandably concerned for their children’s safety.

The volunteer service was undeniably a very memorable aspect of this experience. We all found the opportunity to volunteer very rewarding. For some of the students, volunteering with individuals who possess intellectual disabilities in Athens motivated them to become involved with Special Olympics in their hometown. In addition, it opened their eyes to the possibility of working with intellectually disabled individuals as part of their career ambitions. If you’re working with students, whether it is in high school or college, consider integrating a volunteer element into any trip because of the potential it can have upon them. The opportunity to help make a difference in people’s lives is something we will always remember from this experience!

Looking back on the experience of leading the trip, we found that several measures were helpful in ensuring a safe and rewarding experience for everyone. First, we had students sign a behavior expectations contract. In this contract, students were made aware of the fact that doing things like exploring the city alone, becoming intoxicated, or failing to check in with trip leaders on a daily basis would result in a premature trip back to the United States at their own expense. The appeal of being away from parents and indulging in certain activities (there isn’t a legal drinking age in Greece) could be problematic for ensuring their safety. As trip leaders who were responsible for their safety, we took proactive measures to ensure they would remain safe throughout the experience. Second, talk about culture differences before the trip. Educate the students about the norms of the culture and about proper safety measures. We invited a native Athenian to speak to the group before we left about these issues and offered a question and answer session.  Third, make sure that all participants understand the purpose of the trip. We emphasized to our students that our first obligation was to Special Olympics and serving the athletes at our venue. Then, there would be plenty of time for touring and shopping. We encouraged the group to participate fully in the volunteer experience by asking them to be proactive in offering their services to Special Olympics at the event to make the volunteer experience more enjoyable and fulfilling. We also encouraged our students to interact with the local Greek volunteers during the volunteer shifts. We knew these exchanges could lead to a greater understanding of the Greek culture and its people. It would also offer opportunities to build relationships that may carry on after the volunteer experience was through. Finally, encourage the students to experience the culture on their own, if it is safe to do so. When not volunteering, we suggested that students venture away from the hotel without the leaders, but in groups (for safety), to eat at local restaurants and participate in nearby local events or activities. Having them navigate the city and the language on their own provided firsthand knowledge of life in Greece and built students confidence in their own ability to travel abroad.

PM Volunteers UIndy

One thing that would have been useful for communicating with parents and other interested individuals back home would have been the creation of a Facebook page or web site where updates could be quickly and easily posted. Updates could have been given on a daily basis that would be readily available to families who had their children traveling with us. Frequent communication took place with University personnel who could transmit messages to interested individuals. Although participants took it upon themselves to communicate with family members regularly, having an outlet that would have been accessible to interested individuals 24/7 would have been one thing that could have been added. The reason why we suggest this was because of demonstrations that were taking place in Syntagma Square during our visit. While we were visiting, protestors formed near the Parliament house on the Plaza. The gathering was a few hundred meters from the hotel where we stayed. As a result of news reports that were viewed by parents and other folks back in the United States, they were understandably concerned for their children’s safety. Although no one on the trip was ever in any danger, the news footage could have been disconcerting for those who were not in the midst of the situation. Having a Facebook site that we, as trip leaders, could have made updates on at any time of day or night would have been beneficial. Although parents had access to emergency phone numbers and could call at any time of day or night for information regarding their children’s safety, use of social media would have been very efficient and effective in this situation because it would have given parents information directly from the trip leaders ensuring them that everyone was safe.

Overall, we discovered that a Voluntourism trip combines the best of both worlds. It allows participants to see and experience new cultures, but in a way that allows them to interact with and see that new culture and its peoples in a different light.

About the Authors

Michael Diacin
Michael J. Diacin, Ph.D.
Jennifer VanSickle
Jennifer L. VanSickle, Ph.D.

References

Caldwell, L. L., & Andereck, K. L. (1994). Motives for initiating and continuing membership in a recreation-related voluntary association. Leisure Sciences, 16, 33-44.

Curran, J. (1998, August). College students’ attitudes towards mental retardation: A pilot study. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA.

Cuskelly, G., McIntyre, N., & Boag, A. (1998). A longitudinal study of the development of organizational commitment amongst volunteer sport administrators. Journal of Sport Management, 12, 181-202.

Doherty, A. J., & Carron, A. V. (2003). Cohesion in volunteer sport executive committees. Journal of Sport Management, 17, 116-141.

Elstad, B. (1996). Volunteer perception of learning and satisfaction in a mega-event: The case of the XVII Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer. Festival Management & Event Tourism, 4, 75-86.

Gent. P., & Gurecka. L. (1998). Service learning: A creative strategy for inclusive classrooms. Journal of the Association of Persons with Severe Handicaps, 23, 261-271.

Giles, D. E., & Eyler, J. (1994). The theoretical roots of service learning in John Dewey: Toward a theory of service learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 1(1) 77-85.

Greene, D. (1998). Student perceptions of aging and disability as influenced by service learning. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics, 15, 39–55.

 We hope you enjoyed this edition’s Research Forum!  If you have any questions or comments, please submit your questions to The Voluntourist Newsletter or Michael Diacin at diacinm@uindy.edu.

See you next issue!

Nancy McGehee , Ph.D.
Hospitality and Tourism Management, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg VA
nmcgehee@vt.edu

For more Study & Research Articles visit Dr. McGehee's VolunTourism Research Forum>>>


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