San Jose State University is dedicated to providing access to relevant educational programs that allow individuals to gain knowledge and skills that create a solid foundation for them to be engaged and productive members of a global society while also allowing opportunities for faculty to engage in research, scholarship and creative activities with global impacts. In a series called “SJSU Global,” we will be sharing stories of how our students, faculty and staff engage around the world and how people from around the world engage with SJSU.
In 2012, three students met at San Jose State University’s Phyllis Forward Simpkins International House. One was a business major from Japan, one from England studied film, and the other from France graduated with a master’s degree in physics. Little did they know back then, but their paths would converge this summer at schools for refugees in Greece.
Coincidentally 13 current SJSU students were in Greece this summer doing journalism fieldwork on the refugee crisis, as part of a study-abroad program with Professor Diane Guerrazzi.
These Spartans, converged this June in the land of Sparta, near Athens, through the long-distance efforts of Leann Cherkasky Makhini, director of the SJSU International House.
The students visited Happy Caravan, a school in Thermopylae, serving 200 refugee children who arrived from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. The focus is on education, art and creativity, cinema and sports activities. I-House alumna Momoko Iwagami who worked there as a
volunteer will start this fall as executive director of the organization, while I-House alumna Marie Hobdon is in charge of a campus in Malakasa.
“You see a huge shift in the children,” Hobson said. “I’ve been here almost six months…the children are tall and healthy. It’s amazing.”
The visit was one of many stops along the three-week trip in which the SJSU students explored questions of how refugees are impacting the economy in these countries, as well as what migrants face when they arrive. The students interviewed refugees, local residents, business owners, government officials and aid workers.
Journalism student Cindy Cuellar produced a photo essay, and Gabriel Mungaray created a news video about the school. Mungaray noted that more than a million refugees flooded into Greece in 2015-16, before the Balkan border closed in 2016. Refugees continue to pour into Greece where they are kept in overcrowded camps, awaiting approval of asylum applications.
The school is run by a Dutch nonprofit. Iwagami is considering registering the school as a nonprofit in the United States. She and Hobson are also looking for interns and donors from the United States. The interns would learn about Happy Caravan, and they may help develop a financial model that is more sustainable than single donations.
“I hope that coming to Happy Caravan will do many things, but first I hope it is a catalyst for people to leave with their eyes less clouded,” Hobson said. “That they see something they haven’t seen before.”
The third alumni connection includes “Magic Tony,” from France, who completed a master’s in physics while living in SJSU’s I-House. Tony, who asked not to use his last name, has been traveling the world performing for underprivileged children with a company called Magic Brothers World. He thrilled the refugee children with his act at the Malakasa location while Professor Guerrazzi was visiting, proving once again that Spartan spirit knows no boundaries.
Read more stories produced by SJSU Journalism and Mass Communications on their SJSU Italy & Greece WordPress Blog.
Did you travel on a faculty-led program this summer or are you an international student arriving at #SJSU this fall? Share your #SJSUGlobal experience! Email your stories and photos to: email@example.com.