Concordia College Global Service: Learning In Santorini

Concordia students are taking to the dogs this summer on a Greek island – and learning from the experience.

The goal is for students to live responsible engagement by “owning” one of the pressing social issues in their host community on Santorini, says Dr. Peter Schultz, associate professor of art and program director of Concordia’s Summer School in Santorini.

This mutually beneficial experience for students and the community is a new service-learning project offered during the program. Students earn credits while gaining useful insights into local community values.

On Santorini, the issue is unwanted stray dogs and the challenges faced by the local shelter. The Santorini Animal Welfare Association cares for the dogs and strives to find owners for them, in spite of sometimes negative perceptions of stray dogs from townspeople, who view them as a nuisance.

Students are working with shelter staff to create a fundraising plan, develop a multimedia awareness campaign, and publicize favorable views of neglected dogs.

“We want to raise awareness in our host community and help promote the idea that strays can, in fact, make great pets,” says Schultz. “We’re also trying to come to a better understanding of how tourism impacts Greek society and how the ‘dog problem’ may be seen differently by tourists and local residents.”

All of the Concordia students in the Santorini summer program have participated in a massive “dog walk” one day on the beach and bought new leashes for 38 lucky dogs.

Charles Tirey ’13, Rapid City, S.D., and Alison Kessler ’14, Arden Hills, Minn., are two of the students working on the pilot program to generate public support for the dog shelter.

It’s been an eye-opening experience for them, and they are impressed by the passion and dedication of the shelter staff.

“The shelter is only able to function due to concerns by tourists for the animals,” says Kessler. “We see numerous feral cats and dogs hanging around restaurants, hotels and markets. I see a moral responsibility to help these innocent animals by advocating for sterilization and better treatment.”

Tirey says the active role he’s playing on Santorini has given him a sense of personal responsibility for the community he lives in, and the need for people to be involved in how a community functions.

“We clean, feed, walk and administer medicine at the shelter every day, and teach the dogs to behave on leashes,” says Tirey. “While working here is a fun experience, it is also heartbreaking to know the brutal reality many of these unwanted animals face.”