The graduate program I am in likes to think of itself as a rather social group. When we’re not in the classroom debating methodology and epistemology, we’re on the bus going to the nearest kebab joint or sitting around a table in the university pub enjoying a Krombacher. Thus, it made sense that before our several-week-long winter break, we would celebrate the holiday season.
The venue would be my dormitory’s Partyraum (Party Room), which has a door that is always open for the smokers. This door faces the street, across which lies a lab school of sorts. This school is currently being used as housing for refugees of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
To this point, my contact with the refugees has been minimal, limited to shooting hoops a couple of times with the younger boys. Despite living on campus, they had mostly kept to themselves.
So the holiday party starts off around 8 pm, and it was swell! We played Yankee Swap (White Elephant) and consumed our fair share of spirits. By midnight, the music was going, the people were dancing, and we were all enjoying ourselves. That was when I was tapped on the shoulder. I turned around to see four guys I did not know. They seemed nervous yet optimistic, sporting a smile and broken English. “Sorry, but we’re from across the street. We heard the music, and were wondering if we could join you?”
Part of me knew that there would be some protest from certain colleagues. Part of me knew that they might be uncomfortable with any strangers joining our group’s celebration. But the greater part of me also thought about it from these guys’ perspective. They are in a land that is foreign to them, as a consequence of their homeland being in a state of civil war, and have been cooped up in an elementary school for the past few months. If I was in their shoes, I would be dying for even a taste of a party, of interaction with new people.
“Are you kidding me? Of course!”
Their faces lit up and thanked me. Before I knew it, half the people in the room were from across the street. I didn’t recognize it, mostly due to the fact I was fairly locked in conversation. The realization happened, though, when I stopped and asked myself, “Hold on, what music is this?!” Feliz Navidad was replaced by music in Arabic, with these guys dancing in a circle having a ball. Thankfully, the Greek dances I was forced to learn as a kid paid off, as they are not entirely different from the rest of the Mediterranean region.
The next day, as expected, I learned that many of my colleagues weren’t happy with my decision. At the end of the day though, I don’t regret it. There was nothing political about it; I wasn’t making a statement about the Refugee Crisis. To me, it was a holiday party, and the point of the holidays is to bring people together.