Recent Alumnus Volunteers with Refugees in Northern Serbia

Recent Alumnus Volunteers with Refugees in Northern Serbia

While his peers in the Class of 2023 are acclimating to life in their college dorms, Hans Bode ’23 is far from home, providing aid to refugees in Northern Serbia with an organization called Collective Aid. Having taken a gap year before heading to the University of Pennsylvania in 2024, Bode is adapting to a different kind of life in Subotica, a city along the Balkan Route, a “hotspot” for Syrian, Afghani, and Turkish refugees heading to the European Union. Bode is in Serbia through Workaway, an international organization suggested to him by SCH teacher Liz O'Flanagan when he was considering alternative options to a fall matriculation. Workaway is a clearinghouse that matches hosts from around the world with volunteers who exchange work for housing.

His Collective Aid team provides "people-on-the-move sleeping rough around the region" with goods and services such as laundry, showers, razors, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and assorted clothing. Although Bode has only been at it a month, he says the experience has been humbling.

“No history book or news article can convey the feeling of sitting with a 15-year-old girl from Egypt who speaks perfect English,” says Bode. “As we talked, it dawned on me that this girl went to school, had friends, had a life somewhere in Egypt, and now she is sitting next to me, digging through clothes for her and her family. The truth is that the impact we have is incredibly minimal, but as that girl left, she turned around, smiled, and looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done for my family,’ and all of the sudden I knew I was proud of the work I was doing.”

With just a summer between his graduation from SCH and his flight abroad, he’s leaning on his Upper School experiences to navigate this new life. 

“At SCH I got the chance to use my voice regarding issues I wanted to talk about or see change in whether it was a workshop I presented because of DEI council/student facilitators, or being able to start a club or join clubs regarding political action. I believe that these experiences sparked my interest and allowed me to realize my passion for humanitarian/political issues,” he says. “My involvement in DEI council  and student facilitators has certainly made conversations about difficult topics here much easier to navigate.”

Volunteering has given him a new perspective, and he feels a sense of urgency to act and educate others about the immediate effects of a humanitarian crisis. 

“Seeing young boys with no parents traveling hundreds of miles, men with wounds caused by police after pushbacks from the border, or men who tell me about their goals of finding a better life in Europe has completely shaped and changed my views on borders,” he says. “Just one month here has introduced me to a world that I was ignorant of and has taught me so much about an urgent need for global support for millions of people.” 

After Bode’s stay in Subotica, he’ll likely head to Germany to stay with family. Beyond that? Travel and more volunteer opportunities are likely on the horizon, but plans are loose.

“I believe the best part of taking a gap year is the freedom of not knowing exactly what I will be doing a month from now and the fun of not having a plan,” says Bode, who is funding his trip from wages earned waiting and bussing tables. “The world feels so open to me right now.”

Explore Other News