Saturday, 28 April 2012

Awake in my dreams (Δεν κοιμόμουνα στα όνειρά μου)

«I hope it was a dream where I was awake», Marie Dumont wrote, as the introductory sentence in her essay on her experiences taking part in a student exchange programme when she left her native France and came to MAICh, Crete, Greece, to continue her studies through the ERASMUS Programme. Marie asked me to edit her work, as this essay was entered into a competition where the winner will be announced in May at the ERASMUS graduation ceremony in Athens, for the students who took part in the programme in Greece last year.

Although Marie's essay wasn't chosen, I was touched by her description of the time she spent in Crete during the cold winter, especially when I saw her return to Crete with some more French students the following year, because they had missed the island so much. Marie's narrative is a love story between her and the island. I reprint here for you to read, with her blessing. The photos are mine, from the last internal MAICh graduation ceremony.

"I’m not sure I’ll be able to find the appropriate words to describe this five-month adventure, but I’m going to try. Let me carry you into my memories about my unforgettable exchange period through the Erasmus programme…

"Follow me in Crete, in the lovely area of Chania, in its countryside where is hidden the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh). From outside, it seems to be a very quiet place, made in an ancient style…but come closer and you’ll meet students from all around the Mediterranean, living together as a family.

"I was welcomed by a Lebanese girl, Souad, who explained to me about how life is organized at MAICh, and she introduced me to my future lab colleagues in the Horticultural Genetics and Biotechnology Department. “This is Marie, from France, and she is going to stay with us for the next five months.” After lunch, Alaä, took over from her. Alaä was like a mum for everyone at MAICh. “Since you are the youngest,” she told me, “MAICh is your new family… welcome!” I didn’t get at this moment the meaning of these words but after a few weeks, I realized how much it was true. I’ll never forget this first day.

"Then, I met the other students, “my new family”, such a warm welcome, everyone was curious and also proud to represent their country: Greece (of course), Tunisia, Algeria, Germany, Italy, FYR Macedonia, France, Georgia, Armenia, Lebanon, Italy… a real melting pot! Of course, you can notice the cultural differences but everyone is living together without any prejudices.

"Through traditional nights, we could learn more about the other countries. We had a Maghrebine night, for which the students from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco cooked all day long traditional meals for the entire institute and decorated the restaurant with flags, flowers and pictures. After the dinner they presented, one by one, the three countries that constitute the Maghreb, with pastries and mint tea. We carried on by dancing to oriental music… it was an unforgettable night!

"Another amazing evening was the Palestinian one, a highly emotional one, as we could feel their need to tell us more about their history and the daily persecution, but to show us also the richness of the Palestinian people and culture.

"Actually, I enjoyed every day spent there and I cannot focus on one only… I’m sure you understand that MAICh is a special place, so no one can forget his stay there.

"I’m a rich girl now, my mind is full of memories, rich because I’ve learnt a lot about our differences, I’ve discovered a wonderful island with its culture and I’ve met precious friends… yes… I cannot omit to speak about five special people, the five main characters in this story, who changed me, who made this period of my life probably the best I’ve ever had: Coraline, Marianna, Nizar, Bastien and Limon, with whom I shared all my laughs and memories. I can never thank them enough. I had the time of my life. Every day I still wake up and wonder if it was true or just a dream.

"Everyone thinks that to leave to an unknown country is the hardest part in the Erasmus experience, and, indeed, it really hurts to say goodbye, and I really hope this is just a goodbye! Αγαπώ τους φίλους μου!

"Epilogue: And so it was! I had the chance to meet them again one week at MAICh, one year later, just to get together one more time... to remind us of the good times we had spent together, which lent a new lease of life to our friendship! This is proof that they are true friends. You changed my life, guys! I wish for all students to take this chance and live the same Erasmus experience as I did!"

It is not my style to instruct my readers to visit Crete or come to Greece for their summer holidays, because I think that people make up their minds about where to take their holidays in different ways; I certainly don't need anyone to direct me in my choice of holiday. But after I read Marie's story, it made me realise that maybe we all need to come to Crete at one point in our lives.

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