It’s the summer of 2017. I am 17 years old living in my beloved now, but most-hated back then, village, somewhere in the Greek coastline. This summer, I knew wouldn’t be like the ones before. Sunbathing on the peaceful beach all day long, staying out late with friends while drinking beer and observing the bright moon, or just chilling at home reading a romantic novel, like the ones I am often too embarrassed to admit I obsess over. No! This summer would be different in a way I wished I could just escape from. Or at least, that’s what I thought before everything happened…
But let me provide a little bit of context there! As a high school student who would soon start my final and therefore most crucial year of secondary education, I had to not only put in the work needed so as to get the grade results that would secure my place at a prestigious university within thin 12-month period, but also to decide what was my passion that would determine the course of my entire professional future. And the latter, let me tell you, was not an easy decision! I oftentimes found myself in situations where my dreams and aspirations would strongly contradict the path I was expected to follow. This trodden path which was primary associated with financial success and independence. Well for me, it was a bit more complicated than that. I so desperately wanted to travel, explore the world and its unique people. The different cultures, beliefs and languages. My eyes would be filled with enthusiasm every time I made that thought. And yet, here I was lying on the floor of my small, noisy room looking from my window, analysing every single alternative and detail.
I needed to escape from everything. I needed to find myself first. So that’s what I did. I grabbed my phone boldly, opened a browser and started searching. Volunteer opportunities, youth projects, student exchanges. Literally anything that could allow a broke 17-year-old, like myself, to travel and ‘live the dream’. It sounded quite tricky at first, I know! But then… YES! I came across these short-term Erasmus opportunities. I did some more research on social media and I immediately started writing my first application. Then my second, then my third…
A few days had passed, when I finally got this highly anticipated confirmation email. “Dear Konstantina, Congratulations! You have been accepted to participate in this 9-day Youth Exchange in Naples, Italy taking place in September.” I felt thrilled! This was everything I wanted, until cruel reality hit me. I was about to travel abroad to go somewhere I had never heard before, with people I had never met, to participate on a project I didn’t know existed a few days ago. My initial excitement was now converted into fear, doubt, uncertainty. From that day forward, everything happened so fast. We formed a Greek-team Facebook group where I got to meet my soon-to-be fellow travellers. I also met this girl with who I would travel with, so as not to be alone. Iphigenie, as she is called, had participated in multiple similar projects before, so she answered every question, eliminated every hesitation and most importantly, she reassured me that these 9 days would change my life forever. So I spontaneously neglected every negative thought and put my trust on her. I was going to Italy and nothing or no one would stop me!
I now find myself in Roma Termini station after a short flight and a quick bus ride. It’s early in the afternoon and the busy streets of Rome are lighten up by the bright sunbeams. The discomfort of my big, heavy backpack is stressing my shoulders which adds to my confusion. “What am I doing here?”. I can’t help but ask myself the same question over and over in my head. “This is not where I’m supposed to be, I need to go home”. But then, I briefly look at Iphigenie. These sparkling eyes and big smile of hers leave me speechless. She seems happy! So I act cool and I follow her, unable to say a word. It was shortly after my arrival and a few days before my departure that I actually managed to answer the question above . We, along with my newly found European friends, spent one of the last days of the project hiking the worldwide known Mount Vesuvius. I reached the top a few steps in front of the others. The gentle breeze was softly touching my skin while my eyes were striving to memorize every little detail. The irregular shape and size of the various clouds made the sky appear rough, yet the calmness of the tiny well-shaped recurrent waves made the sea look pure. An illusion of great contradiction, yet a reality of perfect harmony.
“I feel alive” I though to myself. “I am home”.
And just like that, everything I though I knew changed forever… As youngsters, we often have all these unique opportunities which have the potential to bring great joy and fulfilment in our lives. They might seem small at times, but their impact is always inversely proportional to their seemingly insignificant size. Those are the times when we must have confidence. Confidence in ourselves, our mental and physical abilities. Confidence in others. The ones who will trust and selflessly show us the right path. And more significantly, confidence in life itself. That everything and everyone will, sooner or later, be exactly where they’re supposed to be.
And the word ‘everyone’, includes YOU too!