Beyond the hands-on experience: International internship as cultural communion

Credits: YOUTHShare

Ariadna is one of the few formerly unemployed youth that decided to embark on the YOUTHShare mobility scheme and, after the successful completion of her training in Spain, do an internship in a Greek social enterprise, despite the widespread fear of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like another Lawrence Durrel visiting Rhodes island, she recalls her concerns, her experiences and the funny moments of her internship. By embracing the opportunity to work in the social economy, she coins the true meaning of an international internship: A cultural communion.

“I’ve been lucky to take part in the YOUTHShare project, which promotes youth employability, particularly among young NEETs and helps familiarize them with the concept of social economy. After I finished with the first part of the program, the e-learning course, I was quite surprised that we were offered the possibility to go abroad for the training part (although apparently nobody else seemed interested in that!).

One month before my flight to my new town and company, and apart from the interview we’d previously had (which was extremely motivating and made me want to fly the minute after we finished talking), I had not much more information about anything. Three weeks before my flight and I still had no other news about the program. Of course, it was summer! Two weeks to take off and I started to think that I wouldn’t find accommodation, as I wasn’t getting any replies from any of the apartments’ owners I had contacted. With a week to go, I finally got some news. I still had the idea that I was going to get there and that I wouldn’t find anything and would have to go back or else go sightseeing on my own. Even my dad joked “see you next week”. Anyway, I was nervous. And I was in my right to be nervous, even though now, retrospectively, it seems that it wasn’t such a big deal. The day I got on the plane I was still skeptical, of course, but with a bit more reassurance, as I’d had some news both from the apartment owner and from my future employer. The minute I set my foot in Greece I knew that it was going to be alright as, somehow, I had made it there.

I arrived at my apartment, as happy as can be that it actually existed, that it was there. After that, I. P., the manager of my hosting social enterprise,  told me some initial things regarding the company and helped me out with getting into the city. The apartment was conveniently located exactly next to the office. And this would mean, apart from not having an excuse for being late to work, that I was going to meet most of the manager’sfamily, as it was part of a family-owned building. In other words, direct immersion in the ‘Greek way of living’.

It was Sunday midday and there was not a soul on the streets. I went for a walk and took deep breaths of relief. I had spent weeks worrying that I didn’t have enough information, but I had made it after all. I’d love to say that this had already taught me something, but the most probable thing is that I’m going to worry about uncertain things for most of my future life.

The following day, I went to the office to start working and met some of my coworkers. As I was told, most of the members of the social enterprise worked remotely, so there would be a quiet environment. I was introduced to all the information of the company that I was eager to learn about: about their past, current and future projects and about all the idiosyncrasies of the enterprise. I was then introduced to the scanner, which would be my closest ‘mate’ in this upcoming adventure. I’m saying this because, although I didn’t have the feeling that I was putting my previously learnt competences to the test at work ,  being in close contact with the day-to-day management of a social enterprise allowed me to couple the theoretical knowledge with valuable insights on social economy. At the end of the day I felt happy and always with more knowledge, which was actually what I was looking for.

There wasn’t a single day that I wouldn’t learn about either a little-known historical fact, or about a peculiar fertility tradition, or maybe I would hear a personal funny story, a (bad) joke or some new Greek word (often an expletive of some sort). Even if I wasn’t trying to find them, there were always specific scenarios that every traveler would love to witness while living abroad. It could be listening to the distant sound of aqanun featuring the unique voice of a child, or else hearing the omnipresent Theodorakis’music playing everywhere after his death (RIP), or maybe the always circulating food coming into the office, after constant celebrations of weddings and baptisms every weekend (remember, this is a family building).

We also listened to some poems by Odysseas Elytis set to music and shared some retsinaand mastic (like resin but not quite the same), as well as some precious dried figs filled with sesame and delicious sesame bread sticks. We had some visitors (family, coworkers and cats alike), watched live protests and even got to witness some traditional blessingson the first of September. I learnt about earthquake protocols (‘Don’t jump out the window!’ happens to be the one piece of advice that I’ll keep in my memory) and I also found out about some features of Rhodes, like specific proper names (Katholiki, Tsambika) particular from the island and that sound funny in the rest of Greece, or even words that nobody else in Greece knows about, like kunna (or ‘seed’) that Rhodians use. There were also bittersweet discoveries, like learning about the fact that breaking dishes during weddings is not the case  in Greece (unless it’s an accident, of course).

I lived on the island of the patron sun-god Helios and the (probably, although a bit controversial) hibiscus flower. I’ve survived walking on the streets, risking my safety walking across zebra crossings, as cars here seem to erase pedestrians from their field of vision. I’ve also seen overfed cats on the streets, lying under the sun like cozy gemista. Greece seems to be the place where all blue things in the world are collected: not only the beaches’ waters but also building walls and even people’s fingernails (coming from the typical red fingernails that I had seen in Spain, seeing that electric blue was shocking, but completely logical if you consider the colors of both of the flags… could that be a coincidence?). Apart from the culinary discoveries at the office, I even tried some Greek food specialties (and, as a vegan, that’s hard to find, but not impossible), like moussaka, spanakopita, gigantes, gemista orfava. Just for this I know for sure that I’m going to come back. Well, for this and for frappé, of which I was able to create the amazing (and possibly sacrilegious) warm version.

I witnessed some chamós (chaotic) days with lots of Jose Cuervo(colloquial for being overburdened by unplanned work) and how to gamísou everything (this sentence may not make sense at all, but it was what I kept on listening anyway). I became acquaintedwith the proper way to use malákawithout being rude and I learnt that if you were asked ‘Ti kánis?’ (How are you doing?), the answer was always ‘Kalá’ (Fine), no matter how good or bad you were actually doing. And, after all, I could almost say that ‘Miláo elliniká’ (I speak Greek).

After all, I feel very lucky to have spent this month working at a social enterprise. Actually, working at this particular enterprise. I very much appreciate the fact that I’ve been able to witness the internal workings of an organization like this one and I’m proud and happy with all that I’ve learnt. For sure I would love to repeat the experience if I had the chance (although I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be ‘young enough’ to participate again). So, I can affirm that, despite my initial worries and despite the impression that I wasn’t actually testing my previous knowledge as planned, I felt that, at the end of the day, the cultural exchange was the most rewarding knowledge I could have got from it all.

Lastly, I’m leaving you with a word that I randomly learnt today, which is now on my top10 list of favorite words: chartopetséta. Enjoy it”.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here