What’s next? A trip down memory lane

By Marianna Christodoulou

It’s June 2007 and I have just finished school… all I think of is the sudden freedom and what to do next. You see, I am only 17 years old and I am about to start studying Marketing and Business Communications. I always wondered, does anyone really know what they want to do at such a young age? Maybe a few people do; if you are one of them you don’t have to keep reading or maybe do for some inspiration or remembrance of your own past. My point is, if you are still young or an “old” child (like me) and still don’t know what to do, that’s totally ok.

We live in a world where we are pushed to always become better, wiser, stronger and more successful than our peers, but this is not what life is about. Life is about gathering experiences; having fun and building lasting relationships, and for most of us these experiences are not just waiting around for us at home, they are scattered throughout the world. Well, that is my story. I knew my life and what life offered didn’t stop in the small country of Greece where I am from, or in the university where I studied. Instead, my university gave me the opportunity to study abroad; make some lifelong friends and learn a new language…and still pass my exams back home. How incredible is this!

Fast-forward a few years – it’s August 2011 and I have just come back from a study abroad program in Rome. I only have a few exams left to finish my degree but being home doesn’t feel right for now. Meanwhile, my mom was “shouting” at me to quickly finish university and start working (the gap year isn’t popular in Greece). As much as I love her, I am glad I didn’t listen.

I found myself searching for opportunities abroad. Any volunteer program or internship I came across would make my heart beat faster and fill my stomach with butterflies. I don’t know if it is my destiny, as both my parents had lived and worked abroad, or was it that I just believed I needed to create my own path in life. All I wanted, was to participate in an interesting project in a foreign country with fellow students like myself from around the world. I wanted to learn about their culture, their language, their history, the way they work, how they live and make lifelong friends along the way.

So, on a rainy February day in 2012, I jumped on a plane and three and a half hours later I landed on a warm sunny winter day in Lisbon. I was ready to work in the most amazing project! I was so thrilled when I met the whole team. We were 11 people: 2 Canadians, 2 Greeks, 2 Serbians, 1 Brazilian, 1 Russian, 1 Iranian, 1 Polish and 1 Taiwanese. Yes, it may resemble the start of a joke, but this joke unfolded to be the best experience of my life!

Sometimes we worked all together, and other times we created smaller teams in order to focus on different projects. The point was to get out of our comfort zones. It was a period of three months where we worked with different organizations, taught in schools, made presentations and organized fundraising events. Some days we worked for 12 hours straight and other times we all went out and experienced life in the new city. We were all just glad to be in this project together, at the end of the day we were simply having fun.

I still can’t believe how much I have learned from this experience, from simple things such as orientation while visiting a new place and learning new words, to understanding how important it is to adapt easily and deal with tough situations under pressure. The later has subsequently helped me in my career and personal life. Life is just a learning game, and the secret is – that in this game – you can never lose!

I recently turned 30 and I have lived and worked in 6 countries. If you wonder if I am still friends with the people I met, then I must tell you that our WhatsApp group is going stronger than ever for over 8 years! I am seeing these friends having kids, growing as individuals and building relationships. Every time they visit me in the tip of Africa, Cape Town, they fill my house with joy.

Do I know what I want to be when I grow up? No, I don’t. All I know is that I am very happy I jumped into the unknown back in 2011, as it landed me where I am now, helping students find unique internships abroad that allow them to open their minds and broaden their horizons.

Remember, the world is your oyster! Would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat!

P.S these were notes from my actual (and very dear) diary 😊

Marianna Christodoulou

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