Learning for knowledge and company

Vassilis and Christina are colleagues at a large multinational corporation on Pireos Street. They belong to the first generation of Greeks who have had to forgo the traditional afternoon siesta. On good days, they might get home from the office at 6 or 7 p.m. Last winter they did something you might not expect from them or from most Greek workers – they signed up for a photography seminar by Platon Rivellis at the Rouf branch of the Benaki Museum. «We wanted to do something for ourselves, something that wasn’t work, that would help us let off steam and that we liked.» The early evening time slot was no obstacle: «The feeling of doing something for yourself is so invigorating that it’s worth trying to cram it in.» This year Christina is thinking of going for the free seminars being offered by the Municipal Art Gallery in Psychico. Vassilis, who was enthusiastic about the photography seminars, is determined to continue after Christmas. In the meantime, he has managed to drag his mother away from the television set by encouraging her to take up knitting lessons at Eleftheroudakis bookstore on Panepistimiou Street. The Mikro Polytechneio on Aghion Assomaton Square has become an institution in the field of adult learning. Thrasos Kaminakis, one of the founders, could hardly believe the demand for the project. «You used to hear that nobody had any free time, but what I believe is that we were suffering from a lack of organized spaces. There were no places where a city person could spend their leisure time. If there are places, people will find them by themselves,» said Kaminakis. And he was as good as his word. The Mikro Polytechneio attracts a large, extremely diverse clientele of people aged 30 to 70. «A lot of people think we are a hangout for students, but that is a misunderstanding,» said Kaminakis. It is not the only one. Some people confuse private initiatives with projects run by local government authorities. In fact this is something completely different, and charges admission. A six-month course will cost about 100 euros, though there are some exceptions, both more and less expensive. Among the organizers are some big names, such as the Filekpaideftiki Etaireia (which runs the Free University in the Stoa tou Vivliou book arcade), and the Benaki Museum, with its own series of seminars, which cash in on their names and the fame of their speakers. «Yes, there is a segment of the public who base their choices more on the name of the speaker,» the secretariat of the Filekpaideftiki Etaireia confirms. Their winter program attracted more than 2,000 applications, twice the number they had space for. Following its success last year, the Free University has expanded its program from five series to eight. The need to for better quality use of limited free time and the quality of the speakers are one side of the coin. The other is purely social, and has to do with a quest for lost socializing. «There are people who come to us without knowing exactly what it is they want from us,» said Kaminakis. «It’s enough for them to get out of the house and meet new people. They are seeking company.»