“My springtime internship on Syros was a wonderful experience,” said Emma Di Gregory, an 18-year-old student at the Maison Familiale Rurale (MFR) training institute at St-Etienne in France, after completing a three-week internship program at a French-language primary school in the capital of the Cyclades. “I had the chance to appreciate the energy that Greek teachers put into their work, as well as their calm attitude,” added Emma, who in her free time explored every inch of the island with friends.
Apart from the classroom, the students from the French training institute were involved in a wide range of other tasks on the island, including working at the town hall, restaurants, small and medium businesses and a local pharmacy.
“Our collaboration with Syros through the Erasmus+ program goes back around 10 years,” director of the St-Etienne MFR Igor Navarro told us. He accompanied his students in April after traveling with a different class in March.
“Our [education] system is different to yours here: [In France] every two weeks of theoretical training alternate with two weeks of practical training; that’s a total of 28 weeks theory and 22 practice,” he added.
“Once a year our students head off for a three-week internship program abroad. Learning to work in an unfamiliar environment is a key part of their training,” he said.
His school has chosen to collaborate with Greece and, more specifically, its islands. “It is a conscious choice so that they learn to be effective in isolated island regions,” he told us. Back in 2017, as director of the MFR Vernines, he contacted the state hospital in the seaside town of Karystos in southern Evia.
Last year, a group of around 20 students aged between 17 and 18 worked at the hospital. Another group is expected to arrive in the town in October.
“The interns were split into pairs. Every two days they would be assigned to a different wing as assistants – the emergency department, the pediatric clinic, the dental department, obstetrics and gynecology, microbiology, radiology, general surgery,” said hospital director Anastasios Michas. “They worked from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. We also offered them lunch.”
The language barrier was sometimes a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Some of the interns spoke English, while many among the hospital staff also spoke French. Then there is the medical terminology, much of which stems from the Greek.
The Greek doctors and nurses gave the French youngsters, who were already on nursing courses and were familiar with the hospital environment, a warm welcome. “We even gave them the opportunity to attend surgeries,” the hospital director said.
Every time they successfully performed a task – such as bandaging a wound or performing an x-ray on a patient – their confidence grew. “They took us by surprise, as they were willing to help with cleaning up too as they have been trained to keep their workspace clean,” Michas added. “However, we made it clear to them that this was not part of the job description.”
For their part, the French students were positively surprised by the operation of the Karystos clinic. “They were surprised by the fact that medical treatment was free and that the conditions they found themselves in did not match the descriptions about the ‘wrecked’ Greek health system in the French media,” Michas said.
The students had an opportunity to share their impressions of Karystos with French Ambassador to Athens Christophe Chantepy, a warm supporter of the exchange program, whom they met before returning home.
Navarro, who was raised in the south of French, is a big fan of Greece and feels very comfortable in the country. “Once you get to know the Greek mentality you realize that there is a solution to every problem, but it’s not always immediately evident. You need to bring it to the surface.”
The students were also charmed. For many of them it was their first trip to another country. They departed with the promise that they would return, for holidays, work or, in some cases, to revive a romance that had blossomed over the course of the program.