When thinking of Greece, I, a Canadian, always think of Athens, Santorini and Paros. I’ve never been, and I’ve always wanted to go. I was lucky when I got the opportunity to volunteer in Greece for the month of September, however, it was on a small, quieter island in the Ionian Sea.
I’d planned to go to Corfu for the past couple of months to do work in a hostel in a village situated on the far side of the island. Just reception work, nothing difficult, but in return I was able to get accommodation for free. Three weeks of living in Greece at the end of the summer was about to be one of the best experiences I’ve had. I had high expectations of the hostel because of the glowing reviews online when I first booked it, but I was mostly blinded by the opportunity of being able to live in Greece.
I arrived in Corfu after staying in a fantastic hostel in Milan with a bar and great people, so although I was sad to leave, I was also excited for something new. However, nerves got the best of me while I waited for my driver to take me to the hostel.
When it comes to my mental health, I do struggle, especially in regards to anxiety. Travelling solo was a big leap for me, even though it was my second time doing so abroad. I was more comfortable this time around, considering I knew I would be able to get to know people around the hostel and make friends. It had eased my anxious mind knowing that I could talk to people around me nonchalantly in about some struggles I might encounter throughout the day, but naturally, I was still a bit nervous about putting myself out there once again.
Nearly two hours after I arrived, a van with an outgoing driver pulled up to the curb, introducing himself to me, asking where I’m from. For the duration of the drive, he simply referred to me as the “Canadienne.”
The island was absolutely stunning; despite it being popular for European tourists, it looked untouched. With a coastline that was still rugged and only filled by a few locals, everything was a rich hue of blue and gold.
When I arrived at the hostel, it was empty. There was someone at reception, and three old men at the bar with Greek music humming in the background. It was at the top of the hill, and my room and the beach were about a 15 minute walk downhill. As I got shown where my room was by one of the elderly gentlemen, there wasn’t any kind of sound. It was bare, only occupied by a handful of people.
I got to my room and hesitantly unpacked from my stuffed backpack. Despite it looking completely different than the photos online, I tried to be optimistic. My room, having no windows, a moldy bed (literally), and a bathroom with a hole in the floor, I still managed to have a few positive thoughts. For instance, I was on a beach in Greece – even though it was 20 flights of stairs down.
I could relax, practice solitude and try being alone with my thoughts. It could be good for me. This could help me grow as a person, be more well-rounded, and be more in tune with my own thoughts. I’m always used to talking to people, so this is a good opportunity to try something different. Although, the thought of being alone with just me, my brain and no windows was slightly terrifying.
As humiliating as it is to say, I lasted one night in the hostel in Corfu. I, a constant people pleaser, went back and forth between deciding on whether to stay or go the next day. The conditions weren’t fantastic, there wasn’t any work for me to do, and it turns out, my room also lacked internet and electricity. Yes, solitude would have been fantastic, but maybe not in something like this.
I told reception that I’d have to leave due to something coming up, and left at noon the next day. I’d managed to book a cheap hotel in the town of Corfu last minute, and the driver dropped me off without question. My hotel room was small, but it had electricity, windows, and a full bathroom. I let out a sigh of relief and started to quietly cry.
I was so mad at myself for not completing my stay, that I couldn’t handle something so different being thrown at me. My friends were fantastic in reassuring me that it would be okay, and if I was unhappy in this place, why would I stay? I tried to tell myself that leaving was the best thing for me, and that the hostel would be okay in terms of work if I left as well, but I carried a pang of guilt with me for the following days.
I booked a flight out of Corfu back to Milan, a comfortable place for me, for the next day. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. For the rest of the day, I explored the town of Corfu, realizing how unique this place was. The boardwalk on the outskirts of the town was right by a crystal clear turquoise harbour, with local fishing boats parked and a few people swimming. To one side of the harbour was a few restaurants, and to the other, a café right by the sea serving the best Greek salad and chips I’ve ever had.
I wandered into the old town, seeing the ancient Venetian-style architecture, and small winding cobblestone streets. I must’ve walked around the town for hours, managing to get lost in both the streets and my thoughts. As sad as it seems, this was the best part of my time in Greece. I got to experience solitude, get out of my comfort zone, realize what I liked and disliked, and how truly exhausting it was being on your own.
I left Corfu tired but with a fresh perspective, and the motivation to have a good time and to put myself first. I was spontaneous and silly and felt full of life, and knew to put my happiness first. I had changed in such a short time, and I was ready to take on new challenges.