by Sophia Photiou – January 10, 2023

Coffee, Classes & Culture – NDCP 2022

Diaspora Cypriots, in Cyprus

Cyprus has always had a significant place in my heart. It’s my motherland, my roots and my grandparents’ place of birth. Yet, for the first time, I was feeling somewhat nervous to fly 4.5 hours away from London to explore the island because this time I was going without my family and instead with a bunch of young Cypriots like me.

For three weeks in July, 35 strangers from around the world, including myself, were lucky enough to get a place on the NEPOMAK Discover Cyprus Programme (NDCP). However, we weren’t just strangers, we were young Cypriots from the diaspora, who were eager to connect and learn about our background, language and culture. Which is exactly what NDCP provides. For those three weeks, we lived and studied at the University of Cyprus, in Nicosia and fully immersed ourselves in Cyprus.

I first heard about the programme in 2019 and decided to apply straight away. I thought, “what a great way to brush up on my Greek (which isn’t so great) and get the chance to explore Cyprus in a fun and adventurous way”. And after 2 years waiting (due to the pandemic), the long awaited trip had arrived and I didn’t expect the experience I had to be so eye-opening.

At first it was daunting to meet lots of new people, but I can speak on behalf of all the participants of NDCP 2022, and say that the time we spent in Cyprus felt incredibly significant to us all. Together we found a new sense of attachment and love for our island, our fellow Cypriots, and we had the best experience of our lives; from strangers to family.

Coffee, Classes & Culture

Our weeks began with early mornings, rushed walks to classes from our dorms and, of course, lots of freddo espressos (cold coffees)! The campus was a short walk away and every Monday to Thursday we would attend Greek language and culture lessons. The classes were split into beginner and advanced so everyone, no matter what your level of Greek was, had the chance to improve. We made a big effort and had a good laugh trying to keep up with the complexities of the Cypriot dialect, and did our best to practise.

In the afternoons, we intriguingly sat listening to the vast history of the tiny island of Cyprus. In our history and culture class we covered a timeline of Cypriot history from the first settlement in the Neolithic Age, all the way up until its independence in 1960, the 1974 Turkish invasion and of course all of the colonizers in between. Over the centuries, this one island has developed a unique culture and it was fascinating to hear more about it. Our lessons were closely tied in with our excursions around Cyprus with our lovely tour guide Kyria Katie. She took us to visit many historical and archaeological sites around the island. These trips brought truth to what we had learnt in our lessons, especially when visiting the Centre of Visual Arts museum, the EOKA Imprisoned Graves and the UN buffer zone in Nicosia. It was an eye opening experience and somewhat emotional for us all. I was also able to learn specific history about my own family, which I will forever be grateful for. As much as this part of the trip was significant to all of us, it was the exploration of Cyprus and group bonding that was just as important.

Sun, adventures & beautiful scenes

From Friday to Sunday, we spent our days adventuring around our beautiful Island. Kyria Katie accompanied us, city to city singing songs with her operatic voice and sharing her stories. Whether it be visiting: Petra tou Romiou – the magical birthplace of Aphrodite in Paphos, the lace shop filled windows in Lefkara, the holy Kykkos monastery in Troodos or even the ancient Kourion in Limassol, we were in awe with every location we went to. We really got to see the most incredible places on the island. The Troodos mountains were my personal favourite destination. Seeing the most amazing green scenery with panoramic views of Cyprus was unbeatable. The fresh air and beauty of the mountains brought a sense of calmness to us all. However, it was not so calm when driving down the windy roads of Troodos in a big coach! We thank Kyria Katie for her feisty side and sticking up for Mr George (our coach driver) when other drivers were trying to hastily drive past us.

Our trip was accompanied by two lovely advisors, selected by NEPOMAK. Our experience would really not have been the same without the Marias aka ’Theia Marias’ (aunty Marias). They ensured our trip was enriched with Cypriot culture and planned fun evening and night activities for us. They also organised countless delicious mezedes at traditional tavernas, club nights, and Greek bouzoukia nights to see singers Yiannis Ploutarhos and Nikos Oikonomopolous. We all got the opportunity to show off our new and improved Greek dancing skills that we learned from the best dance teacher Mr Dimitri. After endless dancing, chatting and over 100 group pictures, our night would end with a pit stop to the Zorbas bakery. We’d often get delicious pastries and stuff ourselves with Koubes, Eliopittes and many many Loukmades, then of course continue the party on the coach.

Our coach journeys were the best place to really get to know each other. We’d end up sitting next to someone different every time, make new friendships but also get an embarrassing photo taken if you fell asleep. There would be many sing-offs and DJ battles, ‘Number One’ by Helen Paparizou comes to mind and was definitely the anthem of the trip! The Maria’s helped us with anything we needed and quickly became friends with us all! They planned many journeys to beautiful beaches such as Fig Tree Bay, Makronissos Beach and Blue Lagoon, all with crystal clear waters. Not to forget our nights in at the university dorms where we had a toga party, a flat Masterchef competition and lots of late night zeibekiko dancing accompanied by Zivania. Whether it be speed-walking to dance class, learning South African slang, cooking traditional Cypriot food together or snorkeling in the serene seas, the fun with the NDCP 2022 group never ever stopped!

Strangers become family

As the trip came to a close, we reflected on how the trip had surpassed all our expectations. We were all given a wider perspective of our homeland, and experienced Cyprus like never before. We got to hear about the ongoing Cyprus issue, which of course was close to all of our hearts. We explored the most beautiful places on the island and met the best people – it was a once in a lifetime experience. No matter what continent or city we were from, we were bound together by our ‘Cypriot-ness’ and became even more proud to call Cyprus our motherland.

I hope this article encourages you to reconnect with your own roots and apply for the next NDCP and to get involved with NEPOMAK. I would like to thank everyone who made this trip possible for us and allowed us to have the most unforgettable time. NDCP 2022 – Agapi Island, filled with love and memories that will last a lifetime for us all, from strangers to one big global family!