Thrust into the heart of Africa

St. Michaels student will be getting his hands dirty in Mali.

St. Michaels University School student Alex Economou

St. Michaels University School student Alex Economou

Alexander Economou is going on an adventure.

The 17-year-old St. Michael’s University student packs his bags three days after prom and flies to rural Quebec, and later to Mali as part a Canada World Youth exchange program that takes him to one of the poorest countries in the world.

“I decided to sign up, not expecting to be accepted into the program,” Economou said. “It hasn’t actually struck me yet … once school ends I will be scared and excited at the same time.”

Deferring for a year his enrolment at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick to participate, the 2011 high school graduate still doesn’t know what exactly he will be doing once he arrives. He only knows he will volunteer for environmental and agricultural projects he will apply for once he arrives.

“I am a person who likes adventure … It is exciting to go to the unknown. I trust the program I am going to and I am going to be completely safe,” he said. “It is a good way to be a global citizen and it helped with my mission to be a better global citizen, to be a better person and help people.”

The first part of the exchange will see Economou and eight other students from across Canada meet up with nine students from Mali for a three-month stint in Quebec. All 18 students will travel to the African nation for the second half of the program.

SMUS social studies and history teacher David Lynch introduced Economou to the program and is confident the students involved have made the right choice.

“I really think it is going to be a priceless experience for him, to really delve deeply into a very different culture and context,” Lynch said.

“(People) who go to Africa tend to go as tourists and see what tourists see. He is going to see what the local see, eat what the locals eat and see a whole different side of Africa.”

The teacher speaks from experience, having embarked on the same journey 15 years ago. He believes it changed his life.

“It really opened my eyes to the world. I lived a relatively sheltered life in Victoria and this opened my eyes to some of the great things in the world – and some of the bad things.”

For Economou, the toughest parts will be being away from friends and family for the longest period of his life, and having limited access to communication, including the Internet and social media.

However, the adventure-seeker is up for the challenge.

“(It’ll be) a complete experience of a different culture,” he said. “It is experiential education. It is out of the classroom and into the real world.”

editor@oakbaynews.com