A group of ten high school students from Sparta came “Down Under” to compete in an international robotics tournament at Macquarie University, with help and guidance from the Laconian diaspora to give them an unforgettable trip.
The students of the 3rd High School of Sparta and their coaches, Kostas Bombas (Mathematics teacher at the same High School), and Dimitrios Sagiannis (Director of the Public Library of Sparta) visited Sydney for one week.
The main purpose of the trip was to participate in the First Lego League Asia Pacific Open which took place at Macquarie University (June 29-July 2).
The Greek robotics team, called “Northside”, qualified for the competition after winning the equivalent tournament in Greece, the Panhellenic championship in Thessaloniki.
Mr Bombas said that the international nature of the event left a great impact on them.
“It was a fantastic experience to be among so many people from many different countries and our students would not have otherwise had a chance to meet these people,” Mr Bombas told Neos Kosmos.
As part of the competition, the students all had stalls where they explained the ideas behind their projects to all the other competitors, allowing everyone to share and learn each other’s knowledge.
Mr Bombas admitted that the tournament was not as well organised as the Panhellenic championship, particularly in the digital aspects, though the actual time spent at the university really impressed the students.
“The kids enjoyed being on university campus and it was a very good experience for them to see how university facilities and life works in Australia because it is quite different to the universities in Greece,” Mr Bombas said.
During their trip, Dr Patricia Koromvokis, Director of the Modern Greek Studies Program at Macquarie University, played a big role in welcoming them to the university as well as giving them a guided tour.
This included showing them the library and the History Museum, looking at how the Greek lessons are conducted, as well as all the university’s various facilities.
“With the tour that Dr Koromvokis gave the kids, they had a unique experience to see something completely different. None of them had seen what university conditions are like and there’s nothing corresponding to this, even for those whose siblings are studying at university.
Dr Koromvokis, who is also from Sparta, made time to watch the team during the tournament and observed the respect and trust the students showed towards their coaches, as well as their resilience and perseverance.
“The ethos of the ten Spartan students makes me feel very optimistic about the future of our homeland,” she told Neos Kosmos.
The lecturer also joined them in visiting other places like the NSW State Library, the Botanical Gardens, the Sydney Eye Tower and the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park.
The team acquainted themselves with the students from University’s Greek Students Association (MUGA) during their stay, who, along with the Macquarie Greek Studies Foundation, organised a welcome dinner for them on Tuesday June 27 at the Greek taverna, Yia Mas.
Dr Koromvokis stated that their visit was a great opportunity to showcase the projects and international collaborations that the Modern Greek Studies Program has initiated in the last four years.
She added that it was a fantastic chance to discuss potential future partnerships with the High School and the Public Library of Sparta.
The trip itself could not have happened without the support of the Laconian Federation of NSW, raising funds through a dinner to help cover their transportation and accommodation costs.
“They reached out from Greece. They had won the Panhellenic competition in Thessaloniki and they wanted to come to Australia. There was a shortage of funds and they were looking for sponsors around Greece and throughout the world,” Anastasios (Tom) Kokoris, President of the Laconian Federation of NSW, told Neos Kosmos.
“We said we would support them in their stay in Australia as well as their transportation costs. We had a function at the Mytilenian House on June 3rd and raised sufficient funds to cover those costs that we promised.”
Mr Kokoris stressed that they felt a duty to support the visitors from Laconia.
This extended to committee members of the Federation accompanying them to see famous sites like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, while also organising a dinner for them at the Greek Community Club in Lakemba on Saturday July 1 which took the Spartan guests by surprise.
“We were very happy and moved with the whole experience. In general, the hospitality was great. We felt right at home,” Mr Bombas said.
“We felt like we came to visit relatives. Ironically, some kids actually had the chance to meet some relatives that they didn’t know they had before coming.”