Learning to connect with those around us: a Macedonian learning adventure in the Scottish Borders

Courtesy of some poor systems and staffing planning by Trans-Pennine Express trains last week, I found myself on a rail replacement bus meandering across the Scottish Borders towards Carlisle, in order to get on another train that would finally take me to my destination. I can now report that there is a distinct limit to how much work one can do on a laptop on a rail replacement bus that is crossing the Scottish Borders … it was, in fact, not long until I gave up hope and turned my attention to the world around me, and I discovered that my immediate companion was a student of Geology from Greece who seemed quite keen to practise his English, so off we embarked on a conversation.

And what a conversation it was! After I had answered (rather inadequately) his questions about the train network in the U.K., and he had (with slightly puzzlement) answered my questions about the Greek education system, a chance remark of his about the state of Northern Macedonia led me to ask for his insights into the political tensions around the choice of name, and away we went on a journey of historical, geographical and political exploration that took us from the Ancient Greeks to the Balkan Wars. Alexander the Great played a significant role in our (mostly my) learnings, as did various Kings and politicians en route who had made wise or less wise decisions about when and how to invade different parts of the surrounding islands and countries. I learned such a lot.

Thanks to his remembered knowledge from school history, and my (much feebler) contribution of Google maps (and the odd recourse to Wikipedia), I – and, to be fair, he too – have a MUCH more comprehensive understanding of, amongst other events, the Asia Minor Disaster (aka the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922). What a really satisfying way to spend 3 hours! We parted at Carlisle station, both much more knowledgeable, and with me wishing him all the very best for his career in energy (preceded by his military service).

Anyway, my point is this – learnings and connections are usually just within our grasp, often (literally) sitting right beside us, or a mere click, or turn of a book page, away. All we have to do is (a) know this, and (b) reach out for them. Opening our minds and hearts is the first step in learning about others, how they live, what has influenced them and what enriches their lives. And – I say this with absolute conviction, based on experience – reaching out to others, and learning how they think and why, is enormously interesting, satisfying, enlightening and incredibly useful in one’s future interactions.

Need I say more? Connect with someone or something different today – and revel in the increased depth of your learning and understanding.

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