The Greek T-Shirt which helped me make a new friend

By April Xiaoyi Xu
By April Xiaoyi Xu |

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April at the Pomona College International Students' Orientation

Of all the items in my walk-in closet, my favourite is a plain DIY T-shirt from Greece. It has Plato’s quote, "Thinking: the Talking of the Soul with Itself." and my name in Greek. 

I wore it to our Orientation Adventure at Sequoia National Park, a four-day hiking-and-camping trip that marked the start of real college life: as my parents returned to China during my time at Sequoia, I was to begin living in my home away from home as a young adult.

If I were to graph my mood, with time as the independent variable, and happiness as the dependent variable, the line would dramatically curve from positive to negative upon the realisation that there was literally zero phone service in the park. Even though I was wearing my favourite T-shirt and convinced myself that the grand combination of hiking, camping, cooking and tasting self-invented food (which I called "melting pots", where we mixed every ingredient we brought with us) would distract me from homesickness, I felt despondent. I started commanding my tears to avoid a first awkward encounter with my new friends. This was when I heard a voice:

"Σκέψη: η ομιλία της ψυχής με τον εαυτό της."

The speaker was walking towards me as he read the quote aloud.

"Greek?!" we asked simultaneously, amazed. I recalled hearing from a Greek friend how even Modern Greek is sometimes labelled a "dead language". 

I explained my love affair with Greek culture. Originally from Crete and Thessaloniki, he listened attentively and smiled as I outlined my travel itinerary in Greece over the summer. Rather than a temporary distraction from my nostalgic yearning for home, the conversation brightened my day, waking me up from my slight unconsciousness of the surrounding environment. I began to remember him sitting across from my seat on the shuttle, wearing a pair of sunglasses alongside a cool facial expression. He admitted afterwards, "My sunglasses were masking my tears, but when I saw the Greek alphabets on your T-shirt, I felt so happy."

He turned out to be an impressive polyglot (being trilingual in Modern Greek, English, and German, fluent in Spanish, and competent in Japanese through self-study), an avid reader (whom I would randomly run into in the college library), a fellow international student who did the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme at high school, and above all, a great friend. 

"Ευχαριστώ (Thank you)!" I would say to my favourite T-shirt afterwards.