My Reportage published on newdiaspora.com documenting the thoughts and future plans of Greek Expats freshly graduating from British & American Universities.

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The idea of conducting a reportage documenting the path of Greek Expats graduating in 2014, was first born in May. Οn the one side of the Atlantic, finalists in the British universities (like me) were taking their final exams – a process of much greater significance than any other previous examination we have been involved in the past (as the apparent severity of the Greek National Exams, the International Baccalaureate Finals and any other similar high school exam system diminished). In the meantime, on the other side of the Atlantic, Greek seniors in American universities were already being photographed in their gowns. Throughout informal discussions with classmates and friends, I realized there is an incredible amount of variation in graduates’ choices after the completion of their first degree. However, these choices and our future paths are overshadowed by a constant dilemma: What about Greece? Whether talking about Greece or Cyprus, our dilemma involves this country we want to continue to include in our plans, but at the same time, we cannot imagine ourselves returning back to. I would say we have developed a kind of love-hate relationship with our home country; there is something about it that both attracts and repels us – the irony being that both feelings appear simultaneously, in the same way that, simultaneously, we need to weigh the costs and benefits of our post-grad alternatives and start tracing our first career footsteps.

I set out to document the thoughts of Greeks who just recently graduated, asking them about their plans after Graduation, and whether Greece or Cyprus fit in those plans. After recording their responses, I realized there is no clear answer to this question. Some Graduates will return back home, others are moving from one country abroad to another, some are desperately job-hunting or looking for a master’s degree scholarship abroad to prevent coming back to Greece, while a considerable portion of Graduates are considering all these options concurrently. Though most of us, given that Greece is always a factor in all our life decisions, are comfortable with the mere possibility of returning back at some point, now or later, but I believe it is the notion of returning back permanently that scares us. We sometimes have this feeling that “Greece is not enough for us”. In other words, we get accustomed to living abroad since a very early age, at a time when we are still constructing our adult personalities and thus, our expectations change, not necessarily towards “something better” but towards the direction of “something different” from Greece.

As I write this article today, on a Saturday in mid- July (the official month of Graduation ceremonies), while boarding on a flight from Warsaw to London, I hear people speaking Greek behind me, in the most unexpected place, a flight of the polish LOT. I soon find out, that the woman sitting behind me is grandma Irini, travelling from a coastal place in the Peloponnese to Athens, then to Warsaw, and finally to London, to see her granddaughter, also Irini, graduate. During the first 5 minutes of our chat, I was kindly asked what I am planning to do after graduation, and then I learnt that “little Rinoula does not want to come back to Greece by any means”. Thankfully I am not the only one, I thought! Quite a few times, in the past I heard Greeks easily judging that going abroad was the “easy way” for us who left, or in other words, the widely held belief that studying abroad is either for the “losers” of the Greek National Exams or the kids of wealthy Greek families. I find such a mentality deeply wrong and short-minded, in the same way that people might now easily deem staying abroad as, once again, the “easy path to follow”. To be more precise, in the eyes of her grandma she might be “little Irini”, but in the eyes of job recruiters, she will be just another University graduate, assessed over and over again, in order to prove that she is better than her international competitors in the metropolis called London. She will go through 5-8 steps in order to achieve having her own desk in some company or corporate organization, she will have to get used to spending half of her entry-level salary on rent or accept sharing a house with 2-5 flatmates, she will have only 20 days off per year to fit relaxation and other trips abroad, mainly including family visits to Greece. On top of all that, if “little Irini” decides to pursue further studies in the US later, she will inevitably have to prove herself worthy of some thousands of dollars in scholarship money. But still, despite these challenges, for now, there is something that keeps her here in London, whether that means career prospects, recognition, financial returns or quality of life.

We landed at Heathrow and I suddenly felt this familiar feeling that “I am home”, along with the reassuring thoughts that my British cellphone number is properly working again, I can withdraw cash from any ATM without commission, I can call the same cab driver who has known me for 3 years now, and I will be paying a fixed tariff for his cab service, even if he waits for me for half an hour. I felt as if I was returning to a small universe of my own that I had created for myself since first coming to London at age18 – a place where all my contracts are legally held under my name and not my parents’, where I am entitled to student discounts anywhere from clothing purchases to world-class ballet and opera tickets, and where I am insured by the NHS ever since getting my first job at age 19. Sometimes, I hear Greeks complain about how life her is “dull”, because, supposedly, it rains all the time and the British people are described as “cold” compared to the people of the Mediterranean. These comments are often followed by the familiar rhetoric question “Is there any other place better than Greece?” Personally, I consider the idealization of living in Greece or abroad to be short-minded. Throughout my student years abroad, I’ve seen some students “plant their roots” here, while other have always held “one foot (and mind) in Greece” (as we say in Greek). The majority of us abroad were blessed to have generous psychological, as well as financial support from our families back home, however, the next step after Graduation is our very own decision. Thus, it is sad when those who return to Greece face intense social criticism for their decision to leave in the first place, in the same spirit of criticism against those who did not opt to take the PanHellenic national exams and try to be accepted to Greek universities. As far as I am concerned, returning back home is neither a failure, nor a striking success if you manage to find a “little job” abroad (as they call it in Greece given the hardships of securing any sort of employment). What would certainly constitute a failure is, gradually lowering our expectations for ourselves, whether that happens in our home country or away from it.

When I went through the Heathrow Arrivals exit with grandmother Irini, I saw three generations of women hugging each other. At this moment it occurred to me that little Irini represents all of us, young Greek Expats, who are already asked to build up our own life path from the age of 21, possibly a bit earlier than our counterparts in Greece. This image brought back the memory of a hot summer afternoon, when I was stuck in traffic in central Athens, and the song “Give us Wings” by the band Monika came on the Greek radio.

The song’s first refrain says “give us wings, it’s time to fly away”, while the second says quite the opposite “take our wings cause we are going home”. I wish good luck to the Graduates of 2014 choosing the lyrics that best describe them.

Testimonies:

σπυρόπουλος1

I am both an American and a Greek national. Being in-between the Greek and the American cultures for the entirety of my life afforded me the opportunity to compare the norms and lifestyles of both these great countries. Ever since I entered middle school, it became clear to me that as much as I loved Greece and everyone in my life there, I wanted to pursue my higher education and to permanently relocate to the United States. Choosing Georgetown University in Washington, DC was a no-brainer; the school had a centuries-old tradition in my chosen field of study, politics, and its location in the American capital offered a host of educational and professional opportunities. My interest in American law began to solidify in my first months as an undergraduate and it’s now leading me to pursue a Juris Doctor degree at the Georgetown University Law Center, after which I plan to work as a corporate attorney.

Returning to Greece was never really something I wanted to do, but I don’t fail to recognize that anyone wanting to do so would face significant hardship. Unemployment is high and the economic future of the country looms ominous. Further, social issues such as the rise of the Extreme Right are rather alarming. For most, coming back home would come with a huge risk, which results in many bright young minds staying abroad, and many more wishing to leave after they receive the first degree.

Of course one may say I don’t know what I’m talking about -having being away from everyday life in Greece for so long. Yet, the way I see it, Greece needs to provide incentives for its brightest minds to stick around, or at least come back, and work to make the country a better place. This is, of course, easier said than done and the relatively theoretical nature of what I’m saying may lead many to point to more pressing, practical issues that the Greek state must deal with. However, Greece’s greatest resource isn’t its shipping industry or the oil reserves that may or may not be hiding under the Aegean waters- Greece’s greatest resource is its youth. It is a bottomless source of talent, vigor, and ambition. Tapping into it is one of the most crucial steps towards a brighter future.

George Spyropoulos
Georgetown University ’14 (Bachelors in Government & History)
Georgetown University ’17 (Juris Doctor)

καλογήρου1

My dream is to become a professional composer of contemporary classical music. After graduating from Royal Holloway I will be pursuing my Postgraduate Studies in Composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. In the recent past, we have witnessed a rapid expansion of knowledge and resources, development of technology, and of course growth of fields of specialization, in my area of study. Thus, as a person who loves knowledge, I aim to get as much experience in the field of composition as I can, reach a high-level of professionalism and create my own social network so as to achieve building up a successful career as a composer. However, I find it really hard to achieve my goals including Cyprus in my plans. I would prefer staying in the UK for a certain amount of time so as to rip the benefits from the return on my education and manage to acquire my first personal savings, without putting extra burdens on my family. Following this and having acquired a desirable amount of savings, I would seriously consider returning back to my home country. However, a necessary prerequisite for a potential decision to return back would be my prior creation of contacts for future engagements and collaborations with professionals abroad (in the UK or elsewhere) because, unfortunately, the occasion of composer in Cyprus is not well recognizable, so far.

Anna Kalogirou
University of London, Royal Holloway ’14 (Bachelors in Music)
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance ‘15 (Masters in Composition)

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Having a Greek father and a British-Cypriot mother I have always struggled to answer the question ‘Where are you from?’ as all three countries mean ‘home’ to me. Being born in London and then moving to Cyprus where I grew up, served in the Greek army and now returning to the UK for university makes this question even harder to answer. Having finished my economics degree in London, I have now decided to start my career in investment banking in London as the opportunities are plentiful and I believe going back to Cyprus will be a struggle now with the rising unemployment for graduates. I also believe the scale and level of finance I want to pursue will not be available in Cyprus. Now with the luxury of flying becoming so affordable, I can jump on a plane and visit friends and family in Cyprus without withholding my career in the UK. I do not see myself returning permanently to Cyprus in the near future, although one should never say never!

George Ventouris
University of London, Royal Holloway ’14 (Bachelors in Economics)
Analyst at Goldman Sachs. London, United Kingdom

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Having recently graduated from Royal Holloway University of London, I intend to stay in England and start a graduate scheme at an accountancy firm. By doing so I aim to complete my Associations of Chartered Accountants (ACA) professional qualification during my first three years of my contract. I always had in mind of not going to Cyprus right after my studies, as I want gain some work experience in London and also live the “rush” and pressure of staying in the capital. But definitely, going back to Cyprus to settle after five or six years is in my plans as Cyprus will always be my home.

Antonis Leonidou
University of London, Royal Holloway ’14 (Bachelors in Economics)

σαμπιθάι

After graduation, I will continue my studies in Social Anthropology. I’m going on a 2-year research Master’s in the University of Copenhagen, part of which will be a 6-month period of fieldwork in Greece, where I will study fishing communities and the position of women-fishermen in the lagoon of Mesolongi. Therefore, in the short term, Greece features in my plans more as a place to conduct research, but it is very possible that after I finish my Master’s degree I will look for more long-term research projects to work in, or maybe a PhD in Greece.

Valentini Sampethai
Goldmiths, University of London ’14 (Bachelors in Social Anthropology)
University of Copenhagen ’16 (Masters in Anthropology)