Eleni Exadaktylou is a mother of two young children, who, with her husband Yianni, decided to leave Greece and seek a better future in Australia.
“When we initially discussed leaving, I was not at all convinced that this was indeed at all a good idea but my husband was certainly keen to migrate after the impact the financial crisis had on the corporate sector in which he worked,” Eleni tells Neos Kosmos.
The decision generated a lot of emotional upheaval for their extended family as well as the couple themselves.
“I thought long and hard and decided to support Yianni’s decision, but as a parent, you just worry about the children,” says the mother of eight-year-old Manos and five-year-old Iro.
“Our biggest concern was whether the decision to migrate was the right one for our family and whether the children would be able to adapt easily in a new and completely foreign environment, and learn a new language, make new friends, and enjoy a carefree childhood.
“Luckily, the children embraced the change, I took much longer to adjust and get used to the new life in Australia. Initially, I made the unjustified mistake of comparing Australia to Greece; in particular the education system, career opportunities, the different lifestyle, the climate, the beaches, the landscape, the food, and even the people we met.
“I just couldn’t reconcile with my decision to leave home.”
Eleni, who originates from the town of Argos, studied midwifery in Athens, and worked in a fertility clinic before she arrived in Australia, reveals that what helped her get through those hard times was the acceptance that the ultimate responsibility of making her family’s move worthwhile rested on her and Yianni.
“I decided to stop comparing and start living. I consciously gave myself, my husband and our children the time and space to adapt to new environments, concepts and circumstances, a different country, a different language, different experiences, and different ways of thinking, and concentrated all my energy on making the most of what Australia had to offer.”
It didn’t take long for Eleni to start appreciating the quality of life in Australia.
“Australia is not like Greece but there are certain aspects of this country that I really enjoy such as the facilities, the sense of safety, the quiet lifestyle, and the level of respect for the individual.”
Their extended family remain in Greece.
“Migrating wasn’t easy. Yianni and I didn’t have any relatives or friends in Australia and I can honestly say that there is a certain level of emotional pain and sadness in moving to the other side of the world.
“We miss our families, especially yiayia and pappou. It definitely takes a while getting used to not having anywhere to go on a Sunday for family lunch, or nowhere to spend Christmas, Easter, and the children’s birthdays.
“As a working woman and a young mother, it was also challenging not having the support necessary to fulfill my personal and professional aspirations.”
Eleni admits that leaving her parents was one of the hardest things she ever had to do.
“I felt awful. Like all of our parents, my mother and father are getting older and I am still coming to terms with the fact that I am no longer able to support them as I would have done if I was still living in Greece. At the same time, I definitely still struggle with the idea that I have deprived them from making long-lasting memories with their grandchildren.”
As time passes by, Eleni realises that although her extended family is miles away, her own family unit is growing stronger.
“The children have really amazed me. I love watching them grow into strong independent individuals and I am grateful to the truly amazing people we have met within our school community who made us feel really welcomed.
“Despite our different upbringing and cultural diversity, ultimately as parents, we all share a common goal. To see our children happy,” says Eleni who admits that tables have now turned and her biggest concern revolves around maintaining her children’s ‘Greekness’ within a multicultural and diverse society like Australia.
“It is such a contradiction really. We do everything in our power to help our children adjust to a new environment and at the same time we desperately try so hard to hold on to our ‘Greekness’ and ensure our children stay connected with their Greek heritage, without foregoing Greece and the Greek language.
“This is yet another challenge, that like all newcomers, Yianni and I hope to overcome so that Manos and Iro grow up loving Australia without ever forgetting where they came from.
“I pray for our children to always remember, love, and have a special place in their hearts for Greece.”