Alexandra Vakitsidis migrated to Australia in 1967 and has just celebrated half a century since her arrival in what most Greek migrants refer to as xenitia.
Genuine, bright, with a positive outlook on life and a genuine affection for people, Alexandra’s migration story commenced at the tender age of 17 when she decided to leave her little village in Florina and move to South Australia, for love.
“When I look back, I honestly don’t know where the time has gone,” says Alexandra who met her future husband Dimosthenis when she was 15.
“He was a few years older than me and he decided to leave Greece to seek a better future in Australia.”
After settling Down Under, Dimosthenis proposed to Alexandra by letter and arranged for her to migrate to Australia.
“Up until that moment, I had no real motive to leave my homeland, but I was so young, determined, and in love with Dimosthenis that I was prepared to take the risk. I literally jumped on the boat and for weeks I travelled to the other side of the world just to be with him, but I kept my family, my village and my beloved Greece close to my heart.”
Today, Alexandra has three children and is a grandmother of five.
“I can’t complain. Australia has been really good to us. Despite the difficulties we faced at the beginning, like most migrants of that generation, my husband and I worked really hard and managed to survive in a country that we respected and which respected us in return.
“Our goal was to seize the opportunity and take on the challenge to prove to the world what it is to be Greek. We were determined to strive and accomplish great things.”
Although Australia genuinely welcomed the young couple, today, the 67-year-old grandmother, admits that there were times the xenitia was unbearable.
“Particularly during Christmas and Easter time, my mind would wander back home to the people I loved and the customs and traditions we were accustomed to before we left our village. I have come to realise that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where we are, as migrants, it’s impossible to cut the cord that binds us with our country of birth.”
It didn’t take long for Alexandra to stand out from the crowd, due to her genuine personality and impeccable ethos.
“My two main concerns were to find employment and learn the language, and I must thank my doctor who refused an interpreter while I was carrying my first child, as well as my employers at my first job, who would invite me to sit at their table during each lunchtime and converse with me in English with the help of a dictionary.
“That’s why I love Australians. Because they always treated me justly and respectfully and I made sure I did the same in return by remembering the advice my father gave me, to always keep my heart and door open and lend my helping hand to anyone that needed it, irrespective of cultural background, nationality or religious preference.”
In her 50 years in Australia, Alexandra hasn’t stopped giving back to the community. She is currently the sole Greek ambassador for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, having served as a volunteer at three different hospitals for 28 years whilst she was the first Greek female migrant to be elected as a councillor in 1992 for the City of Port Adelaide.
Furthermore, in 1996 the Consulate General of Greece in South Australia honoured Alexandra for her contribution in the promotion of Greek culture and tradition. Two years later, the Governor of South Australia honoured Vakitsidis for her tremendous contribution towards education and culture.
In 1999, Alexandra became a member of the Greek and Greek Cypriot Women in Australia Association (OEEGA), which aims to safeguard the rights of women and contributes to the preservation of Greek traditions in Australia while giving women opportunities to receive an education and improve the conditions of their lives.
But for this determined and tireless super-yiayia, it doesn’t end there.
In 2004, Vakitsidis visited Greece to attend the Olympic Games in Athens and volunteer her time during the event. By the end of the Games, she had received the coveted ‘Best Volunteer for the Olympics 2004’ medal.
“For me it was an honour to be able to shower our international guests with our famous Greek hospitality and allow them to experience our Greek culture and philosophy,” says Alexandra who was also bestowed with the honour to carry the Olympic flame representing her hometown, Florina.
“I felt that I held Greece in my hands and that was just [a] once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she says.
In 2010, the Prefecture of Thessaloniki in cooperation with the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) awarded Vakitsidis the ‘Woman of the Year’ award for her contribution towards Greece and for promoting Hellenism throughout Australia, Asia and New Zealand.
A few years later in 2015, the Greek Orthodox Church honoured her with the prestigious Golden Cross Class of the Holy New Martyr Agathangelos of Florina.
“I am both humbled and proud and most certainly grateful for all the recognition, but I would like everyone to know that in order to achieve anything in life, we need to hold each other’s hands and respectfully work together towards a common goal,” says Alexandra.
“Personally, whether in Greece or in Australia, all my efforts are concentrated into highlighting our cultural heritage so that we can ensure it doesn’t get lost in a welcoming melting pot society like Australia.
“I am certainly grateful for the life that I have had and the opportunity to lead in my own way but life is about helping others who are in need and treating everyone with respect and humility. It’s important, during testing times in particular, to never lose our humanity.
“I must admit, with my right hand, I do the sign of the cross every day and praise Australia, the country that took me and my family under its wings and allowed us to thrive and succeed in a culturally diverse society, but with my left hand, the one closer to my heart, I can feel my heart beating strong for our beautiful Greece.”