Despina Arvanitaki spent her first month in Australia crying. “I had just realised what I had done; I had come to a country where I was alone, I couldn’t find a cafe open after 4pm and I had to present myself to a new workplace, where I was supposed to speak in Enlgish,” she remembers. The workplace in question is ANZ, one of Australia’s ‘big four’ banks. And “what she had done” was – and is – any young economics graduate dream; a six month internship, through the Hellenic Initiative. A program she signed up for, without second thought, grasping an opportunity as soon as it presented itself.
After a degree in accounting and finance at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, and a masters degree in Banking, Despina signed up for the Regeneration program, that liaises graduates with businesses in Greece. It is through Regeneration that she found out about the Hellenic Initiative and the intership program.
“I was hoping to start another masters abroad and I was looking for an internship in the meantime before the next schoolyear started,” she remembers. “So I thought it would be a great opportunity. I lodged an application, which was approved, I was chosen, did an interview with ANZ and so I came to Australia. I didn’t really think much about it.”
Hence her initial shock. “I was constanly asking myself: ‘what have I done?’ On top of everything, I had trouble finding a house, I was facing other challenges, and I missed my family. I would constantly call them after work, making it feel like I was there.”
Soon, things changed; she became accustomed, she made friends – mostly Greeks – and enjoyed her independence. At the end of the six month long internship, the prospect of going back to Greece filled her with mixed feelings. “It is strange to wake up one day after six months of going to work and not knowing what to do,” she says.
Looking back, Despina values the importance of this experience and acknowledges that she had not made through the first challenging month, had it not been for her job.
“At first, when I didn’t know anyone here, it was work that sustained me, it became a very important part of my life here,” she says.
“I had a great time, I loved what I was doing – much more than I had anticipated – and the workplace was fantastic.”
What she was doing was work as a credit analyst for the research and analysis team of the bank’s institutional department. This gave her unique insight in the difference of the Australian economy, compared to what’s happening in Europe. “The industry is different here, there is a much larger agribusiness sector, not to mention the role of property development.”
She can’t stress how important this experience was for her. “I may only be 24 years old, but I feel very confident as a professional. I realised that I can really put to use all that I have learned in Uni, and I have gained significant insight in how the sector works internationally.”
This was not the first internship for Despina, who had also worked for an international bank in Greece, which was a completely different – and disappointing – experience. Despite adding to her CV, it amounted to nothing more than “staring at a computer screen” for a few hours every day. “I did not learn anything,” she says, expressing her disappointment.
By comparison, her experience in ANZ was the exact opposite. “They made me feel part of the team from the very beginning,” she says. “They were all aware of my situation, that I had come all the way from Greece through this program, but I think it’s part of the mentality, this team spirit, where everyone is helping each other.”
She will miss this, she says. But most of all she will miss her independence. “Being alone in a foreign country changes you. I feel that this experience helped me grow up.”
And she knows that she’s up for a challenge. “I love Greece, it’s been hard to be far from Greece, but when you want to at least try do something with your career you can’t stay there; things in Greece are very difficult. I was aware of it before coming to Australia and I see how things are for my friends. Those of them who have a job, work 10 and 11 hours a day to earn about 400 euros per month; they rely on their parents to make ends meet. And the worst thing is that they make you feel like they are doing you a favour, you never get validation.”
That, she says, is the biggest difference between the Greek and Australian workplace. “In Australia, if you are good at your work, you always get praise for it, every day. They will give you more responsibility, they will make you understand that you can do it, and that gives you the boost to become even better. It is a huge thing to feel appreciated at your job.”
Companies interested in finding out more about the THi Australian Internship Program can go to https://au.thehellenicinitiative.org/what-we-do/thi-australian-internship-program/ or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.