With planes grounded for the past year and a half, Australia – that vast, distant island nation – so far from home, feels even more isolated and stifling to the Greeks who recently settled there.
Once the initial enthusiasm of starting afresh and making the most of great professional opportunities starts to fade, anxiety enters, and is usually caused by an uncertain future. That’s when the reality of being separated from loved ones and familiar surroundings sets in.
In light of this, many new Greek migrants have begun to rethink their decisions to settle in Australia. They begin to reconsider their outlook on life, their goals and real desires and it slowly dawns on them that what was important to them can be found back home. Others may feel that something is changing in Greece, that there is light beginning to show at the end of the tunnel, and they want to be there when better days arrive for a country which is still recovering from the economic crisis. They want to contribute to this recovery with the experiences they have gained while living overseas in order to “pay it forward”.
Neos Kosmos spoke to recently arrived Greek Australians, a step before embarking on their journey back to their roots.
“The pandemic made me change my outlook on life”
For Sofia Tsimidopoulou, life has always been an adventure, a continuous quest for new possibilities and new limits. This outlook on life led her to get on a plane three years ago, to come and live in Australia:
At first, it was difficult. I was alone, in a country so far from home. I knew no one. But I always tend to look at the glass half-full (if not overflowing!), so I took it on as a challenge and tried to make the best of it.
I started off at Neos Kosmos and a few months later I became involved in PRONIA (Greek-Australian welfare service) where I continue to work until today. Being part of these two organisations brought me close to the Greek diaspora. The opportunity and experience were unique, as I came to find in this community a different kind of Greece, that you would otherwise never be able to understand, unless you were to live in it.
I didn’t have a clear plan of how long I was going to stay. The only thing I knew was that I did not want it to exceed seven years, because after that I probably wouldn’t go back, and I didn’t want that. But when COVID-19 struck, it accelerated things.
It wasn’t the isolation, because I am by nature a private person. But it did give me the opportunity to start processing and redefining my priorities in life and my goals.
All this uncertainty was like a slap in the face that made me think about how I want my life, where I want to be, and with whom, in order to be really happy. A good career and big dreams are great, but what is it that really matters?
The challenge of the pandemic led me to realise that, in the end, what really matters lies are the small things that I once took for granted. I only understood how important these were when I was deprived of them. I saw myself close to my family, enjoying the company of friends, sitting with my mum in our backyard in Athens, and I understood that that is where I would find the freedom I always sought.
If everything goes well, I will be home by November, in time to spend Christmas with my family, and I can’t wait.
I don’t think I will ever venture so far away from home again.
I carry with me all the good that has happened to me while here, and the amazing experience of living abroad and discovering another country, and I am returning with the hope that I will be able to give back some of what I have gained to my home country.
“It’s hard to have two homelands”
The evening of 14 July will be a special one for Gina Griva, as she will be boarding a Qatar Airways plane bound for Greece in order to be near her beloved daughters, Pamela and Nicole. She hasn’t seen her girls for over a year and a half, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As she is packing up the home she has lived in with her husband, Tasso, for the past five years, she finds time to speak to Neos Kosmos about their experience in Australia and their decision to repatriate.
I was born in Melbourne and when I turned 18, I travelled to Greece for a holiday. I met my husband, we got married and had our two daughters. I never imagined that I would one day return to Australia.
Unfortunately, with the crisis, we were forced to make that difficult decision in 2016, to leave our adult daughters behind, and come to Melbourne for work.
Initially we planned to stay for four-five years and then return. At first it was very hard. I was born here but I was away for so long that it took me some time to readjust and identify myself once again as a Greek Australian.
Australia is a “lucky” and good country, in my opinion, but you don’t have the freedom here that you have in Greece. I missed the sun, the freshness, the sea, but, most of all, my daughters.
We haven’t been able to see them because of the the pandemic and this is what made us really think about, and reconsider our perceptions of what is important in life. And so, we are ready to leave.
Of course, we will miss the people we met here and bonded with, and I will miss my family here.
It is hard when you have two homelands. I was born and raised here, but I left and lived in Greece for 32 years. Although I have a weakness for Greece, I can’t help but feel that Australia is my home too.
What I really want to do when I get back, is to have a holiday by the sea. I haven’t had a chance to do that for the past five years. I see myself spending the rest of the summer at our holiday home in Evia.
In autumn, Tasso will start work and I will continue to work remotely for the business I work for here in Melbourne. I was lucky that my employer wanted to continue employing me, even though I will be thousands of miles away.
Mihalis Zervas and Valentina Togaridou
“Life is short and it is worth pursuing your dreams”
Mihalis Zervas and Valentina Togaridou came to Australia from Athens in 2013, and they welcomed their young daughter in Melbourne 17 months ago. Recently they decided that when they find a good job and they feel ready, they will return to Greece.
We came to Melbourne for something better and not out of desperation. From the first day that we started discussing our plans in Athens, we never said that we would be moving to Australia permanently. We just wanted to escape the financial crisis, to gain work experience, and when we felt we had done what we came here to do, we would return.
We found good jobs, with some effort, and we are satisfied professionally.
When we first came here we were impressed at how organised everything was and digitalised, and how limited human contact was, as can be seen from the operation of the public sector all the way to the contactless cash registers at the supermarkets.
We miss our people in Greece, our friends, and the social life in the country. We would visit Greece nearly every year to keep in touch, and recharge. During those first years we saw all the difficulties Greeks faced, and that there were no prospects. It seemed that the people could not dream. But slowly we noticed that things are changing. The next generation seems committed to try and move things.
There is huge talent in Greece and we believe that great things will be happening there. We decided to repatriate as we feel that we have reached the end of our chapter here in Australia.
Another incident that played a huge part in our decision to return to Greece, was our baby’s serious health issue when she was born, which forced us to stay in the hospital for a very long time. We had no support from anywhere. We have no family here and we dealt with this all on our own.
We also saw that the health system in Australia is not as good as we thought it was. If it is an easy case, they deal with it well. However, ours was more complicated, so the incompetence of some doctors and their poor communication skills stressed us even more. Speaking to other parents on Facebook, we discovered that they had had similar experiences.
We will always carry with us our experience of living in Australia. It also made us appreciate all the things we took for granted: going for a dip in the sea with friends; Christmas by the fireplace; skiing in the snow; theatre performances in Athens; the aromas of ouzo and seafood after the Epitaph; and so much more.
Any hesitations we may have had about our return are mainly of a professional nature, but every decision carries a few risks. We are optimistic and believe it is worth taking the risk to return home. Life is short and it is worth pursuing your dreams. I also believe that returning to Greece is not an easy task, but we are citizens of the world.
And if we fail, we are still Australian citizens and we can return anytime.