The first time I heard it was from a client at the company I was working for. He had just returned from his customary August trip to Greece, during which he enjoyed the Mediterranean climate, beautiful beaches, and good company, and he said in a bittersweet tone: “it’s bad to call two countries home”.
Anybody who has had to migrate and relocate to another place or another country for a long time may be able to better understand this phrase. At first, you feel away from home, like a tree that’s been uprooted and planted again in different soil. But with every passing day, you adapt, you have a better understanding of the surrounding, you get to know the place and the people and you grow accustomed to a new way of life. In time, despite still feeling nostalgic for your friends, your family and the places you left behind, something very strange is happening – you start feeling at home. And it is this feeling of familiarity and getting comfortable in a new condition that, after some time, makes you an intergral and active member of the new community.
Having lived in seven different cities, in two different countries during the last 25 years, I can say that this feeling can create mostly beautiful emotions in a young person, as it helps one become more open-minded, increases knowledge and perspective, and allows one to become aware and respectful of diversity among people and cultures.
Granted, I have to admit it is different to be an internal migrant than to be migrating to a foreign country, since in the first case, differences in way of life and customs are limited. After all, most people have to relocate from the village or town they grew up in to a different place within the same country, to seek employment, or for family reasons, being lucky to have two ‘homes’ that are only a few hours drive apart. But others, such as the Greek Australians, are literally located on the other side of the world, 15,000 km from their birthplace and where they grew up. Furthermore, the difference between Australia and Greece is so big, that the only apt description would be ‘worlds apart’. So, as much as the amazing advancement of technology has managed to all but eliminate distance in the digital space, allowing us to keep frequent contact with our loved ones, physical presence to the homeland is much more difficult, which creates a great gap.
Several Greek Australians defy this distance and pay frequent, even annual, visits to their motherland. The antithesis between the Australian winter and Greek summer is noticeable and, combined with the carefree atmosphere of vacationing and the emotionally charged meetings with friends and family, makes the trip an intense and unforgettable experience. And yet, many Greek Australians say that, after a month or two in Greece, they feel the urge to return to Australia.
In order to better understand this inexplicable phenomenon, we have to go back to the idea of a ‘second country’. After a few years, migrants are so well adapted to their new identity that it is difficult or even unattainable for them to return to their former selves. At the same time, in their homelands, life goes on in a fast pace, people change, so do conditions, which results to feeling that, as welcome as they may be when they get back, their lives are no longer there. So, gradually Greece becomes for them a place of vacation, of nostalgia and insouciance, an annual break from daily life in Australia. And how could it be otherwise, when its in Australia that they have built their lives, raised families, invested to their children and grandchildren’s future?
Granted, timing, age and conditions play a significant role in the overall experience of migration. Things are much different for the 30-year-old Greek coming to Australia to work, compared with their grandparents who may have been much younger, when they arrived in the 1950s and 60s. And yet, both of them, despite their differences, are most likely to end up calling two countries home.
Greek people always carry around in their heart the country where they were born, raised, and which has largely formed their personality. It is there that they experienced Mediterranean light, playing in empty lots, their village, the food, the sea, the mountains, the fertile ground and friendly people, but also the hardship caused by wars, division, poverty, financial crisis, and politics. They can’t help loving their second home, Australia, where they arrived filled with hope for a better future, where they built a new life from scratch and were rewarded for their hard work, living in beautiful, modern cities, creating a vibrant Greek community, keeping it alive, raising their children with dignity, seeing them excel in different industries. It is therefore hard to call two countries home, because, whatever you do, you will always be far from one of them, but it is also beautiful to have known, in your lifetime, two places so different from each other, and have the chance (and strength) to adapt and love them. Besides, it is true that many of those who left Greece for a long time, ended up appreciating more the country’s virtues and specific qualities, compared to those who stayed there all their lives.