A special panel discussion took place at the Greek Centre on Thursday to give voice to the experiences of the Greek Australian community’s youth with regards to maintaining and engaging with their cultural heritage.

Hosted as part of the Greek Community of Melbourne’s (GCM) 120-year anniversary, 200 people attended the event led by the National Union of Greek Australian Students (NUGAS) Victoria, bringing together experienced panellists and current and former members of NUGAS.

“The night was informative and our youth responded very well in the discussion and the topics that were brought up,” NUGAS Victoria’s Education Officer Jordan Moshcovitis told Neos Kosmos.

“The importance of bringing people together in the context of an open forum lies in that we’re discussing issues relevant to our membership base of 18-to-25 year olds who are passing through university and experiencing a myriad of different cultural experiences as well as social experiences, and fundamentally we find that it’s the Greek experience that needs to be promoted and encouraged in this group.”

Presentations were made by GCM president Bill Papastergiadis, Peter Abraham, and Nick Tzoutzidis who addressed the needs of the young members, the role of organisations such as NUGAS and how they can maximise the benefits of student participation, and the attitudes of parents and grandparents which have in turn influenced the understanding of what it is to be Greek.

When it comes to youth who shy away from engaging with their Greekness, Moshcovitis largely puts it down to the attitudes brought to Australia by the first generation – “work hard and earn money”.

“They came to Australia seeking a better life, and most came from a lower class background, a village background; they didn’t bring with them the art, the history, a lot of the middle class elements of the culture. And so when they arrived in Australia the second generation and third generation were motivated and inspired to work hard and earn money, and so things like studying Greek language doesn’t entirely provide a clear tangible benefit to a career or a family life,” he explains.

But that’s where NUGAS Victoria is stepping up to bridge the divide. Currently boasting 2,000 members across eight of Victoria’s universities, to ensure their modern day needs are met, Moshcovitis said the organisation will make a greater effort to provide members with “tangible benefits” that can assist members with greater networks and working towards their careers.

“As Abraham highlighted, a mentorship program is fundamental in this current working environment and that’s something employers are looking for. Young people are looking for that from an organisation such as NUGAS. As for other needs, they are predominantly social; the youth connect to their Greek heritage in a more social way as opposed to the past,” he explained.

While it was noted that organisations such as NUGAS can be perceived as rather insular, to ensure a greater sense of unity and that Greekness survives in Australia, Moshcovitis added that they will also be looking to “break down barriers and open doors to other nationalities and create that passion for the Hellenic culture”.

Mr Papastergiadis told Neos Kosmos he was impressed by the turnout, which he believes “reflects the vibrancy and interest in the Greek Community of Melbourne particularly from the youth of our city”, and added that the GCM is in a better position than ever to connect with younger generations.

“We are the first board elected with all board members born in this country and quite a few of our board members are former NUGAS members, so that connection is still strong and vibrant,” he said.

Mr Papasteriadis highlighted the importance of youth getting involved in the GCM’s many initiatives, such as festivals and seminars, and with the work they are doing with newly arrived migrants to not only extend their networks for the future, but to build on their emotional intelligence.

“Organisations such as the GCM contribute through volunteerism and contributing to the community. So my message to them as students is to become involved,” he said.

“At the end of the day the foundations are there for them to work with us in developing what it is that they need from us. It is now incumbent upon them to develop the programs that are specific to them.”

* NUGAS Victoria thanks Stella Pappas, Tas Skardelis, Kostas Markos, Theo Markos, and Nick Tzoutzidis for making the event possible.