Saturday, September 22, 2007

Greece - One Nation, Many Homes

Where do you come from? A frequent question when meeting new people. I can remember back in school, when people would get really confused with my surname, often not being able to pronounce it, let alone spell it. So a natural part of growing up would be answering the question - where do you come from? Naturally, I would answer with pride, Greece.

To me Greece was a dream. A land full of history, culture, mythology. It was my father's home, and his pride became our pride, until the day I made it my home, too. Living in an area which welcomes tourists from all parts of the world each year, I now find myself answering other, equally common questions. What made you decide to live here? How did you adjust? These questions actually sometimes make me wonder myself. I mean I came here at the age of 24. the feeling of being a foreigner in your own country is certainly true to those of us who have been brought up "sto exoteriko" (abroad). This also made me think about others in the same situation. People like me whose parents left the country to make their dreams come true, to make a new start, to follow their dreams. This led me to look into the amount of Greeks who live abroad.

About 7 million Greeks live in other countries. Greece has a population of 11 million. That means that there is a whole other Greece out there!! A Greece made up of all kinds of people, businessmen, scientists, doctors, teachers, plumbers, electricians, students, children. Another country almost equal in number to the homeland has decided to not return here. The disappointment I feel is tragic. I look at my own family. It took my father 32 years to come home. My mother only sees her home on holidays.

But just imagine!!! Imagine a Greece of almost 20 million people. Imagine a Greece made up of businessmen, scientists, doctors, teachers etc, doing what they do best here. Imagine deserted villages coming alive again. Imagine families reunited again. Imagine all those people returning, bringing with them their experiences, their ideas, their education. Now that's a Greece I dream of. Don't get me wrong. The Greece I live in has its problems, but it is still my home and the place I always wanted to be part of. Today, though, I am just dreaming about the Greece that should be. We are a nation whose roots are deeply embedded in the ancient world. We are a nation whose language and ideas where once perceived to be above all others. We are a nation who, I believe, answers with pride the question "Where are you from?"

I think of my friends. The speech therapist who left one of the biggest universities in Britain to come home, but sadly returned because there were no jobs when she got here. The teacher who lives in Germany and gets twice the salary she would here. The mother, who wants her children to be educated in Belgium because it's "better". The surgeon, who wanted to work near his home, but there were no hospitals. The chef, who gets paid what he wants. The student, who was head hunted in her first year as an international student by a multinational company. These are only some of my friends. I won't even mention my family. Most of my cousins left at the same time as I decided to come.

Imagine all those people coming home.

So today, I dedicate this post to you all. Greeks, Ellines, all around the world. We miss you, and a lot of the time we need you, but more than that we understand you. Be well and proud of where you are from.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Education in Greece

Lot's of people ask me why I have a language school in Greece. Let me just tell you a few things about the Greek Education System, and the way things work here.

The public school system is in an undesirable state at the moment. Some key problems are that when the school year starts in September, most schools are lacking teachers and books, so the actual school year really begins towards the middle of October. There is no such thing as coordination, as teachers are not employed be the school but be the Department of Education, who distribute their teachers all around Greece. This accounts for many of the problems in the Education system, as there is a lot of searching for ways to get out of being sent to a place far from home. The actual social effects of the system are more disastrous than anything else. Many families are split up for most of the year, as parents who are teachers traipse around the country, usually with one or more of their children. The implications are immense. The family unit slowly shatters, the family budget comes under unbearable strain as there are usually two households to maintain, and teacher's children are never in one school long enough to integrate into a community. Another major implication of the system as it stands, are the continuous change of teachers. I must admit that in this area, teachers in secondary education may change up to three times in one year.

Another aspect that must be looked at is also the permanency of teaching positions, and the amount of re-education the actual teachers have. There is no fear of losing your job, as it is considered permanent from day one, so basically who cares if students learn or not. This is a problem with all state jobs around Greece.

Another factor to take into consideration is that most people want to become educated to then find a state job!! Another amazing fact about Greece, again due to the permanency of positions and the fact that a lot of jobs and positions are filled in questionable ways!!

So in answer to the question why I have a language school, and why there are so many language schools an private evening schools is quite simple. People, and above all, children, need a sense of continuity and comfort in their lives. Unlike what the government, and any government, seems to believe, children like organisation. They want to learn. They have a right to reach high standards, and have goals in order to become strong adults like us...better than us. The stability they feel in environments such as ours is much more than the stability they feel in their schools at the moment.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Greeks around the world

So, let's get personal. Having had a difficult day up to now, and it's only 11 am, I have to get my thoughts into perspective and try to make a new beginning. New beginnings are always difficult, but today I feel like I have to. I won't go into the bad points of the day, suffice to say that a sleepless night due to one of my kids illnesses, and two phone calls from the bank calling in their dues were only the two of the five things that made this a bad day. When I got to my computer I actually wanted to write about last weeks elections, maybe give you some insight into politics in Greece, but even that didn't make me feel better. Anyway, I thought, politics are the same wherever you live. It's a question of too few being in control of so many. So, on opening my e-mails, my mind wandered to what I was going to write about. An e-mail caught my eye, and as I read it my day was suddenly better. It was as if someone had started to take away the burden.

I don't know if you know about the Greeks and the evil eye. From a young age, whenever I was feeling under the weather or had a headache, my grandmother would say "ehis mati...tha se xematiaso"or in Greek"έχεις μάτι...θα σε ξεματιάσω". This meant that someone had seen me, and cast his or her evil eye on me and grandma, having been taught some words, had the power to send the evil eye away. If you have gone through this process, it actually does work. You actually do feel better. Please don't ask me if there is any truth in this. I have no idea, but when grandma said those magic words, boy did I feel better.

Anyway, back to the e-mail. It seems that my post is being read!!! Yes, although I did not believe it myself, I received an e-mail from a wonderful lady in Chicago (Thank you so much for you kind words). It is not the first e-mail I have received, but at that moment I had a great feeling of happiness, surprise, pride and satisfaction. It also gave me an idea. I would love to know more about all of you. I would love to hear your stories. Which parts of Greece and Cyprus are you from? What do you do in the country you are currently living in? Do you need any information from Greece, that maybe I could find out for you? Are you from other countries living in Greece? What would you like to see on this post...Anything...

The "let's get personal" part of this is my story. You see I was born a giver. I'm not sure if it is due to my star sign, Pisces, my upbringing, or just my nature. I just love the look on people's faces when something I have said or done fulfills them. Unfortunately, and this can be verified by the banks and my pocket, this will never make me rich, but I still enjoy giving. I am still lost on my life path, not knowing where I am actually going annoys me. I have a job in which people, and this happens a lot in Greece, continually owe me money (sometimes I think that they will start paying me in kind as they did back in the good old years). I have a degree that I worked so hard for, but is not even respected here. I have loved and lost. I have two children who have to be brought up properly, with a mother who was raised so differently. I have debts (who doesn't...??). I have to find a second job soon. The one thing that I do have is optimism. I believe that solutions and opportunities are out there. We just need to open our eyes and look for them, and unfortunately, here in Greece, it helps if you have binoculars!!!! But this post is not about me... it is about you.

Please send me your stories. Let me know about you and your lives. Maybe I can help you with something. Maybe you can help me on my life's journey. Again I would like to thank the lady (the reason I am not mentioning names is that I do not know if she would want me to) who gave me a smile on a very difficult Wednesday morning.