Three years ago I wrote this article, that became viral for a few weeks and remains the most popular one in stefivos.com. A lot of messages, emails and friend requests followed, not relating to whether it was well written or not, but rather due to the fact it was a sincere testimony of my experiences, that had very much in common with the experiences of thousands of other Greeks who left motherland over the last years. Today is my anniversary of another three years abroad, and this is my second retrospect.
I came to the UK straight for work, having completed all my studies in Greece. I initially went to a town (not London) where I knew no one, with a single motive: at last I would be able to make a living with my own money. In due course, and returning quite frequently to Greece, I discovered that not everybody shares this need; either because some people found themselves with enough money and didn’t care that much, or because they are afraid of leaving everything behind and move abroad, or because they are lazy and they are not looking for work, but for excuses.
Open parenthesis: There is a dominant perception in Greece, that since we graduated from a university someone owes us a good job. Unfortunately, this mentality continues to exist even today, after seven years of crisis. As a result, you hear parents of unemployed people saying “I didn’t have my child study for all those years just to become a waiter”. Usually, they are the same ones that tell us “you left, what need do you have? Woe to our children”. Indeed, what need do we have, after abandoning our families so that we don’t end up like drones? Close parenthesis.
I’ve always been “polytechnitis & erimospitis”, a man of many skills and no steady base. The very definition of the term, basically. If it wasn’t for the movie, I would have thought the phrase had been made to describe me. When I left, at the age of 27, I had studied Psychology, I had moved on to Mass Media, I had worked as a waiter, in call centres, TV shows and film festivals; I had already published two books, but when I moved abroad I returned to Psychology. Having worked for two years on that sector (making my parents believe I was back on the right track), I abandoned it so I could focus on personnel training and e-learning.
Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what it is. My parents haven’t understood exactly what it is either. It’s something we don’t really have in Greece, mainly because we don’t really have big corporations. We do have serious young entrepreneurs though, so I hope that one day this strange fruit will grow in our country too.
Carrying this mentality made me fear I would never throw an anchor at anything. I could see colleagues of the same age as me improving and earning raises and promotions, and I would fear that I will get bored and start something else. I almost did it, when I took the decision to become a self-luminous digital marketer. Luckily, I became bored early and I let it go.
My first year in my last job, the one I had only just started when I wrote my previous article, went by smoothly. The specifics continued to interest me. Also, I would leave at 5 sharp. Having free time is a great luxury. The problem was I was getting paid less than everyone else I knew, and London was (and is) an expensive city. Expenses we running wild, but the salary had sat down and wouldn’t move at all. No matter how many hours of freedom I had, there weren’t enough for me to buy tickets or go to the supermarket.
I had to change job. However, I had only one year’s experience in personnel training and I was already 30. At an interview, the potential manager asked me: “Looking at your CV, I see you keep changing professions often. How do I know you’ll stay if we hire you?”
Needless to say, they didn’t hire me.
I had other interviews too, but as soon as I reached the fountain I couldn’t drink a sip of water. There was always someone else with more work experience. It wasn’t that hard, to be honest.
I realised I had to roll up my sleeves and burn myself working. I had to acquire marketable skills, to become competitive in a very demanding work market. I started working methodically, learning new things and applying them. At the same time, I carried on searching.
I submitted almost two hundred applications, and most of the times I never got a reply. “That’s it”, I was saying to myself sometimes, “I’ll work here for the rest of my life, being taken advantage of and asked constantly about stuff I have already explained to them fifteen times”. To people who earn double than me and don’t know how to read a zipped folder.
Those times, when my self-confidence hit bottom that is, were the times I looked for jobs outside London. All over Europe. One day I was so disappointed I even looked in Greece. I found a position in LinkedIn, sent them a message for a clarification, they never replied.
Last November, as I was abandoning the job search due to disappointment, I got a call from a big company. A multinational you all know. I did the first interview, it went well. I went through four more interviews, they went well. I was asked to travel to their headquarters for a presentation, it also went well.
I was offered a job superior to the position I had applied for. Their offer was very tempting, but had a drawback: the job was in Prague. I would have to leave London and move to an unknown city (yes, you think it’s nice, I know, but I’ve never been there).
While considering their proposal, I felt I was facing true adulthood. I used to think it had arrived when I became eighteen. Later, when I started working. Then, when I moved abroad. Wrong. True adulthood comes when you accept the bitter truth: career and money make you take decisions you wouldn’t have taken otherwise. Idealisms are great, but at the end of the month they can’t pay your bills. Unfortunately.
I accepted. Didn’t have the luxury to say no. After 6 years abroad, I had been given the chance to climb up several steps. I had no right to trip over.
I’m leaving in three weeks and I have a lot to do. How do you pack all your life again though? How do you leave everything behind for a second time? How do you part from those you had just acquired? How do you go to a country you’ve never been before, where you know nobody, they speak a language you don’t speak, they have a different currency? I have no point of reference in Prague. Everything will be brand new. As much exciting as this sounds, it is equally scary.
I will get used to it and overcome it all. I have no doubt about that. Those of us who live abroad due to a need have become excellent tightrope walkers. We can’t fall, very simply because there is no safety net underneath. We don’t have the choice of staying at our parents to save money. We don’t have our mum preparing meal or sending us fresh meat from the countryside, nor do we have our father rushing to banks and tax offices because we don’t have time to do it ourselves. Since there are a lot of people in Greece that also don’t have that kind of help, I’d like to say they are the most worthy of us all. Those who have support from their families should be the last to speak.
What’s the moral of the story, then?
I’m not sure. I think I’m writing this text because, after the previous one, acquaintances and total strangers sent me messages asking for advice on whether they should go abroad or not. That was something revealing despair, but I never replied with a “yes” or “no”. Perhaps because I don’t keep a clear answer inside me either. Now, however, I do have one and it is the following:
If you want a good job, you can have it. But you’ll have to eat your way through shit to get there. And when you get there, maybe it’s not going to be what you want. So, are you willing to change your life, not once, but as many times is required? Are you ready to make sacrifices and retreats? Can you compromise with the unknown? If yes, great. Jump into the void and hope the parachute will open. If no, again great. Stick to what you know, as long as you won’t complain later. There are no easy solutions.
Having written the piece for my three years abroad and now completing that for the six, the only thing that makes me wonder is where I’m going to be when I reach nine years abroad. Back to London? Back to Greece? Someplace else? No one knows. We were unlucky to be born in a beautiful country with know-it-all residents and treacherous politicians. We greedily ate the fruits from the trees without planting new ones. Now we have to go away to find food.
The problem is that the world has changed and I don’t think we have realised it. I’m afraid that our selective attention will cost dearly. We believe the golden ages will sometime return, but they are gone forever.
So, do your kids a favour, and also to your siblings and anyone else you can influence: teach them to love foreigners. Those who leave home and family, immigrants or refugees, have their own reasons and carry their own stories. Tomorrow it could be your own child. Or you.
Stefanos Livos was born in Athens in 1984, grew up in Zante and lives in London. He studied Psychology and Journalism at the Panteion University of Athens, but he is currently working as Learning Coordinator for the NHS. When he is not working, he tries to find the time for writing while juggling cooking devices, vacuum cleaners and social media. His biggest worry: his days are passing by so fast.