Three years abroad: the account of a “neomigrant”

Stefanos Livos is a writer. His “open letter” about  his life abroad has gone viral in Greek social media. We would like to thank him for translating and sharing his story with the New Diaspora community.

Bournemouth, 2011. The camera stands on a wooden fence

Today it’s been 3 years I’ve been living in the UK; an immigrant, just like my grandparents back in the 50s. The following story is an account of these years, but, at the same time, a confession of things that only few people know about me.

I decided to leave Greece when I started feeling sorry for myself. I was 26 years old, I had just completed my military service, I was living again with my parents and I had spent my whole summer working as a waiter at our family-run restaurant, which we had to close down a year later, unable to cope with the economic crisis and the consequences of all-inclusive tourism.

8 years after spreading my wings away from home, I was back to square one. I was feeling like a volcano about to erupt. I couldn’t stand being unemployed. So frustrating, so humiliating. No offence to anyone unemployed; I’m only talking about my personal feelings here.

I started applying for jobs in the UK, mainly because I couldn’t speak any other language, apart from some everyday Italian. A month later, I got my first (and last) interview. I booked my flights and left without second thought. It was a bad week for the UK, with loads of snow disrupting flights and trains. But I was so determined to get to that interview that I would even crawl there. Thankfully, I finally arrived in Bournemouth, a southern coastal town in Dorset, without any major issues.

Bournemouth snow 01

Bournemouth

Back then I was a Psychology graduate, holding a master’s degree in Psychology and Mass Media. The job title I was going for was “support worker”. Few I knew about the duties it was coming with, but I would very soon find out. It was a mixture of nursing, activity coordinating and psychology. It went from changing old people’s diapers to taking them out for bowling.

I had never imagined I could do that. But I did. Ι never told my friends the whole truth until now. Ιt would sound bizarre that I became and immigrant just to change diapers.

But I felt I was caring for those people and at the same time I was making my own money. I was independent again. I knew there was nothing to be ashamed of. I had been ashamed of myself only once, back to when I was offering nothing to no one and I had to ask my parents to chip in for my coffee.

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-original 02

“Keep calm and carry on” was a 1939 motivational poster published in limited copies by the UK government in an attempt to raise the morale in major cities where air strikes were expected. I don’t know if it worked back then, but it did work for me as I was checking that poster every day, as it was hanging on one of our kitchen’s walls.

I was living in a room much smaller than the reception room of my student flat in Athens. But I had already decided that I would soon leave Bournemouth, so I did not make any friendships. For 9 months, my only itinerary was from home to work and back. I had enough time to work on my writing and this is exactly what I did. I self-published a short story collection and a novel, which I also translated to English and then published on Amazon.

I may have been changing diapers on a daily basis, but at the same time I was making my dreams come true; I was publishing my books and I was receiving some positive feedback. It was the greatest oxymoron I ever experienced, but it was the first time in my life I was so focused on something.

a life in a moment8 months after I had moved to Bournemouth, I decided to look for a job in London. I sent out five applications and got three interviews. On the train for the third one, I told myself that if I did not get that job, I would remain in Bournemouth to finish my novel. After I had done so, I would leave. To anywhere.

I eventually got the job and moved to London, where I have been living for the past 2 years. I have been working in an acute mental health ward, an environment that can be very arduous at times. I am not changing diapers anymore, but the unpleasant side of my job involves restraining violent patients, putting up with verbal abuse and many other things that can easily make you break down.

For the past 2,5 months, though, I am on secondment as a Distance Learning Coordinator. A 9-5 job until the end of March. After that I may go back to the ward. Who knows.

A lot of things happened in these 3 years. I travelled to Luxembourg, Austria, Italy, Germany, Norway, Argentina and Tierra del Fuego. Don’t get excited. All the inter-European flights were low-cost and I was usually staying at friends’.

I met interesting people. I tasted several national cuisines. I had some nice walks talking about everything. I met my girlfriend and moved in together with her. I signed a contract with a publisher. I built my website and now I’m building another one. And I am still working on the novel I wanted to finish two years ago.

London is a big city, a great city. A metropolis. But it is very expensive, even for those who earn a lot. My wages lie below the average income of £26,500 (€32.300) pro rata, Even without unnecessary spending, you can’t save anything, when 60% of your monthly salary goes straight to your rent and travel card.

Most of my friends think I am taking the piss. Like the majority in Greece, they think that because I live in London, my life resembles the ones of the “Love Actually” characters. Guys, honestly, not even close. Greek Londoners are in thousands. Many of them work in banks, international groups, IT companies. They may make good money, but they usually work till late at night. On the contrary, I work normal hours, but I’m not making even half as much.

piccadilly-circus

Piccadilly Circus, London

It is an absolute truth that a few among us are what we call big fat Greek assholes. They still speak broken English after 10 years here, they spend all their money on designer clothes and fancy restaurants, they moan about everything English, and cannot stop thinking about summer vacation in Greece. However, when they do go back they brag about their trips and describe London as the promised land. I want to think of them as a minority, but, sadly, they are the ones making the most noise.

I can’t talk for other countries, but England’s (and especially London’s) social classification is so rigid that you can’t lead a full life and save money at the same time. It’s one or the other. That’s why, after 3 years, working in low-paid jobs in the NHS sector, not only I have no savings, but I am also struggling to pay off my credit card. I have no regrets though, since I couldn’t do otherwise. What would I sacrifice? The 180 pounds for a weekend in Norway, or the 10 pounds a pizza costs me?

Stefanos Livos

Stefanos Livos

I have no idea where this road is taking me. What’s the point of migrating if you end up giving away what you earn? Of course, you gain a lot of experiences, but these ones will never help you cover your bills.

It’s not easy living abroad. Unlike 50-100 years ago, the current financial crisis is global. You either get high unemployment and low wages or high wages and an even higher cost of living. At the same time, you have to deal with various urban legends: for foreigners, you are a bankrupt and lazy Greek. For your compatriots back home, you are a well-off “neomigrant” who complains for no reason.

Despite all the aforementioned though, I would not go back to Greece. Unemployment apart, I would also have to put up with conservatism, corruption, pathological apathy, amateurism and fake comfort zones.

To be fair, though, I have to admit that there are a lot of positive movements taking place. I hope they get to be successful, but I doubt it. I can’t but be pessimistic. I’m afraid that Greece is a black hole that sucks everything ­- no exceptions. A Siren that is luring you with its beautiful song, just to knock you dead as soon as you go nearby.

Epimythium: three years later, the account of migrating to and living in the UK is positive; but not as positive as I once hoped for. I only wonder whether this is merely my conclusion or one that other young people abroad share.

 

8 Comments

  1. Abhilasha says:

    Hi Stefanos, Your story reminds me of my 2 years in London working on High Street (next to Picadilly) for a Recruitment Company. London does have a certain energy that never weighs you down but then it does nothing positive either. For a girl, living alone and managing on my own was fun but scary at the same time. You do get to learn a lot in terms of experience but then there comes a point when it becomes stagnant and forces you to re-think your actions. I loved London for what it had to offer – glamour, money, people, lifestyle but at the end of the day you just wish you could go back and apply the knowledge somewhere (which is difficult). I’m glad you are writing your book and channelling everything. It’s a nice way to cope with the pressure. Hope you succeed in your endeavour to make a nice living in the UK. All the best!

  2. Lara says:

    It’s much easier to unsdaetrnd when you put it that way!

  3. Συμπάσχων says:

    Προσπαθώ να σου απαντήσω στο άλλο site, αλλά τα σχόλια είναι άφαντα. Οι ομοιότητες στη διαδρομή μας είναι συγκλονιστικές. Όσα έγραψες τα έζησα κι εγώ, αλλά με χειρότερο φινάλε. Το δικό μου αυτοβιογραφικό μυθιστόρημα που δε θα εκδόσω ποτέ τιτλοφορείται «Το τέλος της αυταπάτης» και συνοψίζει όλες τις αλήθειες της ζωής που δε μου έμαθαν ποτέ. Κατηγορώ αυτούς που με εξαπάτησαν και εμένα που τους πίστεψα. Ο δικός μου απολογισμός είναι τόσο δυσάρεστος που νιώθω ότι κοροιδεύω τον εαυτό μου ως ψυχολόγος, προτρέποντας τους άλλους να κάνουν αυτά που δε μπορώ να εφαρμόσω ούτε ο ίδιος. Μεταμελώ που μετανάστευσα, γι’αυτό και επέστρεψα στα ίδια και χειρότερα που άφησα. Σκέφτομαι και νιώθω ότι η αυτοκτονία είναι η μόνη διέξοδός μου. Η κοινωνία είναι ντροπή.

  4. Helen Drummond says:

    A very interesting and thought-provoking article. Though it is obviously specifically about the experience of a Greek man in London currently, it nevertheless reminded me a great deal of the experiences I and my contemporaries faced in the 1980s, leaving the post-industrial north of England in search of a seemingly elusive ‘better life’ in London. What we found was that in order to fit and assimilate in with the hip, metropolitan culture there was no room for the roots and traditions we’d come from.

    It was only as an older adult (now in my late 40s)that I came to really understand the importance of roots and family. I lived in Crete for a couple of years too and it was the perspective that I gained in Greece which gave me a more complete understanding of the situation.

    I’m now living back in the north of England. OK, so the pay is nothing like as good as it is in London but there are other benefits. For example, the cultural scene is growing, thriving and more easily accessible in the north than it was 20 years ago. And my family ties are irreplaceable.

    I am sure that younger Greek people like the writer will come to this realisation in the future.

  5. Pavlos says:

    32 years away from my mother father sister brothers FRIENDS .i went through tall these and more and still going .
    My friend you have long wAy to go .
    I will never turn my back to the country that I spent the most BEAUTIFULL years of my life.
    Now I live in Australia as I said 32 years .i love the country but like GREECE is nowhere.
    I feel proud of you that you going through tis pain and you are a very brave man .
    Nothing is easy .
    I have a family with 4 children (adults now) they don’t speK any greek except my daughter some but they are proud that have a Greek father ,stubborn and full in love with GREECE in good times and bad times.
    I wish good luck to your life in the freezing new Patrida but NEVER SAY your old Patrida never look after you.
    That’s why you are who you are today .
    O THEOS VOITHOS

  6. Κωνσταντίνα Κωτσοπούλου says:

    Κ. Λίβα καλησπέρα,
    Θαύμασα την ειλικρίνεια σας.Zω τον εξευτελισμό του ανθρώπου από την ανεργία και είναι εξωντοτική η προσπάθεια αυτή.
    Καλή δύναμη και καλή συνέχεια στο ταξίδι της ζωής σας.

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