A Look into a Greek Student's Perspective
It is clear that many professionals are both frustrated by and optimistic about the economic and business environment in Greece. One of the most visible problems driving the crisis forward is referred to as the “brain drain.” Brain drain is a phenomenon where the most educated and qualified citizens are moving abroad in order to find work and have no intention of returning. Many Greek students leave their home early on in life in order to pursue higher education at international universities. We decided it was time to gain insights from this next generation of Greek professionals in order to understand their situation and to gauge whether returning to Greece is on their minds.
In this post of our #ThoughtImport series, we sit down with George Dalakouras, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, from Athens, Greece to discuss his perspective on his future in his home country.
Tell us a little about your background and your aspirations for the future.
I was born and raised in Athens, Greece. That is my home. I am currently studying fine arts and cognitive science in the College of Arts and Sciences. I am not quite sure yet what I want to do in the future. I would love to start something of my own, either in the arts or something business-related, as long as it involves innovation and creativity.
What drew you to the United States?
I always wanted to study in the US, simply because of the system and the fact that I still do not know exactly what I want to do. I did not want to earn qualifications for a specific area just to reach a point where I wanted to change careers. The liberal arts education is a much better fit for me than any other system, say in the UK or in Greece. I also like the lifestyle here and enjoy the fact that people are much more open-minded in the US. No one really cares what you are doing as long as you are not offending anyone. I wanted to go to the West Coast initially, simply because it was much closer to Greece in terms of weather and general culture. Penn was just random, honestly; it was one of the schools I ended up getting into regular decision. I had never visited before and had no idea what I was getting into. But it was the right choice for me. I love it here.
“I did not want to earn qualifications for a specific area just to reach a point where I wanted to change careers. The liberal arts education is a much better fit for me than any other system, say in the UK or in Greece.”
How is studying here different than what you imagined it?
I honestly did not know what to expect, so I was satisfied with what I found. I did not expect to find people here that are, despite our obvious differences, very similar to me. The most surprising part of Penn so far is how my course of study has evolved. I came in thinking I would major in cognitive science, concentrating on the computational or computer science side, which I now realized I don’t enjoy as much. I really appreciate the subject field, but I just wasn’t interested in studying it myself.
“The most surprising part of Penn so far is how my course of study has evolved.”
What are some of the biggest challenges of coming from Greece to the US to study?
The Greek system is quite good at preparing students for any school no matter the location. It is a pretty rigorous program, especially if you complete the International Baccalaureate diploma. I found that my greatest challenge during the transition was the language barrier, not the actual academics. Socially, there are some differences in expression, so it is still more of a communication barrier than a lifestyle barrier.
What do you think about the economic/business environment in Greece right now?
I am not really up to date with what goes on in Greece, simply because I spend most of my time here now. From what I am aware of though, the economic situation has discouraged people from investing in our country. It is a shame that people who want to do good for Greece are misunderstood or pushed away for no valid reason aside from competitiveness. It can be traced back to the Greek saying, “If my neighbor has a donkey and I don’t have a donkey, I would rather kill my neighbor’s donkey than kill my own.” There is toxic competitiveness in Greece that you don’t really find in other places. In the U.S. there is definitely competition, but it pushes everyone to do their best, while in Greece, it just stops people from progressing to their full potential.
“There is toxic competitiveness in Greece that you don’t really find in other places. In the U.S. there is definitely competition, but it pushes everyone to do their best, while in Greece, it just stops people from progressing to their full potential.”
Do you feel like there is opportunity waiting for you in Greece?
Yes, for sure. However, the country must become accepting of open-minded thought first. Loads of people who go abroad want to bring new ideas, concepts, and products back to Greece. But Greek natives aren’t ready for changes, mostly because they are scared of bringing something from the outside. They don’t trust it, and rightfully so if you look into our history. However, with better education and awareness, hopefully, things can get on track and open up opportunities.
“But Greek natives aren’t ready for changes, mostly because they are scared of bringing something from the outside. They don’t trust it, and rightfully so if you look into our history.”
Does going back to work there seem attractive to you?
I want to go back to Greece. I want to work in Greece. I want to work remotely from Greece. I always want to have some connection to Greece. I just don’t want to be working at home without the right skill set and without the ability to actually provide something valuable. I will only go back to work and live in Greece once I feel like I can actually make tangible changes.
“I just don’t want to be working at home without the right skill set and without the ability to actually provide something valuable.”
What industries in Greece do you believe have the potential to grow in the coming years?
I would say land and sea transportation definitely have the potential for growth. There are so many possible improvements to be made for a more efficient and effective way of moving from port to port or from city to city. It is a system that we aren’t yet taking full advantage of.
What is one piece of advice you would give to other Greek students who are hoping to study abroad?
Read one Greek book every month.
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