They must follow the opportunity


A report from the University of Thessaloniki showed that more than 120,000 professionals have left Greece since the financial crisis began, leaving what’s called a serious “brain drain” on the country.

My friends back in Greece have mixed reactions to this news… Some call these people the “lucky ones” who are able to leave Greece, while others call them “traitors” for abandoning Greece in her time of need.

One must follow opportunity. That’s my opinion. Just like my mom (photo) emigrated in 1962 to the USA and my dad a decade before her. Today’s crisis is no different that post-war Greece when millions were destitute and desperate. All people want in life is opportunity.

And while I’m sad that Greece is losing her most talented, such waves of immigration and movement of people are part of the human cycle– especially the Greek human cycle. Greeks have been emigrating for centuries and although Greece may be losing, dozens of communities throughout the world are being rejuvenated with new arrivals of Greek speakers.

In Chicago alone, I’ve met several new arrivals– most of whom are already getting involved in the life of the community.

I remember asking my father why he left. He looked at me with resolve and pride in his eyes and answered in a split second.

“We were hungry.”



  1. Joanne Georgelis on

    Greg, I agree with you 100%. My Yiayia emigrated in 1955 for an opportunity to live a better life for herself and for her daughter. She was not a traitor but she worked hard and was able to even send money back to her family. She was supporting not only herself, her sick husband and daughter but she was also supporting her siblings which she had to leave behind. My Yiayia ended up bringing many of her siblings over and they too were offered a better life and were able to educate their children and establish a better life for themselves. The contributions that her family was able to make back to their country was greater than if they had remained on their island post the war. My Yiayia had a 4 th grade education and because of her will to survive and love for her family she was successful in not only helping herself but she positivley affected the lives of so many people. As a result of her emigration,many of my family members are now successful business owners, doctors, lawyers and teachers and all have made tremdous contributions to help others. We all have a strong sense of love and pride for Greece and all have a desire to help our fellow Greeks all over the world. She instilled in us a strong work ethic,a sense of accomplishment and a strong feeling of Greek pride. She loved her country very much and was proud to be Greek, hence keeping the love for culture alive for generations to come.

  2. While I agree in principle with you that people should have the right to emigrate if they choose, I don’t agree with your comparison of the current emigres versus those in the past. The waves of Greeks who came in the early 1900’s then the other mass exodus in the 60’s were mostly very poor, uneducated, and desperate for any opportunity that would improve their quality of life. For many, they had no choice but to leave as staying in Greece meant a life of extreme poverty and hunger. This is very different from the current class of professionals you describe that are emigrating. These folks have been the beneficiaries of decades of largesse by the Greek state, especially in the educational sector. Many of them have received world-class educations as doctors and other professions and it cost them absolutely nothing. Their only debt to Greece was that they would remain in the country and help the country prosper and grow with their superb skills. But seeing these people flee now makes me wonder if they ever really were true patriots or just very ambitious career people. If the latter, I would hardly describe these people as models of the Greek character; quite to the contrary they will flee or assimilate into any culture they land in. To them, they have no loyalties or an inner spirit that pins them to a specific country or culture, like Greece. I hope you see the difference. Comparing these opportunistic leeches of sorts to Greeks of bygone days who were starving and who had to leave as a matter of survival is a poor comparison indeed.

    • I am sorry but I will have to disagree with your points. Although to many I am personally considered skilled enough to leave Greece and seek fortune to a foreign land, I haven’t done it yet, but not for reasons of patriotism, but only because it’s not easy to move away from the things you’ve been used to (also, truth be told, I am not starving, yet). But for anyone who lives in Greece, the excuse of staying here in order to help the country stand up, is considered a joke, and one of bad taste. The Greek State always did (and continues to do it) everything possible to stop any creative activity, to build walls on people who tried to do something different and push boundaries. I won’t tell you what exactly is my profession, I’d just say that my work while greatly appreciated outside Greece (I’ve worked in places that the common man would not believe), inside the country I always find obstacles. If you are a freelancer in Greece, you are obliged to pay ridiculous amounts of money (and I mean at least 350 Euros per month) for social health care that actually is non-existent. You pay extreme money for nothing. You have extra taxes every two months, you have increased prices on everything. Meanwhile I am trying to be creative, to go to the next level, but those guys up there keep messing with my ass, and they simply won’t let me do what I’m supposed to do.
      So no, anyone who goes away is not a traitor, but only use common sense, seeking for survival and adequate quality of living.
      In other words, and reversing JFK’s words, I wonder… All those years, what this country did for me? Nothing. From the beginning, non-functioning education, corrupted health care, taxes upon taxes, ridiculous stealing of money which I am called to pay for, destroyed highways despite paying good money every year for that reason, demolished public sector, total lack of interest from the State.
      So, I am asking. What should I love about all of it? What is to betray? What is Greece? The mountains? The sun? The islands? Excuse me, but those things can’t allow a human being to flourish (unless you work in the tourism industry, which I don’t) and certainly they can’t feed you. We don’t love a country. We just love the memories of our childhood. Everything else is an illusion. My advice to everyone? If you see a chance at the far end of the world, go for it. Greece (whatever that means) never loved you anyway.

      • Dimitris,

        You have proven my point precisely with your words. The current crop of “skilled professionals” who will flee at the prospect of a better opportunity elsewhere. That wasn’t the case with prior migrants who didn’t have the opportunities that people like yourself have. Your frustration is palpable but you have to remember that there is no such thing as THE GREEK STATE; the Greek State is just a reflection of the people who live there. Hope you understand the subtlety there. It’s very easy for people to blame someone else and the government for all the problems but ultimately it is the people who vote the governments in. And no one was complaining before the crisis; it is just now that the chickens have come home to roost that everyone is pointing fingers.

        Finally, just want to say that the prospect of migrating for many people is an illusion. As thousands of Greeks are finding out who are moving to Germany and elsewhere north, it’s not like the streets are paved with gold there. You can have some security in those countries, but you will work your ass off and you will pay 3 times the taxes that you are currently paying. The sweet life that most Greeks are used to vanishes very quickly in those countries. Same for US. Many Greeks think life is just roses for all that live in the US and money just grows on trees but that is a huge illusion. The US right now is in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. There are barely enough jobs for American citizens, let alone bringing in foreigners to take high-paying jobs. And don’t think that 350 euro per month payment for health care in Greece is that bad. If you were a contractor in the US and had a family, you’d have to pay at least 1800 dollars for health coverage for your family and that coverage is not 100%. In many ways, despite all the problems that Greece has, it is still socially more advanced than many other countries and with free health care and free education, it is light years ahead of the situation in the US.

        Good luck

        • 350 for health care are not bad at all, IF you have health care. Here, there is none. Zero.
          But I’d like to stay on something which I strongly agree with you. Greek State is indeed the sum of the Greek people. More or less we are all responsible. Although I can safely say that I never voted for those governments (preffered smaller parties), always resisted into participating to corruption, always moving aggressively against those tolerating it. And yes, I was complaining 8 years before the Olympics, when I was saying that after that, here goes destruction (and like many other who agreed, I was right). But I will accept that maybe I did something wrong. But there are more like this, and they never chose for it. They were misled, maybe they were fools, but not all of them did it on purpose.
          The thing is… this country serves for nothing. Ok, hospitality. I can find this is in the Middle East too, in greater amounts. But I’ve travelled to Scandinavia too and saw great things, especially in Norway. True societies that really work. Someone will say the people there are “cold”. I will disagree, they are just of different culture. And after all, humans are adaptable.
          What I am trying to say, is that there are good society models. Not everything should compare to the US to make sense. Truth is that Greece is far, far from being such a model. And it will never be, because as you said, the State is us, and we (most of us) always see the enemy outside of ourselves. Although I realize that, many times I fall into that trap too. But it’s a long time since I seperated my point of view from patriotic nonsense. I defend things that I care about, you know, like people who actually mean something. Greece? It’s just a land nowadays. No connection to glorious times, no knowledge of our anchestors and as a result, no respect for the present and the future. Saying this, when the ship sinks, don’t try to fix the holes, because you see the enormous size of them. Jump on a boat. And live.

  3. Xenia Tombrou on

    Hi Greg,

    As I said, you have an amazing way to place such a broad and difficult subject eloquently and elegantly.

    There are many similarities and many differences in every wave of immigration from Greece. This would be a complicated task to undertake and I will leave it to the professionals.

    And I beg to differ with George.

    Reading the stories by new immigrants, the ones who seem to usually leave, are the ones who were sickened by the influence that politics have in the professional life. Many left by choice, years before the crisis hit the media. They were not “Volemenoi” in any way possible….

    But even more are leaving right now because they are hungry. Maybe not starving, as was the case in the 50’s. When you have worked for 20 years at a company, you have 3 children under 18, a loan and a car and suddenly you are fired, with no compensation because the company was bankrupt? Or when you are 25 and the only existing jobs are with 500 euro and with no insurance? And none have any prospect for growth as a professional? What do you do? Start your own company, just to be ripped of and debted?

    Then either you stay and riot, you become depressed, you maybe even try to do something. Big possibility is that you cannot leave, some even take their own lives.

    Or you take your chances and leave.

  4. Elizabeth K on

    The Old Diaspora was uneducated and fled for a better life. The New Diaspora are the educated who flee for a better life. Greece may be undergoing a brain drain but then again we are educating and spreading Hellenism to the four corners of the earth once again. We are spreading our heritage, our way of life and our knowledge. We will set up new businesses and on a different level. Our children will be brought up by educated Greeks. We are the new ambassadors of Greek culture.

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