‘I don’t want to work for nothing’

Groningen has been a place to explore opportunities beyond the crisis back home for Greek students at the RUG. Some of them are convinced that going abroad is the best option.

In Greece, education is highly encouraged: there are no tuition fees, textbooks are free for everyone and the quality of education is quite good, according to RUG economics student Dimitris Karabetsos. As such, Greek students used to feel safe in thinking that if they put a lot of effort into their studies, they would eventually get a good job. Unfortunately, due to the economic crisis, that is far from being the case. That is why the cleverest students go abroad, says Karabetsos.

Even when they are far away from home, the economic crisis still hits their lives, four other Greek students who have studied at the RUG say. The situation in Greece not only plays a huge role in their current life, but it also influences their future study and career plans.

For Sofia Yfantidou, the economic situation in Greece meant choosing a different kind of study. At first, she wanted to become a cinematographer, but given the crisis, she decided that studying computer science would be a better choice than making films.

Quality of life

Yfantidou has already returned to Greece from her Erasmus experience, but she wished that she could have stayed longer. ‘That’s because of the quality of life’, she declares via Skype. In Greece, she lives pretty far away from Athens, which is quite different from when she was living in Groningen: living among so many internationals is one of her best memories here, she says.

Once she has graduated with her bachelor’s degree, Yfantidou definitely plans to go abroad again. However, she doesn’t talk about her plans with much enthusiasm: ‘Unfortunately, I have to leave Greece, but I love Greece; I love the weather and the warm people. But on an academic and professional level, I choose to go abroad.’

Sam Galanakis took his experience abroad a step further. He is doing his entire bachelor in mathematics at the RUG. He was planning on going to England, but the crisis resulted in his parents’ income going down by half, which meant that England became too expensive. For Galanakis, the mathematics study in Groningen was the only other option since it was taught in English.

‘I don’t want to stay in Greece’, Galanakis says firmly. Innovation and opportunities are scarce and companies are hiring very few people, he continues. If the financial situation in Greece was as good as it is in the Netherlands, he would not have had a reason to leave in the first place, he says.

There is no place like Greece

For Valia Papadopoulou, the crisis is not enough reason to stay in Groningen. Although she has always dreamed of going abroad, after she finishes her master’s degree in journalism, she wants to return home. The main reason for that is because Papadopoulou thinks her English will not be sufficient enough to get her involved in the journalistic field.

Before she came to Groningen, she had an idealistic image of the Netherlands. But once she arrived, she discovered that Greece was not the only country dealing with problems: ‘If you see it from the outside, you do not see any problems’, she explains, referring to issues like human happening that also occur in the Netherlands.

However, Papadopoulou can’t deny that there are problems in her country: ‘You work almost for free sometimes.’ She would not be earning enough to live by herself back home, so when she returns to Greece, Papadopoulou will have to live with her parents.

These sorts of things have caused the economic crisis to turn into a humanitarian one, Papadopoulou says. ‘You keep complaining because you are hungry and people fight with each other. So yes, in that situation, you are going to question your own values.’ But she says that since she is a part of that society, it is not an option for her to stay away from Greece.

‘The country where they don’t work’

During her stay in Groningen, Yfantidou struggled with prejudices that foreign people have against Greek people. ‘You are from the country where they don’t work’, a girl from Indonesia told her upon meeting her.

According to Dimitris Karabetsos, the media throughout Europe are to blame for that. ‘All you need to know about Greece is in your media, and one person is not going to change that’, Karabetsos says, referring to the stereotypical image some Dutch people have about the Greeks. Be that as it may, nobody has ever told Karabetsos to his face that they do not like him, he says.

‘Do you ever work in Greece?’ is another question Papadopoulou heard quite often. The stereotypical image is even further away from the truth since the economic crisis hit Greece. Papadopoulou was working forty hours a week back home, but only earning 250 euros a month. Living expenses are admittedly lower in Greece than in the Netherlands, but that is still not much money, she says. ‘Although we might be poor for you, we do not consider ourselves poor’, Karabetsos adds.

Yfantidou does not really care whether people have a stereotypical image of Greece or not. ‘I am making sure that my resume is strong. Having that is more important than having stereotypes about a certain country. I want to believe that’, Yfantidou says proudly.

Future plans

‘Quit assuming and get to know a person’ – that is Giannis Rizos’ solution to that stereotypical image. Rizos is a history student, and he can’t stop smiling when he talks about the Erasmus experience he had at the RUG. After he finishes his bachelor at the university of Athens, he would love to come back to the Netherlands for his master degree. Rizos has always had an intrinsic motivation for going abroad, but the crisis made it even more attractive to leave Greece. For him, studying in Groningen for a while has enabled him to see what is out there.

‘I am one of those students who has put a lot of effort in studying. I do not work for nothing’, Karabetsos says. The crisis made it clear to him that he wanted to leave his country. ‘I do not want all these investments I put in my education going to waste’, he says.