What is the current situation of unemployment/employment for youth in Greece? How do young people see the future in their home country? That was a question Anna Martynenko, a young Ukrainian living in Berlin was wondering about. In her report she shows answers and impressions she got during her three week long travel in August 2019 in Greece.
During my travel I mostly stayed with locals through couchsurfing in order to understand the culture better and see the situation from inside. Because of this, I met not only my hosts, but also their families and friends. My hosts led me to some places that I would not find easily in the internet. I have also spent some days in the pension „Mylos“ on Crete, whose owners kindly offered me a place to support the project. It is a known fact that the highest unemployment rates are observed in Greece, especially those who are under 25 face being jobless. So my plan was to take a portrait of each interviewee.
Before this research I met a few Greeks in Berlin. Matina moved here to do an internship in a graphic design studio in 2017, when I just arrived to Germany. She was happy about the opportunity to work in a professional studio and to learn important skills from an established designer. In a year she moved back to Athens to finish her Master program and decided to stay. I met her again the time when I arrived to Athens and we spoke about her current situation. She works in the printing company and enjoys her job very much. However, Matina is not getting paid enough to rent her own place, so she lives again with her parents. At that moment she did not feel like moving somewhere else.
The time on Crete island
On Crete I spent most of my time. In Heraklion I was hosted by Lukas, a 33-year-old engineer. Lukas moved from Greece to Mexico six years ago and he only comes during summer to help with family business. His family owns a guesthouse by the sea. He grew up without financial troubles and their business was successful. However, in the last couple of years they had to work much more during the season in order to save for the rest of the year. They do not hire people to clean or cook anymore and have to do most of the things by themselves. He does not plan to move back to Greece.
Because of Lukas, I met other locals. His friend Thomas is a photographer, who is unemployed. He just came back from a year trip in South America and was planning to travel more. Thomas had started education in a public university, but quit, because he did not like the system. So he did not graduate and has no stable income. He has clients from time to time, but that is not enough, so he does other part-time jobs. In my opinion, artistic jobs are hard to find in any country, not only Greece. And it seems that in Greece tourism sector is the most profitable
Maria is a 27-year-old freelancer. She has graduated from university this summer, she is a translator. Maria was born, grew up and studied in Thessaloniki. She likes Crete for the beaches and weather, she used to go there often while studying. She told me that her plan is to move to Crete and live with her boyfriend. Maria would like to move somewhere else, Berlin is one of the options. But for that she needs to save money, now it is not possible. Maria is a bit worried about translation jobs, because of the instability. At the same time she would like to take a part-time job in a book store.
I also met Kristos, a 33-year-old tattoo artist, who grew up on Crete. He lives with his parents. He shares one tattoo studio with a friend in Heraklion and did not complain about working conditions. He used to work as a sound engineer, but changed the profession as he wanted to learn new things. He travels often. Kristos would like to buy land and build a house, but law had changed, so the land prices got extremely high.
I spoke with the 20-year-old Helen on the beach. She is originally from Crete and studies Psychology in Athens. She is not confident about a job in Greece even though she loves her country. Her profession is not in demand compared to other countries in Europe. She plans to do a Master program in the Netherlands. Helen used to work in England during summer breaks, to have enough for living while studying. She told me a bit about rent prices and salaries. She pays 250 euros for a 1,5 room flat in the centre of Athens, while the salary of her desired job would be about 700 Euro per month
I also met Anastasia while walking. She is 25 years old and lives and works in Athens. It was her first time traveling to Crete. She told me that she enjoys solo trips, because she can learn something about herself. She works as accountant and she earns around 800 euros per month. Anastasia is not willing to relocate, as she is satisfied with her life at home. But she definitely thinks that traveling is needed and important in order to change.
I did not talk much with Giorgos. He is a friend of Lukas, but he did not speak good English. I just know that he is from Crete, grew up there and stayed there all his life. He works for family business, grows olive trees and works in the farm. He seemed satisfied.
From Crete to Santorini
On Santorini island I stayed with Spyros, another couchsurfer, Maja and his friend Kostas and a dog! Spyros is 29 years old and he works as a tourist guide. He had one week holiday when I arrived but mostly stayed in the house, because it was hot outside. He moved to Santorini from Thessaloniki four years ago. He told me that it was really difficult to find a permanent place to live on the island, so he is lucky to have the apartment. Spyros works six days a week, he does not travel and he does not go out. Especially when the season starts, there is a big competition for any job, so he works hard in order to keep the working place. In some years he dreams to open his bar by the beach and from that time he could start traveling.
Maja is 31 years old, originally from Athens and she came for a few weeks, like me. She just quit her job as a chef. Maja told me that she liked her job, but she used to work in different restaurants. She was not happy about her team, it felt like everyone is separated, there was no unity. For Maja it is important to have good relationships with the people she works with. At that moment, she was thinking to change the profession and that’s why she went to Santorini, for inspiration, for a change. Maja was abroad only once and in Greece she did not travel much, but that is what she wants to do.
I had a quick chat with Kostas (35 years old), he was working nine hours a day, mostly during the night and I did not see him very often, as he was away or sleeping. He came to do seasonal work from April till November. His job was also in a tourism sector – receptionist in the hotel. During the last few years he was doing the same often – coming somewhere for a season to get paid and then return back home to Thessaloniki. The average salary in his home city is 700 euros for a full time job, while in Santorini he was making about 1200 euros. Kostas and Spyros are good friends from childhood, that’s why Spyros offered Kostas to stay at his place during the season.
Ageloti (35) is another friend of Spyros. He is also from Thessaloniki and arrived to the island two years ago. He was fired one day before we have met and therefore looking for another job. Before he was a driver. His situation was not the best: the company was giving the rooms to employees, so he not only lost his job, but his home too and was sleeping in the car. Ageloti said that working conditions in Santorini are tough: most of the people were working without any day off, even though it’s illegal. There is a mafia that rules everything, and if you disagree – you will have to move and there are plenty of people who are willing to work much, because this is the only chance to make savings, he told me. On other islands the salaries are worse. Agelotis plan is to move to Sweden after the season finishes, to work in better conditions for more money and later to open a coffee place in Santorini with a friend.
I have noticed that a lot of Greeks are not willing to relocate because of their friends, family, weather, nature and culture. Locals feel very connected to each other and it is important for them to live in Greece, even when there are not so many options for their careers. Greeks speak English very well and it was easy to communicate. They are open to talk with strangers. People seemed to be happy with what they have and they accept the situation.
From my perspective, one of the problem is that Greeks do not travel a lot, so they cannot compare and see other ways of living and thinking. In order to change the system, there should be mind changes individually and traveling is the best thing to have these changes. In my opinion, we, the young generation, can do and see a lot. We can create a better today as well as tomorrow, if we can dream and believe that it will happen. Though the possibilities are limited to those who do not have enough motivation and interest.
I was surprised that the locals did not complain much in general. Maybe they are used to the current situation or the worries about their career. Greeks appreciate their homes, value families and friends and this I find fascinating. Despite the crisis, a lack of opportunities and low salaries, they are united, they want to live in their historical, cultural, naturally rich and beautiful home land.
Annas Reise wurde gefördert über die Schwarzkopf Stiftung Junges Europa sowie die Kreuzberger Kinderstiftung. Mehr Informationen zum Stipendium gibt es hier.
Text and pictures: Anna Martynenko
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