The idea for the digital meeting came from the pandemic, as the organizers (the National Documentation Center and the youth organization Youthmakers Hub) felt the need for positive and inspiring paradigms in the midst of this general feeling of pessimism. Titled “6 under 30,” the online discussion brought together six hopeful young Greeks and participants connecting from Greece and abroad (one was watching from Japan).
“Each of them, successful in their fields, made it with hard work, and most importantly, are nice, collected people, always with a smile,” says Dimitris Maragkos, one of the organizers. “One of the requirements the speakers needed to fulfill was to be young. Given that most of the audience participating in such events are students, they wanted speakers who were close in age and could speak directly to their hearts,” explains Maragkos. Moreover, two of the six chose to work abroad, but the rest of them are located in Greece. “It is important to showcase the fact that there are opportunities in Greece as well,” he added.
It was a lively discussion as the panelists asked each other questions and managed to share their short but successful journeys with honesty and humor. Every story was different. There were cases such as that of Maria Arnaoutaki, who had no idea of what she wanted to do with her life. She grew up on Crete, studied teaching and today works at Spotify (a music company, originally established in London). “It’s OK to feel lost after graduation. You can take it for granted that you’ll not just wake up one day knowing the answer to what suits you. Decisions only come through personal exploration,” she said.
On the other hand, Avgoustos Pantazidis knew from the start that he wanted to become an astronaut. No one took his ambition seriously at first, but he never stopped dreaming. It was the summer of 2015, after the referendum, when he made up his mind once and for all. “It was a weird period. Morale all around me was really low regarding what we could achieve, and it was then that I decided to set out and achieve this tough goal I always had in mind.” He changed the topic of his thesis – from oil to planetary geology – and since then he has been moving toward his goal of going to space in 2023. “I don’t know if I’m going to make it, but what’s truly important is the journey itself,” he explained.
All of them spoke about the challenges they faced. “My grades at university were horrible and no teacher would sign a recommendation letter [...] Without a job, for months I felt I was in the dark [...] I had received more than 150 rejections.” But they had one message in common: Never give up.
Alexandra Nikolaou had applied twice to Wolt, where she now works. “The fact that they rejected me does not necessarily say something about me and it certainly did not make me give up applying again and again until I made it,” she said.
“Oh! Listen to no one, not even your parents. Listen only to your heart,” added Stefanos Nastos, who now works at ride-sharing giant Uber. A graduate of a vocational high school, his parents insisted that he sit university entrance exams. Even though he was opposed to the idea, he did it to please his parents. He got into a random school he didn’t care about and then decided to drop out and pursue the life he wanted.
Similarly, Gogo Gati shared the fact that her father insisted on her becoming a teacher and that even now that she holds a position that makes her happy in the IT department of betting company Kaizen Gaming, he still talks about how much better it would have been if she had a pursued a career in the public sector.
“Is programming a male-dominated field?” someone in the audience asked her. “When I was at school, there were only 10 girls out of 300 students, but this specific field is going through a substantial shift nowadays. Big companies are promoting change through specific actions for gender equality, creating many new opportunities for women,” she explained.
Many of the questions the panelists were asked had to do with advice about working abroad. When the organizers asked the participants whether they wanted to work abroad, 84% said “yes.” When one of the speakers, Marina Pappa, who works in the commercial department of The Guardian newspaper and loves her job, was asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” she answered: “In Greece.” It’s the first time that thanks to remote working she can finally work from Athens, realizing how much she missed it.
By the end of the event, the panelists had made plans to meet after the lockdown, joined by their common experiences. They are also a part of an active online community (Knowledge Bridges Networking Group), with over 10,000 members – Greeks from all over the world. This platform has been active since 2017 as an initiative of the National Documentation Center, aimed at establishing networks between Greeks who want to help each other.