Discovering rewards for merit in other countries

The manual labor and diner jobs that Greek migrants did the last century in the USA, Germany and Australia have given way to posts in large companies for qualified Greeks who have gone abroad, not to survive but to prosper. And they have succeeded. A good CV is all they need to get ahead. Of the about 60,000 Greeks who study abroad, many choose to stay there after their studies, turning their backs reluctantly on Greece and its meager salaries. The saying «Nothing is more permanent than the temporary» fits Sofia Milona to a tee. She is already in her sixth year in England, though her original intention was to stay for only two years. She graduated in veterinary science in Thessaloniki, then sought work and a postgraduate degree. After three or four months of fruitless searching in Greece, she decided to try her luck in Britain. «My first job was quality control in a slaughterhouse. The conditions were satisfactory as I worked an eight-hour day, got paid for overtime, and my first salary was three times what it would have been had I’d stayed in Greece. Though life is very expensive in England, from the start I was earning enough and was able to save. «At first I said, ‘I’ll stay for a couple of years and then I’ll go.’ Then my boyfriend, who is now my husband, came to England, so I had another incentive to stay. There are many positive aspects. The most important is meritocracy, the fact that with a good CV you can get ahead without being afraid that someone else will take your job because he’s a friend of the boss. I want to go back at some point, but I haven’t decided when. I miss my family and friends, but I come to Greece three or four times a year so I keep in contact.» Aris Asimakis, 31, has lived in the UK for the past 12 years. After a first degree in physics, he got a doctorate in natural sciences. Six years ago, he moved from northern England to London, where he works as tax consultant for a large firm. «If I went back to Greece, I would spend a long time looking for work and I wouldn’t find that many doors open. In London, by contrast, there were lots of opportunities. My doctorate was subsidized and working conditions are very good. «I work from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a one-hour break at midday. My salary is very good. I don’t think I would get such good pay in Greece. «You don’t need connections to get jobs here. You just need the qualifications and to be capable.» He thinks of returning to Greece at some point, but not immediately, as he is not inspired by a career in his homeland. «Besides, I’ve got used to the British system. I’ve organized my life; I’ve got friends, my girlfriend and my mother’s coming to live here. If I miss anything, it’s the sun, the sea, tavernas and, of course, the Greek summer. But I come once a year for two weeks and get my fill.» Themis Rafailidis, 34, employs a different method of keeping in contact with Greece. He works Monday to Friday in Germany and visits Thessaloniki every weekend. He studied industrial management in Atlanta then worked in New York in the technology field. He is a specialist in supply chain management. Six years in the USA and two years in Duisburg, Germany, have given him, he says, «concentrated knowledge and experience and, of course, a high income. I was given the opportunity to work with major clients. I came back to Greece to do my military service. I realized that my speciality wasn’t flourishing here and I responded to an offer in Germany. «I work around eight hours a day in extremely flexible conditions, and I’m very pleased about that. Still, I hope conditions mature soon so that I can work permanently in Greece in the field that I studied.» ‘I found work at once without connections’ Stelios Tingas, 28, has been living in London for four years. He graduated in computer studies from Athens University then did a postgraduate degree in information security. He found work at once that was connected with his studies and after a year moved to another company. He declares he is very satisfied with his working conditions and salary. He underlines the meritocratic process that is closely observed in Britain. «I didn’t know anybody at my first job. I just read an advertisement, submitted an application and they took me when they saw my CV. At the second job, I also had a reference from the first company I’d worked for. What kept me in London was dignity at work. The contract is for a seven-and-a-half-hour day and that is usually adhered to. Overtime is always paid for. On that money you can live very comfortably.» Stelios has not decided when he will come back to Athens, but he counts on staying another couple of years in London. «Of course, I miss friends and family, but I come to Greece three times a year. What has changed a lot is the viewpoint from which I see Greece now and, I have to tell you, that it isn’t always positive. »