Indian academic chronicles his experiences while living in Athens

Indian academic chronicles his experiences while living in Athens

Tushar Sharma is one of the thousands of Indians who study abroad every year. He is also one of the very few people in his country to have picked a Greek university. Among the 752,000 Indians studying outside the South Asian country, according to the Foreign Ministry in Delhi, he was one of just 10 Indians studying in Greece last year.

Sharma completed his PhD a few months ago and is now waiting for Greek authorities to recognize his earlier degrees. “There is something inexplicable about the process,” he told Kathimerini in a recent phone interview.

The application was made in the first half of 2016 but DOATAP, the Greek agency responsible for the recognition of degrees awarded by foreign higher education institutions, “is having great difficulty grasping how the Indian higher education system works, in which students are members of colleges, and these colleges are affiliated with a university.”

The three years he spent in Greece left an imprint on him: On his blog, Sharma chronicles his experiences in Athens – the landmarks, the tavernas and the graffiti – and the Greek islands, which he describes as an “overwhelming combination of beauty and tranquillity.”

“I know the city center of Athens better than I know Bangalore,” he says. “I made so many friends there I will always remember Saturday evenings in Plaka. I’m truly grateful for all that Greece has given me.”

Notwithstanding his generous praise for the Greek summer and hospitality, Sharma does not shy away from the country’s grimmer aspects. He says local bus passengers were usually reluctant to sit next to him. But the biggest obstacle he had to face was bureaucracy.

“The professors in the department were very supportive, but the ELKE bureaucracy was very cumbersome,” he says of the agency responsible for research grants. “It was very hard to get paid.”

In a blog post from October 2016, titled “How to get a resident permit in Greece,” the Indian engineer notes: “It must be easy to follow rules and difficult to bypass them. If it is the other way round, the system breeds defaulters. Well… I am not sure whether it is the case here in Greece.”

Sharma documents his small odyssey in getting a residence permit – the nebulous information about how to make an application posted at the Interior Ministry’s Aliens’ Bureau, the announcements which were only posted in Greek, the endless telephone calls that he had to make in order to book an appointment (“If you are extremely lucky to get an officer who speaks English, he will ask a few details and book an appointment for you,” he says) and the catch-22 regarding insurance: One needs to be registered with an insurance company to get a residence permit and a residence permit in order to apply for insurance. “And I thought cyclic dependencies only occurred in software systems,” he quips.

Once his wife and son arrived in Greece, a new round of problems began. It took him a year to secure permits for his family and himself. “My compatriots who came to Greece after me to work or study hired lawyers to deal with [the bureaucracy],” he says.

From Rajasthan to AUEB

Sharma studied computer science and engineering at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur, graduating in 2004. He had a hard time paying for his tuition and accommodation during his undergraduate degree.

In 2008, he received his postgraduate degree on the same subject from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai. Between 2008 and 2015, he worked at the Siemens research and technology section in Bangalore, the technological capital of India with a population of more than 10 million.

Sharma specializes in code smells, signals that a code needs refactoring in order to improve long-term operation and supportability. He ended up in Greece thanks to SEnECA, a European research project which seeks to strengthen capacities in research and policy advice in the European Union and Central Asia. The project is supported by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding program.

One of the applications to have been accepted in the framework of SEnECA was submitted by the Business Analytics Laboratory in the Department of Management Science and Technology at the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) headed by Professor Diomidis Spinellis. 

Sharma received an acceptance letter from Spinellis in July 2015, during the bewildering time of Greece’s bailout referendum. “It was something that troubled me,” he says. “If Greece had left the EU, I don’t think I would have been able to come.” He only decided to respond affirmatively to the offer a few days later, when the danger of Grexit seemed to have passed.  

Would he choose to work in Greece? “I could, yes. But I asked around before I left and it seems that the salaries on offer are lower than what someone with my skill-set could get in other European countries. And there is also the language barrier.”

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