“Oh my God you live in Greece. Your life must be like a vacation.”
Another LOL moment.
There is quite a difference between vacationing and living somewhere… let me tell you. Especially somewhere that is becoming increasingly, insanely, unstable. I say this keeping all the love and adoration I’ve always had for this country in my heart… but honestly, it’s been one hell of a ride.
I remember visiting here very intrigued with the fact that people made time to go out late even on a Tuesday night.
Every day was like a celebration it seemed like. It wasn’t until I came here that I understood (for the most part) why that was possible. Yes, it’s in the culture to enjoy yourself above all else, which I still like as a philosophy… to an extent. But the truth is, there is an unemployment rate for young people, now with the crisis, at a little over fifty percent.
So, there is not really much to wake up for in the morning. And though this type of lifestyle of partying all the time had a ring to it while I was vacationing; the longer I was here, the more I could get a depressing sense of boredom, lack of drive and purpose. Young adults (as well as some not so young), all live with their parents, because well… even if you’re lucky enough to find a job, you are making an average of three euros an hour (which equals about three dollars and fifty cents an hour). An incredibly difficult wage to eat and pay rent and bills with.
Then you have the other half of the population, friends of mine, working over eighty hours a week at the three euros an hour (sometimes less) hourly wage; plus unpaid overtime. Even friends of mine with practicing law degrees are working seven a.m till midnight for one thousand euros a month; and out of everyone I know here, this is the most decent I’ve heard of. Though Greece is one of the cheapest countries in the EU to live…with the severely insufficient wages and salaries, the struggle to make ends meet only range from a struggle to impossible.
To give you an idea, the electricity companys’ revenues here have cut in half. Why? Because NO ONE can afford their electricity bill. Daily I watch the news as story after story air of people growing increasingly desperate. The first Monday of each month, banks have lines out the doors of elderly people waiting on their pensions; which have been a rationed mere four hundred euros and decreasing.
And a couple of years ago, when the crisis was really hitting hard, banks started “capital controls”; rationing people only four hundred and twenty euros every week. This was to ensure the banks didn’t crash since people were trying to pull all their money out of their accounts; in the panic of an increasingly economic disaster.
As for the students, unless you attend a private university, all tuition is free. This sounds incredible, especially given the country’s economic situation, until one fully comes to understand what it means to be a public service in Greece.
After talking to a student friend of mine… he told me that the main issue is that with most public services, including universities, people simply have either lost hope or stopped caring. Much of this due to the huge decline in salaries. Public universities, public hospitals, public transportation and all other public services, are funded little to nothing by the government; which is currently three hundred and thirty billion euros in debt to the EU.
I remember when I was staying here for two months and my best friend and her sister came to visit. Her sister got severely sick and had to be put in one of the public hospitals. I didn’t have a realistic idea of how bad the conditions actually were until we were all in the midst of it. The hospital had no toilet paper because they couldn’t afford to buy any that month. She was in a room divided into three sections by curtains with two other elderly women because room for patients was becoming very limited. Our doctor, towards the last couple days she was there, tearfully told her that they had been working overtime for eight months and had not seen a single paycheck. Alex later told me that these doctors and nurses were essentially heroes, working for free, staying only for the sake of their patients.
As far as public university conditions, with a severe lack of funding for books and lab supplies, in an environment of little to no organization; things tend to go chaotic.
Students have, as well as professors, for the most part, stopped caring. I know students who have taken up to ten years to graduate. This is due to faults not and of their own. One of the biggest things that hold students back is constant striking, which cancels classes enough times to put students semesters behind. There is also no attendance policy, so a student can not attend a single class for an entire semester, due to work, or simple lack of motivation, and study a couple weeks before the final exams (usually given months after the semester ends); and try to pass. Which is rarely successful. No one is accountable for much of anything. The system has screwed over the people so the people could care less about the system to put it simply.
Despite the relaxed and stress-free persona Greece has always embodied… when you step out of the tourism bubble, there is a deep sense of bitterness that the country they love so dearly has crashed so hard.
As for myself and Alex, after months of financially struggling, we’ve decided Greece is not a place we can continue our lives and are currently in the process of transferring out as soon as possible. If it wasn’t for my savings account… I don’t know how we could’ve possibly made it as far as we have.
Though my days here vacationing have been the greatest of my life. My time as an expat has been difficult. Much less a vacation. Though I don’t regret making the move here… it’s been one of the greatest and hardest things I’ve ever done.
*Note: I understand that not EVERYONE has the same experience, or has the same opinions on Greece’s crisis. It is a huge, deeply complicated subject that I certainly don’t claim to know the ins and outs of. This is just a personal observation based on what I’ve lived through the short time I’ve been here, and the struggles shared with me by close friends.
Greece Lists, another blogger I follow, has an interesting more in detail, post on this if interested! 7 (minus 1) Reasons Why It Is Folly to Move to Greece Permanently