Returning to Greece, despite all the problems
Professionals with impressive educational backgrounds who came back home after years spent abroad share their experiences
On a Sunday morning while most of the city is still fast asleep, Manos Kapetanakis sets off in his 12-year-old Ford Fiesta to his job as a thoracic surgeon at the Attikon Hospital in Haidari, western Athens. If, when he was first starting out in his career, someone had told him that after years of studying and working abroad, this is where he’d be, he would have laughed in their face.
“It was strange coming back home in 2011, during a period of deep crisis,” says Kapetanakis. “My mother would tell me on the phone: ‘What are you going to do here in Greece, son? Everything is gone here, destroyed.’”
Unlike the majority of other doctors who graduated in Greece in his field, who opted for a career abroad and never returned, he decided to come back. “I came at a difficult time. Flight is the prevalent trend,” he stresses.
More than 130,000 Greek university graduates have left the country in the last five years, ac- cording to a study, “Emigration from Greece during the crisis,” funded by the London School of Economics. The same data also show that 40 percent of Greek emigres after 2010 have either master’s degrees or doctorates, or are medical or engineering graduates.
“Many of those who leave are basically chased out of the country because it’s very difficult to find work here,” says Lois Labrianidis, a professor of economic geography at the University of Macedonia and scientific supervisor of the study.
However, going against the so-called brain drain trend, some highly skilled graduates choose to return.
“The gains are without doubt twofold. They come back having lived and worked in a different environment that has helped them mature,” says Labrianidis, who as general secretary of strategic and private investment at the Greek Ministry of Finance for the past few months has been seeking ways to attract educated and skilled Greeks from abroad. He says that the government is examining new development legislation to implement a scheme through which employers taking on specialized professionals can be granted privileges and to enhance the creation of research centers. Meanwhile, it is also exploring ways to utilize those who opt to remain abroad by facilitating partnerships in Greece.
Three young degree-holders who returned to Greece from the UK and US explain to Kathimerini why, despite the uncertainty, sluggish professional mobility and low wages compared to their jobs abroad, they decided to make the trip home.