Re­turn­ing to Greece, de­spite all the prob­lems

Pro­fes­sion­als with im­pres­sive ed­u­ca­tional back­grounds who came back home af­ter years spent abroad share their ex­pe­ri­ences

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YIAN­NIS PA­PADOPOU­LOS

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.

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