A move back to Greece is most Greek Americans’ dream — especially if you had spent your childhood there. Memories of blue skies, blue waters, delicious fresh food and tons of friendly faces, always bring a sense of nostalgia when we are away from the homeland.
By Katherine Ziogas
But thinking about this to acting upon it, are two different things. Especially if a lot of years have passed by.
Moving back to Greece at that point is not a matter of logic, but rather a matter of the heart. It was a matter of our heart that led our family to move back to Kastoria after having spent 20 years in New York.
My husband and I both grew up in the tiny village of Germas in Kastoria. In our early twenties we decided to temporarily move to New York. We wanted to experience different cultures and different things in life.
We only planned on staying two to four years and then going back. But somewhere along the lines of life taking its course, we ended up staying 20 years there. I went to college and eventually became a New York City Police Officer.
My husband became a manager for a Greek marble and granite company in Astoria, Queens, called Quality Stone. We went on to create our family and were blessed with two boys.
In the beginning, we lived in Astoria, as every new Greek does in that area, but eventually we bought a house in Franklin Square, Long Island. Life was good. With hard work we had achieved the American Dream. There was only one problem: our longing and nostalgia for Greece.
Preserving language and culture
Every day we tried very hard to preserve the Greek language and culture at home. We only spoke Greek to our boys, sent them to Greek school, and every summer made it our priority to visit our home town.
Every time we would visit, our desire to stay became stronger. We admired, and at times envied, the simplicity and beauty of the Greek way of life. Even during the economic crisis it felt as if they led a better and healthier way of life than us.
Yes, we had good-paying jobs, great cars and more luxuries, but they led a stress-free life. Most owned their homes, had short commutes, had time to socialize with friends and family, and enjoyed a beautiful environment but most importantly, they had time to raise their children!
We in turn, like most New Yorkers, had long commutes, demanding jobs and no time to breathe. Our day began at 5 AM, with an hour-and-a-half commute — and between long hours of work and our children’s extracurricular activities, it ended at 10 PM.
Then the next day would be exactly the same. A constant circle that would only function under perfect circumstances. We lacked the simple things in life, such as dropping off and picking your children up from school.
Dilemma of moving to Greece
As the years passed by and our boys were getting older — 10 and 12 years of age — we found ourselves on the crossroads of the “now or never” question. We would either move back home now while the boys were young and still followed along, or we ran the risk of never coming back and totally assimilating into American culture.
In 2019 we decided that there would never be a “good time” to move. We knew that leaving a perfectly set up life with two young children would not be easy, but we did not want to live with regrets. Succeed or fail, we had to cross it off our bucket list.
At the same time, we felt the challenge was the motivating factor as well. It hurt us every time we heard the news that everyone was migrating out of Greece again. We vowed to try to be part of the change. The idea was: If we could survive a low economy then we could definitely handle an inclining one.
Since we decided that there would never be a good time to move, we realized we just had to make it happen. We put our house up for sale, shipped off our belongings and finished building our house in Argos Orestiko, a town just 15 minutes away from our home village.
Starting your life over at the ages of 38 and 42 with a family of two young children is expected to have its challenges. Moving into a new house, adjusting to school and a totally new school system, finding — or in fact having to create — employment, were challenges we had to address one at a time.
Covid 19 made things a little harder, but at the same time it was probably a blessing that we had just left New York during the pandemic.
After being here for ten months, things are starting to fall into place and it finally feels that we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
Move to Greece
Our biggest worry was our children’s adjustment. But it is amazing how resilient children are. It felt as if they adjusted from day one, and that gave us as parents a big incentive to want to succeed even more.
Whenever we ask them if they miss New York, they answer that they miss their family and friends but they would rather live in Greece and visit New York. They had no problem making friends and they excelled in school. St. Catherine’s and George Greek School of Astoria sure paid off!
Local children embraced them and they love the freedom of just hopping on their bikes and going to meet everyone for soccer every day at 6 PM sharp. They absolutely love the “periptero” and love ordering gyros to be delivered to the playground with their friends.
My husband adjusted pretty well since he had no family in New York. To my surprise, I myself had the hardest time. I finally had what I always wanted: a new house, a huge yard, my hometown and more time with the family.
But going from one hundred miles an hour to 0 turned out to be a culture shock! I missed New York. I felt like the mouse that needed to get on her wheel.
But after nine months of city detox and quarantine I filled my day with growing a veggie garden, landscaping, getting three dogs and a cat, reading books I never had the time to read, having coffee with friends and finally becoming an independent travel agent partnered with a company in the U.S.
“I feel blessed”
I feel blessed. Maybe, in reality, you can have it all. You just have to be persistent and patient. I am hoping that the move of my family and myself will contribute to the improvement of our country.
Yes, we came to enjoy its privileges but I can only hope that we can be of service to a country that has suffered so much. I would love to be part of a repatriation movement.
If I could give one piece of advice to my fellow Greeks abroad and Philhellenes, it would be “If you want to go back, go”.
There will never be a “perfect” time — and Greece needs inspiration and positivity. Things will get better. We will make it better. With the right planning, do what pleases your heart and feeds your soul.