The next installment in a series of Q&A with American-born Greeks living in Greece. This time, we caught up with Chicago native Effie Spilioti, an Athens attorney.
Effie Spilioti’s parents had always dreamed of returning to Greece. She followed them there in 1988 after high school graduation. Effie shares her story with us, and tells us why she stays in Greece.
Q&A with Effie Spilioti
Maria A. Karamitsos: You’re originally from Chicago. Tell us where and about your time here.
Effie Spilioti: I was born and raised in Chicago. My parents were Greek immigrants who arrived in Chicago in search of a better future for their family. Like most immigrants, they left Greece with almost no resources, but with hope for the future. They believed in hard work but also in the quality of education — a belief that they instilled in me from a young age. I was given the chance through a scholarship at attending Chicago’s Francis Parker School, a progressive private school in Lincoln Park which stresses excellence in education. These two worlds that I was exposed to were very different but they did have some common grounds: the encouragement of hard work and the setting of goals.
MAK: Where is your family from in Greece?
ES: My family is from the island of Cephalonia and more specifically, the beautiful area of Skala. This is where I spent every one of my childhood summers and where my children now spend their summer vacations.
MAK: Talk a little about your Greek community connections in Chicago, prior to leaving.
ES: Like most Greek- Americans, we were active members of the local Greek-American community. I attended Greek School on weekday afternoons and weekends as well as St. Demetrios Sunday School. I have to admit that when I was young I did not quite understand why I had to attend all these schools while my friends were enjoying their free time after school, but I now realize how important all these activities were in order to know and respect their Greek heritage. If I was still living in Chicago, I definitely would send my children to Greek School in order for them to learn the Greek language and culture.
MAK: Did you attend university in the US? Tell us about you and your career.
ES: I attended University in Athens. When I arrived in Greece, I initially studied at the American College of Athens but I had my mind set on studying law. In order to achieve this I had to pass examinations on certain subjects that included the Ancient Greek language. So I studied intensively with tutors for a year, took the exams, and was admitted to the Law School of Athens. After graduating from Law School, I did my postgraduate work in England where I received a Master of Laws in International Business and Commercial Law from the University of Lancaster. When I finished my studies, I initially worked in small law firms. Then I pursued a career as a legal advisor to corporations and banks.
MAK: Do you still have family in Chicago? In the US? Do you visit often?
ES: Yes, we have family in Chicago and on the East Coast. I grew up in a traditional Greek family and was close with all my cousins and especially with my two cousins Dennis and Loula who were like siblings to me.
MAK: When did you move to Greece? What precipitated the move?
ES: We moved to Greece immediately after I finished high school. Like many other families of immigrants, my parents had the dream of returning to Greece after their retirement and I followed them.
MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it easy to adjust?
ES: Well, in every change there are both negative and positive aspects, especially for those of us that have been exposed to two cultures. When you are in the U.S. you miss Greece and when you are here you miss living in the U.S. Since I was at a young age when I relocated to Greece, I was able to adjust quite easily. Nevertheless, adjustment is an ongoing process especially in these times of financial crisis. When you are exposed to two cultures it is inevitable that you compare them to each other. Yet, I always try to focus on what each culture has taught me and apply these positive aspects to my everyday life.
MAK: Give a little perspective on being a Greek-American living in Greece.
ES: There is a large Greek-American community in Greece so you never feel that you have lost contact with your American culture! There are many social activities to choose from, organizations as well as American schools for the children.
MAK: Tell us about your work.
ES: During the past few years, I have been a legal counsel to Greek banks and corporations. I was also a legal counsel to a major retail company who owns and operates shopping malls throughout Greece and gained extensive experience on legal issues relating to commercial property and real estate transactions. Along with this work, I continued to provide legal advice to many Greek-Americans mainly on legal issues regarding their property in Greece.
MAK: Tell us about your law firm, and your work with Greeks abroad.
ES: Along with two other Greek lawyers who are licensed to practice law in Athens as well as in New York, we recently created SPN Law. We provide all-around legal support to Greek and foreign legal entities and individuals, including legal services to the Greek Omogeneia on issues pertaining to Greek Law. I believe that our combined and extensive work experience in the demanding corporate world have taught us the values of diligent work and professionalism. But most importantly, the fact that we have all lived in the U.S. either in order to study or as a member of an immigrant Greek family like myself, has greatly assisted us in understanding the needs of the Greek Omogeneia when dealing with issues of Greek Law.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
ES: Greece is the country of our heritage. However difficult the current situation may be, this still is our home country. If there is one thing that I learned from my parents as immigrants, that is the importance of perseverance, hard work and “ethos” in all aspects of life. I believe that if we uphold these values we can work towards achieving a better future.
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
ES: People should know that there are many Greeks who are hard-working and hope for a better future. During the past few years we have also seen that there have been innovative ideas and businesses especially in the fields of tourism and export of local agricultural goods. These businesses would greatly benefit from the support of our worldwide Greek Community and it is important that we all should have unified approach on promoting Greek products and services to the global marketplace.