It’s time for the next installment in a series of Q&A with Greek-Americans living in Greece. This time, we caught up with Chicago area native Maria Louiza Lyberi.
Meet Maria Louiza Lyberi
Maria Louiza Lyberi, (Maria Lemberis) was born and raised in the Chicago area, but she’d long had the dream to live in Greece. She made it a reality in 2008. Maria shares her story, and why she stays in Greece, despite the challenges and the economic crisis.
Maria A. Karamitsos: Where is your family from in Greece?
Maria Louiza Lyberi: My father is from Karatoulas, Arkadias, (Kastri Kynouria) and my mother was born and raised in Cicero/Berwyn, IL. Her grandparents came from Vlahiotis, Lakonias; Paliohori, Arkadias; and Aléa (Τεγέα) Arcadia. My mother passed away and my father remarried. My 2nd mother is from Vlahioti, Lakonia.
MAK: You’re originally from Chicago.
MLL: I’m from Wood Dale, a suburb west of Chicago. Growing up, I was very involved in both junior high and high school extra-curricular activities, like band, choir, and theater, as well as athletics. At 16, I was named 2nd runner up in the Miss Addison contest.
MAK: Talk briefly about your Greek community connections in Chicago..
MLL: I was a member of The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Demetrios in Elmhurst, IL, where I sang in the choir. I taught Sunday School teacher for 2 years. Also, I attended their Pythagoras Greek school for 6 years, took traditional Greek dance classes for 3 years, and was active in GOYA/YAL.
For a time, I was involved in the Hellenic Professional Society of Illinois. I attended many YAL events, and one year helped to coordinate the local conference. I was very involved with the syllogo from my father’s village, called Hellenic Brotherhood of Karatoula Kynourias – St. John. Because I’m in love with music, especially Greek music, I began performing with a live band in Chicago’s Greektown. I remember it well: November 6, 2002 at the old Vareladiko/Barrel Café. It’s a decision I cherish to this day as it was the catalyst for my move to Greece.
MAK: – Did you attend university in the US? Tell us about you and your career.
MLL: I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I initially wanted to pursue a career in secondary education — as a Spanish teacher — but as many students do, I changed my mind. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Speech communication with a Spanish minor. After graduation in 2007, I worked as a meeting planner for the American Dental Society of Anesthesiology. It was very fun and interesting, and enabled me to travel. Unfortunately, after 3 years, the company downsized. I went on to work in human resources at Crate & Barrel headquarters in Naperville.
I still had the ‘itch’ though, and after my assignment with Crate & Barrel ended, I came to Greece to pursue my dream — to sing — and simply because I LOVE GREECE. It’s a risk, I know, but if I didn’t try I’d never know and always would be with the question “What if?” I don’t like having regrets. If all else failed, back to Chicago.
MAK: When did you move to Greece?
MLL: It may sound nuts but there were 3 attempts to my new life in Greece. The first being in June 2005, July 2007, and finally, December 2008. I wanted to move here to pursue my music career. When I sang in Astoria, NY, a friend and colleague encouraged me to go to Greece. She’d asked if I’d ever considered living/working in Greece. I always wanted to but never had the “IN.” She put me in contact with a venue in Rhodes, and my Greek journey began.
MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it easy to adjust?
MLL: I LOVE living in Greece, and the transition was fine. There definitely are many adjustments one must deal with when comparing life in Chicago, in the U.S., in general. I have a lot of patience, but some things DO frustrate me. Despite these circumstances I try to remain optimistic because there isn’t much I can do about it. There are challenges, and things we take for granted in the U.S. — but I still love living here.
MAK: Give some perspective on being a Greek-American living in Greece.
MLL: People find it refreshing that I have the American influence as well. Don’t get me wrong, we Greeks are known to be very hospitable people but being from Chicago, I think our Midwestern charm/friendliness makes me stand out. I believe being a Greek-American is a bit prestigious here. I’m proud that we in Chicago keep our customs and culture more alive. This is not true of everyone of course, but many of my Greek friends here aren’t as traditional as we are.
MAK: Tell us what kind of work you do. How’s it going?
MLL: I teach English at a φροντηστήριο, (private institution) to students 18 and above, mainly for the student’s oral/writing skills. Being that English is my native tongue, it helps. In order for the students to obtain a better position, sometimes even complete university, they must receive a certificate in English competency or proficiency. I like it a lot. I also sing Greek on the weekends at a μεζεδοπωλειο – mezedopoleío (tavern) in the Plaka/Monastiraki district, near the ancient grounds, ruins — beneath the Acropolis. I LOVE IT!!
MAK: Do you still have family in Chicago? Do you visit often?
MLL: All my immediate family is still in Chicago. It’s the one thing that tears me apart — missing special occasions, a simple hug, but life isn’t always perfect. It’s a huge sacrifice; thankfully the technology exists, and whenever I can, I — or my family members — visit. It’s a little harder now that I’m teaching. In the 7 years that I’ve lived here, I have visited Chicago 4 times.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
MLL: Good question. There are challenges to say the least, however there are problems in the States, too. The cost of living is much more affordable here. Plus, there’s just “something” about life here — I can’t really explain it. People LIVE here — really live — even though it’s difficult (the salaries don’t even compare, it’s awful….BUT you make it work). I enjoy the pace of life here. Obviously it helps that we have sunshine 336 of the 365 days per year. (I Googled this), the sea. Also, I stay in Greece because I’m in a relationship. Sure, we have considered coming to Chicago but for the time being, thank God, we manage fine.
MAK: Why is it important for Greeks to stay, and work through it?
MLL: Because it helps our economy having motivated people and builds our character. We love our country and we must never give up. Working together, through the challenges, will improve this beautiful country.
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
MLL: That not everything that appears in the media is true. Yes, there are political and economic issues — as there are elsewhere — but that shouldn’t stereotype us. Don’t be scared by what you read in the news. Some have been scared off by the refugee issue, but the kind acts of Greeks should only give this country a huge amount of respect and admiration, aside from history and all Greece has given to the world and to mankind. Greece is a magical country filled with hard-working, beautiful people.
MAK: What can Greeks outside of Greece do to promote Greece, and to help?
MLL: Visit Greece often, as tourism is one of our major sources of economic prosperity. Greeks outside of Greece should share our culture and customs in their communities so that non-Greeks can learn, and then come to visit. Another way is by donating money, time, and experience to charitable organizations.
Thanks for letting me share my story. Hello to my family and friends back in Chicago!