Next in our wildly popular series: From New York to Greece: Meet Entrepreneur and Brooklyn native, Debbie Koutroumanos, another Greek-American in Greece.
Meet Debbie Koutroumanos
We’re back, with our wildly popular series, “Greek-American in Greece.” Let’s meet Brooklyn native Debbie Koutroumanos.
Maria A. Karamitsos: Where are you from? Tell us where you were born & raised.
Debbie Koutroumanos: I was born and raised In Brooklyn, New York, more specifically Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
MAK: Where is your family from in Greece?
DK: My mother is from a lovely agricultural town called Hrisavgi, Lagadas, 20 minutes away from Thessaloniki, and my father is from picturesque Mavrovouni, Gythio.
MAK: Talk a little about your Greek community connections in New York, prior to leaving.
DK: I have been involved in the Greek community in Brooklyn my whole life, I proudly attended the Greek School of Plato for 13 years, and was a member of GOYA throughout my teens. I worked for a Greek-American pediatric practice in Brooklyn/Staten Island for almost 10 years that is extremely active in the Greek-American community which gave me the opportunity to stay in touch throughout my adult life. I use to plan and attend fundraisers/walkathons for various causes sponsored by the Incurable Illness Foundation.
MAK: Did you attend university in the U.S.? Tell us about you and your career.
DK: I attended Pace University in downtown Manhattan for 2 semesters, and then completed my bachelor’s degree in business while studying abroad in Athens, Greece.
MAK: Do you still have family in the U.S.? Do you visit often?
DK: Yes, my immediate family which includes my mother and two siblings, still live in Good Ole’ Brooklyn. I try to visit as often as I can, at least once a year. My goal is to convince them to come here more 🙂
MAK: When did you move to Greece? What precipitated the move?
DK: In 2012 I returned to Greece after a 10-year hiatus for a family wedding, the spark, love, and passion was reignited. I moved to Athens in January 2013. I always wanted to complete my bachelor’s degree and experience living in another country at least once in my life. Due to the fact that I was financing my own education and refused to take out student loans, I strongly researched American universities in Athens and gave it a shot.
MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it hard to adjust?
DK: Just like everywhere, there are advantages and disadvantages. The question is whether or not you can live with them. Greece is a unique country with a rich history. It is by far one of the most beautiful countries I have ever had the luxury of visiting and now calling my home. Considering the size of the country, the difference in the landscape is unfathomable. You truly have it all: green islands, dry islands, mountains, cities, ski resorts, and not to mention, some of the clearest bluest beaches in the world. Adjusting is an ongoing process, most things are very different in comparison to the States and there are continuous changes such as new laws and reforms which make adjusting even harder. Staying calm, cool, and collective never hurts. Adaptability is key in this fast-changing world.
MAK: Give a little perspective on being a Greek-American living in Greece.
DK: There tends to be a stereotype put on Greek-Americans that dates back as far as I can remember. Some think we are spoiled, others think we are stupid. Of course this does not apply to everyone. I learned at a young age never to assume and never to judge. Always keep your mind and eyes open to new perspectives, outlooks, and lifestyles. Living here, I have learned a lot about our heritage that I never knew before because I refuse to give in to that stereotype. The Greek-American community here in Athens is very supportive and easily accessible. We are there for one another and do our best in supporting each other’s efforts. This is a huge help.
MAK: Tell us what kind of work you do. How’s it going?
DK: I started a transportation company in 2015, Opa Taxi and Tours, which specializes in airport/seaport transfers along with private customized tours of Greece. I am also working as an on-site director with CISabroad, which recently started their study abroad programs for American college students in Athens. It has definitely been challenging starting a business or doing any business here, but I am still happy. I love what I do and it shows. Some of the best memories of my life have been in this country. I want to share my love and passion with as many people as possible, being able to do that for a living is a gift. I know how amazing the experience can be because I have lived it myself. I truly want each visitor to have an experience of a lifetime from the minute they exit baggage claim to the minute they sadly depart, and every minute in between.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
DK: The Greek Spirit and hospitality is still very much alive. I find that my daily life compared to New York City is much calmer. Despite the extremely tough economic situation people still find ways to be humble and enjoy life. I admire that. Also, the way of life, the appreciation for simpler things, the gorgeous weather, and delicious food. I feel that although life can be very stressful here, finding a balance is more accessible whether that be taking a walk under the Acropolis or visiting one of the many breathtaking islands.
MAK: Why is it important for Greeks to stay, and work through the challenges?
DK: Because we will prevail, we always have and always will. Greece is a special place, a blessed land with warm hearted people who have a lot to offer to the world. There is potential here and if we all work collectively many things can be accomplished. I like to stay positive and think there will come a time when Greece will be in a better place and all of the hardships and sacrifice will be in the past.
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
DK: They should know that they are wanted and needed and that the government and news does not always accurately reflect the needs of the Greek people. Greece is a destination visited by millions, a country that has stolen many hearts around the globe. It is imperative this continues, resulting in everlasting growth in Greek tourism.
MAK: What can Greeks outside of Greece do to promote Greece, and to help?
DK: Be informed about the truth and try not to be misled by stereotypes and propaganda. Continue to visit and continue to be proud of your Greek heritage despite the negative publicity. Support Greek companies and Greek start-ups. Fundraise and volunteer for Greek-American NGO’s.Speak and listen to the locals to really gain an understanding of what is going on here. Ask questions; do not be shy.
From a business standpoint, I believe it would be very beneficial if there were more united collaborative efforts between the Greek-American business community and various business communities in Greece. Joint business ventures and projects would benefit both communities.
There are many young, highly-educated and talented Greeks that feel a sense of hopelessness and emptiness due to the high levels of unemployment. Collectively we can foster their talents and skills by providing new opportunities/jobs right here in Greece.
I have met many successful Greek-Americans who would like to invest/promote Greece in many ways but find it extremely challenging getting through the bureaucracy and red tape in Greece. This is a problem which needs to be rectified in order to promote and give incentive to the right type of investors. By the right type of investors I mean Greek-Americans. It is much more likely to produce positive results when both parties share a common vision, love, and respect for the country.
Until next time…
We hope you enjoyed meeting Debbie Koutroumanos. We’ll introduce you to another Greek-American in Greece soon.