Everyone loves our Greek-American in Greece series! Let’s meet another New York native living and working in Greece. Meet Licensed Clinic Psychologist Despina Konstas, PhD.
Meet Greek-American in Greece Despina Konstas
Welcome back to “Greek-American in Greece”, one of our most popular series. Let’s meet Brooklyn native Despina Konstas, PhD.
Maria A. Karamitsos: Where are you from? Tell us where you were born & raised.
Despina Konstas: I was born and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, the first-born daughter of parents who each had emigrated from Greece and met in the States. As an excited 4 year-old, I began attending nursery at Three Hierarchs Parochial School in Brooklyn only speaking Greek. The love affair with the Greek language, tradition, religion, and culture began from early on, however, I didn’t move to Greece until I was 33.
MAK: Where is your family from in Greece?
DK: My mother is from the beautiful island of Lesvos, from a town named Skala Kallonis, famous for its “sardeles.” My father is from a town outside of majestic Thessaloniki named Hrisavgi. My family would visit Greece on average once every four years in my youth, again contributing to the love affair between this beautiful country, its people and me.
MAK: Talk a little about your Greek community connections in your town, prior to leaving.
DK: I was very connected to the Greek community in Brooklyn, through our church. Throughout my childhood, our family’s weekends were filled with activities with our Greek-American community, events organized at our church. I attended Girl Scouts and played on the girl’s basketball team, while my parents volunteered and helped organize church events and fundraisers. My siblings and I joined friends at the Three Hierarchs Youth gatherings but most looked forward to the church festivals — a time of year when our mom worked hard to share all her popular pastry creations with our community.
Our Sundays were always reserved for church and Sunday School. Our family has always been so enmeshed in the Greek community helping me develop strong bonds not only with my Greek-American peers and respected elders, but more importantly a deep-rooted appreciated for our culture and the importance of preserving our traditions. These were some of the most cherished years of my life.
MAK: Did you attend university in the U.S.? Tell us about you and your career.
DK: I attended New York University where I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology.
I continued my studies at Hofstra University earning my doctorate in school and clinical psychology. During my studies at Hofstra University, I began teaching at the undergraduate level (since 2000), and have been teaching ever since. Courses included Statistics in Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Psychological Aspects of Human Sexuality, Behavior Modification.
Upon graduating with my doctorate in 2005, I was hired at Hofstra University’s Student Counseling Center as a Staff Psychologist. I had completed my clinical internship at the Counseling Center and absolutely loved working with students on various challenges such as anxiety, depression, adjustment issues, suicidal ideation. I also obtained my New York State
License and opened up a private practice on Long Island in addition to working at the Counseling Center full-time and adjunct teaching at the University.
MAK: Do you still have family in the U.S.? Do you visit them often?
DK: Yes my immediate family is in the U.S. THe include my mother, father, sister, brother and his family (my niece and nephew), my paternal grandmother, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Since starting a family here in Greece in 2013, I visit once a year on average during New Year’s.
MAK: When did you move to Greece? What precipitated the move?
DK: I moved to Greece at the end of August 2008. I was a staff psychologist working at Hofstra University’s Student Counseling Center, worked as an adjunct faculty member at the same university, and had a private office working as a clinical psychologist on Long Island. Work was amazing, however I was still single and the opportunity arose to work in Greece side-by- side with a colleague and friend. I had met while in the doctorate program in psychology. She was Greek and thus after graduation she returned to Greece. She had begun working at a young, private American university in Athens developing the psychology Bachelor’s program and called me to let me know she had been looking for someone with my qualifications to hire in Greece. I told her on the spot, “I’m coming.” At first she thought it was a joke, but I was serious. It has always been a dream of mine to live and work in Greece and since I was single, I thought it would be a great opportunity to challenge myself, my skills, by ‘jumping’ in. It was also an opportunity to build something new and meaningful like a psychology Bachelor’s and eventually Master’s degree at a university; something that was already established in the U.S. And so I was hired. I came to Greece and began my adventure.
MAK: Tell us about your work. How is it going??
DK: I am a cognitive behavioral psychologist, currently licensed both in Greece and by the State of New York. After serving the private university in the center of Athens for 8 years, I left my position as Director of Psychology Programs in order to return to basics; return to my clinical work helping one person at a time, helping them to accept themselves, offering alternative perspectives, helping them cope with anxiety, depression, and other difficulties they are facing in a very different Greek reality than the one experienced about 10 years ago. In essence, my goal is to help each person identify his/her values and goals in order to help them establish and live a life that is meaningful.
MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it easy to adjust?
DK: Initially, adjusting to life in Greece made me feel a bit like Alice from Alice in Wonderland, living in the rabbit hole where everything was very different from what I had been used to. From simple things like what medication to get from the pharmacy to more challenging matter like having to get something done in at public agency. Nonetheless, it is a valuable learning experience that I would never change for anything because it has shown me that I am able to get things done; maybe at a different pace and manner than in the U.S., but I am still able to adapt and accomplish what I need. In spite of the initial adjustment period, I have to say I really enjoy living in Greece. It truly is a dream come true.
MAK: Give a little perspective on being a Greek-American living in Greece.
DK: Being Greek-American in Greece is wonderful and I feel blessed because I have both versions of being Greek (both as part of the Diaspora as well as living in Greece). I believe this has given me the ability to bridge a sort of gap in the culture between Greeks and Greeks living abroad. Having the support of a strong Greek-American community, while adapting to life in Greece, has been critical in doing this.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
DK: The biggest challenge is the financial one. It is difficult to find employment and establish a steady salary, and in recent years many families have to make due with less. Of course on the surface it’s easy to understand why I chose to live in Greece — wonderful weather, the beautiful environment, the quality of life and food is excellent. But what has been most impactful is the one-on-one connection between people. I have seen first hand the humanity and compassion of the Greek spirit. In the most trying time of recent history (the economic recession and austerity measures), Greek people have found a way to give even when they didn’t have, because there were others in more dire situations, who needed it more. It has been a source of pride for me to witness the people of Lesvos, open their hearts and literally their homes, to refugees and give everything they can to helping others in need.
In my childhood my parents taught me to respect our small Greek-American community. In adulthood, Greeks have brought that important childhood lesson full circle, and our community of course has become global. There are many positives and negatives no matter where one chooses to live and Greece has taught me to appreciate and focus on all its positives.
MAK: Why is it important for Greeks to stay, and work through the challenges?
DK: It is worth it for Greeks to stay and work through it because Greece has so many benefits. As with myself, I have refocused on what is important to me thus improving my quality of life. Besides the beautiful weather and landscape, there is the slower life pace (in comparison to New York) and the fact that people still stop to enjoy life, the company of a friend, and a cup of coffee.
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
DK: I wish more people outside of Greece knew that Greek people are loving, compassionate, passionate, intelligent and hard-working people. I would like to emphasize hard-working. Greek people work very hard, for very many hours, possibly more than one job, sometimes for minimal compensation in order to support their families. They also rely heavily and brilliantly upon interpersonal connection, not only in their personal lives but also in their professional lives. Personal connections, eye-contact, sharing food, thoughts, drinks, and ideas are still a crucial part of successfully managing Greek life and business within it.
MAK: What can Greeks outside of Greece do to promote Greece, and to help?
DK: Come visit! Come fall in love! Come and experience Greece! Promote Greece to others as an amazing destination. Finally, contribute to non-for profit organizations designed to provide assistance to Greeks in need as well as to refugees.
Until next time…
We hope you enjoyed meeting Despina Konstas. We’ll introduce you to another Greek-American in Greece soon.
Read about other Greek-Americans in Greece:
Greek-American in Greece: Meet Entrepreneur Debbie Koutroumanos
Greek-American in Greece: Meet AWOG President Stacey Papaioannou
Greek-American in Greece: Meet Georgia Karountzou
Greek American in Greece: Meet Harry Sirounis
Greek American in Greece: Meet Event/Travel Professional Anna Goritsa
Greek American in Greece: Q&A with Attorney Effie Spilioti