Next up in “Greek-American in Greece”, our longest-running and most popular series, meet Michigan native Susan Krajniak.
Q&A with Greek-American in Greece Susan Krajniak
Welcome back, to Greek-American in Greece, where we profile a Greek-American who is living and working in Greece. We hope you’re enjoying learning about them as much as we area! Let’s meet Michigan native, Susan Krajniak!
Maria A. Karamitsos: Where were you born and raised? Tell us about your time there.
Susan Krajniak: I was born in Roseville, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. I was married at 21 and divorced at 44, with two amazing kids. I have a very large family, and many friends, and have always been very social. After I was married, my husband and I moved to northern Michigan, where both of my children were born, so I had to make a new life, and friends there. Later I settled in Grosse Pointe Park. Basically, I lived my entire life in Michigan until I moved to Greece, at the age of 47!
MAK: Where is your family from in Greece?
SK: I’m Greek from my mother’s side. Her father comes from the Island of Naxos. My mom’s mom was born in the U.S., the daughter of immigrants from Sparta. I like to say, “I’m a tough island girl.” My grandfather left Greece at 13 years old — in 1911 – so there really is no close family. When my mom and oldest sister visited, we went to my grandfather’s village, at the top of the mountain on Naxos. It was amazing. I was surprised to find so many people there with my grandfather’s surname.
MAK: Talk a little about your Greek community connections in your town, prior to leaving.
SK: When I was young, our church, St. Nicholas, was located in downtown Detroit, but later moved to Troy. We used to have HUGE Greek picnics, where the dancing was done in a big wooden gazebo. I remember, at around 4 years old, I was in awe of the people dancing. Sometimes, they would grab me, and I would dance with them. Those are some of my fondest memories. I had quite a few Greek friends where I lived, before moving to Greece. I always loved my Greek-ness!
MAK: Did you attend university in the US? Tell us about you and your career.
SK: I didn’t go to university. As I graduated from high school in 1977, it was more about ‘on the job training’. I worked as a bookkeeper, office manager, and then finally worked many years as a nanny. I love working with children.
MAK: When did you move to Greece? What precipitated the move?
SK: I arrived in Greece April 4, 2007, to live. I came with two friends in June 2006. We were on the bus going from the airport to the hotel. I looked out the window, tears came to my eyes, and said to myself “I’m realizing my life’s dream, and now it’s over. No! It just began!” I told my friends later at dinner that night, that I was moving here! They asked if I was crazy, but 10 months later I did. There were a few bets going on with my friends on how long I would live here, but I’ve outlived all of them.
MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it easy to adjust?
SK: I LOVE living here! It wasn’t so hard for me to adjust. I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, and always loved people, cultures, landscapes, etc. And, then the fact that I was actually living in Greece — I think I glowed the first couple years. Even after 11-1/2 years, I sometimes still can’t believe I live here. The life here is just that — life! Here, it’s all about family, food, sunshine, the sea; and the nights never end! Greeks ‘work to live’, not ‘live to work’. It’s a bit chaotic, random, and spontaneous. Some people can’t seem to live with that lifestyle. I cherish it. he bureaucracy isn’t so easy to deal with, and believe me, I’ve shed some tears over dealings with them. However, the good outweighs the bad, and my Spartan blood keeps me tough!
MAK: Do you still have family in the US? Do you visit often?
SK: All of my family is in the U.S. My two kids, mom, four sisters, and many nieces and nephews. I moved here completely on my own. Visiting is always nice, though I don’t have a pattern in which I visit. At first, I was going once a year or so, then the times would be more spread out. The longest I spent without visiting my family was two years. Now that I’m semi-retired, I will spend a bit more time. I will spend November/December there this year. Next year, my son will get married, I will go for June/July.
MAK: Tell us what kind of work you do. How’s it going?
SK: I’ve worked as a tutor, then a full-time nanny, and now back to tutoring. Working here as a nanny has its challenges. Many of the families hire me because I come from the U.S. They want the nanny to teach the kids the language, manners, and good morals. With too many of the families — and many of us who have worked here as nanny’s agree — after we’re with the kids all day, teaching them our way of life, the parents come home and completely do the opposite! The cultures between us are different in so many ways. Now that I’m semi-retired, I’m working about 12 hours per week, with three families. I may pick up another family after the new year. I prefer this work over nannying. Mainly because it’s different kids, different days, and it’s interesting seeing how each child catches on to the English language. I work through creative play, so it’s even more fun!
MAK: Give a little perspective on being a Greek-American living in Greece.
SK: Many times, I’ve been told that Greek people don’t like Americans. This is completely untrue. I’ve even been told by some Canadians, that I should put a Canadian pin, or flag on my coat, backpack, etc., so they think I’m Canadian. I would never do that! There have even been instances that different Ministry offices see my blue passport and let me in front of all others who are waiting! Years ago, I was told by some Greeks, that they don’t like Americans, though they like me! haha I don’t hear that anymore.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
SK: I AM Greek! My blood runs Greek! I truly can’t imagine living anywhere else in the world. Through the challenges I’ve had here, I sometimes have thought it might be easier to live somewhere else, though each time I have this thought I know I don’t want to live anywhere but Greece.
MAK: Why is it important for Greeks to stay, and work through it?
SK: There have been many Greeks who have left Greece since the financial crisis started. It has been tough for many people here. In some cases, it seems as if the expats want to stay, and the Greeks leave. There seems to be quite a few Greeks, who left, though now have returned. It’s hard for many Greeks to live outside of Greece. The crisis isn’t over, though the Greeks are very resilient. Now there seems to be an upswing in Athens.
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
SK: Greece is such an amazing country! It’s absolutely beautiful — not only on the islands, mainland Greece is beautiful as well. There’s mountains, sea, sun! The sea and all the colors that you see are unimaginable. We have sunshine most days of the yea. You can also snow ski here. Then there’s the food — need I say more? Greeks are very welcoming, kind, and generous. It’s affordable, crime is low, and you can walk safely all times of night and day. Life is lived here, and you can feel it’s energy!
MAK: What can Greeks outside of Greece do to promote Greece, and to help?
SK: Tourism is definitely a very good way to help. Supporting the shops, tavernas, cafes, restaurants, and going to see the museums and sites. With social media, it’s quite easy to promote Greece, so spread the word! I don’t think there is a bad photo you can take here. Even the street art is amazing!
Meet another Greek-American in Greece soon!
Many thanks to Susan Krajniak for sharing her story. Meet another Greek-American in Greece soon!
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