Welcome back to our most popular & longest-running series, Greek-American in Greece! This month, meet Travel + Leisure A-List Travel Advisor Mina Agnos, a Kansas City Greek.
Q&A with Greek-American in Greece Mina Agnos
Greek-American in Greece is back! Let’s meet a Kansas City Greek living and working in Athens. Introducing… Entrepreneur and Travel + Leisure A-List Travel Advisor, Mina Agnos!
Maria A. Karamitsos: Where were you born and raised? Tell us about your time there.
Mina Agnos: I was born and raised in Kansas City, MO. At the time, the city was not that diverse and it was relatively uncommon to be in an immigrant family that spoke a second language. The Greek community was relatively small in comparison to other cities in the U.S., but it was, and remains, very tight-knit. I always felt that the city was small and as a child, planned my life in a larger place in the world. New York City was my goal. After living there for 10 years, I made my home in Greece.
MAK: Where is your family from in Greece?
MA: My family has roots in a few places. My father’s side of the family is from Tripolis. My mom was born and raised in Athens with a mother from Ikaria and a father from Kalamata. I’ve spent time in all of these places, but when it comes to Greece, home for me is Athens.
MAK: Talk a little about your Greek community connections in your town, prior to leaving.
MA: Kansas City has a small Greek community although we do have two churches. The community is quite connected, not unlike any horio in Greece. Everyone knows everyone else, and information is spread quickly (without the need for social media). I grew up speaking Greek(lish), attending Greek school, and dancing in the Greek Dance troupe. When I return to Kansas City, I find it incredibly comforting to find the community relatively unchanged. There are new people, and some of the old ones have left us, but the sense of community remains.
MAK: Did you attend university in the US?
MA: During my 2nd year of college, I went to Athens as a study abroad student. I loved the experience so much that I stayed, and graduated from the University of La Verne, Athens Campus.
I completed my master’s degree in tourism from NYU in August 2001.
MAK: Tell us about your work.
MA: After 9/11, the tourism industry really suffered. I started Travelive, a luxury travel company, that fall. I had not necessarily set out to become an entrepreneur, but it was a time when there were no other options in terms of real employment with a visible career path in my industry.
We have become a recognized leader in luxury travel to Greece and other Mediterranean destinations, including Italy, Spain, Turkey, and Egypt.
Since opening our office in Athens in 2008, we have had unique challenges that have changed yearly. We experienced the economic crisis in the U.S., to the riots following the death of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, the political issues, and most recently the economic crisis, capital controls, austerity measures, refugees, and resulting strikes. All of these played in the international media, tarnishing the image of Greece. Despite these challenges, business has continued to grow and flourish.
I believe that when you love what you do — and you work hard at it every day — the success follows and that has been the case. Since coming to Greece, we have had great success. I have been named a top travel specialist for Greece by Travel + Leisure Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, and Town & Country Magazine. Travelive has become a preferred on-site travel provider for some of the most prestigious travel agency consortia in the U.S., including Virtuoso, the Signature Travel Network, and Ensemble Travel.
This year Greece saw a dramatic increase in visitor arrivals and business has been very good.
MAK: When did you move to Greece? What precipitated the move?
MA: I moved back to Greece in 2008 at the age of 33. My decision to do so was both for business and personal reasons.
My company was doing a lot of business in Greece. We wanted to open a local office to support the incoming new business in Greece.
In addition, my kids were 2 and 5 years old at the time. I thought Greece would be a wonderful place for them to grow up.
MAK: Do you still have family in the US? Do you visit often?
MA: My parents and brothers remain in Kansas City and I try to visit at least once a year. My business is headquartered in Boca Raton, FL, so I do spend a lot of time in the U.S. each year.
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MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it easy to adjust?
MA: Living in Greece has been a dream for me. I live on the Athenian Riviera, near the sea. My office is in Voula. Experiencing 250 days of sunshine per year is wonderful. Greece is stunning and there is an exuberance that abounds.
There are a lot of social and cultural adjustments that I make as I travel back and forth, between the U.S. and Greece, but I don’t find the adjustment difficult. I enjoy having the opportunity to live my life between two countries that I absolutely love.
MAK: Give a little perspective on being a Greek-American living in Greece.
MA: The biggest issue that I come across is that difference in nootropia — the mentality and expectations are completely different.
Coming from the U.S., I have expectations in terms of how to get things done and how I interact with people that I don’t know. Those expectations are usually never met in Greece. I avoid dealing with the public sector personally as I find it incredibly aggravating. In a country like the U.S. smiling and common courtesies are the norm. In Greece, oftentimes they’re misunderstood. I often get odd looks for things like saying hello to strangers or stopping for pedestrians.
As a business owner working with an American customer base, hiring and retaining employees for our Athens office is my greatest challenge. Relations between employers and employees in Greece are historically tense and the sense of urgency (or lack thereof) is very different. In the American work environment, relationships are more casual and urgency and prioritization are key. It can be a difficult mindset to cultivate.
On the other hand, as an American who has lived in Kansas City, NYC, and Boca Raton, I relish in the environment, the weather, the sunshine, and the views. Greece is a gorgeous country that inspires at every turn. It can be hard for someone who grew up in Athens to really appreciate the views of the Acropolis as you drive into the city center, or the stunning blue as you drive through limanakia between Vouliagmeni and Varkiza. These are things that give me joy every day.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
MA: I feel as though I am living my dream and would not choose to live anywhere else right now.
MAK: Why is it important for Greeks to stay, and work through it?
MA: Staying in Greece and rebuilding a strong foundation for future success is the only way to work out of a crisis. Like every obstacle, working through it and finding sustainable solutions is what makes you stronger — and where survival comes from. When things get hard, you need to fix them, not go where things are easier.
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
MA: People outside of Greece should know that the media does not tell the whole story, specifically of the Greek people and the everyday reality of what life is like. I often find guests surprised at the optimism and filoxenia they experience when they travel through Greece.
I encourage everyone to get to know the story of the Greek people and their country. Talk to Greek-Americans and people who have visited recently. Budget allowing, I would encourage them to visit Greece and experience the country and its people for themselves.
MAK: What can Greeks outside of Greece do to promote Greece, and to help?
MA: They can keep it positive. Greek-Americans love Greece, but they can sometimes propagate a sense of negativity. On numerous trips to the U.S., I have had Greek-Americans tell me that they don’t understand why I would live in Greece where “nothing works” and where the “system is broken” or there is “no cooperation.”
It’s so important to remember that every country — even the U.S. — has its good and bad. There is a lot of good to focus on in Greece, and focusing on those good things can really help to bring Greece back strong.
I encourage Greek-Americans to promote Greece, encourage people to consider visiting, support Greek businesses, purchase Greek products, and to support Greece as a nation.