Our most popular series continues in 2018! Let’s meet another Greek-American in Greece! Read about L.A. native Peter Kakoudakis.
Q&A with Greek-American in Greece Peter Kakoudakis
Our longest-running and most popular series is back! Let’s meet another Greek-American in Greece, Los Angeles native Peter Kakoudakis, an entrepreneur & inventor.
Maria A. Karamitsos: Where were you born and raised? Tell us about your time there.
Peter Kakoudakis: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA to two Greek parents who left for a better life abroad. Through my father who was a Mechanical Engineer in Aerospace for all the big name companies, I learned the essence of technical information and he really inspired me to explore science. My mother held together the family as well as the family business which was self-serve laundry houses. I have been working since the age of nine in the aforementioned business and I was the hands-on mechanic. Through tinkering with machines it got my interest going in mechanics and classic cars.
MAK: Where is your family from in Greece?
PK: My parents are both from Metaxourgeio. They lived down the street from each other in the old days, Kolonos. My father’s heritage stems from Anogia, Crete as well as Egypt (his father and mother respectively). My mother’s mother was from Nisyros and my mother’s father was from Naxos. I have visited all of these places, except for Egypt, although it is on my bucket list.
MAK: Talk a little about your Greek community connections in your town, prior to leaving.
PK: I honestly didn’t have any. I never dated Greek girls while living in the U.S. and the closest I came to church activities was summer camp with St. Sophia for two weeks, at Lake Arrowhead, CA. I was invited back as a camp counselor but I was already working for FedEx and couldn’t swing it. I wasn’t a church kid, but I know there is a higher force at work that we aren’t going to comprehend anytime soon.
MAK: Did you attend university in the U.S.? Tell us about you and your career.
PK: I studied in private schools as many other kids did, as my parents wanted a better education for their children — better than what they had available for themselves at the time. I attended Cal State Long Beach but I dropped out…I couldn’t focus on school, after losing my brother. I did, however, attend the University of Phoenix while living in Greece. It was a personal goal that I completed in 2012, earning a Bachelor of Science in Management and Communications. Back to the nitty gritty, I was working part-time while juggling the family business but relationships of a familial, personal, and business nature took my entire day. I entered the real world and began working at FedEx as a Material Handler, evolved into Aircraft Operations and being a Loadmaster. Still wanting to climb the corporate ladder, I became a courier. I remained with FedEx for almost 9 years, I took much of that workplace ethic with me in everything that I do.
MAK: Do you still have family in the U.S.? Do you visit often?
PK: Nope. I am all that is left of my circle. I return to the U.S. every so often. My parents unfortunately passed away last year, my mother from Stage 4 Lymphoma and my father from congestive heart failure — 45 days apart. I had quit my job to take care of them both, practically living in hospitals and clinics all over Attiki, because that is how I was raised. We take care of our own.
MAK: When did you move to Greece? What precipitated the move?
PK: My brother had been sick from birth; Greeks are no stranger to the disease. He passed away at the age of 26 from Mesogeiaki Anemia, (Beta Thalassemia), when I had just graduated high school. Doctors told him he wouldn’t make it past 16. I took it for granted when I thought he would be my buddy for life. Unfortunately a medical blunder was made and he didn’t survive it. Despite that loss, I stayed close to home and kept an eye on my parents. I’d injured my back lifting over 6,000 lbs a day repetitively. My parents wanted to move since 1988 but they wanted my brother to have the best medical care, so they remained in L.A. I moved to Greece on July 5, 2005. I really had no intention of staying long-term. My parents decided to move and I wished them well. They needed help with construction of their dream home for their retirement. I took a binding contract with my father for two years. The two years turned into four ,and that tripled into twelve years.
MAK: What kind of work do you do? How’s it going?
PK: Right now I work for myself and do blueprinting work and prototypes. This goes back to my father instilling science in me. I took an interest in 3-D printing being that I loved Legos as a child and I really wanted to go into the field of Robotics but I couldn’t get too far from home because of the climate, and with the loss of a sibling. I am a single father of two German Shepherds and I am creating an automated water filtration system for animals. I am focused on completing it and sending the prototypes for both EU and U.S. patent certification. I have no reservations. I do what I love and I get to live in a nice country as a bonus.
MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it easy to adjust?
PK: I didn’t like it at first; it was quite the culture shock. I lived in the center of Athens for six months and I packed my bags four times. I didn’t like the noise, the hustle & bustle, mopeds going by at 2 am when you are trying to sleep. It was crazy. I didn’t have any friends here. Eventually through MySpace (blast from the past right?!?!) I met some people from a group who called themselves Greek Mutts and some of them I still keep in contact with today, almost 12 years later, and we have accepted each other as if we were siblings. I came right at the end of the good era.
MAK: Give a little perspective on being a Greek-American in Greece.
PK: Being a Greek-American in Greece, you’re highly sought after, people want to meet you. Especially in the dating scene, people wanted to learn about the culture, more so than seeing it on the silver screen. More often than not the Greek-Americans you will find here are from the Midwest or Eastern seaboard. It is rare that you find a kid from Los Angeles in Greece. Lately, there is an anti-American sentiment based loosely on the precipice that the Americans are to blame for the current disarray of affairs. When I network and meet people in the various events that I attend, there is a bit of an animosity when they find I’m from the U.S. Personally, I don’t care. I was raised where I was and I had benefits that differed from theirs. I am envious of them because they saw what Greece was like in the 70s and 80s. The scene here must have been crazy. I wish that Greeks could go back to the happy times of those decades and embrace their culture because I think many have forgotten what it means to be Hellenic. The further you distance yourself from metropolitan cities, I can only speak of Athens and Patra, you see the “real” Greeks. Cretan Hellenes are some of the most genuine Greeks you will ever meet, as well as the Greeks on the island of Karpathos. I mention Karpathos because my good friend that I met when I first moved here has accepted me into her family as one of their own and I make new friends there every time I visit.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
PK: Greece is a beautiful country even with the current affairs. Right now it is winter. I have a beautiful sun blazing down on me, the weather is warm, the birds are flying around. I have a port 15 minutes away and can go to the islands this weekend or I can go 20 minutes to the airport and pick an international destination. I love to travel and Greece is my hub. I have been to Cyprus, Dubai, and Turkey. Next year I plan on bringing friends with me from the U.S. to travel to Ireland, Czech Republic, and Poland. I know there are financial woes here but I go back to the knowledge that I didn’t create this mess. I pay my taxes like everyone else. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy this country like they did in the decades past.
MAK: Why is it important for Greeks to stay, and work through it?
PK: It isn’t about Greeks staying and working through it. If you love the country you are in, support it. Be part of your community. If you feel your life would be better elsewhere, go. Nothing is stopping you except yourself. If we go with the idea that we should only stay where we are, my father would never have left Greece in the 1960sto follow his dream into aerospace. Many of my friends who have left Greece have done it for financial reasons and that is where they falter. Follow your dream, not your wallet. When you base your life on money instead of passion, you lose because nowhere is good enough.
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
PK: Greece is still Greece. She has been here for thousands of years, she has her highs and her lows. Right now she is in her middle. I don’t think the low will be reached until 2019. Greeks outside of this country need to realize that this is not the country you see in vintage films, though sometimes I wish it were. When you think Greece, do not think Athens — associated with rioting, turmoil, and unemployment. Greece is so much more than the negative aspects that play a role in their daily lives and which the media portrays.
MAK: What can Greeks outside of Greece do to promote Greece, and to help?
PK: You should still come and see the islands, visit your family, and make new friends. There is a beauty here unparalleled by anything in the U.S. If you offered me a plane ticket to the U.S or Peloponnese or Thessaloniki, I would choose to travel within Greece. So much to do here and it is a melting pot in the summer months with travelers looking for a beach and a coffee.
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