It’s time to meet another Greek-American in Greece! It’s our most popular and longest-running series. Meet a former media professional, Entrepreneur Stamatia Turner.
Q&A with Greek-American in Greece Stamatia Turner
Welcome back to our series about Greek-Americans in Greece, in which we learn about their lives in Greece. Let’s meet Stamatia “Stamie” Turner, a “military brat” now running a tour business in Greece. Read on!
Maria A. Karamitsos: Where were you born and raised? Tell us about your time there.
Stamie Turner: My American father met my beautiful Greek mother on the beach in Glyfada. He was in the military and stationed at the nearby base. They fell in love, married and inevitably, had to leave Greece for a U.S. assignment. They first settled in Tucson, AZ and then were relocated to Minot, ND, where I was born. Our family spent years living in 9 different states and 2 countries. During the Vietnam War, my father had a remote assignment in Alaska where he could not bring his family. Therefore, my mother took us to Athens, and I attended the American Community School. This was during the beginning of the Junta years. I remember our hasty departure back to the States during a middle of the night evacuation of all American personnel. Once my father began his second career, he settled our family in Greenville, SC.
MAK: Where is your family from in Greece?
ST: My mother was born in Mytilene and moved to Athens before her teenage years.
MAK: Talk a little about your Greek community connections in your town, prior to leaving.
ST: Greek community was always tough being raised in a military family. If we were lucky enough, my mother would occasionally meet other Greek women with a similar story. However, we rarely lived where there was a Greek Orthodox church or a strong community of Greeks. The exception was Tampa, where we frequented Tarpon Springs and had a few Greek neighbors. Once we settled in Greenville, SC, I was already a junior in high school. A beloved aunt and uncle who owned a Greek restaurant and had strong ties to the church kept us more active and aware of our Greek heritage. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I had an opportunity to pursue Greek School. I did so with some Greek-American neighbors and am embarrassed to say I am a Greek School drop out! Endearingly so! I did volunteer and participate in Greek Festivals in South Carolina and Florida.
MAK: Did you attend university in the US?
ST: I graduated from the College of Charleston, Charleston, SC. Coincidentally, Charleston was the port of entry for my mother when she arrived in the States. Charleston has a lovely and strong Greek community and I there, for the first time, I was able to meet and make friends with other Greek-Americans.
MAK: Tell us about you and your career.
ST: I’ve had a very diversified but mostly satisfying career path. My early 20’s were spent completing my formal education as I worked in the hospitality field of travel, resorts, and hotels. I became involved in commercial real estate for a few years worked in sales and with some great developers in the Southeast, until there was Hurricane Hugo. The hurricane devastated the primary shopping centers I represented. But real estate is always feast or famine. I was newly married and there were other transitions, so I took the time to re-evaluate career.
I found myself back in hospitality working for Club Corp. and spent a few years in the private country club and golf business. After my divorce, I became a single mother and returned to Charleston where I dabbled in a few entrepreneurial ventures, supporting myself and my daughter. I’ve always been up for an adventure and change, so I pursued law school.
With the need for financial support for my daughter and my education, I turned to media sales. After a short-lived career with PBS/NPR, I joined Cox Enterprises. The sole purpose of my new job was to get me through law school. Then I discovered I loved radio and television. I represented the major talking heads (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz, Clark Howard, and The Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team.) I was responsible for local adverting placement and event sponsorships while working with national advertising agencies, major retailers, and local businesses. As a small business consultant, working for a major media group, the perks, lifestyle, and sustainability of each kept me from finishing law school. Almost 20 years of media and agency sales developed my entrepreneurial spirit and I found myself seeking a different lifestyle for the 3rd season of my life. I retired my media life.
MAK: What did you do next?
ST: I founded a small tour and travel business, called Her Dream Vacation, in 2013. It’s a women-only tour company catering to escorting small groups of women traveling together. For women who are traveling solo who want the security of traveling with a small group, it is a perfect niche. Tours through Europe, India, Morocco, South Africa, and of course, Greece! It has been such a pleasure to introduce people to Greece, that I’ve recently started a tour/travel company for families, couples, and singles who want to visit Greece on their own. Athenian Adventures: Athens and Beyond, offers planning and concierge travel services. There are tours with licensed guides to historical sites, day trips to islands, food and wine tours, and other local handcrafted experiences.
MAK: When did you move to Greece? What precipitated the move?
ST: My mother passed away in 2012 just began pursuing my Greek citizenship. After her death, I formalized a plan to be in Athens no later than 2013. But what I thought of as family obligations, kept me in South Carolina until finally, in 2017, I made my dream a reality. I am so glad to be able to honor my mother by living in her beautiful country.
MAK: Do you still have family in the US? Do you visit often?
ST: I have a great family of friends in the States and my business is based there. So, I try to travel home at least twice a year. Living in Greece opens a whole new genre of friend visits! it has been a revolving door of fabulous visits from friends.
MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it easy to adjust?
ST: I LOVE living in Greece. I feel as if I’m “walking in my mother’s shoes” — that will be the title of my book! It is very eye-opening to be on the other end of what my mother must have experienced as a young bride arriving in the U.S. with basic English, no family or friends. She was always misunderstood and challenged. I find myself in some of those same situations. My Greek has improved but I still understand much more than I speak. I use that to my advantage and often, for good reason. Adjusting has been easy because I visited Greece through my life and grew up in with a Greek family. I knew mostly what to expect. I understand the dynamics which leave so many other ex-pats shaking their heads. What I miss most is the networking, my previous social life, and my true friends. I said if I could make it through the first year, I would get a dog. I have a dog named Eros to his Greek friends, and Elvis to everyone else!
MAK: How’s your business doing since the move?
ST: My women-only tour business has grown, and I find myself leading tours almost every 6 weeks, in and around Europe. My local tour business has only been word of mouth but 2019 promises to keep me busy! The website will be completed in a few weeks and I receive word of mouth bookings daily.
MAK: Give a little perspective on being a Greek-American in Greece.
ST: I had no expectations, and didn’t wanted an American lifestyle, but I didn’t realize how difficult some things would be. The bureaucracy of living in Greece is sometimes overwhelming. I find myself laughing at some of the inefficiencies, lack of collaboration and general chaotic trials of getting everyday business in order. I feel like I am always met with suspicion: “Why in the world would you leave the States to live here?” It is such a common question at the grocery store, in a taxi cab, or sitting in a taverna. I understand. As a child, a teenager and even as an adult, I envied my Greek cousins who had the big family dinners, relationships, and gatherings for the holidays. I always felt so removed from having the “big Greek family.” Since I have been here, the perceptions, misunderstandings, jealousies, and greed are disconcerting. My American side is blunt. I speak my mind, move on, and deal in trust and truth. But I’m here for the philotimo I always believed I would experience.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
ST: It is now home. I honestly believe I should have made Greece my home much earlier in my life. I love my daily routine, the weekly laiki at my doorstep, and the opportunities to learn more about my heritage.
MAK: Why is it important for Greeks to stay, and work through it?
ST: Unfortunately, the crisis has left many local Greeks wanting the way of life that many of their second generation Greek-American relatives and/or friends experienced. But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The foundation of this beautiful country and culture needs to be preserved for future generations. There is a great need to protect the culture, lifestyle, and language. The changing face of Greece extends throughout Europe. Let’s not lose the heritage and legacy by encouraging young people to leave. Educational opportunities and jobs are here. There is so much more positive than negative. The blessing for the Greeks is a silver lining and they need to look for it. I am impassioned by the creativity, as I’ve experienced Greece in survival mode. What an amazing feat! I hope it is recognized and the Greeks keep on keepin’ on!
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
ST: Hospitality. Greeks are kind and generous for the most part. People should understand and accept the hospitality when visiting. And appreciate that Greece is so much more than the islands. My biggest pet peeve is travelers who use Athens as a springboard to someplace else without spending time getting to know the city. It is an amazing city with so many different cultural offerings.
MAK: What can Greeks outside of Greece do to promote Greece, and to help?
ST: It is Important to be discerning when listening to the news. I believe things are good. Look for the good. It is always a surprise to me that many with Greek heritage have never been to Greece. I encourage Greek-Americans to support their heritage. Travel to Greece, learn and experience what they have always dreamed and heard about. Not just to their own horio, but to other parts of Greece, too. Support the locals, buy local, experience local! There is so much to be proud of and I am proud my blood runs Greek!
Meet another Greek-American in Greece soon!
Many thanks to Stamie Turner for sharing her story. Meet another Greek-American in Greece soon!
Read more in our Greek-American in Greece series:
Greek-American in Greece: Meet Susan Krajniak [Q&A]
Greek-American in Greece: Entrepreneur & Health Coach Maria Michalakopoulou [Q&A]
Greek-American in Greece: Meet Maria Fragkou a.k.a. “Athena Marie” [Q&A]