We’re back with our most popular series, Greek-American in Greece! Meet up with this Chicago-born Greek, and find out all about her adventures.
Q&A with Greek-American in Greece Valerie Alexopoulos
Time to learn about another Greek-American in Greece! This time we caught up with Chicago native Valerie Alexopoulos. Find out about the Chicago priest who was a beloved mentor. Let’s meet her!
Maria A. Karamitsos: Where were you born and raised? Tell us about your time there.
Valerie Alexopoulos: I was born and raised in Chicago. When I was in 4th Grade, my family and I relocated to Amaliada, Greece. Both of my parents immigrated from Greece, and that was their attempt to return permanently to their homeland. It didn’t work out, and a year later we moved back to Chicago. Then I attended Koraes Elementary School of SS Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Palos Hills, IL where I got involved with GOYA and its activities. I played on the GOYA volleyball and basketball teams throughout high school too. Father Byron was an amazing person and very important in shaping my life.
MAK: Where is your family from in Greece?
VA: Amaliada and Keramidia in Ilias (west Peloponnesos); and Filiates, Agios Nikolaos, and Igoumenitsa in Epirus.
MAK: Do you still have family in the U.S.? Do you visit often?
VA: Yes, plus my Godparents, and many friends. I used to visit quite often while working at The American College of Greece (ACG) for business and would combine those trips to see them. However, currently my work does not take me to the States, and it has been 5 years since I made my last trip.
MAK: Did you attend university in the U.S.? Tell us about you and your career.
VA: I earned my undergraduate degree in Psychology at ACG in Athens. Initially, I went there for one year as a Study Abroad student, but I found the quality of the school to be an exceptional value compared to U.S. schools of that caliber, and ended up completing my degree there. Upon graduation, I moved back to the States and earned an MBA at Southern Illinois University. After that I worked for Nordstrom and Banana Republic in retail management. My last position in the States was with McGraw-Hill Higher Education, in marketing. While working at McGraw-Hill, I was offered a position with ACG and moved back to Greece in 2005, where I have remained since. I was employed at ACG for 6 years and during that time, I completed my 2nd Masters degree (MS in Marketing). Currently, I do event management, communications, public relations, and administrative work.
MAK: Tell us briefly about your decision to move to Greece.
VA: My parents, now retired and older, are still going back and forth between the 2 countries because they are always feeling torn between them. I find this to be a very tiring and restless way of life, and one that I did not want for myself. I wanted to pick one country and stay there. For me, this choice was Greece because the lifestyle fit closer to my values and interests.
MAK: How do you like living in Greece? Was it easy to adjust?
VA: I do generally enjoy it, though as is expected the economic crisis here has really made things difficult. The cost of living is very high, taxes keep making everything more expensive every year, and especially when you compare these costs to the salaries offered, it is hard. Also, there are a lot of people here that are really suffering even for the basics, and unless you are totally heartless, it makes you feel sad. For me, it was easy to adjust, because I had lived in Greece prior to making this last move. I speak Greek fluently too, and that is important to an easy transition.
MAK: You’re an outdoor enthusiast. Many people don’t think of Greece as a destination for hiking or outdoor adventures (with the exception of the beach). Talk about this, and why Greece is the perfect place for this.
VA: Really, I could write a book on the subject! You are totally correct in what you say about most people thinking only of the beach or tourist type activities to do here. But, if you like outdoor activities, Greece is the place to be! Really, you can do it all here. And the spots are unbelievable. Climbing in Meteora, hiking Mt. Olympus and a plethora of mountains. There’s also rafting, kayaking, sailing the beautiful Aegean Sea. You’ll also find snowboarding and skiing on amazing slopes. Then there’s windsurfing, surfing, and Stand Up Paddle in breathtaking beaches. I can go on and on. Greece is very unique in that it has all the terrains available — sea and mountains — but at the same time, the distances are short to get to them. From my house in an Athens suburb, I can be at the beach in 20 minutes, on the mountain (Parnitha) in 45 minutes, or in downtown city center in 15 minutes. I can’t think of many major urban metropolises that offer something similar.
You can summit Mt. Olympus at 9,570 ft and on the same day be down at the beach seaside having a coffee and relaxing after your climb. Also, many of the mountains actually have a view of the sea, which is unique. You could be mountain climbing with snow all around you, while you look down to see the sea below — this combination of snow and sea in the same view is something that absolutely wows our Northern European friends who visit.
MAK: Give a little perspective on being a Greek-American living in Greece.
VA: Being Greek-American, I do find that I am different from the locals. I’ve seen things done differently in the States, both in the workplace and in everyday life. That alone gives you a different perspective. The differences, for example, in technology are profound — in customer service and marketing, and in innovation. Overall though, even when I do not agree or think of things in the same way as a local might, I can still understand them. The system of bureaucracy and lack of meritocracy in Greece has never done anything to reward innovators. In fact, the opposite holds true. So I can understand why things are the way the are. The mechanisms are not in place to promote that type of thinking. Period. The good news is with the crisis, some in the private sector have been forced to think outside of the box — a sink or swim situation. So you do see more innovate thinkers out there.
MAK: With all the challenges, why do you stay in Greece?
VA: Well, now I’ve been here 12 years, therefore, it is not an easy decision to make such a big move. However, it is something I do consider sometimes.
MAK: Why is it important for Greeks to stay, and work through it?
VA: It’s important because otherwise the country will just suffer even more “Brain Drain” — its best and brightest leaving to find better opportunities.
MAK: What should people outside of Greece know?
VA: The thing for them to know is that Greece is an amazing place to visit. I say this because a) it is true, and b) tourism helps the economy, and hence, the people who live here.
MAK: What can Greeks outside of Greece do to promote Greece, and to help?
VA: Really, if they can visit, I think the experience will be great, and if they can then tell their friends about how great it was, this positive word of mouth will be help. Generally, I encourage Greeks abroad to promote the idea of visiting Greece to others. I will give you an example: the Authentic Marathon should be on every runner’s “bucket list”. It’s the actual route of the historic Marathon, 42 km from Marathon city all the way to downtown Athens. The finish is at the Panathenaic Stadium, where the 1st modern Olympic Games were held and the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. I actually ran this Marathon (THE Marathon), and it was a life experience! So, all you Greeks out there, please let all your runner friends from all over the world about it, and tell them to come and run it soon!
Also, on a more strategic level… I think the most important goal for Greek citizens living abroad should be to petition more effectively for the right to vote in Greek elections. This will most likely cause a monumental progressive shift in Greek politics as expatriate Greeks would demand more progressive reforms and stronger institutions, as opposed to the various special interests that are currently over-represented in the Greek political system. Finally, they should try to strengthen expatriate organizations which can lobby more effectively in favor of Greek interests abroad.
Meet another Greek-American in Greece soon!
Because we’re all connected/related somehow, in case you were wondering, Valerie is the niece of the late Dr. George Alexopoulos.
Thanks, Val! We’ll feature another Greek-American in Greece very soon.
Meet more Greek-Americans in Greece: