I never set out to be an ‘interculturalist’. As a ‘mature’ student (mature? In my 30’s?), I studied International Relations with Sociology in the UK and quickly realized that in order to integrate into and fully understand a culture, I would have to live somewhere where not a lot of tourists go…I decided that teaching English would be the best way to do this and in 2008, I secured my first teaching role in a remote Greek village on the mainland. As the only foreigner, I was thrown in at the deep end, learning the nuances and quirks of Greek village life as well as the ups and downs of the students within my care.
I would not have envisaged that 10 years later, I’d still be in Greece. I wouldn’t have even envisaged that this initial role would migrate into an interest in Interculturalism.
Greece, to me, is the cradle of the universe. It’s certainly known as the ‘navel of the world’ – Delphi and the Temple of Apollo literally known as this….ironically my school was located very near the ancient site of Delphi…maybe it was fate.
Its geopolitical location makes it a very interesting country to be based for a scholar of International Relations: it’s on the periphery of Europe, a bridge to the Middle and Near East. It’s been invaded more times than I care to count, making for a potted history and shaping the Greeks’ DNA. After all, an individual’s past shapes their present and makes them who they are – why not apply the same on a country level? Nurture, not nature – right?
As we all know, 2008 was the start of the global financial crisis. In Europe, Greece was made the scapegoat: ‘Greeks are lazy’, ‘Greeks retire too young and I don’t see why my country should fund their lifestyle’, ‘Greeks don’t pay their taxes’, all of these comments, and more, were thrown at me when I told people I lived in Greece – it’s amazing how quickly people judge, without knowing the real facts…I blame the tabloid media.
As this was not my experience of a country I had come to love, I set about trying to present my own version of Greece, through my travel site www.lifebeyondbordersblog.com Fast forward to 2012 and I was receiving emails, mainly from Americans. I do not know to this day what they were seeing on their news channels, but the Subject lines would scream; Advice Needed Please – Is Greece Safe?!
What were they being told? OK, 2012 was the year of bad riots in Athens as the financial crisis came to a head, but it certainly wasn’t a place to avoid on your vacation. I realized how important my work on my site was for reaching out to people – about ‘selling’ Greece as a destination more than its aesthetic beauty. I wanted to promote Greece’s people, the culture that was so different to my own, yet I managed to have seamlessly fit into it; all the family gathered in the village square drinking coffee, the lack of a beer or alcohol culture, teenagers respectful of elders, not feeling afraid walking the streets at night – all this was new to me. Even my neighbour cooking dinner for me because she worried I would not eat, living alone.
This was the Greece I wanted to promote to people. And so my debut novel Girl Gone Greek was born and published in 2015. It was written as a novel, not memoir but based on a fictionalized version of myself – about a woman teaching English in a remote village and the Greek characters she comes across, how they help her ‘heal’ (everyone has a back story, right?), how a country, despite its struggles and being labeled the lazy and poor man of Europe still had filoxenia in spades – a phrase indicative to the Greeks and translated as ‘kindness to strangers’. Filoxenia is not something you can pinpoint exactly, you have to experience it to realise you’ve been subject to it. And it’s an honour when you do.
And so I find myself becoming ever more defensive of my host nation as the crisis deepens. As the concept of the EU is thrown into doubt, I find myself questioning whether culture was ever taken into consideration and respected at an EU level, because cultural differences should be celebrated, not eroded. Greeks should not be considered lazy because they have a siesta, for example. Countries operate differently because of their history, their traditions and, most importantly, their climate.
I find myself – through literature and travel writing – championing the differences of culture and hoping to reach people and getting them to appreciate the differences of culture.
She has lived in Greece for 10 years and divides her time between her native Britain and Greece, enjoying the positives of both countries. She is an English Language trainer, student counselor, travel writer for publications such as Rough Guides and the Telegraph and a strong proponent of understanding between nations through Intercultural training, an area she hopes to become more involved in. Head to her site to find out more about her , her social media and Linked In links and contact for Intercultural collaborations.