Moving to Greece has been one of the biggest decisions of my life. Being half Greek, it has always been a part of me and I wanted that chance to explore that half. Many people ask me what made me decide to make my move, but truthfully, it was one of those things that found me. Before my tale begins, I want to talk about my life leading up to this point, to shed light on how I knew this was the place for me.

Growing up half-Greek is everything Joel Zwick, director of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, could only wish to portray through a heart-warming comedy. I had the luxury of knowing two worlds, one made up of American work ethic and the other on the Greek halara — an ease with which to approach life. My mother was a painter from the free world, exploring the Greek isles in the heat of summer, until she hitch-hiked her way to my rebellious Greek-speaking father, when they fell in love and exchanged love letters and took huge leaps of faith until a miracle (that’s me) arrived. 

I have been traveling to Greece since I was in my mother’s stomach, but that’s not to say I knew my lay of the land. See, Greece has it a bit rough around the edges, starting with its ever-complex and overly-conjugated language, to the everyday behaviors and limitless expressions shared between locals. I was a shy only-child, attached at my mother’s hip, which failed me in the long run because I refused to play with the village children every summer.

boats in harbor with white buildingsI actually hated going to Greece when I was young. An insane thought, but at the time I had no close friends, and all the old people would pinch my cheeks into oblivion. 

Fast forward twenty-some years later, not only have I established some solid friendships here (and developed my ability to dodge the pinching granny’s), but I have found home in a place where my younger self would only scream at the thought of going. 

I have been most familiar with the island of Samos, the greenest and most luscious of all the Greek islands. We have a house saved from generations of ancestors whose ghosts would take care of the place while we fled back to the states for winter. But before hopping over to the island, we would always spend just a few days in the sizzling city of Athens.

Now maybe I wasn’t much for island life as a kid, but there was always something about Athens. Cities in general have their own appeal because, let’s face it, there is always something buzzing in some park, club, or venue. 

Athens holds something special, though, because it is really just a city run by villagers and islanders. It is almost rare that you meet someone who claims they’re “pure” Athenian; they will always sit you down with a strong drink telling you how their father washed up from the shore of Ithaca and found their mother strolling the streets with her lady-friends in Selonica, and they decided to breed in Athens. 

If I haven’t convinced you enough, I will talk about how this half-breed American came to this not-so-foreign but not-so-well-known land, what it means to me, and what I’ve come to learn and adore so far.

swimmer in blue lagoon

I was fresh out of college, more or less, suffering from a severe case of imposter syndrome. Here I was with a solid design degree, but I didn’t feel qualified for any of the positions listed out there. Only the thought of something extreme excited me, something that would get my blood rushing and make me uncomfortable; after all, the best designers are risk-takers, says those 50-some Forbes articles. 

It was then in the Fall of 2018 that I decided to head to… China, to teach. When four head-spinning months there came to an end, I arrived on my parents’ doorstep in Greece with much idea of what had just happened. That spell abroad took me out of my own head in the way that only traveling can, and with no job or any real baggage awaiting me in America, I saw no reason to leave Greece. 

I ended up hanging out on my island a lot longer than expected, so much that I even got a job as a dishwasher at Galazio Pegadi, the Greekest restaurant of all time situated in a village high up on a mountain (and 30 steps away from my home). 

It wasn’t until October that I decided to make my way back and hang out in Athens. The island was getting rather nippy and all my friends had left their toasty Samos-summer behind them. I was lucky to have found refuge at a friends house for a couple weeks, but a couple weeks was all I had. I didn’t want to impose and I had to act fast. It was then that my friend casually dropped the news that the apartment next door was for rent for a measly 200 euros a month; something I thought only happened in the movies. With what little of my China money I had left, I moved in next door with a shelf and a borrowed bed. 

Before getting situated in Athens, one of my oldest friends sat on the beach with me, heart-wrenched on what I was going to do next. She had me flip a coin: heads, America and figure it out. Tails, Greece, and figure it out. It landed on tails. When she asked me how I felt that it didn’t land on home-bound, I said relieved. There was my answer (by the way, I strongly recommend this method for all you struggling decision-makers out there).

white-washed houses on hillJust a little over a year after moving to Greece, the struggle has been herculean — pun intended. Though I had a heart fully open to all the possibilities (and I still do), I don’t think moving anywhere new — no matter how far or familiar — is for the faint of heart. I think a little bit of my American privilege blind sided me at the beginning. When you come from a land of workaholics and wealth, downsizing to hard-working and not-so-wealthy is quite the culture shock. I was told my superb English skills and work-ethic could get me a job in no time, and even though I ended up landing a little something here I there, I mainly worked for free the majority of those first months that I was here, sending out countless applications and constantly trying to pull myself out of the self-wallowing hole of, “what the hell was I thinking,” into which I would occasionally fall.  

It’s true that Greece is recovering from an economic crisis, but I told myself I could overcome this one fact of life in order to make it in the place I wanted to be. I knew that even if people were running away, I wanted to stay and help it transform into the place I know it has the potential to be. My ultimate attraction is the easy access to some of the most beautiful islands and beaches the world has to offer. It is always just a metro or bus line until you’re on a boat, floating the same blue waters all the ancient heroes have once floated.

Besides Athens having easy access to other destinations, it is also a mecca for foodies. Yes, you have gyros and spanakopitas made by the hands of gods themselves, but there is also food from Turkey, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, China, Italy, Egypt, Morocco, and a wide variety of vegan food; and for all you vegan haters out there, let me tell you that no better vegan food is made than right here in Greece. That is because it’s a goldmine of hundreds of herbs, veggies, and oils. Greece is incredibly fertile, therefore, most (if not all) of nature’s foods are at your disposal for a very delicious price. 

It’s only been a year since moving to Greece, which may not be very long in the grand scheme of things — but so far I have learned that the opinions of others should never affect you. One of the hardest transitions has been dealing with a very opinionated culture. There is always someone who thinks they know best. These opinions would range from confidence that I seriously strayed when moving here from a rich country, to assertions that I positively should drink alcohol.

I love the Greeks for their hard work, deep love of their history, and their morals, but so many people around me are incredibly nervous and jacked up on strong coffee, that sometimes their fears get the best of them. This fear then gets projected onto you and whatever choices you make. Believe me, this was very difficult to deal with at the beginning, but I’ve learned to laugh it off and love them anyways, because in the end it’s my life to do with as I please. 

On the other hand, something else I deeply admire about the Greek people is their love of communication. They are the last culture on earth to not be helpful and friendly to someone; I’m not only talking about being lost and just asking directions, but someone in the metro will just start a banter having the entire cabin laughing. This is total village behavior, because in a village you are one big family and you realize that you all are in this life together. 

To conclude, people will always try to tear you down when they see you’re doing things they can’t or won’t do, but it’s ok to hear them out gently and soak in absolutely none of it; anyone who discouraged me from moving to Greece were all people who 1) were too afraid to take any risks, 2) have always lived according to what society has told them, or 3) still lived with their parents. And unless these are the types of lives you want to live, then these aren’t the kinds of opinions you need to take to heart.

Greece is a very rich culture, flawed like any other, but once I master my Greek language to match my name and freshly-laminated ID card, I will be claiming my title as an Athenian proudly soon enough. Athens is truly a hidden gem that has yet to be discovered by the world, with its monthly festivals and music playing in the streets, it’s a city filled with life. There’s nowhere else like it.

Any wisdom to offer about taking the chance to move abroad? Share with us on Twitter!

Share this:
Katherine Whittaker
Based in Athens, Greece, Katherine is a food editor-turned-food writer and cofounder of Uncover Mag, where she writes about how much she loves Athens. Her favorite part about traveling is eating where the locals eat, even if she doesn't always know exactly what's on her plate.