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Friday, 1 September 2017

As things stand today: An appraisal of Greek neo-immigration to the UK

When someone was typing, someone else was listening:
"If only we could all find ourselves where we feel well, or feel well wherever we may find ourselves. There's no point trying to convince someone about what we are going through." 

If you look into the reasons Greek people give for leaving Greece, you will often find that recent Greek immigrants speak of their country in a very ambivalent way. At the same time as telling you that Greece is ‘the best country in the world’, they will also denounce Greece for her low levels of meritocracy, education and healthcare, not to mention the high unemployment rate that has been plaguing the country for the last decade. But they may also admit that their adopted countries' healthcare and education services are not as good as they had expected, albeit in a different way to Greece’s. Corruption is also mentioned as a serious issue thwarting development in Greece; but Greeks abroad also realise that there are traces of corruption - albeit less visible - in their adopted countries too. In other words, societies are very similar the world over. Plus, most people like to complain about their lot. Immigration is not necessarily the answer to our problems.

At the same time, while immigration has never been easier in contemporary history, it is now under threat as governments around the world try to curb the number of newcomers arriving to their country. While some people never get the chance to reach their ideal 'promised land', for others who did, their status there is no longer guaranteed. Many countries are showing 'impatience' with politically correct immigration rules, while the immigrants themselves are facing a time of reckoning. They may have secured homes and jobs away from their homelands, but some are now having doubts about what the future holds for them as an immigrant resident of a foreign country, in a world that is forever merging. As traditionally held beliefs fall apart, their unravelling reveals that things are not always what they seem to be.

The question
In this frame, a Greek immigrant living in the UK recently asked the following question in a forum/help-site (Greek Professionals in London) for Greeks in the UK:

"If you had the chance to return to Greece, as things stand today, would you do it? Would you send your child to school in Greece? Would you trust the Greek health system? Or would you continue to live in the UK?"

The question (posed some time after the Westminster/London attack in March 2017, and just before the Manchester attack in May 2017) quickly became one of the most commented posts in the forum, and drew a wide - and surprising - range of responses from the members of the group. What followed was an unravelling of sorts: having been through the experience of immigration, one counts the gains as well as the losses of living away from the homeland, and wonders whether it has been a worthwhile effort. The question also implies that when a Greek leaves Greece, they leave as an immigrant, not necessarily as an expat, or someone just seeking experience abroad. Greeks generally don't have 'experience' in mind when they leave their country - they have 'emigration'. They leave on what they consider a long-term basis, rather than temporarily.

According to the wording of the question, 'as things stand today', it is trying to elicit information about whether Greek people who live abroad would contemplate returning to live in the country at the present time, implying uncertainty about life in Greece. The question is not asking about visiting Greece; it is questioning whether moving back to live in Greece permanently is a wise move in the present time. This mindset implies that 'things aren't good' in Greece, and another country is 'a better place to live', offering 'a better life'.

It's a fair question to ask. Greece has, over the many centuries of her existence as a modern nation state, been plagued by the curse of her people not wanting to live within her designated territorial borders. From its inception in 1821, the country known as Greece had fewer people of Greek heritage living in it than the number of Greeks living in the diaspora communities. A century later, when Smyrni (modern-day Izmir in Turkey) was razed and over a million Greeks were forced out of Asia Minor, many chose to immigrate to the New World rather than live in what seemed to them the backwaters of a failed bankrupt state. Those who did stay would bear witness to the mass destruction of all the country's infrastructure during WWII when Greece fell under Nazi rule. The decades after the war were marked by mass immigration (spiking in the 1960s) of the poor and rural to Western, some of which were not much older than modern Greece herself: Canada, New Zealand and Belgium come to mind, i.a. 

Greek emigration stopped some time in the early 70s, a few years before Greece entered the EU, when Greece was under military rule. While political freedom was being squeezed, the junta period was a very propserous one for the working class and middle class Greeks. This was the period of urban migration: Greeks were deserting the villages for urban conglomerations, notably Athens, where there were many jobs available for the low-skilled. Hence, emigration decreased markedly. By 1976 (post-junta), the Greek statistical service stopped keeping records for emigration because it seemed pointless to do so (personal communication).

When the three decades of false prosperity as a member of the EU were finally shattered just after the onset of the global financial crisis, this time it was the turn of the highly educated to take flight. The latest crisis is not a passing phase, but it is at a mature enough stage for most Greeks to understand the course that their country is taking. At the same time, it has been overshadowed by global events in the field of immigration that are clearly closing doors rather than opening them to people on the move, in search of that 'promised land', based on that infamous expression: 'for a better life'.

As things stand today
The wording of the above forum question has negative undertones: 'as things stand today' is surely telling us that things aren't standing very well. Greece has become synonymous with the phrase 'economic crisis'. At the same time, Greeks are often unflattering towards their country, whether Greece is in crisis or not, whether they live in Greece or not, and especially when they live out of the country...:

"... 'an utter hole' - much as some Greek exiles appear to view it today, indeed, when they return on holiday to their humble little villages from the concrete jungles of New York or Sydney, and cannot rest until they have told erstwhile compatriots how inferior are all their ways of doing things.Greece without Columns by David Holden (Faber, 1972)
... even if they have never lived in Greece at all - Greekness does not stop by being born beyond the borders of the Greek state:

"When and where, we may ask ourselves, is a Greek not a Greek? The answer is practically never; not in ancient times, when Greeks ruled for twenty generations in northern India and still were Greeks in every way, nor in modern times when a Greek may leave his homeland as a child and spend his entire life elsewhere without sacrificing one jot of his Greekness." Greece without Columns by David Holden (Faber, 1972)

With these ideas in mind, namely that Greece is at present a 'difficult' country to live in and, like Odysseus, Greeks are always looking behind their shoulder to see what they are leaving behind, I decided to analyse the nearly 850 responses that this public forum question elicited.

Social media
Social media as research material
Using social media in research concerning self-evaluation has helped to broaden our perspectives about heterogeneous groups: according to a 2008 study published in Psychological Science,
"people tend to express their real personalities on Facebook, rather than idealized versions of themselves... [social media] allow researchers to study unobtrusively how people behave in real life"

Much university research uses the most accessible subjects for study: the handiest human subjects tend to be university students. Therefore, scientific studies can benefit from research using social media because:
"We no longer have the excuse of relying on self-reports of undergraduates... We can now reach out to other groups and see the actual electronic traces of their behavior."
"... social media is a rich vein of data for user researchers... it would be an oversight for an organization to treat social media as nothing more than an opportunity for customer service enquiries, help requests and brand advocacy."

Issues of privacy and confidentiality need to be considered when using public posts on social media, because most people think of their comments as 'private', even though they are commenting on a public (open) platform. For this reason, I don't refer to the names of the participants, and I examined only publicly available profiles that are not connected to my own social media profiles. It is worth mentioning that one of the participants of the forum mentioned the idea of conducting a survey from the comments during the ensuing discussion:

"It would have been a good idea if a poll had been placed in the question so we could work out the trends."
In this way, the analysis of public 'private' comments may seem justified.

The analysis will begin by discussing the topics raised in the discussion, and will then move on to how positively/negatively the question was answered. The question is repeated below:
"If you had the chance to return to Greece, as things stand today, would you do it? Would you send your child to school in Greece? Would you trust the health system? Or would you continue to live in the UK?"
The main assumption underlying this question is: 
"Given the current situation in Greece - a country in crisis, with high unemployment, lack of graduate job opportunities, low salaries, uncceptable levels of corruption according to internationally recognised expert opinions, etc - someone who left Greece 'for a better life' elsewhere (as is being assumed of the participants in the discussion) would probably not return to Greece, as things stand today."

Therefore, some hypotheses can be stated as follows:

As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good' (H1)
As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece (H2)
As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece (H3)

An attempt will be made to quantify the data in such a way that they will be able to shed some light on the above hypotheses. Other assumptions can also be made:
  • If someone left Greece before the crisis broke out, they are unlikely to want to return to Greece (because they 'know' Greece mainly from phone conversations with thier families in Greece, the media, etc rather than from a daily routine in the country itself, which they may 'fear' due to what they hear/read) 
  • If someone left Greece after the crisis broke out, they are more likely to want to return to Greece (because they may be homesick, still have close contact with family, etc)
  • The longer someone has been living away from Greece, the less likely they are to wish to return to Greece (for similar reasons as stated above) 
  • If someone is single or in a relationship without children, they are less likely to want to return to Greece (because they have the freedom to build up their career, make money, be away from home more often, etc)
  • If some has children, they are more likely to want to return to Greece (because their situation will be viewed as more dependent on extra help, they may wish to have closer family ties)
  • etc
Unfortunately, however, such hypotheses cannot all be answered because the data needed to answer these questions - when respondents left Greece, how long they have been living away from Greece, if they are single/married/have children - is not available. Some comments allude to the above-mentioned situations, but the information was gained randomly.

According to the media coverage of the crisis over the last seven years, we can also make other assumptions on the reasons why Greek citizens emigrated. These assumptions are based on things like lack of job opportunities and loss of income, as other studies will attest. Greece was regarded as a country of emigration up to the mid-70s; once it entered the EU, emigration levels dropped dramatically as the standard of living rose equally dramatically. Census information from the Greek statistics authorities shows a significant decline in the population between 2001 and 2011. Since the crisis to date, it has been recognised that up to half a million Greek citizens have left the country (half of whom were immigrants to the country). While there had always been some emigration taking place, it was mainly among the highly educated professional class (medical experts, business executives, engineers, etc) who enjoyed global work abroad, as there seemed to be enough jobs in the country, mainly in the tourist industry (in the hotel and catering industries), and this was also noticeable in the service sectors of the UK, from the places where the Greek language was heard being spoken and the workers in the high street stores. Greeks in the UK were once based mainly in London whereas now they are found living and working all over the UK, unlike in the past when they were mainly students in the UK or tourists in London. Greeks rarely worked in the UK service sector in the past: they were mainly professionals. Now all this has changed. Based on such information, in line with previous studies (this link opens a DOC file), we can also assume that: 

If someone left Greece because they could not find work (or the desired kind of work) easily, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if job opportunities are still lacking in Greece (H4)
If someone left Greece because of loss of income, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if their income level will not be high in Greece (H5

With this in mind, we can now begin to analyse the data available on the forum.


A total of 164 individual social media identities commented on the forum question, with the number of responses totaling 843 comments. The forum question reached out to approximately 23,500 forum members who were the number of members of the forum at the time the comments to the question were being posted; in other words, the question was answered by approximately 0.7% of the total population. But that figure gives a good margin of error for calculations at the 95% confidence interval, with a margin of error of 7.63% (according to The sample is of a good size - it is similar to the sample in the following survey on Greek migration during the crisis: .

All the data were collected from the comments posted in response to a question posed on an online forum within the space of approximately 6 weeks. As mentioned above, the question appeared some time after the Westminster/London attack in March 2017, and just before the Manchester attack in May 2017. The data (comments) were all entered into an Excel spreadsheet. Since the data were generally subjective in nature, evaluations and calculations were made manually.

Demographic data
The demographic data collected about the participants will seem quite poor, but such is the quality of social media data: it is not always possible to gather all the kinds of objective data that a subjective question such as the one posed could benefit from. For example, I could not always work out whether the participants were actually of Greek heritage and/or citizens of Greece, their age, how many years they had been living away from Greece, whether they were in a relationship or not, and if they had children, all of which would bear great weight when replying to the posed question. I was however able to work out their gender (through profile photos and the nature and morphology of Greek names), and most of the time, I could work out where they lived (in Greece, the UK or elsewhere).

Concerning age, it should be noted that from the comments on the forum question, it was deduced that the participants were not teenagers, most (and possibly all) had completed high school in Greece, and many (but not all) had also completed tertiary studies. Therefore, it could safely be said that they were at least 23 years of age, while a few people were older than 55. So the sample could be said to reasonably homogeneous, with a relative amount of diversity in terms of age groups, and everyone was of working age. It is highly unlikely that any teenagers responded, because the question topic pertains to people who are working or looking for work in a foreign country. All the participants in the discussion will have spent their teenage years in Greece. The earliest year that they will have come to the UK was as a student; some will have stayed on in the UK since then, while others will have come at a later age.

With all the above in mind, I was able to deduce the following demographics about the participants who commented on the forum question:
- gender (to check for an even distribution)
- country of residence at time of data collection (members of the forum did not necessarily have to be living in the UK)
- language used in the comment to reply to the question (this alludes to their nationality - generally speaking, Greek is the kind of language that Greek citizens speak, and not a popular language to learn for its 'fun' or 'international' value)
- number of times each participant commented on the forum (which checks the engagement of the participants)

The list is not necessarily complete; it is simply the main complete unbiased information that can be harnessed from data suffering from significant defects.

It is useful to know that the gender split of the individual identities who took part in the discussion of the question posed in the forum was practically 50/50 (80 male and 82 women). Gender was not ascribed to 2 identities because the information was not clear. No attempt was made to ascribe LGBT status (none of the discussion made any mention about non-male/female gender).

Knowledge of the Greek language
Everyone who took part in the discussion understood the Greek language, as the overwhelming number of responses (97%) using the Greek alphabet or language shows: 660 comments were written using the Greek alphabet and 156 using the Greek language transliterated into Latin script (commonly known as 'gringlish')Only
comments were written in English, while the remaining comments contained no text, but a photo (8), emoji (6) or web link (5) instead. So we can safely assume that all the participants in the forum were fluent Greek speakers who had sufficiently high written skills (pointing to the fact that the participants must all be first-generation Greek-heritage immigrants, if they live away from Greece). Those who wrote in English/gringlish probably did not have access to the Greek alphabet on their computers at the time they were responding.

Country of residence
The majority of the participants who answered the forum question were living in the UK. Of the 164 individual social media identities102 (62.2%) lived in the UK, 38 (23.2%) in Greece, and 11 (6.7%) in other countries, while for 13 (7.9%) cases, country of residence of the participant could not be ascertained. Members of the forum do not necessarily have to live in the UK. The participants who live in Greece and take part in this forum may be interested in working abroad, or wish to keep in touch with issues that concern them, as they may have lived in the UK (or another country) before returning to Greece. Due to the crisis, many Greeks showed an interest in moving to the UK, and for this reason they may have joined the forum in order to keep up to date with developments in the UK, without actually moving to the UK. The subjects covered in the forum posts are very diverse, ranging from work offers, job opportunities, debt/qualifications checks, rental home/room availability and information about UK work/administrative issues, to warnings about scams, information about how to open a UK bank account, qualifications compatibility between the UK and Greece, and more recently, issues concerning Brexit. 

Number of times participants commented
The number of times an individual social media identity participates in a discussion doesn't necessarily tell us anything more significant than how verbose a participant may be, but it could allude to how interesting a topic thread may be to the forum members. Participation is voluntary and could be based on many factors, including how much time a participant may wish to spend on social media. It is worth noting that nearly half the individual participants (81 out of 16449.4%) in this forum commented on the question just once; in other words, they did not actually take part in any discussion. They simply gave their answer to the question and left the discussion after that. They may also have 'liked' or reacted in some way to another participant's comment, but this does not involve a typed comment. Such reactions were not counted for the purposes of this analysis. 28% (46) of the participants left between 2 and 5 comments; together with the participants who commented just once, this covers 77% (127) of the total number of 164 participants. Around 16% (26 individual participants) commented between 5 and 19 times, while a smaller percentage (6.7%) commented between 20 and 70 times.

Before or during the crisis?
Concerning the answer to the question posed in the forum, it is assumed that one of the most significant demographic variables that could determine how participants answered/replied to the question might lie in whether they 'emigrated' to the UK before or during the Greek economic crisis (which I named an identity crisis as far back as 4 years ago). Greeks leaving the country during the Greek crisis are more likely to have left out of 'need' than those who left the country before the word 'crisis' was collocated with the word 'Greek'. So it can be assumed that the people who left before the crisis will have done so on their own terms rather than being influenced by a political situation in Greece. The inverted commas around the word 'emigrated' have been placed there due to the notion that Greeks have when they leave Greece to work abroad - Greeks regard themselves as having emigrated, as I've noted in an older post:

"One thing that should be remembered when analysing Greek neo-immigrants is that they did not leave their country on a working holiday. The concept of a working holiday is not understood by the grand majority of Greeks, even though that is in effect what they are actually doing. They just don't realise it, which is what leads them to their misconceptions about the world beyond their borders (and especially up north). Had they realised what they were doing, they would have returned home feeling less deluded and/or disillusioned." 

To add weight to my argument that neo-immigrant Greeks do not really understand the processes and phases of emigration and immigration, I will describe another linguistic example: Very often, when I am writing text/facebook messages to Greek neo-immigrants who do not know me, they can't understand why I write in English. I do this because it comes more naturally to me, since my educative years were spent in English-medium schools, and because I know that the people I am talking to understand more than enough English to understand my messages. But they will often ask me why I am writing in English, because they see my Greek name and they know I live in Greece, so they assume that my stronger language must be Greek. If they understood better the processes and phases of long-term migration, I believe that they would understand better why I find it easier to communicate in written form using the English language. I assume that I would probably make more sense to them if I used gringlish (using Latin script to write Greek messages) instead.

The main problem with collecting data on whether participants left before or during the crisis is that it is not easy to obtain from anonymous social media, as noted earlier. Extra attention will be paid to the comments which give away information about how long a participant has been living in the UK in order to elicit further information that may give credibility to the hypotheses being claimed about the question posed on the forum. One thing is sure: it is not easy to deduce the reasons why Greeks at this time, because they are not necessarily all due to the Greek crisis:
"... it is reasonable to assume that the free movement of people inside the EU and the absence of state-sponsored, heavily monitored, intra-European migration – typical of the postwar period – underestimates the number of Greeks currently moving or residing abroad or engaging in seasonal and repeated migration. Free movement of capital and the common currency might also render diffi cult the measurement of remittances towards Greece from these recent migrants."
The sample
We now have a clearer idea about the participants of the discussion that replied to the forum question about returning to Greece 'as things stand today': namely, that they are independent educated Greek people of a working age, equally distributed between gender, most of whom live in the UK, who speak and write Greek fluently (which makes them first-generation immigrants if they live abroad), making the sample a relatively very homogeneous group.

Identifying topic threads
The comments posted in reply to the question are very wordy, and need to be coded in some way in order to be analysed for the assumptions they make. This section will explain how I coded the comments.

It is obvious from the outset of this research that comments made in an online forum on an open question where there is no right or wrong answer will consist mainly of subjective opinions and advice, beliefs and ideals, personal biases, conspiracy theories, anachronisms and, above all, sweeping generalisations:

"We inhabit a world in which institutional restraints are withering, feeling trumps fact, and social media only reinforce our prejudices and instincts."

Comparisons between two countries may be made as much through objective examples as through subjective prejudices. When reading the comments, it is necessary to be open-minded, to accept the validity of each statement as coming from the experiences that the participant of the discussion has formed, despite the fact that many of the comments being made on the forum will seem to be of a judgmental nature. Participants were basically providing a self-evaluation of their experiences, using factors that they consider priorities in their own opinion. So in essence, there may not necessarily be any two participants that will use the same criteria weighted in the same way to form their opinion in their answer to the question. In the same frame, countries can be compared using the same criteria, but the criteria are rarely equal across countries. Ranking sites like Transparency International and the UN Human Develpment Report are often touted as objective, but they lose some of their credibility when one considers that such rankings are based directly on asking people what they believe to be true about a country; even companies that offer country credit ratings use methodology that is not always transparent and may even be paying bribes to the researchers they use in order to force out the results they prefer to publish. Such organisations are all working in much the same way as the online forum under analysis: collecting data from a questionnaire is not much different from what the well-known ranking sites such as the above-mentioned do, when they ask people what they think about a certain subject; they are all based on the self-evaluations of a small sample subset of a much larger population, which is too large to be examined as a whole.

General gist
One way to try to work out what people are discussing in an online forum is to read each comment and summarise the issues raised in each comment using one word (or perhaps a phrase) for each concept discussed. In other words, the general gist of the discussion is being summarised in one or two words. This is time-consuming but it provides greater depth, instead of just looking for key words out of context. It also involves a certain amount of re-evaluation, which makes it less liable to error. As I sifted through the comments, I had to name and rename some topics - and then go back on the already read comments to ensure a certain level of consistency in what I was recording.

The wording of the original question (which is not included in the total number of comments) will be used as an example to illustrate how this method worked. Using the Greek text (translated into English), 3 different topics can be discerned:
Topic A: "As things stand today, would you return to Greece?"
Topic B: "Would you send your child to a Greek school?"
Topic C: "Would you trust the Greek health system?"

Topic A (As things stand today, would you return to Greece?) is a question which can be answered with a yes/no response. But it could also be answered in a multiple number of other ways, for example: 'it's a really difficult question to answer', or 'it depends on your priorities': such responses could be generalised to 'depends'. So three different generalised responses could be recorded for this topic (yes/no/depends).

Topics B (Would you send your child to a Greek school?) and C (Would you trust the Greek health system?) can be generalised in the following way:
  • 'school' can fall under the umbrella topic of 'education' (discussed in 76 of the comments), which can also include words like 'university', 'teacher'. 'learn', etc
  • 'health system' can be generalised to 'health' (discussed in 152 of the comments), which can also cover words like 'doctor', 'hospital', 'medicine', etc.
This kind of categorisation was used in order to elicit other topics covered by the responses that participants gave to the question. It was much more efficient to find common topic threads by reading the whole comment - which is of course time-consuming - than it was to discover them by automatic computer searches, which do not detect incorrect spellings (see following section). Reading for the general gist yielded a more accurate account of what was being discussed in the comments. 

Apart from health and education, the following topic threads - arranged in alphabetical order rather than frequency - also emerged in the discussion: anti-social behaviour, beauty, bureaucracy, class system, corruption, crime, the (Greek) crisis, entertainment, family, food, friendship, good/bad experiences, humanity, immigration, insecutiry, job opportunities, lifestyle choices, mentality, money, politically correct behaviour, politeness, politics, quality of life, race relations, road code, sex relations, smoking, solidarity, taxation, terrorism, tourism and the weather. The phrasing of the generalised category of each topic could be said to be the researcher's subjective reckoning, which cannot be avoided: researchers bring their own experiences into their work. An attempt was made to phrase each topic as objectively as possible. Some topics were more widely discussed than others, but this does not necessarily mean that they were more important. The forum was arranged in such a way that participants could comment on the question posed, and other participants could reply to a comment or start their own thread. Some discussions proved more popular than others, but not necessarily because the topic under discussion was a more significant one: the forum was styled as a conversation rather than a debate. Certain topics, e.g. smoking, terrorism and beauty, also cropped up, but their mention was too infrequent (in less than 5-6 comments) to warrant serious discussion; terrorism, for example, was mentioned only once, despite a major terrorist attack having taken place in the UK at the time of the discussion.

It should also be noted that of the 843 comments in total, 243 were regarded as irrelevant: they did not discuss any topic. Some responses were intended more as personal retorts, insults, sarcasm, etc. The discussion was moderated (to maintain a polite standard and omit 'hate speech'), which meant that some comments had already been deleted before I came across the forum.

Root word strings
Another way to discover what people are talking about in a discussion is to look for commonly used words. A word search in a single file is quite easy to execute by computer, making it sound quite simple to discover the topics that have been covered by the participants of the discussion in their comments. But this method also has its drawbacks: misspellings and gringlish variant transliterations will imply omissions. This can also happen in the case where root word strings are used instead of standardised spellings, although using root word strings will help detect various morphological variations, so it can work out to be a concise way of detecting a thread in a discussion, as long as the original text is all correctly written in standardised spelling.

Depending on the research, some word strings are deemed more important than others. The Greek crisis is regarded as a landmark in the context of neo-immigration in the Greek context. For this reason, a careful search was made to detect certain words/strings that may provide more insight into the reasons why Greek citizens left Greece. The word 'crisis' (KRIsi, κρίση) as it is used in the comments made by the participants in the discussion is expected to elicit some interesting information. It should be remembered that the search for such words/strings needs to be made in all languages concerned (Greek, English, gringlish). The results will be elaborated in a later section. 

Positive/negative connotations
Finally, all the responses (excluding the irrelevant ones) were coded as 'pro-Greece', 'anti-Greece', 'pro-UK' and/or 'anti-UK' (some comments mentioned the pros and cons of both countries), so that a final 'verdict' could be given for each comment, in the form of: 'pro-Greece' (= 'Greece is really quite OK') or 'anti-Greece' (= ''things in Greece aren’t good at the moment'). This was done in order to gauge the positive and negative aspects of each country, which might provide more information about how likely it is for someone to want to return to Greece.


Topic analysis
Topic A: "As things stand today, would you return to Greece?"
Out of a total of 843 comments, 173 comments (approximately 20% of the total comments) answered the question of whether the respondents in the discussion would take the chance to "return to Greece, as things stand today". In order for a comment to be classified as an answer to the question, it had to directly or indirectly answer the question of whether the respondent states that s/he would (wouldn't) return to Greece as things stand today. Describing the advantages/drawbacks of Greece (or the UK) was not regarded as a "yes/no" response to the question: such a response was raising other topics, as previously discussed. Responses which expressed a 'like' or 'dislike' of certain aspects of each respective country were also not regarded as replying to the question.

In this way, it was found that 74 (42.78%) comments gave a negative ("no") response, e.g.:
"Not under any circumstances" (i.e., I would not return to Greece)
"We love Greece wherever we are... but... the dreams we make unfortunately don't allow us to realise them in Greece. If only that could happen" (i.e., I can't return to Greece)

... while 25 (14.44%) comments were positive ("yes"), e.g.:
"I've already done so" (i.e., I would return to Greece as things stand today)
"Yes, of course, is it better here?" (i.e., I will return to Greece as things stand today)

So on first sight, it seems that the respondents who were answering with a direct yes/no response were overwhelmingly in favour of NOT returning to Greece, at a rate of something like 75%. But there were also another 74 (42.78%) comments that were clearly stating factors that the answer to the question "depends" on, e.g.:

"Everyone has a different point of view. If your heart tells you that you want to return... despite your job security [in the UK] ... then you should go back... I personally will return... So do what you feel will make you happy, and don't listen to any of us" (i.e., it depends on what you want)

"Before I had a child, I didn't think at all about returning, I was disappointed with a lot of things about Greece... Saving some money is a good first step" (i.e., it depends on my circumstances)

It should be noted that some of the participants who answered the question with a 'no' response actually live in Greece and not the UK. The forum is open to anyone in essence, and people living in Greece that responded negatively about returning to Greece are simply giving their opinion concerning the way they view their country, as things stand today. Clearly, they are not happy about the way things are going here. Furthermore, some participants answered the question more than one time in their multiple responses but each comment was treated separately, as one individual reply. This may seem like a doubling of answers; therefore, the results are best viewed as a percentage of the discussion that replied to the question rather than as the total number of people who answered the question.  

Hence, from the results, it seems that the question did not elicit a clear-cut negative image of Greece as a country in crisis: Greece is not necessarily a country that one should not return to, even in the state that it is right now. Thus, the answers given to the question do not validate H1 (As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good'), casting doubt on H2 (As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece) and H3 (As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece).

Further analysis of Topic B (health) and Topic C (education) may elucidate this unexpected outcome, that Greeks do not view their homeland as a place of no return, even during a crisis. Before these topics are examined, it is worth investigating the 'depends' responses in more detail: just what does returning to Greece depend on? A further classification of the 'depends' results reveals that in 23 of the 74 comments, the respondent stated that they would actually return to Greece if:

"... I had the possibility, of course", "... if there were promises of work in Greece, a lot of people would return", "if I could have the same salary... I'd return", "... if you find what you are looking for in Greece, you should leave", "if I had a normal salary for a midwife, I'd return tomorrow", etc.

The common threads throughout the 23 'depends' comments where the respondent mentioned they would prefer to live in Greece is 'job opportunities' (work) and 'money' (income levels), which are the basis of H4 and H5, both of which are validated by these results. Both topics will be discussed in more detail in a later section. 

Topic B: "Would you send your child to a Greek school?"
The question posed here discusses 'education', which was mentioned in 76 comments in the discussion. In order to find out participants' thoughts about education, each comment that mentioned the subject of 'education' was assigned one or more values from the following:
proGR, antiGR, proUK, antiUK

depending on whether the comment expressed a positive or negative opinion about 'education' for each respective country, e.g.:
"I consider Greek schools to be good, and so is the Greek education system (I finished my education in a Greek public school and university) ... There is no perfect system ...In this respect, I personally view Greece as better." (proGR)
"If you take account ... the depreciation of education, you understand that Greece is not an ideal choice as a country of residence." (antiGR)
"I love Greece but I don't wish to return... we have better access to work, my children's education..." (proUK)
"I find the encyclopedic knowledge of the average Brit inferior compared to the average Greek. The children here are totally uncontrollable ... based on ... what I hear from friends of teachers." (antiUK)

Some comments were assigned more than one value, because the content of the comment was more detailed, e.g., 
"I have no reservations about the education I received in Greece at public schools and university. But I have reservations about ... the education system in the UK." (proGR, antiUK)

In this way, a total of 68 values for 'education' were obtained from 76 comments. It should be noted that 17 (20%of the 76 comments that mentioned 'education' did not have any relevance to the topic, so they were excluded from the analysis, e.g.: 
"Many people confuse educational qualifications with knowledge... Qualifications don't have any relevance in this case."

proGR 18            26.5%
antiGR 27           39.7%
proUK 6              8.8%
antiUK 17           25%
TOTAL:   68      100%
irrelevant 17/85   20%

proGR + antiUK = proGR      35      51.5%
antiGR + proUK = antiGR     33      48.5%
TOTAL:                                 68      100%

Interestingly, the participants, most likely all of whom went through the Greek state school education system, seem equally divided in their opinion about which education system is better between Greece and the UK. The Greek system is generally known to be more academic, while the UK system is regarded as providing a more generic kind of education, which is where some of the discrepancies may lie. The participants generally had something positive to say about their own education in Greece, especially the tertiary sector, often admitting that, having passed through the Greek system before coming to the UK, it was this sytem that gave them the qualifications they needed to work in the UK: 

"I think Greeks schools are OK, and so is the education system of Greece." 
I have no complaints about the education I received at Greek public schools and university"
We all finished Greek schools, and some of us also went to university in Greece whereas we are now working abroad" 

Some comments also mentioned the fact that it is not always possible to send your child to the school of your choice in UK, or a 'good' school (especially for those living in London) due to overcrowding. Finally, some participants mentioned the aspect of antisocial behaviour in British schools, and knife crime among youngsters. In comparison to the antisocial behaviour that also exists in Greek schools, participants regarded the problem in the UK as more exacerbated. Thus, the results for 'education' do not validate H1 (As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good'), casting doubt on H2 (As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece) and H3 (As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece).

Topic C: "Would you trust the Greek health system?
The question posed here discusses 'health', which was mentioned in 152 comments in the discussion. As for Topic B (education), each comment that mentioned the subject of 'health' was assigned one or more values from the following:

proGR, antiGR, proUK, antiUK

depending on whether the comment expressed a positive or negative opinion about 'health' for each respective country, e.g.:
"The Greek system... is still better on the staff side. A staff that is used (or has learned) to being fast and efficient and working with reduced means." (proGR)
"In 2008, Greece spent as much on medication as Spain which has 4 times the population." (antiGR)
"Women here [in the UK] ... are called up for annual screenings for many kinds of cancer." (proUK)
"The healthcare system here in the UK is clearly worse [than Greece's]." (antiUK)

Some comments were also assigned more than one value, because the content of the comment was more detailed, e.g.,

"Having worked in both health systems, the healthcare system in Greece is better in terms of medical and nursing care and access. It lacks support services, hardware... in general, whatever else the underprivileged Greek society lacks." (proGR, antiGR)

In this way, a total of 181 values for 'health' were obtained from 152 comments. It should be noted that 26 (17.1%) of the 152 comments that mentioned 'health' did not have any relevance to the topic, e.g.: 
"... which [health] system is good and which isn't can be estimated from specific research studies and statistics, and not from whatever someone posts on the web concerning his/her personal experiences."

proGR   41      22.6 %
antiGR   51     28.2 %
proUK   19      10.5 %
antiUK   70      38.7 %
TOTAL:   181    100%
irrelevant  26/152  17.1%

proGR + antiUK = proGR     111        61.3%
antiGR + proUK = antiGR     70         38.7%
TOTAL:                                181       100%

The finding that the participants in the discussion believe that the UK health system is not so good should not come as a surprise, given the very negative media attention that the British health system has been given over the last few recent years. The NHS has become synonymous with long waiting times due to rapidly growing populations without a parallel increase in services, a lack of skilled experts, staff shortages, fewer hirings, the spread of hospital-acquired infections, rigidity of the system, high usage rates due to its 'free' nature and the very high cost of private care in the UK, foreign doctors lacking in English skills, and the wide variety of nationalities of medical experts working for the same public healthcare system, which also entails a wide range of standards prevailing in the system. Similar issues were expressed by the participants in the discussion:

"I don't feel I'm in safe hands here when I go to a GP, I don't care if it's free."

So it should not be surprising to discover that the participants showed a clear preference for the Greek health system, which, despite suffering from a wide variety of problems (not necessarily the same ones as the NHS), is not as rigid as the NHS. Among the advantages stated by the participants in the discussion are the following: medication is available over the counter (without a doctor's prescription), patients do not have to go through a GP before seeking expert medical advice, and private health care - while still regarded as 'costly' - is much more affordable in Greece to the masses than it is in the UK (where it is available to a much smaller segment of society). The most significant reason that participants gave for classifying the Greek health system as better is the very good knowledge of the doctors, the high level of training and the way they behave towards the patient, by showing compassion, willingness to explore alternative treatments, prescribing drugs more readily and listening more attentively to the patient’s self-diagnosis. On this note, it is worth mentioning that British citizens living in my part of the Greece often remark on how happy they are with the way the Greek health system has worked for them; despite the problems it is plagued by, it still manages to be efficient. Above all, foreign users mention the human element that is very discernible in Greek medical care:

"The Greek health care system ... continues to be better from the human resources point of view. Greek staff has gotten used to or even learnt to be fast and efficient and to work within limited means. It's the staff that make the big difference compared to the NHS."

The above discussion should not be interpreted as one system being rated better than another system: the experiences of the participants are clearly why they are rating the two different health care systems in this way. Disadvantages concerning the Greek health system were also mentioned: a lack of support services, inadequately equipped, too much bureaucracy, high costs compared to low output, among other issues. But the fact still remains: there are far more doctors graduating in Greece than are needed in the country itself, making doctors one of Greece's greatest exports.

In conclusion, the results for 'health' do not validate H1 (As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good'), casting doubt on H2 (As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece) and H3 (As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece).

Topics related to the crisis
It is obvious that the topics of 'health' and 'education' were used as 'food for thought' in the original question, in order to find out what people think about returning to Greece, as things stand today. It is also true to say that the reasons for migration may be diverse and can only be assessed on a case-by-case basis. But it should be remembered that the reason why many Greeks left the country during the crisis did not necessarily have to do with seeking better education opportunities for their children, or a better healthcare system. A comment made in the forum in answer to the question implies this:

It wasn’t just the work conditions but also the mentality, corruption, antisocial behavior, indifference to the law… has this changed?” 

The 'mentality', 'corruption', 'antisocial behavior', and 'indifference to the law' that the participant mentions in the above comment were also present before the crisis. But people were not emigrating then. They were common problems plaguing Greek society in both the 'before the crisis' and 'during the crisis' periods; they were not the instigators of the exodus of young people leaving Greece during this period, as another comment alludes: 

"... just how do things stand today? What changed for the better that I didn't notice?"

Recalling the media's attention - both in Greece and abroad - to the Greek crisis, it is fair to say that the main reasons why people decided to leave Greece had to do with the way the economic crisis developed in Greece: high unemployment, a lack of job opportunities among highly qualified people and low salaries are the factors often quoted in the media about why close to half a million Greek citizens left the country since 2010. These ideas formed the basis of H4 (If someone left Greece because they could not find work (or the desired kind of work) easily, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if job opportunities are still lacking in Greece) and H5 (If someone left Greece because of loss of income (impoverishment), they are less likely to want to return to Greece if their income level will not be high here).

As previously mentioned, a number of topics were discussed in the forum, which relate to the reasons why Greek people emigrated in the last decade, including ‘high unemployment/lack of jobs', which was coded as 'job opportunities':

job opportunities (80): job opportunities, work conditions, career, exploitation, competition, public/private sector, unemployment, work experience, employers 

and 'loss of income/low salaries' which was coded as 'money':

money (163): price of a product/service, public-private cost comparison, price-to-quality ratio, expenses/cost-of-living, state money spent/wasted on public services, having/making 'enough' money, affordability, salary levels  
The numbers in brackets refer to the number of times that the topics were raised in the comments, followed by a short description of the variety of subjects discussed for that topic. Interestingly, the 'money' topic was in fact the most popular topic raised in the comments, surpassing even the topics raised in the question.  

As expected according to the previous discussion, the participants responded negatively concerning issues involving work and job opportunities in Greece. Each comment that discussed the subject of work was assigned one or more values from the following:

proGR, antiGR, proUK, antiUK

in a similar way to the other topics. Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the UK, validating H1, H2, H3, H4 and H5. Typical examples of comments follow:
Young people who've inherited property... in Crete, the Cyclades... they're doing very well as far as I know. (proGR)
Not Greece... the work environment and conditions are the issue here (antiGR)
I came with the aim to work in a high class restaurant and learn a few things for which i could not gain the same experience as in Greece. (proUK)
Even in London... there's an even greater degree of exploitation than in Greece (antiUK)

proGR     20      23.5%
antiGR     30     35.3%
proUK     26      30.6%
antiUK      9      10.6%
TOTAL:    85    100%
irrelevant  18/80  17.1%

proGR + antiUK = proGR     29       34.1%
antiGR + proUK = antiGR    56       65.9%
TOTAL:                                85       100%

As expected according to the previous discussion, the participants in the discussion responded negatively concerning issues involving money matters in Greece. Each comment that discussed the subject of money was assigned one or more values from the following:

proGR, antiGR, proUK, antiUK

in a similar way to the other topics. Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the UK, validating H1, H2, H3, H4 and H5. Typical examples of comments follow:
If someone can live in Greece off 500 euro and make plans and live with dignity, then it's OK (to make less money). (proGR) 
Do you know how many taxes we have paid (in Greece) and for how many years, only to be unemployed at 50+? (antiGR)
In London, where money is flying in the air... (proUK) 
In the UK, the cost of private health coverage is prohibitive. (antiUK)

proGR         25            14.5%
antiGR        95             55.3%
proUK        32             18.6%
antiUK        20            11.6%
TOTAL:     172          100%
irrelevant     28/163    17.18%

proGR + antiUK = proGR   45    26.2%
antiGR + proUK = antiGR  127  73.8%
TOTAL:                              172  100%

Mention of word 'crisis' in the comment
Mention of the word 'crisis' is regarded as particularly important in the discussion because it alludes to the present time, which forms part of the wording of the question posed in the forum ('as things stand today'). The word 'crisis' was mentioned 29 times in the comments. It should be noted that the Greek word κρίση (KRIsi) has two meanings: it can mean 'crisis' or 'judgment/opinion' depending on the context. Both meanings were found in the comments. The word 'κρίση' in its 'crisis' meaning was used to denote a 'time reference point' (ie the Greek crisis) or a 'state/condition' (of a country - specifically Greece - suffering from an economic crisis). Its meaning as 'judgment/opinion' was excluded from the analysis, as was another instance where 'crisis' was used to denote a cultural crisis (in reference to the UK). 

Typical uses of the word are found in the following examples:
“... before the crisis...”, My generation was unlucky in that it is now entering the job market during the crisis period”, “The majority of people would stay in Greece if there wasn't a crisis”, “... because before the crisis I didn't notice people leaving...” “Personally, it wasn’t the crisis that made me decide to leave...”, “I would have left at any rate, independent of the crisis...”, “For me, Greece was hell well before the crisis”, “Even during the crisis, if there were good prospects (for a job), a lot of people would want to return to Greece”

Reading through these comments, the question that sprung to my mind was the following:

"Is the crisis the reason why people left/are leaving/will leave Greece?"

The answer seems to be 'no' - even though some do actually return. The comments show that the reasons for leaving Greece are not all necessarily related to the Greek crisis. Well before the crisis, since Greece's entry to the EU, Greeks formed one of the biggest groups of foreign students in the UK. Some were leaving Greece straight after finishing school, while others went to the UK for advanced studies. A number of those students stayed on in the UK after their studies and found work. They are now 'accustomed' to life in the UK and do not wish to return to Greece for personal reasons (lifestyle preferences, family reasons, long-term career development, etc). 

But the comments also show, quite significantly, that among the people who left during the crisis, there are quite a few who would like to return to Greece, but do not make this choice because of the dilemma of finding work and earning a high salary while in Greece. Such results validate H1 (As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good'), H2 (As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece), H4 (If someone left Greece because they could not find work (or the desired kind of work) easily, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if job opportunities are still lacking in Greece) and H5 (If someone left Greece because of loss of income, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if their income level will not be high here). But they do not validate H3 (As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece), which is the subject of the question posed on the forum. 

Other topics mentioned in the comments
The topic threads discussed in the forum question are repeated here (in alphabetical order) for ease of reference: anti-social behaviour, beauty, bureaucracy, class system, corruption, crime, the (Greek) crisis, education, entertainment, family, food, friendship, good/bad experiences, health, immigration, insecurity, job opportunities, lifestyle choices, mentality, money, politically correct behaviour, politeness, politics, quality of life, race relations, road code, sex relations, smoking, solidaritytaxation, terrorism, tourism and the weather. Not all the topics were discussed to a great extent, but conclusions can be gleaned from the information that participants in the discussion 'gave away' through their comments.

From the comments made throughout the discussion, a very pro-Greece stance can generally be felt. Some participants described certain good or bad experiences that have overshadowed their opinion about where they prefer not to live (between Greece and the UK); but since Greece is the country where nearly all the participants were born and have family still based here, nearly all participants still return to Greece for the annual summer holiday (tourism). Aside from family reasons, the quality factor of a Greek holiday should not be underestimated: in this year alone, Greece is expecting more than 30 million tourist arrivals by the end of 2017, making Greece one of the top 10 destinations in the world for a summer holiday destination:

"Greece is paradise, albeit a poor one ... people here [in the UK] know it and that's why they save money all year ... to go to paradise for a fortnight."

Quality of life and lifestyle choices are significant determinants used to set personal priorities about place of residence. But quality of life and lifestyle choices are not black-or-white variables: they differ for everyone, in the same way as what kind of entertainment and food each person prefers. More tangible factors like income levels and work availability provide greater insights into how people make this choice. The beauty of the landscape and good weather were regarded as reasons for liking Greece rather than reasons for wanting to return to Greece. Factors such as high levels of bureaucracy and corruption in Greece were already present before the crisis, as were bad politics; they are not determinants of loss of jobs and income. High taxation was mentioned in relation to Greece, due to the loss of income that some participants may have suffered, which led them to emigrate, and the constant new measures being implemented in Greece:

"We want to live on UK incomes in Greece with UK-style stability, but without constantlypaying taxes to a bankrupt country

Relations with the opposite sex are dependent on the open-mindedness of the couple, as it is generally recognised that culture clashes will inevitably exist. Friendship is of lesser importance than family. In another thread on the same forum, however, many participants admitted that they keep company with Greeks more often than with other cultures, despite the multicultural nature of the UK. Family seems to be a greater determinant for returning to Greece: when there are children in a family, childcare comes to the fore, which is deemed expensive in the UK. Greek grandparents help immensely towards this end; they do not accept or expect payment for doing this work. Lower expenses allow you to live on a lower income level:

"I decided to return to Greece to give birth and raise my child... I live in my own home in a nice suburb and have help from my parents. In the UK, I needed more than £3000 for 2 a 2-bedroom home plus a nanny on two average UK salaries... We were ... both working 15-hour days."

Smoking and adhering to the road code were discussed in relation to anti-social behaviour, politically correct behaviour and the mentality of society. Adhering to the rule of law and political correctness were seen as British traits, whereas lawlessness and showing solidarity were regarded as typical of Greek society. But the results here do not correlate well with how participants view crime. Crime and violence are regarded as happening at a greater rate in the UK than in Greece. A few participants mentioned the dysfunctionality of family life and UK society (especially as viewed outside London), which was often silenced by the politeness factor often used as a cover to not discuss situations that look culturally unusual (the subjects of race relations and immigration should be included here). The UK class system was touched on, but there were very few participants in the discussion who understood the concept well enough to use it as a factor in deciding whether to return to Greece. Finally, terrorism was only mentioned once, despite the fact that a terror attack had already taken place in the UK when the question was raised on the forum.


In a scientific study, one way to form conclusions is to add up the numbers for each variable and put them in some kind of order so that one variable stands out in such a way that it gives a black-or-white answer to the question of the study - "Would you return to Greece as things stand today?" - in order to show the effect of how numbers speak. It would be a shame to do that in this case because it would miss the whole point of the analysis: that there really is no easy answer to the question, and most of the time, the answer depends on personal priorities.

The defining variables for the most recent wave of Greek emigration have been lack of work opportunities and loss of income, and in both cases, this situation has not changed 'as things stand today', as a participant in the discussion questions: 

"Has that thing which made you leave Greece changed?"

Unemployment and low salaries still plague many parts of Greece, so this specific situation has not changed for people who left the country because of the crisis. What if it were to change though? Would people return to Greece? The answer may lie in the results of Topic A (see above): 

"... If I had the possibility, of course", "... if there were promises of work in Greece, a lot of people would return", "if I could have the same salary... I'd return", "... if you find what you are looking for in Greece, you should leave", "if I had a normal salary for a midwife, I'd return tomorrow", etc

We understand from such comments that, possibly, people would like to Greece - but not as things stand today. Better healthcare and education are not priority criteria, as both seem to suffer from various problems in countries the world over: good job prospects and high income levels do not give rise to feelings of insecurity. Having some form of regular work provides regular income, which gives you space to plan your upcoming expenses - in this way, you can choose between public and private services, as expressed by a number of participants:

"I had to go to a Greek hospital to get a proper 'repair job' on my leg. Of course, it cost me."
"I get everything done privately in Greece. So I don't have any complaints."
"I expect different kinds of treatment from something that costs €10 and something that costs £100."
"I was really against bribes [for hospital care] when I first left Greece, but since coming to the UK, I can appreciate it better."
"[On healthcare] in the UK, you get a Primark suit in an expensive Boss box. In Greece, you get a Boss suit in a Primark bag. I prefer the latter."

Perhaps the most appropriate comment concerning whether to return to Greece, as things stand today, was made in the following comment:
"... there's no easy answer for whether it's better up here or down there. It's a multi-factorial equation dependent on many variables, such as if you are single, have children, where you live here, where you live there, if you are renting/paying off a loan here/there, what your salary level is here/there, if you want to save or spend money, etc. It's a difficult question that can only be answered case-by-case."

On the subject of repatriation, I experience the issue as cousins visit, and cousins leave, every year, after the Big Fat Greek Summer Holiday. My children ask me why we don't reciprocate the visits to NZ. I mention time, money and upside-down seasons - they all sound like good excuses. "But you were born there," they say. My kids are in their mid-teens and they still have no idea what immigration is about. They need to try to understand why it is that the Greeks who emigrate are the ones that feel the burning need to keep returning, even if it is only for a holiday. But they won't be able to understand this unless they themselves emigrate. On the one hand, I hope they experience it; on the other hand, I hope they don't need to. And if this does end up happening, I really hope that they will be able to enjoy the same privilege as their mother - repatriation without regrets.

More reading:
"The Brain Drain Phenomenon in Higher Education in Greece: Attitudes and Opinions on the Decision to Immigrate"
"Economic Crisis Marks 3rd Emigration Wave of Greeks"
"Outward migration from Greece during the crisis"
"Neo-immigrant (Νεο-μετανάστης)"
"Immobility in Times of Crisis? The Case of Greece"
"Ratings Agencies"
"My Experience In General Hospital St. George Of Chania"
A Greek malady: Too many doctors, too few GPs
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