Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My story as an EU citizen...

Growing in a typical working class family from Greece, I would have never thought that one day I would live where I am living right now. In our family we did not have many bold and adventurous individuals. But I got the "bug" while working in Greece's hotel industry and meeting people from all over the world.

I came in contact with youths from Germany and Austria and soon befriended them. We kept in touch for a while and suddenly I got an invitation from them to visit them at Christmas. I guess all things happen for a reason in life. I accepted their invitation and that resulted in having one of the best experiences a 20 year old can have: traveling alone in Europe!

It gave me the opportunity to see and experience new things, taste new food, meet new people, see new places and towns. Get to know a new way of life, discover new cultures, architecture and broaden my horizons. That was it; I was hooked!

Few years passed and it settled in. I knew what I wanted and needed to do. I needed to expand as a person, travel and explore more countries. Learn more about Europe, its history, its people and all its different cultures. And perhaps while doing this, find myself as well.

Fate once again played its role and in the right time a friend and colleague of mine told me about EURES. An E.U. funded project that helps young people to work abroad, learn a new language, gain professional experience or simply have fun. It was exactly what I needed, so I wasted no time and I applied for it.

The officers in the Greek unemployment center asked me about the languages I could speak, my working experience and my qualifications. Since I spoke English and German and I was a hotel employee, the told me that the only country in E.U. that back then needed hotel staff was Ireland. So Ireland "chose" me in a way. I translated my CV in English, they faxed it to the Irish Hotel Association and that was it. The next day I got a call from Ireland to attend to my first interview.

When I announced my decision to my friends and family, it seemed to me at first that they were doing anything to prevent me from leaving. Later I realized that they had simply no knowledge of how things have progressed in Europe. Since the times that the Greeks were migrating to work in the German fabriks, making money is not the only reason to migrate.

Studying, learning a new language, upgrading your working skills, expanding your professional portfolio, or simply becoming more competitive. Things that a lot of people in Greece were not familiar with a few years ago.

I also found out that people simply did not know how E.U. worked or even their rights as EU citizens. They asked me questions like: "are you going to lose your pension contributions if you leave Greece now? Will you be able to bring back you Irish contributions if you decide to move back? Do you have to inform the Police that you are leaving the State? Will you need a visa?What if you become unemployed in Ireland, how can you claim any benefits? Will you be eligible for health services?"

That forced me to research and learn more about things before I make the bold move, so when I arrived in Ireland I was fully informed about my rights. And I was more than happy to share my new found knowledge with others.

My life in Ireland went from good to better, and now I am a home owner and I have discovered eventually what I want to do with my life: travel and become a journalist. So after 7 years in the Emerald Island, I now study while working full time in the Public Sector. And I still share my enthusiasm with others about traveling, writing, Europe and the European project.

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