With more than half of young Greeks out of work, the crisis is hitting them hard. Many, like mathematics student Giannis Glampedakis, are taking their chances abroad.
Twenty-four-year-old Glampedakis from the sunny island of Crete is studying at Bern University. Enrolled since last autumn, he had never experienced such a cold winter but he is glad to be here.
“The university in Athens is good but with a masters in my field [theoretical mathematics] I would have had hardly any chance of getting a job,” Glampedakis told swissinfo.ch. “For that you have to know the right people. If you are like me with no connections, it is practically impossible to grab one of the rare positions.”
Because a degree from a Greek university enjoys relatively little recognition, he decided to do his masters in Switzerland. After failing to get a place at the prestigious federal institutes in Zurich and Lausanne, he managed to get into Bern, which happens to offer mathematics courses in English.
For a few weeks the newcomer has been attending a German course at the university and he’s pleased with the progress he has made. Luckily for him mathematics is a universal language.
Glampedakis comes from Chania, a port town in Crete. His mother is a maths teacher, his father a television technician with a shop. Austerity measures have practically halved his mother’s salary, while his father’s income has also fallen.
The young Greek does not receive any grant. His grandparents, who had some savings from their farm, are covering most of the cost of his student life in Switzerland.
Like Glampedakis, many young and ambitious Greeks see no prospects for themselves in their home country and seek their chances elsewhere – in the United States, the European Union or Switzerland.
In 2011 some 1,000 Greeks workers moved to Switzerland, 70 per cent more than in 2009.
The number of students from the crisis-hit country has likewise gone up. At the ETH Zurich federal institute, for example, the number of masters students from Greece has more than doubled, from 38 in 2009 to 86 this year, out of a total of 476 foreign masters students.
Overall a third of Swiss masters students – 8,457 people – come from abroad.
The Swiss embassy in Athens has also noticed the desire of more and more Greeks to seek a future abroad. In the past year requests to study, work or set up companies in Switzerland have increased, Consul Peter Himmelberger told swissinfo.ch.
“We have on average two to five enquiries per day relating to studying and about the same for jobs. Before the crisis there would have been one enquiry every couple of days. But only a small proportion of those who contact us will ultimately emigrate.”
Glampedakis dared to take that step. During his studies he spent a semester in the Spanish city of Valencia as part of the Erasmus exchange programme. “I wanted to discover new things and find out if I could live abroad.”
It is not the case that everyone wants to leave, according to Glampedakis: “Despite the misery there are many who want to study and work in Greece. Others don’t have the opportunity to emigrate.”
It is not new for young Greeks to study and make a career abroad. For decades the best qualified people have been emigrating. The young expat finds that regrettable. Many come back though after a few years, for example as university professors. This is a typical career path for Greek academics.
Originally from Athens, Harris Dellas, professor at Bern’s Economics Institute for the past 13 years, knows many young people who have abandoned Greece and want to study abroad.
He doesn’t find it alarming that Greeks want to study abroad. It’s about getting a better education and experience abroad. But when these young people stay in Switzerland after graduation, or highly qualified Greeks work abroad, it turns into a brain drain, Dellas told swissinfo.ch.
“In the short term it is not a problem for Greece, on the contrary: due to the high unemployment level among young graduates it takes some pressure off the employment market.”
Glampedakis can also imagine doing a doctorate after his masters and then returning to Greece. However at the moment he feels things look bleak for his country.
In contrast to Switzerland, where everything works very well life in Greece is tough because of the ailing economy, crippling bureaucracy and numerous strikes.
“It has to be expected that things will get worse. People constantly have to pay more new taxes; prices are going up and pay rates are falling. The economy is at rock bottom.”
He doesn’t rule out state bankruptcy despite the cutting of the national debt. The student blames widespread corruption and political sleaze for the mess.
Glampedakis is not going to vote in the upcoming elections. “The political parties cannot resolve the crisis. Politicians are not looking out for the country, only their own interests.”
Like many Greeks Glampedakis has a deep distrust of the state and has a certain sympathy for people who cheat on their taxes. “This money is missing from the state, that’s true, but people need every cent to survive.”