Monday 4 October 2021
Kostas: ‘I can already see a bridge between us, Alex! But before we get into that: Hi, my name is Kostas. I am from Greece, and have been living in Enschede for 9 years and have been working as a teacher at UT for 2 years. My research is on how large and diverse groups of people work together.'
Vasileios: ‘And I am in the last year of my PhD. I work on 3D printing of vascularized cardiac tissue in the vascularization lab. When I came here from Greece, Kostas introduced me to Enschede and UT, and since thenwe became good friends. Last year, together with three others UT graduates, we founded Authentia, a foundation for Greek scholars living in Netherlands, and especially Twente.'
Kostas: 'We noticed that there is no association for Greeks in Twente. While we are with quite a few people. Many stick around after their studies, they find a job at the university. To connect those people, we decided to set up a foundation. For us that is more convenient than a student association; now also people who are no longer students can join.'
Alex: Ah, so that's how you know each other! What kind of organisation is Authenticia exactly?'
Vasileios: 'Our long term goal with Authentia is to improve Greek society by using the knowledge we gather and creating a network of technocrats. A good example is how you deal with natural disasters in the Netherlands. After the floods in 1953, you built the Delta Works – a gigantic ten-year plan that needed a large financial investment. But it worked! In Greece we have been suffering from forest fires for decades. Our policymakers mainly buy a lot of fire-fighting aircrafts, but that does not tackle the real problem, which is disaster prevention… So we can learn from your systematic approach.'
Kostas: ‘A second issue we are tackling is diversity. From what I understand, that is your specialty, Alex.’
Alex: 'That's right, with our Th!nk with Pride platform we are working on a safer environment for all students in Twente.'
Kostas: 'Interesting, you link diversity to feeling safe. I hadn't thought about it that way yet. If you don't feel safe, you can never be the best version of yourself – not even professionally. So far, in our organisation we have mainly focused on equal opportunities. Greek women have fewer opportunities than men for example. We want to give them the opportunity to come to Twente: here they can take courses, attend lectures and workshops, and increase their chances on the labor market.'
Alex: ‘Ah, that's the bridge you were talking about.’
Vasileios: ‘That's right. But that's not the only thing we want to achieve, by the way.'
Kostas: ‘You have many opportunities in the Netherlands as a young person. We would like to pass on to new Greek students that feeling of being valued and supported. Like: hey, there is someone who wants the best for you. We are listening to you.’
Alex: 'How do people in Greece actually think about the Netherlands? I see you laughing, now I'm curious…'
Vasileios: ‘Well, the biggest stereotype is that this is a party country. Frankly, I thought so too when I had the idea to come here when I was eighteen. I was really surprised when everything turned out to be so calm and organised, haha. You know, if you look closer, our countries are quite similar. We are both relatively small, and we are located next to a very large country that we sometimes have tension. We both love the sea. The largest European naval trade fleets are the Dutch and the Greek.'
Kostas: 'For me, the Netherlands is Germany’s cool little brother. Yes, there are many rules. But when a rule doesn't make sense, people work around it. And it’s great that everything is so well organised here when you come from a more chaotic country. It's like walking out of a club, and suddenly you sense the peace and quiet around you.'
Alex: ‘What's it like living in Greece when you're not straight?’
Vasileios: 'Well, from what I understand, Greek society is still in the closet. Legally we have to follow the European rules, which means that same-sex marriage became legal since 2015. But 90 percent of Greeks are Orthodox Christian, and the Church is present in every corner of society. As you also know from history, religions are not exactly advocates for LGBTQI+ communities. People are more tolerant in the big cities.However in the countryside you will still find outdated perspectives in this regard. And that’s putting it it nicely...’
Kostas: 'The LGBTQI+ debate has been lively in recent years. Politicians are starting to shift, but there is still a lot of resistance.’
Alex: ‘Has your personal opinion on this matter changed since you moved here?’
Kostas: 'To be honest, I wasn't very open to diversity in the past. I have indeed changed a lot. I got to know people who belong to the LGBTQI+ community and now realise that therein lies the solution: meeting new people. Now I want to contribute to the LGBTQI+ community in Greece. In Greece there is still some work to do, as opposed to in the Netherlands, where I think things are going well. Alex, you’re shaking your head right now… Do you disagree with me?’
Alex: 'When I would walk down the street 10 years ago, I would sometimes be called a slur. This still happens to me - to this day. I mean, come on, it's 2021! That's why I think it's so important to organise events: so that we can get to know each other and understand each other's background.'
Kostas: 'I think life is getting so complex that some people can't deal with it. And then they just pick a side. At least that's what I see happening in Greece. This is no excuse for homophobia – I'm just trying to figure out where the resistance comes from.’
Alex: ‘Sometimes I wonder: am I not trying too hard? If you become too much of an activist, you can also achieve the opposite. Here he goes again, people think. I am still finding that balance.’
Kostas: ‘I think it depends on who your target audience is. Look, we already agree on this subject, that's easy. But if you have someone in front of you who thinks very negatively about gays and lesbians, it’s hard to even start a conversation. Such a person won’t be open to discussion. It is better to focus on the middle group: people who are not homophobes, but are still afraid to speak up. That’s where you can achieve a lot.’
Vasileios: Exactly, I think people that have gone through this process of change from unfamiliar to “Hey we have a lot in common!” can bridge this gap.
Hey, I have to go, but I don't think we're finished talking yet. Let's have a coffee sometime. Maybe we can help each other in what we do.’
Alex: ‘Good plan, let’s do that. Talk to you soon!’