La Greca Magazine
MARIANNA LAGAKOU - VAN ZANDWEGHE (34)
Studies: English Language and Literature
Profession: English Teacher
In Belgium since: 2009, lives in Knokke
"Without Optimism, We Cannot Go Forwards"
In retrospect, her timing was perfect. Marianna Lagakou – Van Zandweghe emigrated a few months before the economic crisis, as she said with absolute honesty. “But that was pure luck” she notes. “I am a love immigrant. My husband is a lawyer, I am an English teacher. For me it was, therefore, easier to find work abroad. The choice was made fast.” Today she is – in her words – “half Belgian”. She teaches at the education/training center SYNTRA and has been President of the Hellenic Community of Bruges – West Flanders since 2011.
Marianna is seriously concerned about the progress of some issues in her country. For quite some time now the situation has been frustrating. “There is a real brain drain going on. A friend of mine is an engineer and had been looking for a job for over a year. In Athens, a city of 4 million citizens, there was absolutely no proper vacancy. Holding a university degree in Greece is nowadays a disadvantage because you have expectations. Isn’t it logical that if you hold an engineering degree you don’t feel like working as a cleaning lady?”
More and more of her friends try their luck in the European Union, especially in Belgium and the United Kingdom. “That is not self-evident” she says, “You lose at least a year in Belgium, because for most Greeks it is difficult to learn Dutch. But it works out. It takes a lot of effort, but after a year most Greeks find a job of their level.”
It would also be challenging for Marianna in Greece now. Due to the poor quality of the Greek public education system, there used to be a lot of work for private English teachers before the crisis. Marianna says that because of the economic uncertainty, many parents cut down on lessons. “Many colleagues find it hard to get students, or they have to lower their fees. At the same time, taxes are being raised, so your net income is less in the end.”
Marianna doesn’t believe that Greece will go bankrupt or that it will leave the European Union. “Without optimism, we cannot go forwards. If we don’t trust that Greece cannot rise from this situation, we never will”. Through her blog project “La Greca” she attempts to spread her enthusiasm. “I promote Greek artists and designers. There is so much talent, though the Greeks spend less on luxury products, of course. For start-ups it is almost impossible to stand on their own feet.”
However, Marianna also sees positive developments. “We are not champions in tax dodging anymore. A while ago the former mayor of Thessaloniki was sentenced for life for fraud. Five years ago, this would have been unheard off. That came as a great shock.” She hopes that the crisis will be an opportunity to reform the state. “It may sound strange to you, but I hope that Greece becomes more like Belgium. Everything is so well-organized and structured here. You have the best medical system in the world. Why could not Greece have that too?