Multicultural Leeds — the Greek Way

Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly popular for people to change their country of living in order to create a better life for themselves and their families. They migrate for better job opportunities, or to expand their horizons by continuing their studies. This phenomenon of immigration is particularly common in countries which suffer from economic crisis, such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. Over the past seven years almost 62,000 Greeks have migrated to the United Kingdom.

Leaving homeland behind is a really hard decision. In a Europe where borders are just lines laying on a map, each country consists of citizens with different origins. People behave as “world citizens” and set sails for new destinations in order to improve their quality of life.

However, relocating away from “home”, either because of their inability to cover living costs or simply their desire to experience something new, is a big and stressful step. I am one of those people, who left their homeland to broaden my horizons, and this has not been easy. Having decided to continue my studies abroad at a postgraduate level, I moved to Leeds. The first days were really difficult. When a new country becomes your home, a period of cultural adjustment follows. The educational system in the UK is very different from the one in Greece, and the interaction with people that have diverse cultural backgrounds, proved to be a big issue for me. I realised the importance of communication, finding it especially difficult to converse in a second language and with people from a different cultural background.

Additionally, I understood that all these things that seemed to be extremely new and hard, would prove to be an open window to a new way of thinking, to new cultures and mentalities. “Acknowledge the diversity and be open to this. Let the UK and Leeds charm you; you can only gain from this experience”, was the advice of one of my tutors, A. Michalopoulos, who had studied in Leeds. Following this, I went on with my daily routine.

He was actually right. It takes time, but eventually cooperating and working with people with another temperament is a skill that can be acquired. Learning not only to acknowledge diversity, but to respect it as well.

Despite the new academic knowledge, and despite the new mechanisms that are developed in order to handle all the new challenges, there is still something that appears to be missing.

In order to maintain the traditions and customs of my homeland, I expressed the need to keep in touch with Greek people. I wanted to practice Greek dances, keep learning about folklore and celebrate the Greek traditional ceremonies.

“But, how I was supposed to manage this here?”, I set this big question to myself. In the frame of multiculturalism, which characterises the United Kingdom, there are a lot of foreign communities in Leeds. It tries to be a city of equal opportunity, where everyone has a fair chance and people from all backgrounds can take part in community life, creating a society that is varied, vibrant and proud.

One of these communities, established in Leeds since 1962, is the Greek Orthodox Community of “The Three Hierarchs” which consists of an orthodox church, a Greek school, and a school of Greek traditional dances, with over 400 families registered.

At least once a week, Greek nationals as well as other interested in Greek culture, have the opportunity to learn traditional Greek dances, and also be informed about their history and their semiology. “Overall response is much better than what we predicted, as people proved to be more than happy to keep in touch with their tradition. They attend every lesson admitting that it feels like home ”, says the dance instructor Dr Dimitrios Kontziampasis.

He moved to the UK four years ago; the last three he is based in Leeds. Dimitrios left his home country since he didn’t have the opportunity to be employed in his field of interest (Materials Science and Engineering). When he came to Leeds, to work as a research fellow in the University of Leeds, he started to look for ways to keep in touch with his origins. As a result, he became part of a group of Greeks, who were dancing for fun in their free time. After a period of time, he was contacted by people of the community who wanted to establish a school of Greek dances. Their aim was the promotion of Greek cultural heritage.

He willingly accepted the invitation initially for personal reasons, as he confessed, since Greek traditional dances were a huge part of his daily life in Greece, and this invitation could help him feel more of himself again. Subsequently, the reasons became purely emotionally.

“Being in close proximity of Bradford, Huddersfield, and Dewsbury, Leeds borrows many elements of diversity and has become a versatile city, which gives out a strong feeling of familiarity. It is the capital of multiculturalism of the North”, he concludes.

Accepting and adapting a new environment doesn’t mean that we are forced to abandon our origins. Leeds has proved that.

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