By Penny Zalalas
The Hellenic Initiative (THI) Australia launched its flagship Australian Internship Program last year to provide work and training opportunities for Greek graduates facing unprecedented unemployment in Greece.
They have partnered with more than 20 Australian companies to offer six-month paid internship positions, which represents an investment in Greece’s youth of $1.5 million over three years.
Successful interns receive training and mentoring, develop new skills and then return to Greece with new mindsets and capabilities based on their Australian workplace experience. Participating companies include major Australian banks ANZ and NAB, and placements are spread across a variety of industries, from engineering to IT.
The first eight Greek graduates began their internships in February 2016, working in companies throughout Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. Another four interns arrived between June and August this year in the second round of placements.
GCT had the opportunity to chat with Dionysios Farmakis and Stavroula Kolliniati who recently arrived to Australia and have just started their internship with National Australia Bank (NAB) in Sydney and we also caught up with Stavroula Oikonomou and Lida Christou, who finished the Program in Australia and headed back to Greece with a wealth of knowledge and experience.
What did you study in Greece?
Stavroula- I gained my 5-year Diploma in Architecture from the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) in 2014. Currently I have my double Master in Human Geography and Urban and Regional Planning.
Lida- I graduated from National Technical University of Athens in the department of Civil Engineering last March.
How did you find out about the THI Australian Internship Program?
Stavroula- Actually, being participants in the ReGeneration Program, The Hellenic Initiative found us! THI Australia cooperated with the team in Greece, in order to make this program possible. All of us had already gone through some procedures including interviews, tests and training, so THI addressed to the ReGeneration team to find interns in accordance with the available internship positions in Australia.
Lida- I read an article on a Greek website about the Australian internship program. I got really excited when I realised that the prerequisite for participating in this program is to be on the shortlist from the ReGeneration program. ReGeneration is an innovative program which strives to reduce youth unemployment in Greece through finding internships, and is sponsored by THI. Through a process of numerical, abstract, verbal, personality tests and face-to-face interviews, 200 applicants were selected from 4,000 applications and eight of us came to Australia.
Who did you receive an internship with and how has the Program helped you?
Stavroula- I received an internship position in Cox Architecture, one of the most prestigious firms in the field of architecture, both in Australia and worldwide. The experience has been more rewarding than I had ever expected. I have taken part in diverse projects, gaining experience in various scales of design and I feel very lucky to say that I have come in contact with really interesting people.
Lida- I worked in Melbourne as a Project Coordinator for Hickory, which is a construction company. This was my first job as a civil engineer, so I have learned a lot through collaborating with very friendly colleagues. They know their role very well and they helped me to understand the “know-how” of working at the construction field. A significant thing about this whole experience is that we are a multicultural team and everyone has their own identity and respects each other.
The program has endorsed us, all the Greek interns, to these well-organised and globally recognised companies. Each of the interns has someone from THI who they can consult and speak about any issues, he or she may face during the whole period. My “mentor” was a very kind man with whom whenever we caught up, we discussed the world and life, my thoughts, my future and the opportunities that I might face. His experience, his knowledge and his will to help find me solutions to situations. We also had the support and the infinite help of the Program Manager of THI who is always available. This program is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s the first time that I lived for so long abroad. I have understood that “the sky is the limit”.
What training and skills have you gained from the Program?
Stavroula- My colleagues and supervisors did their best to help me learn as much as possible. I was trained in architectural design and in essential computer design programs and visiting construction sites, as seeing things in practice is very important for an architect. Moreover, both my colleagues and the people involved in THI have given me a great understanding of the Australian culture and helped me adjust to the Australian lifestyle.
Lida- During this internship, I learnt to hear and understand my stakeholders, the needs of the clients, negotiating with others in order to find the most effective proposal and solution. I now feel more confident and I can handle so much more. My English also improved and I feel more comfortable conversing in English, though it took a while to understand the Australian accent. All this unique experience has built my self- knowledge and self-esteem.
How important do you think the Program is for the youth of Greece?
Stavroula- I believe the Program to be remarkably important and definitely a huge opportunity for the youth of Greece. Unfortunately, the current situation in Greece has led to a huge brain drain, with highly qualified and educated young people leaving the country. Therefore, apart from the fact that THI program offers the opportunity to gain work experience on our field of studies, it is more than that. It gives us the chance to go back to Greece with our horizons opened and it leads to enthusiastic people totally capable of creating a better future both for themselves and for their country.
Lida- The THI Australian Internship is a great initiative from the Greek diaspora. Unfortunately, in Greece we are plagued with financial recession. These programs make young people feel more optimistic and try harder to achieve our goals. Young people can change this situation with exploring the world and seeing how well – organised countries with great potential are. Travelling abroad broadens individual’s horizons. This experience makes us more competitive and more eligible to improve the situation in Greece. Many young people have travelled overseas in order to be independent and find their dream job. All these experiences, one day, will go back to Greece to add a value to the society and give a boost to the economy with innovative ideas.
How did you find out about the THI Internship Program?
Stavroula- We are members of the ReGeneration Program in Greece and were given the possibility to apply for the internship through them.
Dionysios- We had the opportunity to apply for an internship in either Greece or Australia and we chose Australia- only four people were chosen from this round of applicants.
What did you study in Greece?
Dionysios- My Bachelor was in Business Administration at the University of Piraeus and my Masters was in Banking and Finance at the University of Glasgow.
Stavroula- We actually did the same Bachelor degree at the same university in Piraeus, however we didn’t know each other as Dion is three years older than me.
What was the process you went through?
Stavroula- First we had to apply through the ReGeneration Program with a letter, then we had to pass some tests and assessments. In the final stage we were able to apply for the internship and had to prepare our CV the Australian way, which is different to a Greek CV- then we had some more interviews.
Dionysios- The whole procedure for the interview was through stages and in the final round we were told about the Australian internship, so we amended our CV to more of an “Australian way.”
How have the first few weeks been for you?
Stavroula- The first day we came here we had a meeting with our supervisors at NAB and they explained our roles. Then we had some obligatory training and were able to commence our roles after that. In the beginning we had small projects and now we have been given more responsibility within our roles.
Dionysios- First week was induction at NAB and we had our formal training- from the second week we became more involved within the team.
Did you have any work experience in Greece?
Stavroula- I had an internship for three months, which was optional from University and it was very nice as it was my first step towards a professional environment- with lots of responsibilities and I realised how my actions affect other people’s work.
Dionysios- In the past year I worked not in the banking field but I had an internship within an accounting department, I also worked in a liquor store for some months and I had my mandatory army duties to complete.
Do you see a future in the banking industry?
Stavroula- It will be very difficult for me to try and get a job in Greece right now as I am young and things are tough there at the moment but I will apply for jobs in London in the banking industry, as I have a better understanding of the work and I like it.
Dionysios- I also want to stay in the banking field, so this is the ideal experience for 6 months- to understand the environment and I am really enjoying it so far.
What do you want to gain from this experience?
Stavroula- It’s not only a professional goal it’s also personal- as I want to grow and mature while I’m here. I’m very far away from my family and friends so I believe it will open my mind and I will become more self-confident. Also of course professionally I have already learnt so many things and it doesn’t only apply to the banking field- I can take this experience with me wherever I go.
Dionysios- I’m trying to build my character again and to broaden my horizons on both a professional and personal level.
How important do you think this Internship Program is for the youth of Greece?
Stavroula- I think that THI is very important for young people in Greece, as it gives us the opportunity to dream and it assures us that dreams can come true.
Dionysios- It gives us what we didn’t have in Greece- working experience and living in a different environment, which is a wonderful opportunity.
Do you see Greece’s financial situation changing any time soon?
Dionysios- I think it’s about 10 years away.
Stavroula- I agree and all the creative minds- people our age who are now living and working abroad will return to Greece. I’m optimistic that this opportunity I have been given will allow me to gain knowledge that I can give back. My aim is to help my country and I really think this is the goal for everyone- that one day we will all return.
*To learn more about THI Australia head to au.thehellenicinitiative.org