‘Private healthcare is cheap in Greece, it’s a great system’

Wild Geese: Claire Sanida says Volos offers affordable rent and is a very safe place

Claire Sanida has been living in Volos, Greece, for almost two decades.

Claire Sanida has been living in Volos, Greece, for almost two decades.

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“The saying goes, when you leave Longford, you leave for good, or something like that,” says Claire Sanida, who has been living in Volos, Greece, for almost two decades.

Lying 330km north of Athens, the city with a population of 145,000 is no big tourist hub, unlike the county’s famous islands, so local language skills are a must.

But Greek wasn’t on the academic agenda when Sanida graduated from Kevin Street in Dublin with a degree in food sciences and technology in 2000.

“I went through the motions and got a placement with Nestlé Ireland straight after college. But like so many people of my generation, I decided to get a J1 visa and head to the US, where I spent time in Cape Cod and Chicago. ”

The year abroad inspired her to travel before settling into a job back home. “When you’re young, it’s so easy to make these kinds of decisions and I decided to complete a TEFL [teaching English as a foreign language] course in Dublin with the view of spending a year abroad.

Local language

“I got a job with an agency at the Sarsonas School of English in Volos teaching school-aged children.”

A year suddenly became two after she met her husband in 2004, which forced her to learn the language to a point of native fluency.

“When you go to live somewhere for a year, you can get away with not learning the local language, but after a second year it’s a must. I had a bit of Greek, just to get by but, upon meeting my husband and subsequently coming to grips with a language I had no experience of, it opened up possibilities and changed my perception of things completely.”

In 2006, the couple opened their own English tutorial institute in Volos called Lingua Plus, teaching local children and adults to international certification standards. After two children and an infamous Greek recession however, they sold the business in 2013.

“I started working full time as a director of studies at the Sarsonas school again in 2013, going part time just before the Covid-19 lockdowns. Besides teaching and scheduling, we do the international EFL exam, TIE, which was developed in Ireland. It can be taken by junior and adult students on both long- and short-term courses.”

In a normal year school holidays last four months due to extreme daytime heat but, because of lockdowns, the school year has been extended to June 25th.

“Despite the fact that children were home-schooling, the department of education deemed it necessary to make up for lost classroom time missed. That means all of our summers are cut short. Though it’s great in theory, it means many classrooms will be unbearably hot as they don’t have air conditioning.”

Leaving Cert-level students all have to quarantine before taking exams, then provide a negative test before they enter the building on the first day, she explains.

“We’ve been doing a lot of testing here at schools. When kids first went back to school after the last lockdown on May 10th, they did two antigen home tests per week; now they do one, which you have to present every Monday morning. We’re in line with other countries in terms of vaccinations, and I reckon, by the time schools go back, it will be compulsory for public servants including teachers to get vaccinated.”

Sanida says she can’t complain about the country’s handling of the crisis and its health system in general.

“Private healthcare is cheap here. If you need a paediatrician, it will cost €20, if they come to your house, it’s €25. If you go public, you have to wait a few hours, but if you need a consultant you can get them. It’s a great system. There are 700,000 people working in healthcare over here.”

Life is generally inexpensive but salaries, she says, are quite low. “We own our apartment, but there’s a culture of rent here, though rents are very low compared to home. The greatest bonus of living here is the fact that it is very safe, and kids get to spend so much time outdoors.”

As a result of Covid-19, last summer turned out to be a blessing for the family. “Cases were low and, as a result of low tourist numbers, we travelled to the normally busy islands and they were empty. It was incredible.”

Irish connections

Despite the promise of sunshine, Sanida enjoys leaving Greece and coming home for a month in the holidays as Irish connections in Greece are few and far between.

“I’m the only Irish person in Volos. I still have friends back home and love coming to Longford with my family. Grandad also comes over every year for a month, so we have our contact and I speak English with the kids, who have a little Longford twang. There are a few Irish people in Athens and they have various events, so we keep in touch.”

Rather than dwell on Irish traditions, she has embraced local ones. “They have great traditions in Greece, like the celebration of your name on name day. People aren’t too adventurous with names as a result. People often get named after their grandparents and then celebrate together, but there’s a chance it could get busy if you have lots of cousins, all with the same name.

“It’s been almost 20 years since leaving Ireland and, though most people haven’t heard of it, this is a beautiful place to be. We get four seasons here, and you can even ski in winter. I love everything about the place, but you can’t get banter like you do at home. So you just have to make do.”

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