# Interview surrounded by the concept: All Over The World – Wherever, Together #
Citizen of the world. A successful career, a course that stands out. When and how did you decide to live and work abroad?
Growing up my family and I moved around – a lot! My mom worked for the Greek Embassy and the nature of her job meant every three to five years we changed school, country, and even continent. As a youngster leaving your best friends, your support network and the routines you have established behind to start over is challenging. I believe this is because humans are creatures of habit, and therefore change is uncomfortable and indeed hard work. However, what I have come to realize is that change is good and it has been an integral part of my personal development journey.
Soon after graduating high school at the American Community School of Amman, Jordan I pursued my undergraduate and postgraduate education at the Universities of Warwick and Oxford in the UK. After completing my MSc Biology course at Oxford in 2008, I was very keen to start my career in healthcare management. The intention was always to return to Greece but when the global financial crisis of 2008 happened the world was an uncertain place. My parents’ good advice was to remain in London where I had secured a position on the highly competitive National Health Service (NHS) graduate scheme. And thus, more by chance than calculated design, my healthcare management career began in London and not Athens.
What are the important milestones in this process and how much have they contributed to your overall development?
The first big milestone for me was making the decision to study abroad. It was an important step because it forced me to be independent, without having the safety of my home comforts. Living in the U.K. for five years, whilst my family was back in Greece, was the ultimate test in self-reliance and maturity and it taught me to be less dependent on others and take more responsibility for myself. However, one of the main reasons I succeeded on my own was because my family was very supportive of my decision and continued to encourage me even when things got tough and I became homesick.
The second big milestone was finding my first job abroad. Whilst I wanted to return to Greece at the end my studies, I knew gaining international experience in the UK would be valuable to future employers in Greece. Starting my career in the NHS provided me with a good grounding for the future. I joined the two-year graduate management training scheme in the fall of 2009, which is a fast-track program for senior management positions in healthcare. I had the privilege of meeting and working with some of the best clinicians and healthcare professionals in the world, which was an opportunity I wouldn’t have had in Greece.
My third milestone was family. A large part of my decision to settle abroad was getting married to my British husband and having our little daughter Athena (of course she has a Greek name!). However, whilst I am now fully settled in the UK, keeping in touch with my friends and family in Greece is incredibly important for me now more than ever. With modern technology like FaceTime and social media, this has been made a lot simpler than even ten years ago when I was a student. I am also lucky my husband is a big fan of Greece and Greek culture; he is actively learning the language, enjoys Greek cuisine and culture, and we regularly visit Greece as much as possible to spend time with my family. It is always comforting when I complain that I have a headache and he responds with “it is probably the evil eye, call your dad”.
What difficulties have you encountered so far? Were there any people who helped you and how?
Moving to a new country to study or work undoubtedly pushes you out of your comfort zone. Understanding a new culture, a new way of working, and new ways of thinking is both challenging and rewarding. One of the main challenges for me was adapting to life away from family and the safe and comfortable routines I had established.
When I relocated to London for my first job I remember feeling very lonely initially. I moved into a new house, into a new neighborhood, and didn’t have many friends nearby. A friend gave me excellent advice – ‘join local sports clubs and get to know as many people as soon as possible’. I joined the local basketball team, the London Hellenic Society, made an effort to meet my neighbors, and actively participated in work socials to slowly start expanding my network and settling into London life.
Professionally, I would recommend finding a mentor whose role is to help you gain confidence, become more effective in your job, and even help you get promoted. I sought out mentors who held senior positions that I aspired to have in the future. One of my first mentors was the Deputy Chief Executive Officer in a large London hospital who introduced me to influential people and helped me navigate the UK healthcare industry. LinkedIn is also a great tool in establishing an online presence that can help open doors to business opportunities and networks beyond your current job.
How many years have you lived abroad and in which countries? Which do you like best and why, both as a way of life and as a job? What are the differences from Greece?
We left Greece when I was just six years old and I have lived in Denmark (six years), Greece (another three years), Jordan (three years), Germany (four years), and now England (12 years). Each country, its culture, and people have taught me valuable lessons. Here are some of the important lessons:
1. Change is a good thing! It teaches you to become adaptable and take risks when others play it safe. It is not something that should be feared, but rather embraced.
2. Every country has good and bad aspects. As my mother would say, the key is to learn the good and take it with you.
3. Become less ethnocentric towards your own culture. Learning to appreciate and understand other points of view, beliefs, and ideologies teaches you to respect other people and develop your own views of the world.
I have only worked in the UK and would say the main difference with Greece is the breadth of career opportunities open to you abroad. Increasing globalization means that you are likely, at some stage in your career, to be working with or managing an international team and international experience is paramount in enabling you to do that well.
For anyone considering a move abroad, a good starting point might be to gain experience of companies in Greece that have an international presence. These companies can facilitate transfers to other global offices and could be an easier transition for anyone looking to gain international experience.
What do you advise young people in Greece, but also Greeks living abroad? Do you keep in touch with Greece and how? In the country where you live, do you work, do you hang out with Greeks?
Do things that make you uncomfortable and push you outside your comfort zone. My most treasured memories are holidaying in Greece but some of my most enjoyable experiences have been traveling to Asia. Visiting the local ‘hawkers’ food centers in Singapore to sample the vibrant, colorful, and flavourful foods, trekking ancient temples in Kuala Lumpur, and seeing the cherry blossoms bloom in Japan are unforgettable moments.
Don’t be ashamed of your failures, mistakes, or struggles as they develop you personally and professionally.
Yes, I keep in touch with Greece and my support network of friends and family regularly. I try and visit at least twice a year but the lockdown has resulted in FaceTime and social media to keep in contact. It is also very important to my husband and me that our daughter Athena speaks Greek and gains an appreciation of Greek culture and traditions so the more exposure she has to Greece the better. In London, there is also a very large Greek community that I take full advantage of and I have met some of my best friends at Greek parties or local cafes!
How do you see the prospects of the Future in terms of technology, innovation, artificial intelligence or the industry in which you operate?
The adoption of technology in healthcare has lagged behind other industries, which has been largely driven by regulatory requirements regarding patient data and customer reluctance to embrace virtual solutions.
However, the global pandemic has provided the impetus needed to do things differently. Virtual care provision has rapidly increased in the form of online General Practice, physiotherapy, and even mental health consultations as alternatives to face-to-face appointments. This accelerated transformation that would usually take years to implement happened in a few months. Furthermore, big technology companies like Google, Apple, Walmart, and Amazon are heavily investing in the healthcare space from AI technology, to healthcare apps, and wearable devices.
The healthcare industry is going through a period of rapid and significant change and I am excited to be a part of that and to see what the future brings.
Danae Dudley-Hammatt, Chief of Staff | Director of Healthcare Programmes at Vitality, Linkedin Account