Brain drain: Greece's future is walking away

greece yannis pagonas

For many young Greeks, leaving their homeland is the only option.

Yannis Pagonas knows this only too well. Many -- too many, he said -- of his close friends and family have left Greece in the past few years.

"Living abroad at the moment is better, people have a better standard of living, higher wages, more security," he said.

Over 350,000 Greeks, or 3% of the population, emigrated between 2010 and 2013, according to official data. Almost 270,000 of them were young people aged between 20 and 39.

Without a solution to the country's debt crisis, that brain drain could accelerate and make it harder for the country to recover from years of recession.

Pagonas, a 32-year old lawyer, speaks perfect English and has a masters degree from Berkeley.

"I think about leaving often, all these everyday disappointments make me think it might be better to search for alternative ways," he said, referring to the country's crisis and the Greek government's clumsy handling of negotiations in Europe.

Related: This is what it feels like to live in Greece

Those who leave often have one thing in common. They are highly skilled -- doctors, academics, entrepreneurs.

"The people who decide to leave are the top people, with good education and talent," Pagonas said.

The brain drain is painful and expensive. University education is free in Greece, so those who leave after graduating take that investment with them. The countries where they find work benefit from their taxes.

But there is not much else to do. With youth unemployment at over 50%, youngsters are fighting for any job, let alone one in their chosen field. Athens is full of shop assistants, waitresses and tourist guides with degrees in business administration, physics, and other disciplines.

"I speak three foreign languages and have a degree in economics. Selling women's bags was not my dream," said Stefanos Zouridakis, who works in his family's shop. "But we have to survive somehow," he said.

Related: Faces of Greece's euro dilemma

Nickolas Papadatos is only 16, but even he is thinking about going abroad. He is planning to go to university, and would like to spend some time studying abroad.

He doesn't know whether or not he would return, but is very aware of the grim reality many young people face.

"If I stay in Greece, I hope I would get a job, but it's very difficult," he said. "I think maybe I will be paid very little, like most people," he said.

greece nickolas papadatos
Nickolas Papadatos is only 16, but even he is thinking about going abroad.

Pagonas' profession keeps him in Greece for now -- it's tricky to practice law in a foreign country. But he is getting used to seeing friends and family leave in pursue of better options.

"We keep in contact, and they often come to Greece for holidays," he said. "I miss them, but I don't want them to return -- for their own sake," Pagonas said.

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