Chris Siakkas' love for Scotland started at the airport
Chris Siakkas tells GB Mag why he knew he had made the right decision to study in Glasgow, even before he left airport.
“Happiness never lays its finger on its pulse.” Is the quote from the famous Scottish Economist, Adam Smith, that inspired 21-year-old Christopher Siakkas to leave Greece and come to study Economics in Scotland.
Chris was born and raised in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. There, he attended elementary and an American high school before he decided to apply to do his undergraduate degree in Scotland, at his dream university - the University of Glasgow.
“The educational system in the UK is exceptional and it’s something I really wanted to take advantage of. There are also more career opportunities in economics and political science here. Plus my hero, Adam Smith, had been a professor here. I couldn’t turn down this opportunity, it was too tempting!”
Chris had been to the UK a few times but this time he was leaving behind the world he was familiar with and substituting it to experience Scotland as a student.
“I was a Greek student coming to Scotland and I was impressed, that was my first reaction. The very first thing I noticed was the people themselves, the people at the airport, the first friends I made. They were hospitable and I could see myself easily adapting to this new world.
Greece is warm, sunny and has endless beautiful beaches. Scotland is a tad different. But not just in terms of weather and places to visit – also culturally.
“The country has not just opened its doors for me academically, but also creatively. I love Scotland!”
“The culture is of course different. From the accent, to the things you’ll find in the supermarket. I was lucky enough to have been to the UK before, so I had some idea. But being a student was quite a different experience. It makes you much more mature and responsible. You have to do your own grocery shopping, cook for yourself – and you know, that’s a big shock, especially when you come from a Greek family!”
When I ask him how he learnt to understand the Scottish accent, Chris admits it took a bit of time to get used to it and he shares a funny encounter.
“I remember being in a taxi soon after arriving in Scotland and the driver was asking me questions. Being friendly, as the Scots are! But I wasn’t sure what he was saying. I had to ask again and again, until I got it! It was…a bit embarrassing to have to ask him to repeat himself so many times, but he was friendly and didn’t seem to mind.”
Chris also mentioned that in Scotland, the word “wee” – which means a bit – is used in almost every sentence. Or “cheers” – a word that has several meanings, from a casual way to say 'bye’ to 'thanks' to 'here's to you'. And according to Chris, “indeed the word you are likely to hear most often in Scotland.”
University of Glasgow
As a recent graduate from the University of Glasgow, Chris advises other international students to get involved in student life as much as possible, whether that be through joining clubs and societies or, as in his case, setting one up.
Chris set-up the Glasgow Economic Forum, which started off as an informal meet-up for his friends to discuss economic topics that had not been covered in lectures. The forum has now been running for two years and is popular amongst academics, innovators and journalists.
Chris also advocates the “work hard, but party even harder” way of student life
Chris adds: “Don’t be overwhelmed as an international student and don’t let academic work take over your life completely, make sure you have a balance! It’s good to have fun and the nightlife in Glasgow is brilliant. It’s different from anywhere else I know and there’s always something to do in the evening. Like, you can go out for a pint on a Monday night – that to me is absolutely unique. I love the UK pub culture. And I personally think Glasgow does it best!”
According to Chris, this is not a privilege he can enjoy as easily in the US, where he is now studying at University of California, Berkeley as an exchange student.
“For example, I had an exam yesterday. The classic thing to do in Glasgow would be to gather your friends and go to the Union bar and celebrate the end of the term – just to go out and relax. Yesterday, I tried this with friends here and their reaction was ‘oh, we don’t go drinking.’ I didn’t want to drink, I just wanted to go out and disconnect for a bit while chatting with friends and relaxing after all the academic stress. In Glasgow this was a norm, it was fun and it was good to go out and celebrate with others.”
Chris is not just all about economics or celebrating after exams. When he has some downtime, he enjoys playing tennis, oil painting and pottery.
“I’ve been painting for 16 years and had several exhibitions back in Greece. It’s a hobby that I really enjoy. It’s fun and relaxing. And it’s an aspect of my life that doesn’t make me just an economist. And to be honest, ever since I went to Scotland, I’ve been so inspired by its natural beauty. The country has not just opened its doors for me academically, but also creatively. I love Scotland!”