Dr Antonios Chasouris was drawn to New Zealand by a fascination for this country that dates back to his childhood.
He vividly remembers the stories his grandfather told him about the Kiwi soldiers he met in Crete and Tripoli during the Second World War. Kiwis were renowned for their relaxed, casual attitude to life and an uncanny ability to start a party wherever they went. “Everybody loved them,” Dr Chasouris said.
More than 400 Kiwi soldiers are buried on Crete, an island they died defending from German paratroopers, strengthening the cultural bonds between New Zealand and Greece, he said.
As a teenager, working in a holiday job on the island of Lesvos, Antonios recalled Kiwi tourists were not charged for the hire of motorcycles because of who they were.
Then when he went to London to study psychology, he fell in love with a Kiwi girl from Dunedin, who added fuel to the fire of his passion to visit this country one day.
His doctorate, from the University of Glamorgan in Wales, was based on research into Williams Syndrome, a disorder discovered in New Zealand in 1961 by Dr J. C. P. Williams, further reinforcing the Kiwi connection.
With those bonds it is hardly surprising that Dr Chasouris, now a highly qualified clinical child psychologist, immigrated to New Zealand as a skilled migrant after finishing his PhD in 2008. “I believe I was meant to come here,” he said.
His studies and fieldwork have taken him all over the world – England, Wales, Scotland, Hungary, the United States and back home to Greece – but it was the warmth and caring attitude of Kiwis he met overseas that drew him here. “Coming to New Zealand was a very pleasant experience for me,” he said. “From the very first moment I came here, people were friendly, polite and nice.”
The New Zealand Immigration Service in London was very helpful with his application and fast-tracked his visa in three weeks flat because he had a job to come to in Auckland.
Māori and Pacific Island communities took very good care of him during his first six months in Auckland and his workmates have christened him a ‘Griwi’, including him in social activities outside work.
Although the language was different, Antonios has found Kiwi culture is very similar to the Greek way of life. Both cultures preserve their traditions, maintain a respect for elders and have a common love of socialising and sharing food. “What I like in this country is that you never feel like a stranger,” he says. “I never felt alone or anything like that, especially in Auckland.”
When his health board contract in South Auckland expired, he moved south to Invercargill, “the friendliest city on earth”, where he took up a permanent position as a specialist clinical child psychologist with the Southland District Health Board.
Dr Chasouris has now worked a full year in Invercargill, loves the Southland people and has decided to settle there permanently. “As a friend put it: ‘Antonios, if you love Southland, Southland will love you’,” he said. “I haven’t had a bad day here in the last year. I’m enjoying my work. Even when I have a busy schedule, I never feel tired.
“I’ve never had a problem with a Kiwi in this country,” he said. “The only minor difficulties I encountered were from colleagues from a different country, immigrants like me.”
Back home in Greece, Dr Chasouris left a prestigious job as director of paediatric psychological services for the Piraeus Rehabilitation Centre, a facility for children with neurological and environmental disabilities. His family thought he was crazy turning his back on such a successful professional career.
“Once I started combining clinical practice with administration, I lost a lot of the joy and satisfaction of my profession,” Dr Chasouris said, especially the human contact of dealing with “real people” every day.
“I love working with younger children,” he said. “Coming to a less specialised position was really good for me. Here in Southland, you help wherever you can, and I have a wide range of skills that I can apply here.
“One thing I like about New Zealand is, because of a shortage of skills, an all-round therapist like me can apply all his skills. “For example, I have studied educational difficulties, clinical psychology and behavioural therapy, so under the mental health system in New Zealand, I can do a lot of things, which I love.”
The only negative experience he has had in this country was driving in Auckland, a big, fast city that was very difficult to get around without a car. He also misses shopping in his spare time, because most shops in Southland close in the evenings and weekends.
But perhaps the greatest difficulty Dr Chasouris has with a quiet life in the Deep South is how to meet Kiwi girls. “Apart from that there is nothing negative about Southland,” he said. “I have decided to stay here forever and hope I can meet a nice Kiwi lady to start my own family here.”
New Zealand was a small, safe country far away from many of the problems of the world, he said. For anyone wanting to start a family, this was the ideal place. “Children here are genuinely happier than children round the world that I’ve met,” he said. They are very spontaneous, affectionate and polite, even in families that may be experiencing some difficulties.
Dr Chasouris is confident he made the right choice coming to New Zealand and enjoys his relaxed, stress-free work environment with no formalities, no titles and no hassles.
“I love the sincere appreciation and simplicity of the people here in the South Island,” he said. “I have felt very wanted here. It is the love, smiles and happiness of the people that keeps me here.”