By Andriana Simos and Takis Triadafillou.
Moving to a foreign country with three young children under the age of four would be challenging for any young mum. But in 2008, Maria Kathreptakis did exactly that when she moved her whole family from Australia to Dubai for her husband’s job, leaving everyone and everything she loved behind.
“It was really difficult to live with three young kids, my youngest was nine months old. I had to basically get in there and start from scratch. So you had to be a very strong person,” Maria tells The Greek Herald exclusively.
Despite this, Maria says she’s very grateful her family was able to experience ‘a different way of life,’ while also maintaining their Greek culture and heritage in an Arabic country.
“When we first went to Dubai, there were 5,000 Greeks at the time. Currently there’s about 10,000, so it’s doubled. There was a Greek society which I contacted and I made a lot of good friends there… and because I started a little baking business, I made halva and stuff,” Maria says.
“The kids also got to meet the different people and different customs so overall, it was a really great experience.”
‘Different city to anywhere else in the world’:
Thirteen years after their initial move, the Kathreptakis family has returned to Australia and with Maria’s three children, Emmanuella, Alexander and Angelo, now 18, 15 and 13 years old respectively, The Greek Herald had a chance to ask them what life was like in Dubai.
Emmanuella speaks first in a distinct Arabic accent which, as her mum says with a laugh, surprises everyone she comes into contact with. The 18-year-old opens up about her life in the glamorous city and stresses how it was ‘absolutely amazing.’
“It was something which I think everyone really deserves to experience. Being Greek Australian there, I thought I would lose some of my customs and traditions,” Emmanuella begins.
“But it was actually really good because growing up in a Greek household anyways and being in a country where there were alot of other expatriates as well, I was able to make many multinational friends and also attend a school that is very different to the schools we get here in Sydney.
“With alot of my friends being from Arab countries… I really enjoyed celebrating their traditions with them as well. I would have friends come over for Christmas and I would enjoy Ramadan with them.
“So yeah, life was amazing there. It’s a very different city to anywhere else in the world.”
In Dubai, expatriates aren’t allowed to study at a public school and so Emmanuella found herself in a private school, studying the International Baccalaureate curriculum and ultimately, achieving an ATAR of 99.1.
Now that she’s back in Australia, she plans on using that excellent grade to her advantage and hopes to apply to the University of Sydney to study nutrition and dietetics. In the meantime, with the state currently in lockdown, she’s also planning to make the most of Australia’s luscious green landscapes.
“One main thing that I did miss in Dubai is the nature they have here. You can’t just go for walks there [in Dubai] and just see massive lakes and bridges and trees. That’s what I absolutely love about this place,” Emmanuella concludes.
Excelling in sport in Dubai:
Emmanuella’s two brothers, Alexander and Angelo, had a similar experience when living in Dubai and they both enjoyed getting involved in sports such as soccer, tennis and swimming.
In Alexander’s case, at just 15 years of age, he has not only learnt a little bit of Arabic while still maintaining his Greek language, but he has also made a huge mark on the soccer field.
He’s played for Juventus Academy Dubai, was moved onto a group called DASA, where all the elite schools of Dubai play, and then went to Spanish team, La Liga, before playing for HPC (High Performance Centre). This is the highest level of soccer you can reach in Dubai.
“I never really thought to take it as serious back when I was smaller because everyone’s dream is to become the best in the world you know? But… I always loved to play it and as I got older, it just stayed with me so I carried on playing it,” Alexander tells The Greek Herald.
Of course, the other thing that’s stayed with Alexander as well is the amazing friends he’s left behind in Dubai.
“Leaving Dubai was a bit hard because I’m leaving behind everyone I grew up with. It will take a bit of time but I’ll probably get used to it,” Alexander adds.
For his younger brother, Angelo, while it’s also hard adjusting to life in Australia right now, he still has some fantastic memories of his time immersing himself in the Arab culture and playing tennis – a sport he excels at.
“I enjoyed the sports in Dubai because they had a huge variety of them. I used to play tennis, football, basketball. I used to do tryouts for alot of teams. I used to do alot of things,” the 13-year-old says, before adding how he also tried to learn Arabic.
And what are his hopes for the future? “I really want to do architecture, maybe have tennis as a side hobby. Like in an academy. That would fun.”
Almost as fun as their experience living in the glamorous city of Dubai for over 10 years seems to have been! Here’s to many more successful endeavours for the Kathreptakis family.