Workers: Cleaner today, cook tomorrow

Delta nr 23, August 2004

They're TU Delft's 'other' foreigners, the workers who clean, cook and do other menial jobs at the TU. This week the English Page meets Konstantina (Tina) Tsirogianni, 26, from Thessaloniki, Greece. She's a part-time cleaner.

With her blond hair, you could easily mistake her for a Dutch girl, and should you ask her a question in Dutch, she'd probably answer it, too. But she'll soon tell you she'd rather speak English. Or Greek, her mother tongue. Tina Tsirogianni came to the Netherlands two years ago to get an international cooking degree. She took a cleaning job this summer at the Civil Engineering and Geosciences Faculty to earn some cash. "Life here is very expensive," she says. "Last year my parents had to send me money, because I couldn't make it on my own."

After working as a secretary in a primary school in Greece, Tsirogianni decided she wanted to become a professional cook. But as 4,000 people applied for 100 available places at the local cooking school, she found getting in impossible. Tsirogianni: "I searched for private schools in Athens, but they charge around 10,000 euros a year for a two and a half year course, which was too expensive."

As she'd always wanted to travel abroad and experience life in another country, Tsirogianni considered going to Boston (USA). She even sent money to a cooking school there. But then came 9-11. "After that, it was difficult for me to go there, because I needed a study visa, and being Greek that was very difficult to get," she says.

Instead, Tsirogianni decided to Holland to study at Mondriaan College in Den Haag: "A friend of mine in Holland told me about this school." But instead of actually taking cooking classes, she took Dutch classes in Rotterdam for five months and then found herself a cleaning job at the TU. Her understanding of Dutch is pretty good: "I understand everything and I can make simple conversation, but my English is still better." However, she does find speaking different languages during the day quite difficult. "At home I speak Greek, at school English, outside Dutch, and I'm also learning Spanish at school. I sometimes get the languages mixed up."

Tsirogianni soon gave up her TU cleaning job however and started working in a Greek restaurant, which also supplied her with accommodation. "Many Greek restaurants here offer staff accommodation," she says. "They need Greek people as employees, but they do take advantage of you when you're new to the country." Although she didn't like working at the restaurant, she did like one of her colleagues. So much so that he became her boyfriend and they soon found their own rental house. After a year of 'doing nothing', as she puts it, the would-be cook finally began classes at Mondriaan College.

Dutch food

Tsirogianni recently finished her first year and has two more to go. To save money to get through the next year, she returned to her TU Delft cleaning job. "This year I only have to go to school one day a week, the other four days I'll work as a cook," she says. "If it's possible to combine my cleaning job with my school schedule, I'd like to keep working mornings at the TU. Most people here are friendly."

So far she hasn't found a restaurant to do her apprenticeship in, but she's positive that she will before school starts in September. Tsirogianni would prefer to apprentice in a hotel, because once she graduates she plans to return to Greece and work as a cook in a hotel. "You learn more working in a proper restaurant, as they're usually smaller and you get to do more, but I'd rather gain work experience for when I return home," she explains. "Cooks are paid well in Greece." Wages are about the same as the average Dutch salary, with living costs in Greece being half those of Holland.

When asked for her opinion of Dutch food, Tsirogianni falls silent. "I haven't really tried it," she says. "I don't think Holland really has a cuisine." At home she usually cooks Greek dishes, like her favorite: Greek-style meatballs. Most of her friends in Holland are Greek too, except for a few who are Dutch. "It's like a small Greek community here," she says.

Like many other Greeks, Tsirogianni's concerned about the effect the Olympic Games will have on her country. "Lots of money is being spent on the Games, even though the country hasn't got it," she says. "I'm afraid the whole country will starve after the Olympics, because somehow we must pay back all the costs." Still, she's proud her country finally got to host the Olympics Games: "We were supposed to have them eight years ago."


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