Where are you from?

I am from Tirana, Albania. 


What was it like growing up?

Although, I grew up in a communist country my childhood included a highly active and artistic life in addition to a strong school system. I remember reading classic authors as early as 14 years of age. Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez became my first two favorite authors. I read them along with Frantz Kafka before I said farewell to Tirana. Life in my country in a cultural and educational way provided the highest quality of experiences and made me competitive. I loved attending classical concerts, plays, music and dance shows. The stage played a major role in who I have become. It taught me discipline, determination, sacrifice and perseverance to mention a few. However, our personal and social lives needed constant attention. What you said and how you said it impacted your life and your loved ones. For example, I remember waiting on line for groceries for many hours and if lucky I would be able to buy something and take it home. The stores were almost empty but we did not dare say: “There is nothing on the stores”. The consequences of expressing the truth caused devastation to you, your immediate family, and to the cousins. The government controlled everything and us. By the time I left, our country had opened its doors to a plural party system but was still very new at it. 

Why did you #ChooseCLE (what brought you to Cleveland)?

My sister had arrived in America prior to my arrival. She told me how much she liked Cleveland. As with most immigrants we tend to go where we know someone. I joined her a few months later. 

What were your first thoughts about coming to America? Did those change?

My life dream involved America. Albanians as a country are fond of America and its people. There exists a strong relationship between the two countries that goes back almost 100 years. When I came to America I learned about the incredible support the former American President, Woodrow Wilson demonstrated for an independent Albania. Therefore, my view of America and later the view of its people has been and remains positive. Given this opportunity, I would like to thank my amazing American friends who have been and continue to be such great supporters. 

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

I’m sure all immigrants have their adjustment period stories. And they all involve struggling, hurting and overwhelming kind of experiences. For people like me, coming from a communist country made it even more difficult. However, the strong education skills I learned in Albania assisted me well in my new country. Life in America represented a new beginning filled with daily transitions, emotional, social and technological. One of the most challenging barriers other than the language was the lack of friends and family who would vouch for and support me. The immediate loss of status and cultural shock were also a source of great stress. Both my sister and I experienced disorientation. What do I mean by that? The sense in which you do not know where to start and what to do first. There was a lot we needed to catch up with in order to adjust. The new environment presented many unknowns and we could not help each other. We were in the same boat. 

What is your occupation?

I’m a writer. My academic background includes a BA in Albanian Language and Literature from Tirana University, a Masters in Adult Learning and Development and also a Graduate Certificate in Diversity Management both from Cleveland State University. 

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

Yes. Welcomed in so many ways. For a start, when I worked at Fifth Third Bank my colleagues and bank managers would make phone calls for me. They witnessed first hand how I was discriminated against over the phone. Initially, I had to write down on a piece of paper what I needed to say. So if I called a service I would read what I wrote to speak to a customer service rep with my still heavy accent. The person on the other line would be very short with me and at times hang up. I had my colleagues or my bank managers make the phone calls for me. They would ask to speak on my behalf after I placed the call. To my surprise, whatever I needed to have resolved would be fixed. Later on, while undergoing the Diversity management studies I learned about language bias. How we perceive people based on their accent. Mine was far from the Midwestern one. 

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

I must admit, I have integrated well in my new country America. A favorite Albanian custom for me remains the celebration of the changing of the years. Also, to Albanians family and friends are a priority. I continue to be family oriented and to place an emphasis on my relationships with my friends. 

What do you love about Cleveland?

Everything but the snow. We are very fortunate. Our city gets better and better everyday. I feel I have the opportunity to make a difference. I feel my voice matters and people are genuinely interested in knowing me. 

What is your favorite thing to do in Cleveland?

That’s a tough question because there are quite a few things I enjoy. For example, I love going to Severance Hall and listening to classical music. 

What is the best thing about living in Cleveland?

It’s a beautiful city and offers everything a big city offers. I love the lake. I love sports and plays. I love the food scene also. 

Why is Global Cleveland a great resource?

Global Cleveland is a phenomenal  organization with an incredible and caring staff. When I moved to America there was no such organization which could minimize my daily challenges and equip me with the knowledge and create connections with other organizations on my behalf. Global Cleveland provides outstanding support for many. I hope your organization continues and expands the services to immigrants and refugees. 

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees? 

The countries we left suffer from brain drain. In our new country we experience brain waste because we can no longer utilize our degrees. Furthermore, immigrants and refugees have difficulty adjusting. We experience culture shock, isolation, need help reorienting, and learning about the new environment we are in. A welcome program minimizes the adjustment process and provides the much needed support. I studied Albanian immigrants and their adjustment characteristics in America. The ones that were exposed to resources and to programs geared towards their needs experienced a shorter adjustment period, avoided depression and isolation, and became productive faster. 

What suggestions do you have to make Cleveland a more welcoming community?

My experiences with Cleveland have been very positive and welcoming. Cleveland enjoys many diverse and vibrant ethnic communities. A lot gets accomplished on a regular basis. What we need in Cleveland is more people. We can capitalize on our ethnic communities to spread the word about Cleveland. Global Cleveland might be able to energize efforts in which to increase our city’s population. Chicago, Pittsburgh just to name a couple of cities have been successful at globalizing their cities. It’s very important. I look at our world as global. We do not exist in vacuum. Our city will continue to flourish as we welcome people from other cultures. Not only city hall but other organizations in Cleveland need to understand the importance of welcoming immigrants and refugees and therefore focus and place effort on making it happen. I would be happy to be a part of it.