Where are you from?
I come from a little green country of Slovenia.
What was your childhood like?
It was simple and beautiful. I had a wonderful childhood and adolescence, having a big connected family and lots of friends from all over the place. I still visit them regularly, seeing that deep family love and firm 20-some-years friendships still exist.
What brought you to Cleveland?
I got a job at the Center for Slovene as a second or foreign language at the University of Ljubljana, and was sent to Cleveland to teach Slovenian language at Cleveland State University.
What were your first thoughts about coming to the United States? Did those change?
Whenever you come to a different country and even slightly different culture you experience a cultural shock. First, everything is beautiful, people are the nicest you’ve ever met, all things are good. Then this honeymoon phase passes and you start to doubt your own decision to move. After a while, you get adjusted and acclimate to your host culture. It was no different for me. My first thoughts were: “People are so nice and open here.” After 8 years, I can still say that.
What challenges did you face transitioning here?
The small differences make a big impact. Not being able to be completely myself, as people would see me as a rude person. One of other small adjustments was not being able to look people in the eyes when I was walking on the street without them speaking to me. And, yes, not being able to drink a cold beer on the street because of the open container law.
What is your occupation? Are you a member of a sorority, fraternity, or any other civic or social organization?
I run a little Center for Slovenian Studies at Cleveland State University, lectureship of Slovenian language, and am the first one to make online Slovenian classes available around the globe (www.onlineslovenian.com). Otherwise, I enjoy being in the Slovenian community, where I volunteer at the Slovenian Museum and Archives, bring in speakers, exhibits, poets, musicians, have movie nights, etc. I enjoy being in other ethnic communities as well: Bosnian, Croatian, Jewish, Hungarian, etc.
How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?
I always felt welcome in Cleveland and elsewhere in the US. Complete strangers offered me help, ask me about my well being, and give me an advice when I needed it.
What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?
I still like Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) celebrations and I am happy to say that this tradition is very much alive in Cleveland Slovenian community. In the last few years we even have a parade (Kurentovanje).
What do you love about Cleveland?
Its Ethnic diversity. Not only food (even though that is a big plus), but also the different vibes in different neighborhoods, celebrations, languages, music. That is truly different than in any other US city.
Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?
I shortly answered this question above. However, it is necessary for a culture to grow to have many different influences. America must stay melting pot, and one pot dishes are the best.
Why is it important to travel abroad?
To be able to see yourself and your own culture from a different perspective. Whenever you travel, you see places, but the most important thing is – you learn something about your own individuality and on the other hand, your own culture in the broadest sense of meaning.