I was born in Macedonia, a little country the size of Vermont, but rich of history. The birth place of Alexander the Great and Mother Theresa, situated between Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece, a beautiful country with amazing landmarks, a country of 34 mountain peaks, Europe’s
oldest and one of the deepest lakes, a beautiful country and my home for the first almost 16 years of my life.
“I was afraid to look at anyone’s face because I knew I would not understand what they were saying to me. I walked around looking at the ground and with my big dictionary in my hands until I graduated from high school. “
Before my family and I moved to the US, Macedonia was in republic of Yugoslavia, but during the late 80s and early 90s Yugoslavia fell apart and all the united republics that made up the country, including Macedonia, became independent. Life was becoming difficult for many as economy struggled and many lost their jobs. Therefore, a big number of Macedonians decided to seek a better life for their families elsewhere, including my parents, my brother and I, who came to the United States of America in February of 1988.
When my family and I moved here, we did not speak any English. It was very hard for me. I was an ‘A’ student back home, a class president, involved in so many activities and groups, such as scouts, sports, chorus, poetry competitions and much more. Here, I was afraid to look at anyone’s face because I knew I would not understand what they were saying to me. I walked around looking at the ground and with my big dictionary in my hands until I graduated from high school. I remember crying at night many times and being mad at my parents for bringing me here. At that time I thought they had ruined my life. I missed my country, I missed my friends, and I missed my school and my whole life in Macedonia. It was very different here, including school and social life. It got a little easier and more interesting when I started working part time and learned how to drive. I would have never had that opportunity back home. That was a great benefit and I gained my confidence back little by little.
The first school I attended here was Eastmoor High School. I enrolled during the second semester of my sophomore year and I was there till the end of my junior year. I had to move to Walnut Ridge High School for my senior year because the schools moved the ESL unit there and I was receiving ESL services. I graduated from WRHS in 1990. I went to college way later in life when I was in my late 30s. I attended Columbus State Community College and then Ohio Dominican University for Middle Child Education in Social Studies and Language Arts and TESOL.
Only about 3 months after I came to the US, I started working part time at Bakers Shoe Store at Eastland Mall. I didn’t speak English, but I had two Macedonian friends that worked there and they helped me get in doing stocking and dyeing shoes. After a while I started picking up the language and started communicating, therefore, I was promoted as a salesperson. It was my second job that changed my life and my career goal though. During my senior year in high school, I was asked to translate some documents from Macedonian in to English for families that had just arrived to Columbus. One of the coordinators for the ESL Department of Columbus City School suggested that I apply for a job with the schools as an ESL Instructional Assistant right after I graduate. It sounded unreal to me because I thought there will be others that will want that job that are older and more qualified. But, I met the qualifications and the fall after I graduated from high school I started working at Fairwood Elementary School. I assisted a teacher that became my lifelong friend and a mentor. We taught children from many countries around the world. I felt I was very effective in what I was doing because my students were faced with the same challenges I was once faced with. I had walked in their shoes once and knew exactly how they felt and what they needed. After two and a half years of feeling lonely and not living a life I always imagined I would, I was starting to smile more and feel good because I was making difference. In addition, my dream since I was a little girl of being a teacher, a dream I thought would never come true once we moved to the US, was slowly becoming a reality. I knew that this was something I was going to do for the rest of my life. There was a pause of a few years that I didn’t work with the ESL population in Columbus area when I had to work third shift jobs so I can be a mom during the day, but after I went back to being an assistant I decided to go further in my education. I went back to CCS and worked in Columbus Global Academy for a few years, and for the last 5 years I have been fortunate to work for ETSS (Ethiopian Tawahedo Social Services), an organization I hope to grow with and wholeheartedly support its mission.
Throughout my young adult life I was faced with several challenges. Life was not all that easy and I found myself trying to do my best raising my sons alone after my divorce. I was lucky to have my parents by my side as they helped me tremendously while I worked and went back to school. For a while I was working full time and also took full time college courses. Thinking back, I really don’t know how I found time to do it all, work, school, homework, my children, being a soccer mom, and a football mom, but I did it, and I hope I was a good role model for my sons and taught them that everything is possible if you put your mind and will to it. I am grateful that God has given me strength to overcome my struggles and has blessed me with wonderful children, one who has graduated from University of Cincinnati and is working in Washington DC now, and the other in middle school and loves to volunteer in my evening classes when he doesn’t play soccer. God has given me another chance at being happily married. My husband and I enjoy many of the same things together, and we mostly enjoy watching our children grow and are proud of their successes.
It has been 30 years since I came to the US and a lot has happened during this time. Our society has experienced a great technological boom for an example. When I went to school here, I carried my dictionary in my hands the whole time, went to the library to read and research. Now, everything is available to us in a click of a button and we carry that small device (the smart phone) in our pocket. I wrote letters and sent developed pictures to my friends in Macedonia and waited a month or two to receive a letter back 30 years ago, whereas now, you can facetime at any given moment for free, share pictures on Facebook, Instagram, tweet and so on. The advancement of technology is just one example of the differences between then and now and definitely most noticeable in my opinion. On the other hand, I think we have more to worry about now than what we did 3 decades ago. Life is more expensive now for one and jobs are harder to come by. Sadly, prejudice, an unjustified and incorrect attitude toward certain individuals is more present now than since I’ve been here. Prejudice has always been a part of society, and I have experienced it firsthand as a “foreigner” , but the last few years I have seen it directed more and more toward a certain race, origin and religion. I am however remaining hopeful and pretty confident that our younger generations, who are our future, will step up and make changes. In some instances, they have already started, and I am very proud of them and have pledged my support as they take steps forward into a bright future together as one.
Children and challenges
Children will always be faced with some challenges once they come to the US. One common challenge is not speaking English. But, schools are well prepared for the students from other countries. I will always remember my first ESL teachers and will forever be grateful to them for being there for me, helping me every step of the way and leading me towards graduation. There are also organizations like ETSS that help the children outside of school in after school programs, summer camps and offer other services needed by the children and their entire families. Another challenge is getting used to a new education system. And, in some instances, there will be the ones that have never been in school or didn’t have to attend, but here, by law, they have to attend. There will be a few that unfortunately will be looked at differently because they come from someplace else, because they look different, because they dress differently or eat different food and so on. To all that, I tell them to proudly take up that challenge and don’t change or do something they don’t want just so they fit in. I have always been in awe that even in times of challenges, struggle, heartbreak or loss, cultures prevail. People from all cultures are now spread far and wide across the globe, but cultures and identity are honored, remembered, kept alive, so our new generations are aware who we are and where we come from. Each of our cultures, history and traditions are unique and beautiful. This is what makes America beautiful! This is what makes America GREAT! There is nothing more important than keeping our heritage alive and they can do so by involving themselves with associations and groups that uphold those values. At the same time, dream big and invest in good education so that they can pursue their dreams, because the world of opportunities is limitless. I always tell my children, never forget where we come from and keep reaching for the skies.