The story of the Vasili's is one that is very inspiring. They are a family of four that has worked beyond belief to create a beautiful life in America while remaining true to their Albanian roots. Although their tale is unique in many regards, it is a common narrative behind the American Dream. This dream is one of opportunity, but what many fail to realize is that it can take years upon years to truly capitalize upon.
The hard work and sacrifices that go into building a life in a new country can shake a person to the very core. Leaving family and starting off with little to no money all in hopes of a better future is beyond what most of us could ever dream of. Yet, it is exactly what Jovana Vasili's great grandfather did. The Vasili family spent years laying the foundation for their children to have greater opportunities in America. This took endless hard work, determination and faith that their persistence would pay off. How can one build a life in a new country while remaining true to their roots? Read on to find out:
1. How old were you when you came to America from Albania?
I was four years old when we left Albania for America. I came along with my parents and younger sister, Krisli, who was two years old at the time. We moved to West Lafayette, Indiana first and ended up settling there.
2. Did your family move together all at once or was there a process of traveling back and forth in the beginning?
My great grandfather worked in America for most of his life. At the time, America was flooded with immigrants fleeing their home country and moving to America for many reasons like freedom and the opportunity to work and make a steady income for their families.
He worked in America from the time he was a teenager until he retired. During this time, he was supporting his wife and children, who still lived in Albania. He sacrificed a lot to provide for his family. Because of my great grandfather, later, when I was a toddler, my grandfather received the opportunity to go to America. My family had connected with some local missionaries in Albania and my grandparents went to their church, the Upper Room Christian Fellowship, in West Lafayette, Indiana. After my grandparents settled there for about a year, the rest of my family moved there as well.
3. What was it specifically that brought your family here?
When we were given the opportunity to come to America, my parents knew it was the best thing they could do for their family. Many people who are from America don’t realize how hard it actually is to come to this country. Thousands of people in many countries today are seeking the opportunity to move to America or other countries.
There are many reasons for this, but the main idea is opportunity. In many places people have little opportunity to do things like work, or educate themselves. America brings opportunity and security for many people. My parents wanted to give their children a future filled with opportunities. They wanted us to have the choices and freedoms all of us in this country are privileged with everyday.
4. What was the hardest part for your family when beginning to lay a new foundation in an entirely different country?
Though my parents knew that moving to America was the best decision for our family, it was a shocking transition for our family, especially our parents. We built a foundation with Upper Room Christian church and my parents started working different labor jobs. Practically, the hardest part at first was learning English.
My parents had taken some English classes in Albania, but experiencing it first hand was difficult. I learned English in kindergarten and first grade with ESL classes and helped my sister learn it before she started school. Besides the language barrier, moving to a foreign country was a cultural shock for us, especially my parents, who had lived in Albania for over 27 years. Assimilating to the culture took many years as we had to fit in and understand American cultural norms. Sometimes that part made for funny stories of missing out on social cues, but the process of assimilating into a different environment is long and often difficult.
5. Your parents are incredibly kind and hard-working people. What are some of the values that they have taught you that can apply to your career?
This past year, after graduating from college, I have especialy recognized how my parents’ values have reflected upon my career and life. After moving to Americ, my parents built a financial foundation from nothing. They were able to provide for us on their own as well as buy a house and support us in our academic pursuits. The financial and resourceful skills they have taught me not only have helped me become a more valuable employee, but have been essential to starting a successful, financially independent life after college.
Like you mentioned, my parents have always been extremely hard working and motivated people; their sacrifices have always encouraged me to work hard. They have taught me to never underestimate hard work. I believe that hard work in your career and life should be at the core of what you do.
Most essential of all the skills and values that my parents emphasize is the importance of family. My parents have always made time for family. We travel together and spend quality time with each other. Because of this relationship, I appreciate the value in connecting and taking time for others. This value has not only proven to be important in my life, but also in my career and the way I communicate with others.
6. Do you think that your experiences traveling and living in a different country have given you a better perspective on life?
Yes, I absolutely believe that I wouldn’t be who I am today without my parents’ experiences and sacrifices. Our family has prioritized traveling and keeping our connections with family in Albania. Going back to Albania especially makes me appreciative of all the opportunities I have had in America, but it also helps me maintain a grounded viewpoint. Because of my experiences, I love traveling not only for vacationing, but also for the chance to understand people better and learn about their lives.
7. Tell us about Luna and what she had to go through:
Like I mentioned, we still have family in Albania and visit them as much as we can. A couple years ago, my uncle in Albania and his wife had their first child, my cousin, Luna. In her second month of life, one of the few pediatric cardiologists in the country diagnosed Luna with a rare heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. The doctor also said that she must have open heart surgery within her first year of life.
Unfortunately, we knew that the chances for this surgery to be performed in Albania were very small. The doctor who diagnosed her said that no surgeons in the country had the training or equipment to perform the kind of surgery Luna needed. Our family was devastated and we knew we had to do everything in order to find a way for Luna to get the medical care she needed.
In Albania, situations like Luna’s are not unusual. Many children and babies do not get the kind of medical attention they need and would have been offered in other countries like America. However, after doing some online research and asking people around us, we applied to different programs at hospitals that gave international children cardiatric care. After a couple months of waiting and praying, we heard back from Riley Children’s Hospital and Gift of Life International organization. Luna was accepted to receive her surgery from Dr. Turrentine’s team at Riley and all medical expenses were provided by Gift of Life. We were ecstatic that Luna would have her surgery at Riley in Indianapolis and without Gift of Life’s support, her surgery would have been a significant financial hardship.
So, in May 2013, when Luna was five months old, she came to America and had a successful surgery at Riley Hospital. Today, she is back in Albania and a very healthy two year old. We always keep Luna’s story with us and know that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our friends, church, the doctors and nurses at Riley, and the Gift of Life program. Since then, we have been committed to giving back to Gift of Life and raising awareness through several events like a yearly bake sale and silent auction.
9. What started Scones & Doilies?
Scones & Doilies is a bakery business our family started for the Greater Lafayette community. We make gourmet, European-style, baked items that focus on quality and taste. For our customers that appreciate handcrafted pieces, we also sell personally designed vintage-inspired doily pieces.
My mom has been working as a cake decorator for many years as well as baking for family and friends. Three years ago we started a bake sale to support Gift of Life and found many people encouraging us to share her products to the community. She spent a lot of time perfecting her recipes and her scones were becoming popular. At the same time, West Lafayette is home to a large university with a significant international presence, but had no European bakeries. Thus, we started Scones & Doilies and participate in the West Lafayette Farmers Market. We hope that Scones & Doilies provides an escape from a busy life and a way to share time with others.
10. What do you think sets it apart from other bakeries in the area?
Scones & Doilies stands out is for its gourmet, European-Style quality. Our products are uniquely crafted for taste as well as appearance. We pride ourselves on providing all-natural, fresh items. In a world where so much of our food is filled with preservatives and artificial ingredients, Scones & Doilies strives to refresh its customers. For example, our scones are made from fresh berries, so they are best if enjoyed no more than a couple days after baked. When customers are enjoying our product we hope they feel special because their item is unique, gourmet, and fresh.
To find out more about Scones & Doilies, visit the site right here.
Based in Chicago, Jessica reports on career motivation, marketing, entrepreneurship, and many other topics. She is devoted to helping others see things in a different light.