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A Slovakian payback. Miriam’s story of work and success in Italy.

(editing by Margherita Ravelli)

Migrants’ life in Italy is never easy, but sometimes working hard and never giving up give their results. Miriam is an example of a woman who left her country, Slovakia, despite of all the difficulties, and eventually got her payback in Italy.

Hello Miriam. Could you introduce yourself to Pequod’s readers?

I’m Miriam and I’m 41. I was born Czechoslovak but now I’m  Slovak and I also have Italian nationality. I’ve been living in Italy since 1992, I stay in a little town called Rovetta, in the province of Bergamo and I work as a midwife in a public facility. I’m also teaching at the University of Milano-Bicocca.

Why did you decide to leave your country?

I was 18 and, as every teenager, I felt my country too tight for me. It was 1992, the Czechoslovak Republic had been out from Socialism for 2 years and it was going to be separated into Czech Republic and Slovak Republic.  Plus, borders had been opened and I wanted to discover the world, in particular the capitalist world.

Why did you choose Italy?

I had sentimental reasons – I had met an Italian guy on Tatra mountains.

Describe your life in Italy (your occupation, your everyday life, social life, etc.). Tell us something about the city you live in.

Today my life is like an Italian woman’s life: I get up every morning at 5.45 a.m. and I go to work. I spend most of my time working because I have three different occupations: I’m a midwife, a teacher and I also work in a counseling close to my town. I have been living with an Italian man for eight years and only recently banks  have granted us a loan to buy a house.

I like the place where I live, Rovetta, it’s in the mountains and I love its good air. Some people go there for hiking on Presolana mountain. There are also some historical places to visit, particularly in Clusone, the largest town near Rovetta.

Today you are a successful woman and your life is not different from an Italian woman’s life. Was it always like that? Have you experienced any difficulties to become who you are now?

When I came here my life was very different! I was a young woman and probably I wasn’t prepared for the reality I was going to meet.  I had a Czechoslovak diploma  and it wasn’t recognized here in Italy, but I was in love and I got married, so I started doing some different works: at first I found seasonal jobs in hotels, cleaning rooms and room service and then I was a waitress in a cafe and in an ice-cream parlour. I was well-integrated and I spent my time with Italians. I didn’t feel the need to look for other foreigners and meet them.

Nevertheless, at work the situation was different, because my employees often made me sexual proposals, because they believed in the stereotype that “Eastern girl = bitch”, and soon after I signed my employment contract, I  signed my letter of dismissals because I cound’t stand the situation and had to quit the job.

An episode pushed me to restart studying: at the town hall, I had been recorded as an illiterate because I had not studied in Italy. For a year I had attended some lessons at science high school in Breno (BS) as listener, paying particular attention to the subjects that would have been useful to be admitted into Health Professions University, where the choice was between becoming a midwife, a nurse or a physiotherapist. In 1999 I passed my admission text as the first out of 394 other candidates and three years later I was graduated as midwife with the top mark, 110/110 with praise. I started to work right after that, but in 2008 I decided to complete definitively my studies and got a Master Degree. My studies and my business success represent my redemption against racism and stereotypes!

How is living in Italy different than living in your country?

Actually Slovakia isn’t really different from Italy, as it’s a member of the European Community and yes, life is less expensive, but also salaries are lower. If I have to find some difference, in Slovakia corruption  is widespread  and you need recommendation for everything . In Italy, the harshest thing I had to get used to has been the lack of respect between people.

But both of them, Italy and Slovakia, are really different from the Czechoslovak Republic at the Socialist time. There, nobody was poor, work wasn’t a claim, it was a duty. The State protected his citizens. Of course, there were a lot of limitations to human freedom, as we were obliged to join the Communist Party, or it was impossible to go to church. Generally there wasn’t customization or individuality.

Which is the biggest challenge of moving to a new country? Have you had any regrets so far? What do you miss the most?

When I left Slovakia my biggest concern was the language, but actually the biggest challenge has been the culture, as the way of thinking and living. There are some habits in Italy that were difficult to overcome: lack of punctuality, approximation, selfishness and complaint just for the sake of it, without any will or attempt to change the situation.

I often wonder what I would be if I had studied in Slovakia; when I was a young girl, I would have liked to become a genetist; but now I have found my way here in Italy.

I don’t miss a lot of things of Slovakia. I’m really used to Italian life, but I miss my family very much.

What does Europe mean for you? Do you perceive the existence of Europe as a community?

I can’t really say that I perceive the European Community. The thing I’ve definitely noticed and that has really made a difference to me has been the entrance of Slovak Republic in the European Community, because now it’s easier for me to go from Italy to my family in Slovakia and return. But it’s obvious that in Europe there are some states which are considered differently than others, and also in some decisions I cannot see the existence of a community. I’m thinking about the decisions concerning help for the immigrants, quotas  on food production or sanitary system based on refunds. In this sense, Europe doesn’t work as a Community.

Italy, Slovakia, Europe: name three words for each of the previous.

ITALY:  esthetics, rudeness, good food

SLOVAKIA: waiting for the new generation, cordiality, education

EUROPE: class division of states

What would you say to someone to convince him to move abroad? What’s the best thing you’ve got/you’ve learnt by your experience abroad?

Moving abroad is always a resource – by travelling you can open your mind and discover a new world and new ways of thinking. But I think that everybody has his own attitude and has to decide where to go, where to live. Italy gave me a lot of things and experience, but it’s not an easy place where to live in, as there is a lot of racism here. That’s why I’m not sure whether I can convince someone to come here.

Bergamo, Bicocca, clusone, communist party, czechoslovakia, Europe, featured, italy, presolana, rovetta, slovakia, socialism, tatra

Sara Ferrari

Nata e cresciuta nelle valli bergamasche a fine anni 80, con una gran voglia di viaggiare, ma poca possibilità di farlo, ho cercato il modo di incontrare il mondo anche stando a casa mia. La mia grande passione per la letteratura, mi ha insegnato che ci sono viaggi che si possono percorrere anche attraverso gli occhi e le parole degli altri; in Pequod faccio sì che anche voi possiate incontrare i mille volti che popolano la mia piccola multietnica realtà, intervistandoli per internazionale. Nel frattempo cerco di laurearmi in filosofia, cucino aperitivi e stuzzichini serali in un bar e coltivo un matrimonio interrazziale con uno splendido senegalese.

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