Friends are the keepers of our secrets, dispensers of advice and encouragement, and the shoulders on which we cry. Friendships give our lives color when the world seems gray. That is why they are an integral part of not only the human experience but the migrant experience as well. 

Unfortunately, the story of friendship for most migrants must start with saying goodbye to long-held friendships. These may be friends made in childhood or early adulthood. They are the people who were present during important and formative periods in the lives of migrants. So, it makes it all the more difficult to say goodbye.

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Maintaining these friendships while they are away from home is often more difficult than it appears. Migrants are not home for major life events, such as marriages, deaths, or severe illnesses. This can exaggerate the feelings of separation and distance. However, friendships that are deep, long-lasting, and built on an acceptance and understanding of a wandering lifestyle can endure despite these challenges. 

Yunus, who is from Turkey, was unable to meet his childhood friends for five years while he awaited the approval of his asylum application. As soon as he was allowed, he rushed to meet his old pals in Brussels. “Almost nothing had changed.” “We were such close friends,” the young Turkish student said of their meeting.

Starting Over

Whenever migrants arrive in Slovakia, they all start from zero when it comes to friendship. The path to finding new friends in Slovakia is somewhat similar to that of their home country. A person’s age, marital and child status, and personality type all factor into how easily they make friends. Of course, migrants must also contend with a new environment, language barriers, and cultural differences.

As Liudmyla from Ukraine puts it, “foreigners, overall, are more lonely.” This leads many to turn to other foreigners, often from their home countries, for companionship. These new friends have similar goals and interests, like traveling to parts of Slovakia that may be uninteresting for Slovaks. They may also be free from family obligations on weekends and holidays. Other foreigners have a shared understanding of their experiences and difficulties. 

Kamrát/ka…?

Alas, these friendships with other foreigners are often brief due to a roaming lifestyle or changing employment. If migrants want longer-lasting friendships and a greater sense of belonging in the community, they must turn to Slovaks. As is to be expected, there are language and cultural hurdles to overcome. Slovaks have established networks of friends and family that may find it challenging to welcome a foreigner.

Certainly, this does not mean friendship with Slovaks is impossible, quite the contrary. Migrants make unexpected connections with Slovaks. These can be as ordinary as a favorite sports team or rock band or as complex as a shared understanding of persecution at the hands of an oppressive regime.

Nevertheless, the question remains if these migrants can ever build the kinds of friendships, full of shared experiences and a common culture, they enjoyed back home. Each of these guests had thoughtful answers that show the optimism and resilience most migrants bring to the country. This is what drives migrants to continue to take chances and look for opportunities to make connections. In these divisive times, everyone stands to benefit from more friendship.

Thank you to my guests: Liudmyla Krivosheya, Mark Taylor, Navid, and Yunus.

This podcast and my series on migration is supported by Fjúžn, a program of the Milan Simecka Foundation, whose goal is to create a platform for migrants living Slovakia whose voice should be heard more in our society. Fjúžn hosts the Fjúžn festival and with the cooperation of migrants and their communities organizes other events around the country to showcase the art, projects, perspectives and stories of these lesser known people. To learn more about their events, hear the stories of other migrants in Slovakia and listen to this podcast series, visit www.fjuzn.sk

You can find more info and support them through social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fjuznNMS

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/festival_fjuzn/

Legal immigration in Slovakia, like in most other countries, is a highly variable process. Migrant’s country of origin, purposes of their stay, and other legal and economic factors can either help or hinder this process. For example, migrants arriving from other EU member countries often have a quite easy time in obtaining residency in Slovakia. The process and requirements for these migrants are simplified and streamlined in keeping with EU law.

Perhaps, the most complex of cases is that of asylum seekers. This was certainly true for the young Turkish student Yunus. As he was nearing the end of his Erasmus program in Bratislava, his father was arrested on suspicion of participating in the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Fearing that returning home would also put Yunus at risk for arrest, he decided to apply for asylum in Slovakia. The process was full of rejection and uncertainty, but finally after two and a half years his application was approved.

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For temporary and permanent residents, their immigration difficulties often begin and end with the Foreign Police, the department that oversees their cases. Migrants often complain about a lack of English speaking officers and impolite interactions, to put it mildly. These communication challenges often require migrants to bring interpreters who may not understand the complexity of the immigration process. Sometimes these advocates are offered by employers, but others must hire a professional or request help from friends or family. This is true for Elle from Malta, who asked her Slovak partner’s cousin for assistance.

Unfortunately, the problems do not end with communication troubles. Obtaining the correct information and documents for each unique case can be quite difficult. Each Foreign Police officer may have differing interpretations of the law and request different documents, confounding even the most prepared. This is especially taxing when coming from a less developed country. Craig from the United States, who had just moved from Zambia, was sent to Berlin only to find out the document he needed was in South Africa. This, of course, is costly and simply impossible for some.

Thankfully, these problems are just temporary setbacks for most migrants. They celebrate the arrival of their id cards and focus on what they enjoy about life in Slovakia. For them, the heartaches and headaches of the immigration process are worth enduring for the chance to live in a country that offers freedom, a rich culture, and a high standard of living.

Thank you to my guests; Craig Williams, Yunus, Aubrey Mathis, and Elle Ibbotson.

This podcast and my series on migration is supported by Fjúžn, a program of the Milan Simecka Foundation, whose goal is to create a platform for migrants living Slovakia whose voice should be heard more in our society. Fjúžn hosts the Fjúžn festival and with the cooperation of migrants and their communities organizes other events around the country to showcase the art, projects, perspectives and stories of these lesser known people. To learn more about their events, hear the stories of other migrants in Slovakia and listen to this podcast series, visit www.fjuzn.sk

You can find more info and support them through social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fjuznNMS

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/festival_fjuzn/

Family, be it the one that created us or the one created by us, is an essential part of life for most people worldwide. Even in good times, our family relationships can be challenging and complex. This dynamic for migrants is even more problematic.

The first challenge these migrants face is separation. While some migrants come to Slovakia with their families, many other migrants leave their families behind in their home country. Fortunately, with time this separation, while heartbreaking, usually becomes a less dominant feature of these relationships. Some families cope well with the distance, while others fracture and become irrevocably damaged.

Naturally, family cohesion is not the only dynamic complicated by separation. The inability of some migrants to return home adds to the tragedy of death in the family. These people must grieve alone without the benefit of having family members to share and commiserate.

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The family we make

Of course, the family we are born into is only part of the migration story. Many foreigners migrate to Slovakia because of their Slovak partners, while others fall in love and begin their families in Slovakia. For the migrants who marry into a Slovak family, acceptance is often the first hurdle to feeling whole. 

Foreigners often find that their new Slovak families greet them with suspicion. For some, these attitudes soften over time, but for many others, it is a permanent state of these relationships. Migrants bring their expectations and family traditions that can be incompatible with those of in-laws and the wider Slovak family.

Some of these conflicts may be attributable to communication challenges. Poor Slovak skills can put a strain on all aspects of family life. Parents can especially be troubled when it comes to helping their Slovak children with homework or taking them to the doctor. Often these parents need a helping hand which puts pressure on the Slovak spouse to take on more parenting responsibilities. 

Unfortunately, these communication challenges go beyond foreign parents. Children of migrants can suffer from a lack of exposure to the Slovak language or a less-than-understanding Slovak public. These kids can, at least in the beginning, mix languages leading to confusion and isolation in school. These differences become the objects of ridicule for classmates. Sadly, the demands of conformity can weigh heavy on the children of migrants.

Why Stay?

It may seem that the burdens migration places on families are enough to send them all packing. However, migrants are some of the most resilient people you will ever meet. They look past all these challenges to see the good in Slovakia. Many find the numerous benefits, such as generous maternity leave, after-school activities, safe streets, and decent universal healthcare, to be more than enough to stay. These migrants feel that Slovakia is a better place to raise a family. They hope to put down roots so that future generations of their family can call Slovakia home.

I want to thank my guests: Daria Rychagova, Jamie Byrne, Lia Bowers, Brielle Zahn, Steve Mellor, Barbara Hill, and Eva Hill.

This podcast and my series on migration are supported by Fjuzn, a program of the Milan Simecka foundation, whose goal is to create a platform for migrants living Slovakia whose voice should be heard more in our society. Fjuzn hosts the Fjuzn festival and with the cooperation of migrants and their communities organizes other events around the country to showcase the art, projects, perspectives, and stories of these lesser-known people. To learn more about their events, hear the stories of other migrants in Slovakia and listen to this podcast series, visit www.fjuzn.sk 

Also, follow them on Instagram at:  https://www.instagram.com/festival_fjuzn/

And Facebook at:  https://www.facebook.com/fjuznNMS 

Last month, in preparation for the A Leap of Faith episode I spoke with Hugo. He comes from England, but he is a very keen observer of Slovak culture. However, once we began speaking about Hugo’s first impressions of Slovakia from 1994 when he first arrived, it felt like he was speaking about a different country. Certainly, most cultural elements have remained mostly unchanged, but his experiences seemed poles apart from those of the foreigners who had arrived in the past decade.

This is why I wanted to share our conversation, in full, so you can experience the brand new Slovakia through the eyes of a brand new resident. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

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As noted in our conversation, Hugo is father to the talented young musician Gigi Ann. Here are some links to her music.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwmJwdLyOroTl-Mmvnw_SCg

https://www.instagram.com/gigianngreen/?hl=en

Photo: Hlavná Stanica – Bratislava Railway station with Škoda 14Tr trolleybus,nr 6298,Route 218. March 1993 by Felix O

The Na Slovensku Aj Po Anglicky podcast, with the support of Fjuzn, is continuing it’s series on the migrant experience. In this episode, they are looking at some of the first challenges faced by newly arrived migrants and the feelings these foreigners had for Slovakia and it’s people.

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First impressions are everything

Traveling in a foreign country is a heady mixture of sights, sounds, scents and flavors. These experiences are imprinted on the mind as the identity of a nation. So they are especially meaningful when a person chooses to reside in a new and foreign land.

For some recently arrived migrants in Slovakia, these first impressions may be shaped by adventure, exploration, hospitality, and indulgence. Whereas others are instantly met with the realities of making a living in a society very different from their own. Just taking a bus or shopping for groceries can be a harrowing experience for the uninitiated in Slovakia, leaving the impression that the locals are rude and unwelcoming. Communication can be strained with limited Slovak skills or an absence of a useful alternative language, leading to limited opportunities and unmet needs.

Why opinions matter

Despite the countless struggles these migrants face, many choose to stay in Slovakia. They take the challenge of the local language head-on, practicing how and where they can. These brave souls venture out of their comfort zones and study the locals customs and way of living, so they may achieve a degree of integration and inclusion. Migrants are woven into the fabric of Slovak society. They work alongside Slovaks and help shape the future of the country.

To know one’s culture is to know oneself. Culture governs thoughts and actions, but often it is difficult to define one’s culture without contrast. This is where foreigners provide an essential service. Their questions and unique perspectives offer that contrast necessary for highlighting the borders of culture. They shine a light on the beauty of Slovakia and the failures in society. Ultimately, once we know ourselves, with the help of foreigners, we can pull back the curtain of culture to reveal our shared humanity.

Thank you to all my guests: Daria Rychagova, Jamie Byrne, Allie Balciaraova, Warren Gray, Carola Carpinteri, Andrea Paviglianiti, and Manuel Florenzan.

This podcast and my series on migration are supported by Fjuzn, a program of the Milan Simecka foundation, whose goal is to create a platform for migrants living Slovakia whose voice should be heard more in our society. Fjuzn hosts the Fjuzn festival and with the cooperation of migrants and their communities organizes other events around the country to showcase the art, projects, perspectives, and stories of these lesser-known people. To learn more about their events, hear the stories of other migrants in Slovakia and listen to this podcast series, visit www.fjuzn.sk 

Also, follow them on Instagram at:  https://www.instagram.com/festival_fjuzn/

And Facebook at:  https://www.facebook.com/fjuznNMS 

According to the International Organization For Migration, there were 167,519 people with residency permits residing in Slovakia in December 2021. That accounts for only 3.07% of the total population of the country. When viewed in this way, the number seems insignificant. But once you begin asking questions and listening to the people, you discover that behind each number is a wealth of stories and experiences that overlap and diverge in myriad ways.

Na Slovensku Aj Po Anglicky, with the support of [fjúžn], is launching a series of episodes as an overview (or guidebook, if you will) of the migrant experience in Slovakia. We want to explore why and how foreigners move to Slovakia, what it is like to live here as a foreigner, and why some ultimately decide to leave. Naturally, these foreigners, who now call Slovakia home, will tell their stories in their own words.

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You can listen to the full episode here.

In the first episode of this series, we look at why people decide to leave home and why they choose Slovakia. Of course, some migrants are forced out of their home country, but many are simply dissatisfied. Whereas, others are looking for education, opportunity, or adventure. In the end, leaving home is only a piece of the migrant story.

It is where these courageous souls finally settle that ultimately influences the direction of their lives. For better or worse, the “where” for these migrants is Slovakia. Their reasons for choosing Slovakia are as varied and numerous as their reasons for leaving home. Individually, they may appreciate the culture, scenery, affordability, or geographical location. Some may come looking for love or a job.

Regardless of their unique circumstances, these migrants have one thing in common, they all have made their way to Slovakia in hopes of finding a life full of purpose, dignity, love, and happiness.

Thank you to all of my guests Lorin Utch, Lia Bowers, Navid, Daria Rychagova, Miron Domitrescu, Yunus, Aubrey Mathis, and Jamie Byrne.

This podcast and my series on migration is supported by Fjúžn, a program of the Milan Simecka Foundation, whose goal is to create a platform for migrants living Slovakia whose voice should be heard more in our society. Fjúžn hosts the Fjúžn festival and with the cooperation of migrants and their communities organizes other events around the country to showcase the art, projects, perspectives and stories of these lesser known people. To learn more about their events, hear the stories of other migrants in Slovakia and listen to this podcast series, visit www.fjuzn.sk

You can find more info and support them through social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fjuznNMS

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/festival_fjuzn/

Chef Brian Navarro brings the heat to Bratislava with his new Mexican restaurant, Mezcalli.

Chef Navarro’s vision for creating an authentic and delicious Mexican restaurant is, on its surface, quite simple—use quality ingredients, and stay true to your roots. However, bringing this to fruition, much like his journey to the kitchens of Slovakia, has been anything but simple. His path has been full of false starts and unfortunate timing, but he remains undaunted.

Becoming a professional chef was not something this Mexico City native envisioned for himself after finishing high school, but fate steered him toward a culinary school fair that presented him with an intriguing career path. He enrolled immediately, to the great surprise of his parents. At twenty-two years old, Brian finally found his calling; so he set out to make a name for himself.

Listen to the full episode here

To Texas and beyond

Toward the end of culinary school, chef Navarro found another opportunity at another fair. This one led him out of the country, for the first time, and into a fine dining restaurant in Texas. The experience shaped his sense of a work/life balance and his vision for a restaurant with uncompromisable standards.

After two years, chef Navarro craved more experience and a new direction, so he found work in Abu Dabi and then again in America; all the while he took notes and dreamed of his own restaurant. It was during this latest stint in America that he found the love of his life and the reason for moving to Slovakia. He fell hard for a Slovak girl who enticed him to use his knowledge and experience to bring his dreams of authentic Mexican food to central Europe.

An unfortunately timed entrance

Robert Burns once wrote, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This is the sad reality Slovakia woke up to in March 2020. After two months of living in the country, Brian was already getting on his feet and working. It wasn’t a great job (his absent Slovak skills prevented him from landing the most coveted chef jobs in Bratislava), and it was, unfortunately, quite temporary.

As restaurants closed across the country, Brian suddenly found himself unemployed and lost. Sadly, the pandemic hit food service workers especially hard.

This was indeed a difficult start, but Brian persevered. He enrolled in some cooking courses to keep his mind sharp and ready for when an opportunity arose. From there he helped open a restaurant that eventually became a casualty of the second Covid wave. Nevertheless, in that brief time, Chef Navarro was able to educate himself about where to source the ingredients he would eventually need. It was in his next job that he found a partner and the encouragement he needed to start his own dream restaurant.

Same sopa, different bowl

Finally, in early 2022, Chef Navarro, along with his new Mexican and Slovak partners, opened Mezcalli. This is the restaurant he dreamed of for so long. Here he can flex his creative muscles while staying true to the food traditions from his childhood. This is the food he wants to eat, but Brian also knows his clientele.

Mexican food is still mostly unknown to the average Slovak; so Chef Navarro has set out to educate the public on what this food is and is not. He has to contend with stereotypes about Mexican food being excessively spicy or obscenely exotic: so, ever so gently, he corrects the record. Brian tries to help people spot the difference between real Mexican food and Mexican/American food; and while he’s at it, he explains that there is no such thing as “Mexican bowls” in the cuisine.

While some of these misconceptions surprise Chef Navarro, he is never deterred from his mission of bringing a new authentic Mexican experience to Bratislava, and he accomplishes all of this with great skill and panache (his Instagram documents this all quite beautifully). While Brian has had to adapt and reinvent himself to survive in each new environment in which he finds himself, he never strays far from his vision of being an ambassador for his beloved culture and cuisine. This is the love you find in every dish at Mezcalli.

Thank you to Chef Navarro, Lucia, and the whole staff at Mezcalli. Thank you also to my co-host for this episode Annel Bautista. You were indispensable, and I really enjoyed making this show with you!

In this first episode of the Na Slovensku Aj Po Anglicky podcast, host Jeremy Hill explores the experience of learning Slovak with fifteen foreigners that now call Slovakia home.

Listen to the full episode here

From the founding of Slovakia in 1993, Slovak has been the official language of this small, mostly rural country. This plucky little language has survived and evolved throughout many centuries of occupation, invasion, and political unrest. Consequently, the complexity of the grammar sometimes feels like a vestige of all of this upheaval, and it is this grammar that bedevils most of the brave souls who commit to learning the language.

In this episode Franck from Cameroon explains why he thinks learning Slovak is f***ing hard, Alex from Normandy tells us which Slovak expletive is also a kitchen tool in France, and we find out which Slovak words are close to the hearts of our foreigners.

Each of these guests has a unique perspective with varying degrees of need and skill for learning Slovak. However, what they all have in common is a reverence for this challenging and beautiful language.

Homesickness is an emotion that is as old as human migration. It has been the subject of countless poems, novels, films, songs, and many other adored works of art. While its ability to inspire is celebrated, homesickness is also feared for it’s ability to hamper integration, and trigger bouts of anxiety and deep depression which can sometimes lead to illness and even death.

Full Episode

Even if you’ve never left your hometown, you have likely experienced homesickness. Maybe it was your first day of school after your mother kissed you goodbye, or perhaps it was the first week in your new home already longing for a predictable hot meal. Of course, for those of us that have left our families and our familiar culture, the feeling is all the more intense.

How and when we experience homesickness is highly variable and personal. For many, like Brielle Zahn from the U.S., the emotion is marked by frustration. “It’s so frustrating to me that I have to go to the store, and I can only get one liter of milk at a time.” Brielle lamented about the experience of making homemade ricotta. For this avid home chef, cooking helps connect her past and present.

For others, the feeling of homesickness brings about deep sadness. When Lovie Moneva from the Philippines is experiencing homesickness she finds herself “…crying profusely for no reason.” She added that “it is more difficult because when you are crying, and you don’t have someone immediately to call, someone who would be willing to listen to you at maybe 03:00 AM.”

Just as the expression of homesickness is individual`, so are the triggers of these feelings. Sometimes it’s the smell of a pizza, the sound of a crowd, holidays without our families, or the oppressive winters in Slovakia that provoke this sadness. Unfortunately, it can also be the loss of a loved one, just as Belle Hermosa from the Philippines experienced. Sadly her expired residency card only complicated the matter. “Everyone was there except me… I have six siblings and I am the oldest. So I wanted to be there for them.”

The only absolute cure for homesickness is returning home, but when we can’t, we must persevere. To help us carry on we sometimes look to distractions. Listening to music, cooking, spending time with our Slovak families, engaging with the ex-pat community, and joining sports clubs are all useful ways these foreigners escape homesickness. For Mark Roberts of Australia, work fills in the lonely, quiet hours. “I love my work. So I will just work to take my mind off of bad feelings… It keeps me occupied.”

We immigrants are strong and resourceful. We build communities, where we live and online, where we can share and help one another. I’ve seen countless foreign volunteers helping with Ukrainian relief efforts right here in Slovakia. Homesickness can be challenging, but you don’t need to go through it alone.

In May 2021 we recorded our first and only live show in Trenčín. It was hosted by Klub Lúč in the Men at Sound studio. Two great guys joined me, Mark Taylor from the UK and Brian Tranter from Canada. We spoke about the pandemic situation at that time, holiday traditions, and what it is like raising children as an immigrant. You can listen to this show in podcast form here, but you can also watch it on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/klubluc/videos/1892443180916888 Please check out Klub Lúč if you are in Trenčín. They really do put on some marvelous concerts and theatre performances. You can check them out at www.klubluc.sk Also have a look at Men at Sound studio for all your recording and vocal talent needs. https://www.menatsound.studio/en/men-at-sound-recording-studio-english/

You can listen to the podcast in full here: