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.

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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:

In his latest episode of Na Slovensku Aj Po Anglicky, host Jeremy Hill speaks with the up-and-coming artist Nina Kohout. She is out with her debut solo EP entitled Pandemonium. This, however, is not Nina’s first rodeo. Her experience in music and the industry runs deep.

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There were just a few moments when music wasn’t playing in our house.”

The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree in the Kohout family. Nina’s father Peter Kohout is a wizard of woodwinds and has been part of many musical projects across multiple genres, but he is best known for his work in the indie rock band Autumnist.

Inspired by her father, four-year-old Nina began singing and soon after joined folklore groups and choirs. Then at the tender age of seven, this musical prodigy picked up her first musical instrument, the guitar. Next came the piano. As a preteen Kohout finally took to the stage with her father and started her shift toward alternative rock.

It was Nina’s work in her father’s band Autmnist that truly cemented her reputation for being a powerful but graceful vocalist. This led her to many collaborations (most famously with Fallgrapp), but none has been more important or influential than that of the work with her father. “When I play with my father… we breathe in and out together,” Nina explains

With years of experience in hand, Kohout set out on her solo career with the release of her hit single “Blue Sunray.” Right away she was recognized for her talent, and in 2020 she was named “Discovery of the Year” at the Radiohead Awards.

From the stage to The Brit School… and back

Recognizing that her musical education was incomplete, Kohout began looking abroad for opportunities. She decided to put her Slovak education on hold and travel to London and attend The Brit School. This is the famed institution for performing and creative arts that birthed many talented artists such as Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Tom Holland. There Nina studies music production and music technology, which she credits for helping her produce her new EP.

Being the only foreigner in her class has been challenging for Kohout. Of course, the pandemic has only complicated matters. Nevertheless, Nina has settled well in the country and even found a partner in music production who helped craft her latest opus.

While Kohout spends her days in the classroom, at night she hits the stage perfecting her songs and building a name for herself. This was a familiar experience for the young artist, but attempting the same in a foreign country presented some new challenges. Nina at this point in her career had a loyal following and name recognition in Slovakia, whereas in the UK she was a complete unknown. “It was such a humbling experience to see an audience who doesn’t give a sh** about me,” Nina describes her experience of performing for a British audience.

It’s pandemonium out there

Undaunted by adversity and the global health crisis, Kohout continued to thrive in her foreign home. She used her newfound knowledge and relationships to craft four new tracks that truly showcase her skills in the studio, and on February 2, these tracks were compiled and released as an EP entitled “Pandemonium.”

The entire work is richly produced, with a sound reminiscent of a film score. For longtime fans, this will feel a bit darker than what Nina has released up to this point. The new direction, for Kohout, is a reflection of her feelings of anxiety and separation from loved ones back home. However, this is the music Nina has always wanted to make. The process of crafting these tracks was a chance for her to dream and experiment.

For me, the EP feels like a strong start to a career of unlimited possibilities. It’s creative and surprisingly mature, just like Nina herself. I’m certain her star will continue to rise. I encourage all of you to listen to “Pandemonium”, and if you like it, please consider purchasing a copy.

You can listen to Nina’s music here:

https://music.apple.com/gb/artist/nina-kohout/1599326813

If you like what you hear please consider supporting Nina by buying some of her great music here:

https://ninakohout.bandcamp.com/music

You can also follow Nina on Instagram and Facebook at:

https://www.instagram.com/ninakohout/

https://www.facebook.com/officialninakohout

If you would like to hear other great Slovak alternative music check out Deadred Records at:

In this holiday episode I am joined by five foreigners to discuss Christmas traditions here in Slovakia and at home. 

Thank you to my guests:  Cristian Estrella(Argentina), Svetlana Cruz(Phillipines), Martin Linkov(Bulgaria), Cristina Martínez Fuentes(Spain) , and Rahel Lema(Ethiopia).

Thank you to the great people who offered their voices for the introduction. You can see there names here:

Antti Ståhlberg, Radu Coanta, Andrea DMuras, Seymour Morgan Osterman, Sam Grenville Bennetts, Ging Obar, Nina Liu, Muawia Rao, Liudmyla Krivosheya, Sachin Gulati, László Juhász, Ksenia Belyak, Arif Hussain, Teodor Grozev, Javad Keshtkar, TinTinita Tuk, Elma Cavcic, Lucia Loredana, Mohamed Tammam, Marco Griffo, Ramesh Raj, Direncan Uğurlu, Swapnil Wilson, Gabi Ka, Luschke James, Daniel N, Balu B Babu, Mitesh Patel, Khatia Gelbakhiani

I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season!

Music by ItsWatR from Pixabay

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