Love in Ljubljana
Alicen (Maniscalco) Gradisnik, 24, is a native of Muncy, population 2,500. When she left home to study psychology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., she was eager to broaden her horizons even more.
“I wanted to go somewhere, do something. I’d never even flown before,” she said.
In 2010, during her sophomore year, she decided to study abroad and took the fall semester in Vienna, Austria.
“It changed my life,” Gradisnik said.
She came home with a new appreciation for America – and with her future husband.
To be fair, she met Nil, 30, about a year earlier, though not in person. Gradisnik created a profile on last.fm, an online music recommendation service that allows members to rate and suggest new music to each other.
“We had similar music tastes … indie rock and alternative,” Gradisnik said. “We talked every day and got to know each other. We bonded over something we had in common.”
When she went to Europe in August 2010, she met Nil in person for the first time. At the time, he lived in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, which formerly was known as Yugoslavia.
“Every single weekend, he drove four hours to be with me,” she said.
Prior to going overseas, Gradisnik researched Vienna and looked at photographs of the area. She expected to see “the classic European things … outdoor cafes, red clay roofs, gorgeous churches and castles. But it was even more beautiful than I had thought.”
To prepare for the language barrier, she took German for a year.
“It was a different dialect, though. It didn’t help me much,” she said.
The daily life there also was quite different from what Gradisnik was used to in the United States.
“The selection we have here is unparalleled,” she said. “It wasn’t that it was meager there … it’s just more simple. You’d be hard-pressed to find instant anything. More things are made from scratch.”
Even in northcentral Pennsylvania, some stores stay open 24/7. There, though, most shops close at 7 p.m., and earlier on the weekends, she said. On Sundays, nothing is open.
“Here, you tend to fill your card for weeks or even months. You go shopping every day there,” Gradisnik added.
Yet, despite the almost-daily shopping trips, families in Vienna didn’t fill their closets with overabundance.
“It was hard to find a thrift shop there. They don’t have excess clothing,” Gradisnik said. “You have what you need.”
The “simple life” theory spilled over into their workplace behavior, too.
“I realized how much in America, we work too hard and too much,” she said. A typical work day there began at 8 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m., and employees didn’t bring their work home with them.
“I never heard anyone complain about being too tired,” she added.
Gradisnik returned to Pennsylvania in January 2011 and graduated in December. That Christmas, Nil came to visit Alicen and her parents and two younger sisters. The night before he was set to fly out, Nil proposed.
“He was so nervous that he forgot to put the ring on my finger,” Alicen said.
Two months later, Alicen headed to Slovenia, and to Nil. On April 7, 2012, they married in Slovenia.
“I feel blessed, and lucky,” Alicen said. “I can’t complain for a minute.”
The couple lived overseas until this past May. Alicen worked in communications for a technology startup company and taught private English lessons at a school.
But, finding a job she could turn into a career was “harder than I thought it would be.”
“I didn’t – and still don’t – speak the language. It’s Slavic, which is like Russian,” she added.
Nil is a computer programmer and speaks English fluently.
“We talked about returning to the U.S. … because it would be easier for me to get a job in America,” Alicen said.
When Nil’s company decided to relocate to the Silicon Valley in California, “the timing worked out for both of us,” she said. “My Slovenian husband got a job in America before I did!”
Alicen has said that her ideal job would be to work in a study-abroad office at a university.
“I learned the ins and outs of (studying abroad). I want to help make that happen for other people. It changed my life,” she said.
She may have just taken the first step, accepting a position as student adviser at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
To anyone considering a trip or semester of study in another country, Alicen urges, “go abroad. It’ll be unbelievable and amazing. You’ll learn a lot about that place and where you came from. And, you’ll appreciate more about America.”