About Nevena Staresinic

Nevena Staresinic Nevena Staresinic, a native of Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), has been in the relocation business for corporate clients on four continents, and now Pittsburgh. Newcomers can find help settling in, choosing a home and connecting to the community at www.moderna.us.
Nevena Staresinic

UN musicThere are several new initiatives in the Pittsburgh region that focus on welcoming newcomers: Mayor Bill Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative, the ¡Hola Pittsburgh! Partnership aimed at attracting U.S. Latinos to the region, and of course ImaginePittsburgh.com, a virtual concierge of LIVE-WORK-PLAY options across the 10 county region.

Considering these various efforts underscores for me something I sometimes forget: being comfortable with people from different cultures is an acquired trait.

I was born in Karlsdorf (now Karlovac) in Yugoslavia, a region once populated by Germans. Despite the challenges, my country was for generations a relatively peaceful melting: Bosnian Muslims, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs – like me – lived in relative harmony, and intermarriages were common. I loved the street signs in dual languages, two alphabets and the lovely dialects. Later, while living in London, I rediscovered how awesome and complete feels to live among people from all around world.

My next cosmopolitan embrace was marring a Pittsburgher, and raising our children in four countries. I loved providing them with the eye-opening privilege of living abroad. While living in Harare, Zimbabwe our sons celebrated United Nations day each October, with a parade of local residents decked out in their traditional costumes representing 62 nations under 62 different flags! Our sons’ precious friends Khizar, Olle, Maka, Madhavi, Max, Bojan and Ousmane opened our hearts forever.

More recently, I was delighted to be a part of the crowd in downtown Pittsburgh for the El Gran Combo / Hola Pittsburgh concert. I was moved by the warmth and enthusiasm I felt all around me as Latinos from southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond reveled in rhythm and spirit of the day. I admit I lost my voice to happy cries a few times. In short, multicultural environments make me happy.

Yet I understand that for some Pittsburghers, welcoming those of us with accents takes some practice. Lucy from England couldn’t buy butter, Clare from Welles couldn’t order water, or Daniella from Brazil burrito. I know this city I’ve happily called home for the past seven years suffered mightily after the collapse of the region’s steel industry. But now, as our region is growing younger and more diverse, inevitably Pittsburghers will be extending a friendly hand to newcomers, even ones who don’t speak the Queen’s English (though frankly, neither do yinz).

So what we can do? I propose we each try to strengthen our cross-cultural skills. Perhaps one place to start is by recalling and reconnecting with our own immigrant past and all that was positive about it. The many old churches and synagogues that have writing in foreign languages on their stained glass windows reminds us that desire to cherish ones native language and culture is not new; but it doesn’t mean we don’t embrace the new culture and language, too. Develop the habit of walking around Oakland and on college campuses. Come to the city concerts, and skip the folding chairs, the better to move around, meet and communicate with people.

If we can each open our hearts and more warmly and loudly embrace our immigrant neighbors and other newcomers as we do our close-knit, long-time friends, if we can free ourselves to be a little more forthcoming with bonding and warmth and hugs, it will be good not only for our region’s prosperity, but our hearts will be bigger, too.

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Nevena Staresinic is an ImaginePitsburgh.com Neighbor. Check out her profile here; learn more about her work as s a relocation consultant at Moderna.us

Nevena Staresinic

We asked our Imagine Pittsburgh Neighbors for a few of their favorite things about the winter holidays in the Pittsburgh region. From now through the new year, we’ll be sharing them with you. Here’s what globe-trotting Nevena Staresinic, now of Highland Park, has to say.

As one who has traveled widely and lived most recently in Africa, I have grown to love spending Christmas and New Year’s holidays in warm parts of the world; it’s so unreal with no cold and no snow.

A "badnjak," or oak branch, is part of the centerpiece at the Staresinics' holiday table.
A “badnjak,” or oak branch, is part of the centerpiece at the Staresinics’ holiday table.

But here in Pittsburgh for the past two years, it’s taken me some time to get used to celebrating Christmas in December. As Orthodox Christians, my family celebrates according to the Julian calendar, which means our Christmas Day is Jan. 7. When I was growing up in Belgrade in what was then Yugoslavia (now Serbia), our favorite holiday was Dec. 31 (the more traditional New Year’s Eve), which kicks off the season for us: it means Santa will soon becoming to our house! On Jan. 6, we bring a badnjak (oak branch) into the house and place it on the fire. Some families avoid eating meat or dairy until Jan. 7, instead making a special Christmas Eve meal of cod with potatoes, prebranac (a layered bean and onion dish), meatless sarma (vegetable stuffed cabbage), djuvec (a rice and vegetable casserole), nuts, fresh and dried fruits, and cookies made without dairy and eggs as a way to call attention to the humble beginnings at the center of the Christmas story.

The greeting on Christmas Day is Mir Bozji! Hristos se Rodi! (Peace of God! Christ is Born!). The response is Voistinu Hristos se Rodi! (Indeed, He is born!). The Christmas table centerpiece is cesnica, bread baked with a silver coin baked in; it brings luck to the one who finds it. On Christmas Day our special meal includes pecenica (spit-roasted pig), meat sarma, baked ham, sausage, roasted potatoes with parsley, and desserts galore — nut roll, cheese strudel, apple strudel, log torte, drum torte, fresh and dried fruits and, of course, strong, dark Turkish coffee. We toast our loved ones with slivovitz (plum brandy) or warm vruca rakija (a potent blend of whiskey and slivovitz with honey and spices). After dinner, Christmas Day is spent receiving and visiting friends and family.

This is also the time of many families’ slavas – the annual feast days and glorification of a family’s patron saint. Then of course, there’s also Orthodox New Year’s Eve on Jan. 13, with more celebration, city concerts and fiestas on New Year’s Day. We practically just feast and celebrate throughout January!

What are some of your favorite holiday things? It can be a personal and reverent tradition at home or in a place of worship, or something raucous and public, like snow tubing at Boyce Park, skiing in the Laurel Highlands, or taking a New Year’s Day plunge in the Mon. Does the way you celebrate now differ from the traditions you grew up with? Or if you opt for no traditions at all, how come? Let us know via the Imagine Pittsburgh Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Looking for a new job or career advancement in the new year? Check out the job search engine and other resources at ImaginePittsburgh.com/Work.