“I came to the United States when I was 54, I knew nothing, I didn’t know how to say… (glances at the table) plate, fork…nothing”, Silvi admitted on her thoughts of first arriving in the United States.
Myself being a part of a family that immigrated from overseas, I have witnessed firsthand some of the struggles that may arise during such a drastic transition in lifestyle and culture. Learning to adapt to a foreign country can be a very intimidating challenge for anyone.
Along with my new internship at International Institute of Saint Louis, I am currently a server at the Greek Restaurant,” Spiros South”, located at the corner of Watson Rd. and Arsenal. Spiro’s is a Mediterranean based restaurant that also offers a variety of other popular foods, such as Saint Louis’ own famous toasted ravioli.
My grandfather Bill Stratos, first owner of Spiro’s South, was born in Sopiki, Albania. Due to fear of communist persecution, Bill fled to Greece in 1945 and did not return. During time in Greece, his passion for gardening allowed him to pursue a degree in agriculture before finally making his journey to the United States in 1959. Bill first settled in Chicago Illinois as well as many of his family members. Just one year later, Bill made his final settlement in Saint Louis, Missouri. Similar to many other immigrants, his dream was to start up his own business. In 1974, Bill and his family opened the first “Spiro’s” restaurant here in Saint Louis.
Just like Mr. Stratos, a number of fellow employees hired at Spiro’s had emigrated from Greece to the city of Saint Louis. One in particular, Silvi, has just retired from Spiro’s after a lengthy employment as a kitchen assistant. Prior to my internship, I had not been familiar with the International Institute. After researching the Institute’s website, I realized that my own family members or friends could have had association to the IISTL. I began to ask my family if they knew anyone who had used IISTL’s services. I soon learned that Silvi, who had just retired from Spiro’s, had visited the Institute years ago.
Before coming to Saint Louis, Silvi lived in Albania where she was a teacher for 30 years, teaching 8th grade Albanian courses. When she came to Saint Louis in 2004 at the age of 54 she swapped roles and became the student, except now she was in an English course. From word of mouth, Silvi learned about the International Institute and enrolled in her first English class.
Silvi explained, “I was scared and nervous because I didn’t know any English, but I was patient. The teachers were very good too. After passing three classes I could understand well and my writing became very good. It was nice to be able to understand what people were trying to tell me.”
After five years of being in the United States, once again Silvi used the International Institutes’ services, this time for the assistance in achieving her US citizenship. At IISTL she began taking classes that taught her the information necessary to pass the US Naturalization Test. This test consists of a civics and English test, as well as a naturalization interview discussing ones background and application.
“After the interview, they told me I passed and did very, very well,” Silvi stated about the proud moment.
At Spiro’s, Silvi was one of the longest working kitchen assistants, and her expertise proved just that. She prepared many of our appetizer items such as spanakoupita, dolmades, and our homemade hummus, as well as deserts like galaktoboureko, gadaif, and the most popular baklava. Her work ethic and kindness will be missed, for she was an exceptional person with much to offer.
Silvi’s family has also taken advantage of the IISTL. One of her daughter-in-laws moved from Greece to Saint Louis just recently in 2011. After going through English courses at the Institute, she was skilled in the language and was able to start taking college courses in 2013. The Institute has positively affected several people that have been in my life, without me knowing until now. I am happy to have found out about IISTL and excited to be interning here.