A Story from A Balkan Heart
By Sade Mendez
Milanka Nikolić’s favorite word in Serbian is ljubav, which translates into love.
“You do not need an explanation for the Balkan heart and the Adriatic Sea. Only if you’re from Montenegro do you know what that truly means.”
She is a 36-year-old Montenegrin woman who left her country in 2010, seeking a better life.
“Big no,” Milanka exclaims when asked if she regrets moving halfway across the world. “I usually don’t regret anything — at least, I try not to. I don’t miss anything back at home besides my friends.”
Milanka’s story does not start off cheerfully. In her adolescent years, she was forced to quickly grow up in order to help bring in money for her family, which comprised of her mother and her two nephews. Her older sister was addicted to drugs, so Milanka made it a point to take over the mother role for her two nephews before she was a teenager. Aside from going to school, she also worked (at one point, two jobs) to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. As her nephews grew into young men, Milanka felt less inclined to stay and wanted desperately to leave Montenegro in search of a better life.
For nearly her entire life, she devoted herself to taking care of her family and nothing else. It wouldn’t be until she was 30 years-old would she eventually move to California.
In 2010, Milanka obtained her visa and not even a year later, she would meet her husband, Milivoje Nikolić. The two eventually married November 19, 2011. Not too long after, the married couple had two children.
“My favorite parts about moving to Los Angeles are the limitless opportunities, personal or business. There’s freedom of speech here,” she said.
“Creativity is valued here much more than in Montenegro. You get a job based on your knowledge and schooling experience. In Montenegro, employment process seems to be unfair and in order to get a better job your vote for a political party is taken in exchange for a good job.” (Photo courtesy of Milanka Nikolić.)