The role of the Balkans in US politics

How Chicago has changed from 2016 to 2018

People in the USA are always talking about politics.

I’m serious. I thought we Balkan people waxed poetic about all our many politicians and such, but what I’ve heard and seen in Chicago shows to me that the political situation around here is discussed all the time, both positively and negatively.

I’m here as a part of a group of professional fellows on exchange. We were brought here by World Chicago, and we’ve been placed with various professional hosts (mine is Holistic Index). Chicago, for me, is my first taste of life in the States, since I’ve never been here before. There are some things that thrill me, and others that I find confusing (like putting ice into every drink ever when it’s freezing outside).

World Chicago Fellows, Fall 2018 (with Peggy Parfenoff and Angela Mughal)

World Chicago has been doing this exchange for many years — one of the 2016 fellows was actually here for a week with us, and I took the opportunity to ask him about his experience waaay back then.

His name is Marko Lavrencic. He’s Slovenian, but don’t hold it against him. He’s into sales (don’t hold that against him either).

Marko and me at Heaven on Seven — loving the vast choice of hot sauce!

Marko and his group of fellows had a very exciting stay here. They witnessed the heart of the election excitement, which must have offered up a distorted image of what Chicago is really like — I mean, he never even got to try deep dish pizza. How crazy is that?

World Chicago Fellows, Fall 2016. Snazzy dress, but we’re still prettier (sorry not sorry)

Marko was mentored by Scott Steward, working on “Project Tech Teens” (entrepreneurial education through coding). He was in it for the experience and diverse approach — although I have a similar goal, my work with Tom Alexander (hi, Tom!) at Holistic Index generally keeps me downtown.

Mentorships can never be the same. Marko and I have very different expectations of our careers (I think sales are icky and he lives and breathes a good pitch) and different approaches to gastronomy (pretty sure I’ve eaten every pizza in town in the week I’ve been here). We both had some similar experiences in this program, but it hasn’t been the exact same. However, the main difference in our fellowship experiences have been caused by the simple passage of time.

2 years ago, a net-full sim card was 16 dollars. We paid 46 for ours, even with the discount given to us by our T-Mobile dream-team. 2 years ago, there was a lot more interest in exchange and intercultural experiences. The interest now is more superficial, with polite chit-chat but little deeper interest (and we’re an interesting group of people).

Don’t get me wrong — we have been treated with nothing but kindness by everybody we’ve met through the program, but we’ve also had the chance to hear about 2016 from the horse’s mouth. As objective observers, we know something’s up.

The differences might be subtle, but they are there. The 2016 batch of fellows was constantly encountering protests and parades, and all I’ve seen is a few mini-strikes and a demo-cat (kudos on the pun, old homeless man).

Cat got my heart!

Our role in this city, at least when it comes to politics, is to bear witness. We’re the outsiders, temporary immigrants that can see but not affect, not-tourist-tourists, not-employee-employees. A lot of us have backgrounds in politics back in our home countries (not me, fyi), and can spot the signs of tension and dissatisfaction, as well as the more positive movements that are shaking up society.

Given the Balkan proclivity of following US trends a few years after they stop trending, I’d just like to emphasize that there are so many positives. Diversity, inclusion, equality, responsibility — I can see every one of these trends on a daily basis, and I’m lucky enough that my work at Holistic Index is impacted by all of them. I just hope I’ll be able to represent what I earn when I go home.