From refugee camp to the fashion world – interview with fashionista Aurela

If anything in our anyway so hectic world is motivating, than the story of Aurela surely is. I met her via her amazing Instagram feed where she caught my attention with her sophisticated style. Genuinely we started to chat and connected from the first moment. We are both interested in sophisticated styling, we are both brunettes, we are both migrants. Aurela was born in Albania but today she is a Canadian citizen and once she told me that her life could be a movie. Back then I didn’t really understand what she meant by that but as time went by she has posted a photo (see below) and her caption has shaken me to my cores. I have got a myriad of questions to her. I was glad she agreed to make this interview about her journey from being a refugee to building a successful career. Read our one of a kind interview below.


Aurela refugee fashionista


Before the interview just one more thing. While I was preparing my questions I came across a lot of refugee stories, read about wars, political situations and frightening circumstances, which made and make people leave their homes (and everything they know) behind. Before you go on reading I would like you to imagine how it might be. Not easy but just try. Imagine a situation when risking your and your loved ones life becomes a better option than to stay home. A situation when going anywhere in the world, to foreigner lands with foreigner languages, religions and cultures are your only hope to find safety, peace and freedom… and now come along with us.


Dear Aurela, firstly thank you so much for saying yes to this interview, it must be difficult to remember things that was hard to go through in your life. Where exactly are you from in Albania?

I grew up in a small town called Kote, part of Vlore city.

When and why did you leave your home country?

Growing up under communist regime made me the tough women I am today. I’m a child of communism, was raised there until I was 18. Life as a child was simple and no excess of luxury. At school we were taught to worship our communist leader Enver Hozha. Even after his death he continued to be gloried. Our classroom walls were decorated with quotes like “Religion is opium for the people” or “Glory to Marxism-Leninism”. 

I left Albania to be free, to not be brainwashed and forced into things I didn’t want to do. You were constantly watched every move you made, every word you said was monitored. I was a rebellious soul and always wanted to experience different things. Communism didn’t allow such a behaviour, we were dressed into uniforms, the house furniture was the same everything was the same unless you were a child of a politician. 

Life under Communism was not easy for my parents, they both worked so hard to support us. Life was tougher when communism collapsed. They both lost their jobs since everything was privatised. After the collapse, everybody was rebellious, angry and they didn’t know how to handle freedom. Lots of things went down and corruption started to happen. People would escape daily, and the one who had the power took advantage of the situation and got richer, while others were suffering to put food on the table.

I left soon after communism collapsed (1993) and our country became a democratic party.  The civil war happened after I left and seeing all the news back then was terrifying. The only thing that prepared me for the real world being raised in communism was the gender equality. All women worked and they were encouraged to have a career. I strongly believe that had it not been for the gender-equal communist society, I would not have had the confidence or the courage to get where I am today.. to have the guts to go back to school and have a career.

refugee fashionista
Meet Aurela

How old were you and what did you do back then in Albania?

I was 18 years old, I was finishing my 4th year of high school. Also I just got married, I should say it was a kind of arranged marriage, to someone who already escaped Albania 1990.

How did you escape and where did you go? Did you have any plans when you left your country?

I left Albania from my city to Lece, Italy illegally on a speed boat with other people who wanted to escape the country just like me. When we arrived to Italy we stayed for one week with no food, or water, outside, somewhere in a park, waiting for an other connection to pick us up and drop us at the train station. We took the train from Lece to Rome few days later without knowing where we were going and exhausted from being outside in the rain for many days. In Rome my husband was waiting for me to pick me up and we drove across the French border. Because I was illegal and my husband then had a German resident card he didn’t want to risk his situation so I took a train alone to cross the border. I had to hide underneath the seat or move from one washroom to another, when I spotted passport controller. I can’t really explain the situation as I am not able. It’s all a blur now, is been 23 years. I finally arrived in Germany, Osnabruck city to be exact. A month after my husband took me to a refugee camp to register me, as someone he didn’t know cause he didn’t want to risk his status for bringing an illegal person to Germany.

How was it in the refugee camps? What was it like to be a refugee?

Refugee camps differ from cities to cites and country to countries. I stayed temporarily in many of them, as refugees were transferred from one city to an other, until they found a permanent one. Some were lucky and were assigned an apartment paid by the government. Others, like me, were put in place called “Heim” which is a big house, where we had a common kitchen and bathrooms and each of us had their own rooms. The experience for me was awful for the fact that I was lost, so young and naive. Beside of a bit of Russian that I learned in school back home I did not know a word in English or in German.

I cried myself to sleep every night. I wasn’t able to communicate with my parents through phone calls as back then it was too expensive and also because I didn’t want to worry them. They were looking up to me, hoping that I would be able to help them. I exchanged long letters with my family and half of the time I lied about the situation. I told them that I felt great and Germany is an amazing country – which it wasn’t for me at that time.

Tell a little bit about your family situation back then!

We grew up in a very small town. My dad worked in farming driving a tractor and my mom was also a farmer all her life. I was the oldest out of five children they had. I would be always so frustrated with my parents for being so poor and not being able to do much growing up. When I decided to leave Albania helping out my parents was my first motivation before anything else. I wanted to go out there and hustle for my parents and my younger siblings. My parents were uneducated but good parents and seeing them struggle would break my heart on daily basis, so I promised myself that if I make it and survive the escape I would work so hard to help them out and make their life easier. I kept my promise, I saved all my welfare money I got and sent it to them each month. I would clean homes for cash or do labor work from dish washing to toilet cleaning, just so I could make extra cash for them.

When I became a mother my priorities of course changed. My son was my motivation and priority but still my parents were part of my dedication. Soon after, I helped my brother to escape the same way as me. I sent him money so he could pay the smugglers to take him across the ocean in Italy and made sure he had all the connections planned until he made it to Germany. I have only one brother and bringing him to Germany made it easier to help our parents together.

refugee fashionista Aurela
Looking flawless in distressed jeans just as in tailored looks

How did you end up in Canada? Did you know anyone there?

A friend of ours lived in Canada and he called my then husband and told him that Canada is the best place for immigrants. We were told that Canada approves all refugee cases and we would be able to become permanent residents. As soon as I heard that I wanted to go. I was tired living as a refugee with no status and not knowing what my future would be. Every day we were afraid that our time is up and we would be deported to Albania. I didn’t want to go back, especially when I had my son. We left Germany with fake Greek passports and thankfully we weren’t caught at the airport. That was my first time I have ever been on a flight and on top of it I was illegal. During the whole trip I was in panic that any minute they would find out who we really were and deport us back. When we landed in Vancouver we told the border immigration that we were illegal and seeking refugee status. They took us  temporarily to a refugee house.

Let me tell you that the difference between the refugee system between Europe and Canada was so different. A month after we have arrived there were told that we could find our apartment and if we wanted to go to school they are willing to pay for it. HOW AMAZING IS  THAT? I was in disbelief as being a refugee for over 5 years in Europe I never had the opportunity to do anything, work, school or planning any future. From that point I found a little apartment and signed myself right away for ESL classes to learn English. I was so happy and felt much safer. Actually I felt incredible, I left my husband and started living my dreams. Attended college, university, lived my life to the fullest. Although it was tough being a single mom I still didn’t mind it. In my head I was always a winner as I finally was a resident of a country and was able to achieve anything.

What do you like the most in your life right now?

Everything! My son being a great human being, considerate, ambitious, smart and dedicated to his dreams. All my hard work has paid off. All my siblings are doing fantastic living 3 of them in Germany and my baby sister in Toronto. I love that I am secure, confident and have achieved almost every goal I made for myself. I have a great career, I managed to buy my dream condo, I traveled the world, have a great circle of friends and I am in love to a wonderful man.

How did you start to build your career? Did you (do you) have a dream profession?

Waitressing was the only job I could land after graduating from college. Working as a waitress gave me opportunities to network and it worked. My regular customer who came to the restaurant on weekly basis offered to help me and submitted my resume at the company he was working at that time. They called me for an interview and I got hired on the spot. That was 11 years ago when I finally got an office job as a document controller for an engineering company. I was so happy and excited and in my mind that was just the beginning of my new professional career. While working at the company I convinced the management that I wanted to be a buyer instead and willing to take a part time program to help me achieve my goal. I started school again full time after my work, for about two years. It was so hard and challenging to juggle my full time job, being a single mom and working on my school assignment every night. After I graduated the program with a Supply Chain Management and became a certified buyer. I changed jobs/ companies for past 5 years and now somehow I ended up working as an Estimator / Buyer for a signage company.

My dream profession was and still is to be a fashion merchandiser. One day I will be either fashion merchandiser or own my business. Who knows, there is no limit.

…where there is a dream there is a way…

On your about page on your blog you say fashion is your passion. What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion to me is Art. Each of us have different personality, different style and thee way we dress determines our personality. I have been very passionate about fashion at young age. Back home I would dress all my sisters and then would ask them to do runway show in a living room. It was our playing time, we didn’t have toys or fashion magazines all I had was my imagination for each outfit I would create.

How did blogging come?

My blog was to fulfill my empty nest. I always wanted to have a fashion blog but never actually did until my son moved back east to attend University. My son would see me upset and cry each time we would chat on the phone and advised me to just launch a fashion blog. My baby sister, my son and my girlfriends encouraged me to start my blog since I was good with the fashion. In the begging it was just a hobby and escaping my emptiness. After I started dating my partner he offered to take my pictures and promised he would help me and support my dreams.

What would you like to achieve in fashion blogging career?

Blogging started as a hobby and later I decided to turn it  into career boost for my dream job, working in the fashion industry. Not there yet but I will get there one day. I have a supply chain degree but my education isn’t enough to become a fashion buyer since I have no retail experience or fashion degree. My blog is a tool to reach to where I want to be. I have the education and being a fashion blogger would give me that experience that companies are looking for. I can show them that I am passionate about the career and perhaps they would consider hiring me. Same thing with turning it into a business. 

Blogging is an industry that’s not going away as our dependence on the internet and online communities continues to grow within our society. With this in mind, I became more confident blogging full-time and turning inti a business would be best decision for me.

I want to be a resource and help all women anyway I can and I feel that image consulting would be more my niche as I love doing it.

How do you picture yourself in 5 years from now?

First I want to be happy and healthy. My baby achieves his goals. I want to own my business, be married the man I love, see my son reach his dreams and planning on traveling the parts of the world I haven’t seen. And maybe one day I would be a fashion influencer where I can inspire as many women and show them that where there is a dream there is a way.


You find more pictures of Aurela’s beautiful, sophisticated style on her website: aurelafashionista.com .

 

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