Young woman smiles, sitting at table, food in front of her.

From Italy to Michigan

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By Leah Cobb

Lidia Elezaj is an 18-year-old student at Oakland University. Originally from Italy, her family of seven packed up and headed to Michigan for a better opportunity. Elezaj is fluent in both the Italian and English languages. She is a member of OU’s Italian Club and Albanian Club. Her major is Biomedical Science with a minor in Italian, and she is set to graduate in 2020.

Young woman smiles, sitting at table, food in front of her.
Lidia Elezaj enjoys breakfast before class at her favorite off-campus spot, the Rochester Brunch House in downtown Rochester, Michigan. Elezaj has only lived in the U.S. for a few years now and enjoys exploring new areas around Michigan and trying new foods. Photo credit: Leah Cobb.

Describe the place or places where you grew up. What was your life like there?

Elezaj: I grew up in Italy. To be more specific, in Legano, which is a city near Milan. Legano was the perfect mix between a metropolitan area and a small town. Everything I needed was in walking distance, but it was also very active throughout the day and night. When I was little, I loved taking bike rides to the park with my family and stopping at my favorite gelato place. As I grew up, I started going to the piazza to hang out with my friends.

Why and how did you leave? Where did you go?

Until a couple of years ago in the U.S., it was still possible to get a visa for your siblings; my mom’s brother moved to Michigan over 20 years ago, so he was able to create one for all of his siblings. The process was very long and took around 13 years. On July 24, 2016, my family and I moved to the U.S. and lived in Hartland, Michigan.

Who came with you? Who did you leave behind? Why?

I moved to Michigan with my parents and my four siblings. Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to all my friends that I had grown up with and built strong relationships with. Thanks to social media, I am able to keep in touch with them on a regular basis.

What did you bring with you? What did you leave behind? Why?

I was only able to bring one suitcase with me, so I was very selective about what I brought with me. I got rid of most of my clothes and only kept what I really loved. I also only brought the things that had sentimental value to me and left anything extra behind.

How did you feel when you left?

I had many mixed feelings when I left Italy. I was really sad leaving my life that I had built with my friends, but I was also excited to see what life I would be living in the U.S. Even though my excitement was very high, my fear of not knowing what I was getting myself into was much higher.

Describe how your life is different where you live now.

I live a completely different life now; I work, and I go to college. The lifestyle in the U.S. is a much faster pace than in Italy. I feel like I’m in a rush no matter what I’m doing. The night life is also different here because it ends much earlier than in Italy.

How has diversity and/or inclusion on OU’s campus shaped your growth as an individual?

One of the main reasons why I chose to go to Oakland University is actually because they try to make every single student included in the campus community. I’m in both the Italian and Albanian Clubs. Both clubs have made me feel more included and able to relate to a bigger group of people. Actually, through the Italian Club, I had the luck of meeting my two best friends.

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