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Road to Success: Albanian Sisters Talk American Life and Graduation

By Noell Saunders

Klementina and Ana Marku have celebrated many occasions but nothing compares to their graduation this weekend, far from their native Albania.

The Marku sisters will walk in two ceremonies during Old Dominion University's 127th commencement exercises on Dec.16. Klementina, the older of the two, will receive a bachelor's degree in biology, and Ana will receive a bachelor's in international studies with a minor in women studies.

"How would you like to go to America?" That was the question that changed the Marku sisters' lives seven years ago.

Their initial responses were different.

"I was excited," said Ana. But Klementina said, "I was used to knowing everyone back home and then we came here, and it was like starting over."

Their father, an Army colonel at the time, was offered a job through NATO that required moving the family to the United States. The sisters live in Norfolk with their mother and brother, who's also an ODU student.

Separation periods are tough on the Marku family; they get to see their father only once every six months. But they are grateful to have an opportunity to achieve their dream with help from ODU's NATO agreement.

"ODU was the only option for us," Klementina said. "If it wasn't for the agreement, I don't think we would be able to go to college because it's very expensive. NATO gives us an opportunity to pay in-state tuition."

Old Dominion's NATO agreement offers scholarships and resources to qualifying students and dependents who are members of Allied Forces.

"This experience showed us what sacrifice is," Ana said. "We are proud of our dad and everything he's accomplished. That's where we get our drive from. We are thrilled that he will be here to see us graduate."

Klementina's and Ana's professors praised their dedication and desire to learn.

"Ana and I have worked together at our local Hampton Roads Refugee Center, where she devoted much of her efforts in her senior year," said Jennifer Fish, professor and chair of Old Dominion's Department of Women Studies. "Her commitments to global consciousness, intellectual integrity and cross-cultural friendship are exemplars of our larger hopes for education as a pathway to peace."

Betty Rose Facer, Klementina's adviser and director of ODU's Language Learning Center, echoed Fish's sentiment.

"Klementina Marku's employment as an assistant for the Language Learning Center is nothing short of extraordinary," Facer said. "She has a unique commitment to world languages and cultures, and her enthusiasm to share that knowledge with others makes her the ideal employee for our community of learning."

During their time at ODU, the Marku sisters joined organizations such as Model UN and the Global Monarch Club, opening new doors in their academic careers and creating more friendships. They said their options would have been far more limited in their native country.

"University classrooms in Albania have 50 to 100 students in them. You don't get one-on-one attention with professors," said Ana. "Back home, you just don't have all of these opportunities like you do in the U.S. I would do it all over again if I could."

Both are planning to attend graduate school. Klementina is applying to be a certified anesthesiologist assistant, and Ana is seeking an internship with the General Assembly in Richmond.

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