By Guest Blogger Jessica Bell
Welcome to another Smarty Mom Saturday, and Happy Halloween! I emailed Triad Smarty Pants to “mominate” Klarisa Cizmek because I think she’s one of the smartiest moms around, and I can’t wait to introduce you to her.
I met Klarisa through a mutual friend a little over three years ago when we were all pregnant and due around the same time. I’ve always thought she had a fascinating background and lovely personality, and am honored to call her my friend. She is caring, compassionate and loves children. I’m about as Southern as they come, so I’ve very much enjoyed meeting other international families through her and having my daughter play with children of diverse backgrounds. I’ve watched Klarisa create her business from the very start, and whole-heartedly recommend it to everyone. I had so much fun interviewing her for TSP, and I hope you have fun getting to know her!
So here goes…
Klarisa and her husband, Tvrtko (Klarisa says, “Just pronounce all the letters and you’ll get it right unless you break your tongue first”) have two adorable children: Dora (5 ½) and Tommy (3). They have lived in the Triad for six years after moving from Tampa – and before that – Zagreb, Croatia. Klarisa works full-time as Director of Winston-Salem-based World Languages for Children, a Chinese and Spanish language program for children ages two to six. Klarisa also started the Triad International Playgroup, free for families interested in languages and multiculturalism, and they meet at O’ Baby Organics in Winston-Salem. (Note: they are currently on hiatus for a few weeks – be sure to check the World Languages for Children website for information on meeting times.)
What inspired you and your husband to open World Languages for Children?
Actually, it’s just me. Although my husband is incredibly supportive, World Languages for Children is my business. After not being able to work for 8 years, I’m very attached to what I am creating!
My parents had the foresight to start me on English when I was 4 ½. They thought it was one of the languages that would be important in the future and they were so right. This opened up numerous doors for me. Today, my husband and I feel the same way about Spanish and Chinese. I started my business because I wanted my children to learn Spanish while they were little, because that is when they learn most easily. I couldn’t find a program that offered classes for small children, so I created one myself. I bring in a lot of experience: I taught business English to adults for 6 years in Croatia and 1 year teaching freshman composition at the University of South Florida as a teaching assistant. I combined that with being a mommy: I know what children like, their attention span, and how to work with different learning types. I make sure I accommodate for all types of learners.
Also, I have a passion for children. While in Croatia I worked for SOS Children’s Villages, an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides family-based care for children that need long term care. They were a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2008 (for the 14th time) and a recipient of the Mother Teresa Gold Medal in 2006. I cannot say enough good things about this organization.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a mom working full or part-time while running this center? What are some of the rewards?
In the beginning, sometimes I was working on weekends and my children wanted mommy time and I felt really torn. But then I was able to come up with a schedule and organize my life so that we have weekends and evenings solely for the family. As far as the rewards, see the Smarty Tips below.
How do you balance your work and home life?
I really love both, so I just sleep very little and work very hard. I want to make sure I have enough time for my family, so I push myself very hard during working hours.
What Smarty tips do you have for moms in your position?
Just go for it. If you are starting your own business, if it is something you are passionate about, just go for it. It’s a lot of work, because sometimes you are running on passion and adrenaline alone. But it is so rewarding and brings such joy that I have no regrets. So go for it!
What brought you and your husband to the US, specifically the Triad?
His work. He loves to travel, we both do, and when we lived in Zagreb he found an ad for a position in Tampa, Florida. They flew him over for the interview, and before we knew it, we were living in Florida. I gave up my work to come with him and I have to commend him for setting up his monthly income so that I was always receiving a portion of it as “compensation” for giving up my career in Croatia. He is so respectful of me and equality between women and men.
You are multi-lingual. Tell us a little about that and your background.
I speak Croation, English (I have a Master’s degree in English literature, focusing on Shakespeare), Italian, and a little Spanish. My husband and I met while we were both learning German. We weren’t taking it for work but just for pleasure. Honestly, I wanted to be able to read what was on the shampoo bottle – in Europe they write the description in five or six languages, but not necessarily in one of the languages I spoke. So I decided to learn German so I could tell whether the shampoo was for normal hair, oily hair, etc. I also speak Bosnian. My father was Bosnian and spoke four or five languages. His mother was Czech and his father Austrian and he grew up speaking both languages plus Bosnian. Later he learned some Italian and English, so I had a wonderful example to learn from. My parents always believed in investing money into travel and education as a way of broadening our minds and horizons. I never had any pretty clothes, but I saw most of the countries in Europe by the time I was 15. I buy lots of pretty clothes now!
What kind of challenges does your family face with English as your second language?
None, really, since I learned it at such a young age and was teaching English to business executives before coming to the States. My husband was fluent in English before we came here, too. When you start so young, it is all games and fun. I was always the first child in line to go stand in line at the place where we took English classes, even a half hour before the class started. I just really loved it.
What is your advice to other moms on the importance of language development in young children, and what languages do you think are particularly important?
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of starting early, and the two languages I think are most important (besides English) are Spanish and Chinese. I want my children to learn these two languages in addition to English and Croatian.
What benefits does World Languages offer children apart from what children learn in school?
Our classes start programs for children beginning at age two. Look at my website and the FAQs…there is a lot of research saying that every brain is pre-wired for language acquisition. With age, the pathways in the brain associated with this process atrophy and almost expire if they are not used. Learning a language at 25 or 35 is really hard, but when you start at 2, 3 and 4 it is just a game and almost effortless. Children can learn up to 4 languages without mixing them up and be fluent in them by the time they start getting lessons in the regular schools. My children at the ages of 3 and 5 ½ are already bilingual, and they are learning Spanish and Chinese.
We are starting to offer classes for 7 and 8 year olds in January 2010, and we are now enrolling for Fall 2009, ages 2-6 at various preschools and also classes open to the public at the Clemmons YMCA.
Speaking of great things in the Triad, let’s switch gears and focus on some local stuff.
Favorite place to get a good deal on kids clothes?
Consignment sales, especially the Lewisville United Methodist Church. Their sale is huge!
What is your favorite family activity?
Going to the beach, going for a walk, going to swim lessons at the Y, traveling together…I just love everything about having a family. It is the most important thing in my life, and is to my husband too, so we always put our family first. Just having the four of us together at the dinner table is nice. We deliberately bought a house close to his work location so that he could come home for lunch most days. And now that my daughter is older, we love to play Uno and other card games.
Favorite “mommy-time” activity?
I don’t get any mommy time lately, so going to the gym for an hour and a half is a special treat. But I also love to go swimming and let the cool water wash over me and completely relax. Getting my hair cut without my children! And getting a massage.
Favorite place to eat dinner out with the kids?
We love Jimmy’s Seafood because it is close to our house, we like seafood and it has a very family friendly atmosphere.
Funniest thing your kids have ever said?
I keep a folder with all of their funny statements, but since we only speak Croatian at home, most of the humor seems to be lost in translation!
Favorite park in the Triad?
The 4th of July Park in Kernersville.
Mini-van or SUV?
Mini-van! I love my mini van
Best thing about raising a family in the Triad?
It’s very green and lush. We grew up in the city, and although I loved the city, I could not imagine having children in the city now. And the close proximity of everything is great. And God forbid you need it, but excellent hospitals are within minutes. Also, there are excellent programs for the children. We love the Children’s Museum and SciWorks. Even at the mall they have the little playground area. Everything is very accessible to families as opposed to living in the city. I also like that there is a vibrant international community in the Triad. We’ve loved meeting some of these families in the Triad International Playgroup.
Best kept secret in the Triad?
World Languages for Children!
Best birthday party you have attended?
One of the boys at our preschool has a summer birthday, and he had a backyard party with lots of water games. It was so relaxed because there were a lot of families from our preschool there, and since we’ve known them for such a long time, it felt like visiting family. The parents could sit and visit while the children had fun playing with water.
I could not live without my... Internet.
I wish someone had told me sooner about...Photoshop. I love “cleaning up” snapshots and turning them into posters. It’s usually photographs of my children. They are never relaxed in a studio, so the best pictures are the ones we take at home. Now I can touch up the photos so their faces stand out and you can enjoy that beautiful smile. And mineral makeup. I’ve recently discovered it and think it is so much better than liquid foundation.
Thanks, Klarisa for all your Smarty answers! You are such an interesting person and I’m just in awe about all that you do and all that you speak! And thanks Jessica for this amazing interview! Well done ladies! What a treat for this Halloween day! - KM