The Harbinger Online

Exchange Student Pursues Modeling In America

[media-credit name=”Photo courtesy of Neva Cirkveni” align=”alignleft” width=”200″][/media-credit]All of this dates back to 1974, when Neva’s father, Neven Cirkveni, came to Shawnee Mission East for his senior year of high school. Neva started learning English at the age of three when her dad told her made-up stories about “super bunny,” a rabbit with superpowers, in English. Then, she enrolled her in an English kindergarten. While Croatian and English are her first and second languages, respectively, Neva also knows five other languages: French, German, Italian, Latin, and Greek.

Neva is even staying with the same host her dad stayed with thirty-eight years ago, Virginia Powers. Powers has been involved in the AFS program for 40 years and she and her husband hosted Neva’s father when their daughter was a sophomore and their son was a junior in high school. Neven became a part of their family.

“[Neven] visited us several times throughout the years,” Powers said. “We considered him a son after the time he spent with us.”

Neva met Powers on one of her seven previous trips to the United States before. She came here four years ago with her dad, who was here for the Presidential Inauguration because of his interest in politics. They came to visit the Powers before they went to Washington, D.C.

“My dad stayed in touch with her and he took me to meet her before we visited Washington, D.C. four years ago,” Neva said. “That was when we started planning for me to come here. [My dad and I] both wanted it.”

Although she’s been to the United States multiple times before, she doesn’t feel at home here.
In Croatia, Neva would just walk up to a friend and start telling them what’s happening in her life. When she did that here, her friend was offended that she didn’t ask about his life. She is also used to talking for long periods of time; she and her friends go to her favorite café, Lemon, almost everyday before or after school. They spend at least an hour sitting and talking after having finished eating.

“That is the whole point of going out to eat for us: sitting at a café and just talking for hours,” she said.

The daily routine here has been a big obstacle for Neva. At her school in Croatia, the schedule is very different; class begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. every other week, and goes from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. the other week. So getting up at 6:30 a.m. and staying at school till 2:40 p.m. makes for a long day.

“It’s the getting up at 6:30 every day that kills me the most,” Neva said. “Especially since I am used to sleeping in ‘till 1p.m. every day, every other week.”

On a typical day in Croatia, Neva eats lunch around 4:30 p.m., and dinner at about 9 p.m. She found
it difficult to eat at noon and 6 p.m. so she has adjusted to having a big snack, like a sandwich and a granola bar, at 4:30 p.m. Then, she makes herself a dinner, separate from that of her host, closer to 9 p.m.

Another everyday change Neva has problems adjusting to is the lack of public transportation. She uses it to get around the urban setting of her hometown, Zagreb, Croatia, and having to have someone drive her everywhere is a foreign concept to her. She has tried getting around by foot, but that has had undesirable results: whenever she tries to walk somewhere, she ends up lost, having gone the opposite way she wanted to go.

“All the houses in the suburbs look alike to me,” she said. “But if I go to the Plaza, I can tell you where everything is in no time.”

Neva puts up with all these cultural differences because she knows she needs the experience to get into college.

Columbia University, in New York City, is her first choice of schools. Neva plans on majoring in liberal arts and then going to law school or medical school. She realizes what a top-notch school Columbia is, so she is taking every opportunity she can get to ensure she gets in, starting with spending a semester here.

“I wanted to come here to create opportunities for myself in the future,” she said, “I want to be able to adapt better in different cultures and meet new people. And it just looks good on a resumé, too.”

While most senior foreign exchange students are enrolled in junior English classes here, Neva got special permission to be in a senior English class. She did it because she knew that they practice writing college application essays in the senior English classes and she thought that would be very important for her to get into a good college here.

She is also in calculus, which is especially challenging for her since some of the math words used here, like “radicals,” are different from the ones she learned. She knew it would be the more challenging course, but she decided to take it anyways.

Neva’s parents will pay for one-third of her college tuition. She is hoping to get another third of it from scholarships. So, she must pay the remainder of the tuition herself. She has begun earning this money through modeling.

“My friends have been telling me that I should be a model for years,” Neva said. “But I never had much interest in it.”

Her modeling career started when she met with an Abercrombie & Fitch representative on a trip to Milan for her 16th birthday. She was shopping at a store and was approached, then and there, by a man, who worked in the modeling department of the company.

“He asked me if I was interested in doing some modeling for the company and I just said yes,” Neva said.

Since then, she has modeled for other companies and was even pictured in Story magazine, the Vogue of Croatia. Recently, she has been asked to model in Istanbul, Spain and Australia.

“What I love about it is the opportunities to travel and see places,” she said.

However, Neva does not want this to become her career.

“I will continue [modeling], but never as a job,” Neva said. “I’ll do it as a hobby and a way to earn money, like for college, but I want to do important things.”

Senior Emma Meara has gotten to know Neva, and naturally, Neva has told her about her modeling.

“It’s funny because it’s not what she wants to do in the future,” Meara said. “It’s just what she has available to her.”

Neva is using what’s available to achieve her goals; her modeling will help her through any financial struggles she faces in college, where she can do what is important to her.

“I don’t want to think about my weight or what diet I’m on; I just think that stuff is superficial and stupid,” Neva said. “I want to do things that actually matter.”

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Nellie Wittaker

Junior Nellie Whittaker is the online news section editor and print opinion page designer. Read Full »

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