Meet Tanea Lavalle: She came to the Berkshires for a seasonal job and stayed after finding love
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Tanea Lavalle lives a long way from Moldova. But so do most of her former classmates and friends from this small Eastern European country, landlocked in between Romania and Ukraine.
Lavalle estimates “maybe 80 percent” of her classmates and friends have left this former Soviet republic. The ones left behind might just be biding their time until they can follow.
“I have a group on Facebook with people from Moldova, and every single day someone is posting, ‘Where should I go? Where is better?’ ” Lavalle says at the kitchen table of the Pittsfield house she shares with her husband, George. She just finished working a 6 a.m. Sunday morning breakfast shift in the dining room of a Berkshires wellness resort.
“Especially the younger generation, they want to leave even more because there’s nothing there for them.”
She is quick to point out the natural beauty of her home country, and she proudly mentions Moldovan wines for sale in a few Berkshires’ stores. But Moldova’s economic plight keeps coming up.
When she talks about the complicated history of her country – independent only since 1991 – she mentions Moldova having been part of Romania at some point as well.
“I don’t think they want us back,” she says, laughing somewhat ruefully.
Her father, Nicolae, traveled all over Europe and the Middle East to find work and support his wife and three daughters back in the small town of Mereni, located not too far from Moldova’s capital and largest city, Chișinau.
“He worked in Portugal; in Bosnia and Herzegovina; in Israel,” the former Tanea Cociorva says. “So most of my life I grew up with just my mom.
“We lost her eight years ago,” she says. “We were a nice, friendly family. I miss them a lot.”
She was 21 when her mother, Olga, died, two days after returning from a pilgrimage to the Christian holy sites in Israel.
“My mother was a dreamer, too,” she says. “She all the time encouraged me, ‘You should do what you want because life is so short.’
She knew I wanted to go to the United States,” Lavalle says. “So when she passed I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ That gave me the courage and the force.”
Lavalle has college degrees both in economics and management from Moldova’s State Agrarian University. Romanian is her native language.
In the summer of 2009, the outdoor adventure town of Moab, Utah, was her first American destination. She became one of the tens of thousands of young foreigners a year who find seasonal jobs in the United States through Work & Travel USA, a program of the Portland, Maine-based nonprofit Council on International Educational Exchange.
She worked in a hotel in Moab, and the following summer in a restaurant in the Dallas suburb of Grapevine. Her third work-and-travel trip to the U.S., in 2012, was going to be her last. After the Berkshires, she was going home to Moldova for good.
“I decided I’m going to settle and get a job and everything over there,” she recalls in her home on West Housatonic Street, where cats, bunnies and salt water aquarium fish are part of the household.
“[But] I was catering a New Year’s party in Lenox and there I met my husband,” she continues. “He changed my whole plan. I had to cancel my ticket, and here I am.”
Lavalle, now 28, juggles a couple of morning and evening jobs in Berkshires restaurants. She is looking into taking accounting classes at Berkshire Community College. She, too, has become one of the estimated 1.5 million Moldovans living abroad. Her two sisters and their families are among the 3.5 million who remain.
“Hopefully one day they’ll be able to visit me,” Lavalle says.
“I didn’t really imagine my life this way, but it turned out really great,” she says. “My husband is a wonderful person, and I think living here I have more opportunity and a better life than I would have back home.”
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