Cultural appropriation is a tough one: Meet Andrea Ugrinoska, Macedonia

Any youth that has lived in a different country struggles with cultural appropriation. In this conversation Andrea tells us about her peace activism journey and her struggle with cultural appropriation.

1. Could you describe the first moment when you realized you wanted to do this work?

I don’t think there was one single moment when I realised I wanted to do this work. It was kind of building throughout my teenage years. Simply said, I just could not imagine myself working something that fails to address the disasters happening around the world, in one way or another. I never imagined I would end up here. But I don’t feel proud or deserving of it, I just feel honoured having been given the opportunity to contribute to such a noble field and call it my work.

2. Could take us through a day of your work? Where do you put most of your time and energy?

One day of my work would look rather messy to anyone observing. One day of my work is more than 24 hours. I believe that this type of work is rarely limited to a standard working time. I currently work two jobs, and volunteer for two more. All of them give me equal pleasure (luckily some of them pay the bills as well). In the mornings, I map international opportunities and engage stakeholders in nation-wide consultations on the Future of Europe – I aim to have young people’s voice heard and most importantly to have a seat at the table where decisions are being made on their behalf. In the afternoons I contribute to a global cause around freedom and how to best contextualize it and promote it around the world so that everyone can be their own person before being part of a community. In the evenings, I try to build up even more the National Youth Council from my home country that is deeply engrained in my heart. In my free time, I try to support the Council of Europe through their Advisory Council on Youth when developing youth policies and activities. It’s a fun day to have and with a little bit of coffee I can go a long way.

3. What are your key achievements in your work?

Key achievements in my work are many, but still for some reason I never feel comfortable to promote them. Hopefully you can hear about my great achievements from someone else that felt motivated enough to quote me. Otherwise, I really try to focus on the things ahead, so I don’t even remember fully my achievements as after every achievement a challenge comes and my attention shifts.

4. How does your organization promote inclusive participation of youth from diverse backgrounds?

I have many organizations behind me which are diverse within itself to start with. But all of them are concerned with diversity and how to achieve it better. There are different mechanisms used across the different organizations which could differ from: elections quotas, proper engagement with the grassroots, minority empowerment, advocacy, etc.

5. What has been your hardest struggle so far, and how did you get over it?

Struggles are present all the time but one thing I find tricky in my work is cultural appropriation. I have lived and worked in various places and the cultural differences are always hitting me hard and deep. I find it amusing, scary and fascinating at the same time. Mostly I find it hard to balance between my need to be myself and be fully respecting of other cultures at the same time, on the long run. But this then helps me narrow down the issues in my work as well and understand where fear may come from. It helps me address it better. And so it’s an ongoing overwhelming struggle which I love and hate at the same time. But it’s good, because this conflicting energy just helps me be more creative as I have felt it on my own skin.

6. What is the biggest challenge you currently face?

The biggest challenge I face is not making the impact I want to be making. When you enter this field of work, things tend to be rather slower than what one would expect. Making a change usually requires and approval of many governing structures – it might make one impatient. But learning from it and learning that being radical and outspoken will not always bring about the change you were expecting and know in your heart is right, is already a lesson enough.

7. What has been your biggest surprise on this journey so far?

My biggest surprises are always the people I meet all around. The patience and effort they put into their visions of a better world. What I also found surprising is the shy dance between spirituality and reason present in the sector. It enabled me to re-connect to my once lost spirituality among a cold reasonable world.

8. What keeps you going and give you inspiration in your work? What gives you hope?

What gives me hope right now is dreaming that one day I will open my own little ‘thingy’ – still not sure what it will be and how it will look like but I plan to put all my passions together into one thing that I can call mine. In order to reach that point I want to first gather as much experience as possible so that when I collect the necessary means, I also have a mind mip in my pocket which will ease the creation of this little project of mine that still floats in space with no concrete shape.

9. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

I would most probably advise my younger self not to stress that much around little mistakes and look at the bigger picture always. I tend to be very self-critical, which is essentially blocking me from trying as many new things as possible. So yeah, I would just tell to myself to relax a bit.

10. What word of encouragement would you give to women activists fighting rejection because of challenging patriarchy?

Seldom have I met women that have managed to escape the repressing iron frames of patriarchy. It’s so ingrained in our behavioural patterns that any move that challenges it will be marked and judged. Too loud, too silent, too skinny, too fat, too hairy, too whatever. Sometimes it’s better to withdraw, sometimes it’s better to bite harder. Being sensitive to the context and situation will make each one of us women better in our quest. But dear fellow women around the world, we have started something that apparently disturbs a big mass of society. And that’s ok, that means we are on the right way.So sometimes only a smile back is enough, while sometimes a punch will not do. But as our impatience raises it is important to stay human.

11. How can people interested to connect you reach you?( email, blog, website, linkedIn etc).

Social media for me is a like a knife with two sharp sides. I love staying connected, but it also feels like too much responsibility. Social Media makes it look like we are always available for everyone, but that’s rarely the case. So I have moments where I just want to close all my social media accounts, but then I also have moments where I want to open a blog and write until my fingers bleed so the whole world can hear. In this transition, I cannot promise what will happen tomorrow. For now I am still reachable via facebook (Andrea Ugrinoska) but mostly reliable over e-mail ( I also have an instagram for all of those that manage to have proper conversation with pictures, without much text, you can look me up (ejndru).

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