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Melania Trump, As Slovenians Know Her

Slovenia Remembers Melania Trump
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Photos of 17-year-old Melanija Knavs, taken by photographer Stane Jerko in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1987, launched the modeling career of the woman who later would become Melania (Knauss) Trump.

Slovenia Remembers Melania Trump
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Melania Trump will become the first foreign-born wife of an American president in almost 200 years.

On January 20, her husband, Donald Trump, will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.

Most Americans do not know much about 46-year-old Melania Trump.

She was born in the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia. It is a small country surrounded by Austria, Hungary, Italy and Croatia. It has a small coastline on the Adriatic Sea. Slovenia also has castles that are hundreds of years old, large forests and clear rivers.

VOA recently traveled to the country to learn about Melania Trump’s life before she came to the United States.

Jakob Susteric operates a medical company in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. He knows his country is not well-known. But he believes Melania Trump will change that.

“Slovenia. What is Slovenia? Is that a food? Is that a car? Nobody knows it’s a country. Nobody knows it’s a nation, and nobody knows that Melania is from Slovenia. So this is a big opportunity that our two million-nation basically gets its place in Europe, in the world.”

Susteric says having a Slovenian in the White House says good things about the United States.

“It expresses the message that America is sending from past years which is that America is a land of opportunities, so anybody that lives (in) and comes to America can achieve great things.”

Stane Jerko is a photographer. He says he was one of the first people to see Melania Trump’s talent at a fashion show in Melania Trump’s hometown of Sevnica in 1987. Jerko says she was a quiet 17-year-old.

He said she was notable for her beauty and her energy.

Melania Trump was born April 26, 1970.

She has said that when she is first lady she will work to fight cyber bullying. Petra Sedej, a friend and high school classmate, says Trump dealt with the difficult behavior that can be common with girls in high school.

“Because she was beautiful, she was a model, a lot of girls talked about this and they were also jealous. But she didn’t react to this and I think this is something strong inside of her, because she knew that she was good. And if you know that you are good, you don’t need to prove this with words.”

Sedej says Communism and Yugoslavia were collapsing in Slovenia when she and Trump were in school together. She says they wondered how that would affect their future.

“We talked about studying, about how to see the world, and she, like a model, she knew that Slovenia was too small for her.”

Melania Trump left Sevnica when she was still a teenager and went to live with her sister in the city of Ljubljana. She began working as a model there. Later, she traveled to Milan, Italy and Paris, France.

Then she went to New York where she met Donald Trump at a fashion event in 1999. They dated for about a year. They restarted their relationship a few years later.

In April, 2004, Donald Trump asked Melania to marry him.

Melania was first named Melanija Knavs. She then changed her name to Melania Knauss. She became Melania Trump when she married Donald Trump in Florida on January 22, 2005.

He was 58 years old. She was 34. It was her first marriage and his third. There were 500 guests at the wedding, including Oprah Winfrey, Prince Charles of Britain, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Muhammad Ali.

Donald and Melania Trump have one child: a son named Barron William Trump. He was born in 2006.

In Sevnica, friends of Melania Trump’s family say her father Viktor Knavs was a lot like Donald Trump.

Zdravko Mastnak says Knavs was ambitious and a good businessman. He says he always looked for a way to improve his life beyond the money he could earn selling cars at a state-owned company.

Only about 5,000 people live in Sevnica, which was affected by World War II. After the war, many mass graves were found there.

When communists took control of Sevnica after the war, it became a center of furniture manufacturing.

In the town, graffiti-covered trains speed past large apartment buildings built when the Communist Party ruled Yugoslavia. Some large buildings, like Communism, have collapsed. It is easy to understand why someone would want to leave the town although some parts of it are beautiful.

Nusa Vidmar owns a cake shop in Sevnica near the apartment building where Melania Trump grew up.

“We were very proud of Melania’s success. She used to be one of us and we are really happy for her, so everything what we do is making cakes, so we create simple but luxury cake that was, we wanted to have a beautiful cake like she is.”

Zdravko Mastnak is a family friend who makes wine. He says he hopes Melania Trump and her husband will visit Sevnica.

I’m Lucija Millonig.

VOA Europe Correspondent Luis Ramirez reported this story from Sevnica and Ljubljana, Slovenia. Phil Dierking and Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

inaugurate – v. to introduce (someone, such as a newly elected official) into a job or position with a formal ceremony

express – v. to talk or write about (something that you are thinking or feeling)

achieve – v. to get or reach (something) by working hard

talent – n. a special ability that allows someone to do something well

fashion show – n. an event at which new clothing designs are displayed

model – n. someone who is paid to wear clothing, jewelry, etc., in photographs, fashion shows, etc., so that people will see and want to buy what is being worn

first lady – n. the wife of the American president

cyber bullying – v. to frighten, hurt, or threaten (a smaller or weaker person) on the internet or through social media

jealous – adj. feeling or showing an unhappy or angry desire to have what someone else has

graffiti – n. pictures or words painted or drawn on a wall, building, etc.

luxury – adj. of high quality or high cost or both