Juliet Botescu: Dictionary and determination opens door to better future

Published 10:00 pm Friday, October 10, 2014

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A young central European family arrives in the U.S. in search of opportunity and political freedom, but parents struggle to fit in because they can’t speak English.

In the case of Juliet Botescu, a native of Romania, who arrived in Greenville with her husband Tiberius and two young children in 1992, speaking English was less
a factor, as Juliet, a determined individual had already taught herself some of this tricky language largely through a dictionary. In addition, Tiberius had taken two years of English while in Romania.

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Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, in a rural Romanian village along a narrow valley in the western Carpathian Mountains, Botescu experienced a lifestyle similar to that of North American homesteaders at least two or three generations back.

“Everything was home spun,” she recollected, about her life on a small family farm. “We grew our own food. We had sheep and pigs and cows.” They also produced their own clothing.

Juliet, the second of five daughters had no brothers. “The ‘man’ power wasn’t there,” she remarked. Juliet and her sisters had to contribute mightily to make the farm work. The family consisted of five daughters, two parents and two grandparents.

Electricity arrived in the 1970s. Before that, illumination came from oil lamps. Botescu remembers that Romania, then under Communist Party control, “was so far behind surrounding developing countries.” Communication as we know it was forbidden. She remembers her father listening to Radio Free Europe, which provided news, information and analysis to areas where communications were either banned or insufficient.

This was not the kind of setting likely to produce someone who would enter the U.S., with a basis in English (Juliet was not yet fluent, having just a working knowledge of English she said). But, remembering her childhood, “I never thought that’s how people should live,” to work from dawn to dusk, just to feed themselves.

At about 14, she moved from her village, where, she had graduated from eighth grade, and moved to a larger town about 45 miles distant, for more education.

Unable to afford to commute back and forth from school to home, she first stayed in an uncle’s apartment, and eventually, shared a living space with other students.

During that time, Juliet found a copy of Reader’s Digest, but could not read it. “I had to find a way around that,” she said. Then she obtained an English/Romanian dictionary. “I found it fascinating,” she said. The Romanian language uses characters similar to those in English, which made her venture into English a bit easier. From the dictionary, she learned pronunciations and the various meanings of English words, and how to use those words in sentence.

When Botescu graduated from 12th grade, she obtained a conversational dictionary. In the city where she went to high school, few people spoke English, mostly Russian and German, but Juliet was determined to learn English, and make a better life for herself.

“In town, I could see how people could do better. I always like to seize my opportunities to do my best.”

After graduation, she worked in a clothing factory, making fine attire. During lunch breaks, she studied her conversational dictionary.

Despite some of her coworkers suggesting that she was wasting her time studying English, she persisted.

Another aid to learning English was a copy of the Bible, since Botescu “already knew what it meant.”

I kind of grew up hearing about that good place called America,” Botescu remembered.

Getting to the U.S. would not be easy.

Eventually, Juliet became married and with a husband and two young children, she was determined to emigrate from Romania to the U.S. She was far from the only one. For many years, the embassy serving Romania was booked solid with requests from individuals and families who wished to leave the country. Combined with tight immigration quotas in the U.S., this meant that traveling from Romania to the U.S. was hardly a sure thing.

In early 1992, one of her Tiberius’s cousins, who attended school in the U.S., returned to Romania with three college applications. Tiberius said he would fill one out, but vowed that he would never leave his family behind.

At the time, both Botescu and her husband had jobs in Romania, but knew that if they received travel visas, they would lose those jobs. Around March, her husband was accepted at a college near Greenville, with his first semester due to begin that August.

One evening, the couple and their two young children boarded a train, headed for Bucharest, Romania, to get their visas. On the train all night, they arrived in Bucharest at 4 a.m., and waited for three hours, standing in a street.

Bucharest, at the time, was a large, but not totally modern, city, Juliet Botescu noted. By then, the Communist Block was crumbling. Under Communist rule, religious practice was more than frowned upon. Juliet remarked that for many years, people had been taught that the Communist Party was the highest authority.

Arriving in the U.S., Botescu, her husband and young children settled in Greenville, where he would begin college. His student visa limited him to 20 hours of
work per week, so he could focus on his studies. At that, he took jobs where he could find them.

English still proved somewhat of a struggle. Further, they had trouble understanding the Southern accents. But, they were in the U.S.

“I always had that inclination,” Botescu said . . . “that I could make it to America.”

Once here, they had to repay the six individuals from whom they’d borrowed funds to travel from Romania. They obtained much of their food from local food banks. They purchased a car for $300, so that her husband could get to classes, his job and back home.

Juliet had received a different visa. Once in Greenville, she found jobs sewing and cleaning, in and near Greenville.

In time, her husband got a job at a boys’ shelter in Greenville, working for a non-profit. There, the couple received a job as house parents, a job that included housing.

Both parents were able to practice English by teaching it to their children. Their English skills helped them ease into the system.

Both Juliet and her husband had applied for permanent residence status, a process, which took some five years.

“That changed things,” Juliet said. “I was employable. I had some work experience, great references, a reputation for making the most of the little I had.”

In the meantime, Tiberius received his four-year degree. Juliet applied online for a degree program in business administration,and got a computer (but had to learn how to use a keyboard).

Being on campus helped Juliet and Tiberius become more fluent in English. However, after two to three years as a house parent,she stayed with the NPO in its
accounting department.

By 2000, she was studying business administration, working full-time and she and her husband were still raising their children.

Tiberius got an information/technology job, taught himself how to use a computer, and began trouble-shooting other people’s computers. Now, he is director of technical services for the same NPO that initially hired the couple as house parents. (It has been 20 years.)

The couple had continued moving forward, “in tiny little steps,” Juliet noted.

“It was not easy,” she said, “but that’s the toll to pay for working at something, and being self-sufficient.”

In 2006, seeking another job, Juliet turned in the 64th of 64 applications for the position as Andy Millard’s assistant at Main Street Financial Group.

“When Andy formed Millard & Company in Tryon, in 2010, I went with him.”

Next February will mark nine years as an employee there. She now serves as executive assistant and client service manager.

Owner Andy Millard notes of Juliet, “This is an amazing human being,” pointing out that Juliet had not learned only English, but also speaks Spanish and French.

“We have been blessed beyond words,” Juliet said. “I’m content to be where I am. I have a lot to be thankful for. I wanted to attain something that most people
would not dare reach for.”

BY Mark Schmerling