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Nora Dimitrova Clinton: “Taking responsibility”

I did not experience a culture shock but felt that I belonged in the United States since Day One. My American acquaintances treated me with the utmost kindness and respect, and I received countless opportunities for utilizing and improving my skills. I felt elated by the palpable atmosphere of liberty and meritocracy and the limitless […]

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I did not experience a culture shock but felt that I belonged in the United States since Day One. My American acquaintances treated me with the utmost kindness and respect, and I received countless opportunities for utilizing and improving my skills. I felt elated by the palpable atmosphere of liberty and meritocracy and the limitless abundance of goods that free enterprise generates.


As part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nora Dimitrova Clinton, author and co-founder of two partner charities promoting academic cooperation and American values. Her popular memoir, “Quarantine Reflections across Two Worlds,” tells the story of her surviving communism and achieving the American dream. It is available from Archway Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets.

Nora D. Clinton was born and raised in Sofia, Bulgaria. She received degrees from several universities in Europe and the United States, including a Ph.D. in Classics from Cornell University. She has taught Greek and Latin languages and has published extensively on the subject of ancient documents on stone. She works in the field of legal operations management and is a co-founder and pro bono co-president of two nonprofit organizations dedicated to academic cooperation and American values. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and son.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Bulgaria, which at the time was a communist country. Despite poverty and oppression, I was surrounded by family love and care, which, I believe, greatly helps a child’s self-esteem and feeling of security. I shared a room with my grandparents and avidly imbibed their stories. This taught me to easily relate to people of different age groups and cherish the wisdom and experiences of older people. Living under communism also taught me to value liberty and independence extremely highly. Those born in a free country often fail to appreciate how lucky they are. They need to protect their freedom of speech at all costs as well as all the other rights that American people enjoy.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?

I was fortunate to win a Ph.D. scholarship at Cornell University to do a Doctorate in Classics. At the time, I was not planning to emigrate but had a strong desire to see the world and continue my education. One day, I happened to notice an announcement for the Fulbright program posted on a wall at the Sofia University, so I promptly applied, and the rest is history. I am very grateful to the Fulbright Commission and Cornell for this life-changing opportunity.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

I did not experience a culture shock but felt that I belonged in the United States since Day One. My American acquaintances treated me with the utmost kindness and respect, and I received countless opportunities for utilizing and improving my skills. I felt elated by the palpable atmosphere of liberty and meritocracy and the limitless abundance of goods that free enterprise generates.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

The hospitality and excellent organization of the Classics department at Cornell made my arrival and adaptation a breeze. I am forever indebted to my professors, the department staff, and my fellow students for making me feel truly at home.

So how are things going today?

I am happily married to a kind and inspiring American man, and we share the numerous blessings and welcome challenges of raising a wonderful teenage boy. I have a rewarding and stimulating job in the field of legal operations management, and in my spare time enjoy nonprofit volunteering, leisurely travel, going to the theater, eating out with my family on a Friday night, or entertaining guests at home.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My husband and I had the good fortune to establish and manage two charities, the American Research Center in Bulgaria, Inc., a 501(c)(3) U.S. corporation, and its partner institution in Bulgaria, the American Research Center in Sofia Foundation (www.arcsofia.org). These charities promote educational cooperation between the United States and Bulgaria and have supported to date several hundred academic visitors and over 20 new books with significant historical contributions.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?

I must admit that I have always been treated fairly by the American immigration system — I have received multiple visas over the years, including an O-1 visa, which is extremely difficult to obtain. At the same time, however, I know good people who were heartbroken when they were unjustly denied a U.S. visa. I would improve the system by: 1) increasing the efficiency of the decision-making process; 2) using a highly personalized approach to visa granting, based on whether or not the applicants genuinely love and respect the United States and, in the case of immigrant visas, whether they seek to actively contribute their hard work and expertise; and 3) creating a special expedited category for refugees/visa grantees for people from current and former communist countries (and other oppressive regimes) — this will bring in myriad grateful and patriotic new citizens, who would be eager to contribute to society with every fiber of their being; they would also counterbalance the growing number of misguided young Americans who have been taught to demonize and disrespect their country.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Perseverance — I had applied for tens of jobs before I got interviews and offers.
  2. Optimism — having a positive attitude can make all the difference. I happened to read a scientific book on the phenomenon of “luck” — the author surveyed many people with a negative outlook who had statistically a lot more unfortunate incidents than those who saw the glass as half-full. I remember a story about one man who was cheerful even in the most trying of times. He once broke his leg, and the interviewer asked him whether he felt rather unlucky at that moment. The man answered, “This is the best thing that happened to me. I met a beautiful and kind nurse, who is now my wife.”
  3. Keeping an open mind — life is teeming with fabulous possibilities if we are flexible enough to change an unfulfilling career and ready to learn new skills. I finished several programs in new and challenging fields of study in my 40s; this ultimately led to my current profession, which I love.
  4. Taking responsibility — true success is impossible without owning one’s mistakes, working hard, and rejecting any notion of entitlement. There is a witty and wise Bulgarian folk tale about an elderly lumberjack, who had two sons and often brought them with him in the woods to assist him. One day he felt exhausted and asked his sons to go and fetch lumber without him. “What are we to do if our cart breaks?” the sons asked. “Call Lady Trouble, and she will come to the rescue,” the father replied. The sons filled the ox-drawn cart with too many logs, and it broke while going downhill. The sons were despondent and kept calling Lady Trouble for hours. Finally, they decided she was not going to show up and fixed the cart themselves. When they returned home, they complained to their father that Lady Trouble was nowhere to lend a hand. “On the contrary, my boys,” the father smiled, “she was right beside you. It was Trouble that taught you to help yourselves and find a way out.”
  5. Continual self-improvement — life is a never-ending learning adventure. I love to read books at any chance I get. For all its disadvantages and frustrations, the pandemic gave me the opportunity to catch up on my reading and learn amazing new things in vastly diverse spheres of knowledge.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

  1. The genius of the American founding.
  2. The built-in corrective mechanisms of the American system.
  3. The American spirit of determination, individualism, and love of freedom.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I recently saw a humane, funny, and heartwarming movie, called “Christmas with the Karountzoses” (2015). I would love to meet the producer and main actor, Robert Krantz, and talk to him about my appreciation of Hellenic culture and love of Greece and the Balkans.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

I mostly use my Facebook account, though I also have Twitter (@NoraClinton5) and Instagram (@nmdc1226).

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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