Interview: Nora Repo

Nora Repo
Photo credit: Slobodan Miljević

Name: Nora Repo

Where do you live: Belgrade, Serbia (but I’m originally from Finland)

Known for:
For my research, articles and lectures that treat Islam and the Balkans, and for diverse border crossing and bridge building initiatives that promote interfaith dialogue and cultural exchange.

Currently working with:
Currently I am working as Project Coordinator for the Central European Service for Cross-Border Initiatives – CESCI Balkans and improvising on the side as an independent writer, lecturer and translator.

When did you realize that you were going to work with this/in this area?
The process is still ongoing, as we with CESCI Balkans are looking for a financially more stable position, but I am not far from my dream; to actually concretely use my academic knowledge and skills on projects that can be implemented on the grassroots level for the common good of people in the Balkan area. The interest in the themes that I have studied at the university started already in the late nineties.

If you could choose one place only to live, where would that be and why?
I would love to live by the Adriatic Sea, but I love big cities. That is my big dilemma, how to combine these two wishes: to enjoy of a beautiful seaside and rich cultural life and liveliness of a big city.

How would you describe your creativity?
My creativity takes different forms, it can be for instance textual, I write a lot, or it can be visual or musical. I am extremely visual person, and beautiful and harmonious environment and home are very important to me in life. At home I love to decorate and to find interesting solutions with recycled and old items and elements and give them new life as part of the interiors.

How and when did you start to work with this in a serious manner?
I would say that my choices, when it comes to studies as well as my whole working career, have been one long process of improvisation and constant change, which has required a lot of creativity of different varieties in order to overcome possible and impossible obstacles.

What do you do at the moment?
I am a Project Coordinator for the Central European Service of Cross-Border Initiatives – CESCI Balkans and have recently created projects, which treat gender equality, interfaith dialogue and migration in the Balkans. Currently we aim to find funds to materialize these ideas. I am also writing scientific and other articles.

A recommendation for those who think about starting and running a creative business?
You must dare to take risks, and work a lot, but it does not feel like work most of the time, because it fulfills you and gives you so much.

Tell us how it all started.
I guess that it was given to me in my genes, I always had an “attitude” and it was difficult to follow the mainstream when more interesting things presented themselves on the side. Whatever I chose or did, I always followed my heart.

What is the most important thing in a workplace/studio for you?
The most important thing is that I feel harmonious and have had a good rest. The atmosphere in a workplace gravitates mainly around the people I work with. On the second place comes possibility to listen to the music I like.

What is your favorite film?
Rust and Bone (De Rouille et d’os, 2012) by Jacques Audiard. A totally breath taking story about pain, loss, love and amazing power of life that can overcome impossible obstacles.

Who would you like to invite for a dinner and why?
I would like to meet Desmond Tutu, his kindness and wisdom amaze me.

How do you like to spoil yourself?
By buying a good book or a small nice piece of decoration for the house or clothing. Or by attending some exciting Argentine tango workshop or other cultural event.

What is luxury for you?
There are so many everyday luxuries: a good morning coffee, a nice inspiring chat, a message from a friend, a shared laughter, a mind-blowing tanda (set of songs in Argentine tango), a small dog’s joyful presence. But if we speak in a wider scale then a long holiday on a sunny turquoise seaside spiced with books, good food and tango.

What is the nicest compliment you’ve received for your creative work, and from whom?
I would say that my colleague from the Finnish Ecumenical Council, Project Secretary Sanna Ylä-Jussila, touched me very much by quoting Mother Teresa in a card that she handed to me once. We worked together in interfaith and ecumenical projects. The quote said “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving”. Also Professor of Sociology from the University of Tunis Frej Stambouli who was listening to my presentation once at a meeting at the Anna Lindh Foundation Network gave me very uplifting feedback concerning my research by stating that its diversity and depth were totally amazing.

What do you fear most?
Currently my only occasional fear is that something would suddenly prevent me from living the way I do.

What is a happy life to you?
Happy life is about doing what you really enjoy doing and having an opportunity to share with others the positive energy your pleasure provides you with.

What does a regular day look like for you?
Each and every one of my days is different, intensive and very rich. For me sleep is very important, once I have slept well I can do a lot of things in one day, be creative and full of energy. Morning coffee is important too and walks with my dog Irma that schedule my days to some extent. Otherwise I divide my time between the different projects I work on and find also time to see friends and family, and to swim and dance Argentine tango, of course.

Tell us about your dream project.
My dream project is to see especially these interfaith and gender equality projects that I have created turning into something concrete in the Balkans.

Who is your professional role model/inspiration?
There are many of them. People are often my greatest inspiration. On the first place I would mention the former General Secretary of the Finnish Ecumenical Council Father Heikki Huttunen for all his work, which aims at helping people and building bridges and dialogue. I also admire many of the academic people I have had a chance to work with Professor Peter Nynäs, Director and Docent Ruth Illman and Senior Lecturerand Docent Teuvo Laitila. For their genuine, honest and professional approach to science, which has functioned as an amazing support in order to encourage me and others on our personal ways of doing research.

How would you describe your work style (academic field or fashion style, or both, or something entirely different)?
I am definitely a scientist, when I write and lecture, but I am keen to use these skills for concrete projects in order to initiate a change of some kind in the society on a grassroots level. And I enjoy using aesthetic means for creation of for instance nice publications and brochures and inspiring spaces where to organize events, gather people and work together.

Which is the one thing you can’t live without?
If we speak about a thing the answer is Argentine tango. Tango has been to me an amazing revelation; a dance in which you constantly improvise, create, decorate, express, exchange energy and share. If we speak about something else then the answer is definitely my dog Irma. We make a beautiful team.

What inspires you?
People, world, music, emotions and love.

A book that has changed/made the most impression in your life?
I would answer to this Anna Gavalda’s book Consolation (La Consolante, 2009) because it helped me while I was passing a very difficult period in my life. It is a beautiful story of all kinds of second chances that life can provide you with.

Check out her awesome research in English here & in Finnish here & here
Read her Dissertation & a review right here

Nora-RepoPhoto credit: Slobodan Miljević


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