Ivana Pecaleva is from Bitola and she loves colors, diversity, liveliness, activity, action... She is a polyglot – speaks French, German, Spanish and English, she has also studied Albanian, and wants to learn Greek and Japanese. Innovative, full of ideas and positive energy, or as it is said in Bitola dialect: her mind works 300 per hour. Ivana is part of Balkan Prime Tours team, whose aspiration constantly is a step further.
We see the big picture and we want to create opportunities and options for everyone who wants to work honestly and sincerely, who wants to share with us a piece and bit of energy with full heart, which will fit into the whole mosaic, she says.
Tomorrow is a new day for learning something new
Ivana has been in Skopje for nine years, after enrolling at the Faculty of Philology (French and German – Translation and Interpretation). From an early age, she has an affinity for languages, and by nature is very temperamental, even hyperactive:
I like to do more things, but not only superficiality. I can say that I am a heavy perfectionist. From an early age I had more activities – I was dancing, learning languages, acting, performing at fashion shows, being sportily active… I played even football until the first year in secondary school.
In Bitola she lives in the yard of the so-called Upper gymnasium (Josip Broz Tito), where football was played around-the-clock. In the neighborhood, she was the only girl and she was a real manlike:
I almost hadn't had toys for girls... I grew up with boys and boys' games. But I'm happy about it, because I've learned so much! You know, a child needs absorbing everything from everywhere. First and most important for the child is to have a home upbringing, which was enabled to me by my wonderful parents Sandra and Tony, who taught me the true values of life. Then you trace the way for yourself, learning from the school and from the street, build a mosaic that helps you to grow and develop further...
At her mother's suggestion, Ivana enrolled in a French language course at the French Alliance in Bitola. She started as the youngest in the group, but very quickly was transferred to a more advanced group:
We started to prepare a theatre performance and naturally, I fought to succeed and get in. I love acting!
With that theatre performance, they guested in France, housed in the families of children from the school. For Ivana, it was a wonderful experience that she will never forget:
At the age of 9 and a half, I was traveling alone, without my mother and father, in a small locality Saint-Dizier, 2 and a half hours from Paris... A real adventure! The pictures taken in the bus are evidence for the fun that we had and shows how the youngest (me) entertains everyone. The girls were waiting in line in front of me to put them a make-up, and later I was playing handball with the boys ... we made the bus driver crazy…
In Saint-Dizier, Ivana was the star – the performance was very successful, but the company was the most impressive.
In those 10 days, I even fell in "love"... Every night before going to bed, I would repeat a grammar, few phrases, cross myself and say to myself: Ivana, tomorrow is a new day and you still have a lot to learn…
After this wonderful journey and socializing, she loved the French language even more. For one Christmas, she asked for a French-Macedonian dictionary from her grandparents, which was a rarity at the time. After her wish came true, she began to learn it word for word, hoping that if she learned the entire dictionary, she would learn French in full.
From the sixth grade, she started learning German, which was compulsory at school. In secondary school, she opted for a language compartment, where she studied English, French, German and Latin. Follows the selection of faculty education.
I always wanted to study in France, but at that time there were no conditions. My second option was Thessaloniki in Greece, but in the end my decision was Skopje. We had a special acting troupe at the faculty, and every year a director from Belgium came to prepare and teach us how to stand on stage, how to see the audience, how to manage with the voice – so that it would not be too quiet or too loud…
In addition to preparing performances, writing in French and sharing roles, the workshops included wonderful friendships and a variety of activities:
For four years we attended various festivals abroad, traveled and met many interesting people, cultures, traditions and customs. I fell more and more in love with learning foreign languages and traveling.
Apart from the theatre troupe "Les artcooliques" in her college days, Ivana from the second year began to teach and give private classes in German, French and Spanish.
I loved the feeling when a small child is absorbing the language "like a sponge"... Even when it uses some of my associations for better remembering a word or phrase...
She continued to give classes more actively throughout Skopje in various municipalities. Even some of the bus drivers have already recognized her and stopped when she ran to catch a bus:
I'm going out of faculty, always well-groomed – I am not from Bitola in vain, on heels with a normal height for day and a big bag with three hundred books inside – some from faculty, others for private lessons. I worked tirelessly until 11 pm, I did not practice breaks, my only break was the road from one place to another. And of course, sometimes at evenings I would go out with friends for a drink.
Throughout that constellation of creative classes, keeping a class in a park with a portable board, preparing theatre performances in different languages, recording videos and etc., Ivana participated in several competitions and sports races, in which she always won one of the first 3 places. First in the race of high heels on Shirok Sokak in Bitola, first in the state competition "Dis-moi dix mots qui te racontent" for an essay on the topic "Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains"...
Well that's my hobby! Everything that I do, I want to do it perfectly, and thus motivate other people, to inspire them not to be lazy, to be active and full of ideas and love. And most importantly – the things that they will learn, not just to keep to themselves, but to share! I like to draw, create and design clothes, make a handmade works with beads, rework old things, organize parties, watch happy people... I love music, dancing, playing and singing, sporting, cooking – to make and invent new specialties, decorating houses, writing, talking to people and sharing experiences, helping where I can... I want sun, beach and sea, to swim and travel around the world...
In the family of Balkan Prime Tours
While studying, Ivana visited France three times, in Corsica, for a seasonal job as a babysitter "Jeune fille au pair". Besides learning the language better, this experience allowed her to learn how to cope with great responsibility and life's challenges.
It is not a small thing to take care of children aged 2 and 4 at the age of 20, she points out.
She added that she is still in contact with the family, madame Muriel and monsieur César, and their "les petits monstres". She even invited and motivated them to come to Macedonia for the birthday of the younger child:
We organized everything for them here – kindergarten, toys, cake and muffins – an unprecedented birthday! Games without borders!
At the same time while she was studying and helding private lessons, at night she was translating for translation bureau. One summer, she was considering whether to go to college in Corsica and work or find another job here in Skopje.
And of course, I shared that with my friends. One day Sanja called me: Ivanche, a travel agency is looking for a employee with French language. I thought over... I wanted to travel, but I also wanted to speak the languages I spoke, and both options seemed to offer me the same. The work in the travel agency was already here, and for the other option, I had to take a big step. I was not afraid, I said to myself – come on, when I'm already here, let me try, I will go for an interview.
Sanja gave Ivana the number of Vlatko and the interview was agreed. The day was beautiful and sunny, and Ivana stylish and of course, on high heels. Ivana entered the office with a smile on her face.
First, I saw Svetle and next to her, I think it was Eci. I greeted them and entered Vlatko's office. He was calm, positive, smiling and very cultured. He already had some information about me, because I actually came on the recommendation of a professor from the Faculty of Economics. At that time, my friend Sanja started working as an assistant at the faculty and she recommended me to her professor, and he, not even knowing me, recommended me to Vlatko, says Ivana.
At the time, Vlatko needed a strictly French-speaking employee, as he had already begun to consider the potential for expanding the business to markets other than Italy. After Ivana recounted her short biography and that in addition to French, she also speaks German and Spanish, the moment that followed was sweet and funny at the same time.
Honestly, I had no idea where I was entering. What we do at Balkan Prime Tours has nothing to do with the image I had of a travel agency. Much less I had no idea what's on Vlatko's mind. As I am open-minded, I told him that I give private lessons, still studying and working in a translation bureau three days a week. Vlatko, a reasonable and stable man, calmly told me that is not a problem...
Ivana admits that so far this has been her coolest job interview. Her first day at work was in July. She came to work at 11:20 and the whole team of Balkan Prime Tours was ready to go "on chorba" (stew). The second day as well... "On chorba" she had the opportunity to get know better everyone in the team.
On the third day, Vlatko comes, gives me a 300-page booklet, and tells me to look for French agencies and tour operators. A tour operator? What is that? I searched the internet to read, to be informed, to train for the job I do, to learn that terminology of tourism, first in Macedonian, to understand that tourism is not only synonymous with going on vacation, that there is another branch. What is B2C and what is B2B...
It was entirely a new experience for Ivana, as when a small child gets a new, interesting toy... But, thanks to the notes in her notebook, she began to master this branch.
September was coming and for Ivana, her first travel and tourism trade show in Paris, "Top Resa". Vlatko was preparing to participate in the trade show, where he should meet potential partners.
First I singled out the agencies, the tour operators from the book that Vlatko gave me, and then I started searching on internet. I found few, made a list, and the moment came when I had to contact those people… Naturally, I am not shy, but then in my head, a bunch of questions have arisen, to which I have no answer… What if they ask me this or that, what will I tell them? One day I spent researching and reading on how to behave on the phone, how to get people interested, so they will not turn off the phone, how to sound confident, to convey the right information and to reach the goal – respectively, to make an appointment!
Ivana made a concept and started ringing. She was helped and directed by Vlatko and her friend from France. The several-day calls ended with successful scheduled meetings at the "Top Resa" stand.
She also began translating programs into French, thus learning how to make a travel plan, a program, how many days, where to start and where to end, what to include, prices, and so on.
Honestly, I am very happy that I had and still have such a teacher at work, but also in life, such as Vlatko. He manages to set me on fire in such a subtle and unnoticeably way. Haha…
Ivana remembers Vlatko's words every day:
Everything will come in its own time, tourism is not only from today to tomorrow... Nothing qualitative can happen overnight... On the one hand, patience, self-possession, calmness and serenity, on the other hand, hard work is always rewarding, especially when something is done with love and in which you are fully engaged.
She doesn't like the phrase at all costs at all. On the contrary, Ivana believes in Vlatko's words that some people go the short way and they succeed, but some have to go the long way with more obstacles. They will have more drops, but it will make them stronger and more durable.
Now I advise my colleagues that we should never give up, we should not be annoying or strenuous, but ireducibile and persistent, worthy of our goal!
She gradually learned every day, although at the begining she was completely confused and did not know whether just to translate programs or find contacts... However, everything comes into place...
At first I didn't work calculations, these are the things that need to be learned when you want to give prices to the customer. I learned that much more by listening to Vlatko, the way he was talking and communicating with our partners, service providers, suppliers, hoteliers, bus operators, restaurant managers and wineries, friends...
Literally all three, Vlatko, Svetle and Ivana, formed the Balkan Prime Tours family each with his own character. They worked everything they needed to reach more markets, not only Italian, but also French (and the entire French-speaking area), German, Spanish...
After learning how to prepare programs, Svetle and I took the examination for tourist guides and tour accompanists. Honestly, you learn the most when you're on the field. It is different to meet foreign visitors, to guide them and to tell them about your country in every sphere. You simply connect with people, convey your positive energy, the image of our country and see how they are interested and want to learn something new. They are all erudite people who have traveled the world. Hence the small initial fear when you study for a tour guide, with no experience. But believe me, everything go beyond if you present yourself well – their eyes don't lie, you see purity, honesty and their desire to learn, and everyone appreciates that.
According to Ivana, this is the biggest souvenir that guests can get. That's how everyone at Balkan Prime Tours behave – with a pure heart.
The daily tours become weekend tours, than 4-5 days tours, 7-8 days tours, followed by Balkan tours. Ivana has been part of several Balkan tours, but she will not forget the first one as a guide, an accompanist with a group of 25 French people, when they visited 7 countries.
I have just become a guide, and now I am on tour alone… We have had different local guides in different countries. It takes a lot of learning, reading literature, general knowledge of what is happening today, but also in the past. You should be prepared to answer in every field. It was a big challenge for me. From that Balkan tour, I can say that I learned the most about our work. What it's like to lead a large group, meet different people, characters, desires, mentality, behaviors, border crossings, hotel accommodation, different menus... You also need to know and tell stories, entertain the people while traveling… On such a tour, the guide that accompanies the tourists is literally everything – guide, babysitter, animator, performer of desires and moderator… But that's exactly what I love and what this job allows me to do. Fulfillment in every field!
Infinite palette of possibilities
The usual working day in the Balkan Prime Tours family starts at 8:30 a.m., when all employees gather for coffee, tea or breakfast at Vlatko's office. Everyone tells how the weekend went and everyone points out something impressing. Vlatko compulsorily shares a book he read over the weekend and a marked lesson and so the other conversations follow. The conversation slowly turns to work and everyone points out certain ideas, everyone shares what they think...
Every day is different, I can't say how it flows and how it ends. I can only say how it starts – everyone is smiling, in the mood and full of enthusiasm for the new work week. Sometimes when we are in season, the meetings are shorter, but we always have spare time for ourselves and to see each other. And most importantly, we all know each other already when we look at each other. If something has affected someone or somebody have had a difficult day – we don't start working until we solve the problem!
Sometimes the days go by normally – a few programs are prepared, depending on the client, contacting, advising, making calculations... Sharing information on hotel prices, restaurant menus, guides, transporters…
Sometimes our guides, transporters and friends are coming for a visit. It's a precious time, it's nice to see each other and talk about the future, we can learn something from everyone… Sometimes one of us goes out on the field, leads a group, or helps with something else. Literally, our work is multifactorial and interactive, with an infinite palette of possibilities.
And there are countless episodes, especially at promotion or on a road show. These are the trips that Ivana loves the most. Promotion abroad means analysis, contacting potential partners and meetings with them, whether in the city, village, on the lake, at sea or on the mountain.
The promotion on a tourism fair is completely different – you have a stand where you welcome guests or go to another stand. Quite different is when you need to find the exact address of the office, then find parking and get to the meeting on time.
Ivana adds that she will not narrate about all those episodes now, but she will described them in detail in the book, which will probably be in several volumes (haha...). For now, she reveal only a few details: We had meetings at 8 am, and we are in Slovenia and need to get to Austria...
We had break on the bus station, had breakfast and lunch in rented car... Vlatko turns around with the car because he can't find a parking, and I run to find the building where we should have the meeting, so I forgot the gift for the client, and back again, Vlatko runs to give it to me... I will never forget when after a hard day, after 10 meetings at 11 pm we were accommodated in an e-hotel – real adventures while to find a way to pay, so to accommodate... Or when Vlatko thought that he did’t bought the ticket back from Belgium...
She simply loves her job and loves everyone in the Balkan Prime Tours family, as they are – receptive and cheerful, each with his/her own contribution to development at every second, minute, hour or day.
We learn from everyone, we complement each other and we respect each other endlessly, we strive for the big picture… We don't work only for ourselves, but for everyone around us to be happy and fulfilled. We are literally like an epidemic – maybe the word is bad, just at this circumstances (time of the corona virus), but we don't stop, we are active and we think every day how to animate our partners and not allow ourselves to fall into crisis.
Even in these times, family members of Balkan Prime Tours work and are more creative, looking for new contacts, greeting partners with motivational videos, opening a new branch, with new premium products...
What I love most is that we are what we are! We simply don't stop and don't give up, we are here to support our loved ones and to create, to launch our ideas, emphasizes Ivana.
At the end, she reveals that personally, she has many plans for the future. Part of them are the two major projects, which merge with the goal of Balkan Prime Tours, which will be an additional value of the activity. The third is the book, in which Ivana will talk about the promotion and the endless palette of opportunities in life, about her work in Balkan Prime Tours.
I also want to learn Albanian, Greek and Japanese, she concludes.