Central MA Up + Comer: Olga Kwasniewski, Restaurant Owner + Model
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Olga Kwasniewski’s story is the stuff that best-sellers are made of. Born to a life of privilege, she came to the United States after working in international economic affairs for the President in her homeland of Uzbekistan. She left everything behind to start over in a foreign country, and is now the owner of Thai Island Restaurant in Holden while enjoying success as a fashion model strutting the runways of New York City. She is also the reigning Ms. Massachusetts Globe.
A Conversation with Olga Kwasniewski
SW: I am fascinated by the twists and turns that your life has taken. Can you highlight your education and career in Uzbekistan?
OK: I was born and raised in Tashkent, the capital of my homeland Uzbekistan. I graduated the Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies with a Bachelor’s degree in Korean Language and Literature. During my years at the Institute, I had a great opportunity to learn other foreign languages like German, Japanese and Chinese. As an Honor student, I was granted a scholarship to study in Seoul, Korea for a full academic year. During my senior year of college, I started to work part-time as an accountant assistant at the Turkish-Uzbek textile company. That was where I learned the basics of international business.
After graduating the Institute, I was offered a position as an inspector at the department of International Economical Affairs in the Office of The President of Uzbekistan. I was in charge of preparing compiled reports for the Ministry of Macro Economic and Statistics, distributing official correspondence and following up with other offices to confirm resolution, planning, and organizing Ministerial meetings for the government, managing diplomatic protocol issues and communication between ministries, greeting foreign dignitaries and arranging their schedules.
SW: What made you decide to come to the United States?
OK: My decision to come to the United States was based on my desire to prove myself without any assistance from my family. My father was a Chief of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, and since my birth I was fortunate enough to live a very privileged life. I had no way of knowing whether my academic or career achievements were due to my own capabilities or due to the influence of my family’s social position. I made the decision to find out by making the move to a foreign country and starting over again from zero. I chose to move to the United States. I refused any financial support from my family. I was working at a shoe store during the night shifts and during the day I was taking the TOEFL course at Clark University. After the TOEFL exam, I was accepted to Worcester State University with a double major in Early Childhood Education and psychology.
SW: How did that lead to owning a restaurant and modeling?
OK: While I was studying at Worcester State, I was waitressing part-time on weekends at the Thai restaurant to pay my tuition. After one year of working at the restaurant, my boss told me that he had a feeling that I was capable of running my own restaurant. That wasn’t in my plans. After graduation, I was planning to dedicate myself to working with autistic children and continuing my degree in Psychology. But my boss planted the seed of my future career in my head. After graduating from Worcester State in the top 10 of my class, I decided to try out my entrepreneur’s skills.
My modeling career was started back when I was residing in Uzbekistan. I attended modeling school and worked as a runway model. After moving to the United States I abandoned the idea of modeling due to the different standards of the modeling market. Suddenly one day, I decided to contact one of the Boston modeling agencies. After an interview I signed the contract with the agency. Today, I am represented by two modeling agencies in Boston and New York.
SW: Can you describe a day in your life as a restaurant owner? As a model?
OK: I am trying to balance restaurant ownership and modeling and sometimes it is hectic and unpredictable. My workday can last 14 hours. I could be modeling from 7am until 5 pm and then right after work go to the restaurant until 10 pm. During Fashion Week, I can leave in the morning for NYC, strut on a runway, come back home and at midnight do payroll and inventory reports. I don’t complain even if I am very exhausted. I am embracing any opportunity life is giving me to do what I am passionate about.
SW: What is your dream job?
OK: As of right this moment, I can say I am absolutely a truly happy person. I am blessed to do what I love. What I have right now is a dream job and a dream life. A decade ago, I never would even have imagined that I would run and own a successful business in a foreign country, walk on the runways of New York and Boston, be on movie sets next to Mel Gibson, Tommy Lee Jones, Sandra Bullock, America Ferera, and Charlize Theron. I definitely never expected to be crowned as Ms. Massachusetts Globe and compete for a national crown.
SW: Are you involved in the community? If so, how?
OK: I am actively involved in my community and I believe in supporting good causes and giving back. Since becoming Ms. Massachusetts Globe I have become an official spokesperson for Women In Needs foundation that helps abused women go through the rehabilitation process. On a local level, I support such organizations as Big Brother Big Sister, Ivy Child International, Worcester Arts Magnet School, etc. As a current state titleholder, I am helping during fundraising events for organizations including Ellie’s Fund, Easter Seal, Project Smile, Dress for Success, and Auburn Family Center.
SW: Who or what is the biggest influence in your life?
OK: My parents are my biggest influence. My father, whose persistence, hard work, and goal oriented personality made him so successful in his life. My mother, whose wisdom, patience, intelligence, and strong will is always an amazing example for me to stay strong and be fearless of the problems and difficulties. Every person who comes into my life brings something new for me to learn from. I think each of us is unique and has something incredible to pass to other people. I am very blessed to be surrounded by amazing people.
SW: What is a fun fact few people know about you?
OK: I am lazy. I am so lazy that I never want to redo things. I prefer just to do things once and right. I am rebellious and stubborn.
SW: What do you do away from your career?
OK: When I am not working I like to travel, go to theater, concerts, museums. Also I like to challenge myself in different kinds of sports. I am actively doing Yoga, dancing, Pilates, Krav-Maga martial arts, and fitness.
SW: What are your thoughts on your new home in Central MA and the United States?
OK: I lived in Worcester and now in Holden. I was initially tempted to head out to Boston but I have found a home. No one is under pressure here and I enjoy returning after time spent modeling in Boston or New York City. I hear a lot of people complaining about this country and the government but from my perspective this is an amazing country. I have traveled the globe and lived in a lot of countries and none are like this. Everything is wide open to anybody willing to work for it. It doesn’t matter where you are from. America embraces diversity and offers you the chance to follow your dreams.
SW: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
OK: That’s the most difficult question for me. Looking back at my life stages, I guess I can say my life is unpredictable and full of surprises, and its impossible to say where I see myself even in 1 year. I could never have imagined coming from Russia to the United States and opening a Thai Restaurant!
Susan Wagner is the president of Susan Wagner PR. In this challenging economy, she has begun a new division to offer affordable start-up packages to new and emerging small businesses and non-profit organizations that include professional writing services, websites, collateral, marketing, social media, grassroots outreach and PR campaigns.
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