DETROIT – For decades, women in Albania have been viewed as submissive and subordinate to men, who were considered conservative and traditional. And those who dare contradict conventional norms are often ostracized and viewed as troublesome.
Klea Noskey knows this all too well.
Having grown up in a tiny village in northwest Albania where people still hold strong to family traditions and ethnic cultures, Noskey has witnessed the consequences of, as she puts it, “thinking outside of the box.”
“As Albanians, we really care about what other people’s opinions are of us and how they see us,” said Noskey, a newly-minted doctoral graduate at Wayne State University. “But it’s very clear what is expected of women in that small town.”
And independent thinking was most definitely not among those expectations — in fact, it was culturally forbidden.
But as a little girl, Noskey had other plans.
She wasn’t about to stay in Vrakë, where girls rarely advance beyond middle school and are expected to marry young and raise a family. So, at 18 years old — and with the help of her dad Tonin and mom Zina — she made the life-changing decision to move an ocean away.
“My mom’s dream was to always finish school and be able to provide for herself,” Noskey said. “That was her main dream. But that didn’t happen.”
As a youngster, Noskey showed an acumen for biology, chemistry and math. Her family decided to shift gears and focus on her education and future. If she was to reach her mother’s dreams, she’d have to leave behind family and friends in small Vrakë, where gatherings of 500 are considered huge.
A month after graduating from high school — on July 29, 2013 — Noskey was on a plane from the Albanian capital of Tirana bound for Detroit where she knew next to no one. She moved in with relatives she didn’t know: her mom’s brother and his wife.
“I did not know the family that I had here,” Noskey said. “The uncle that I lived with came to the United States before I was born. I had never met him in person. I met my aunt once when she came home when I was very young.”
For three years, Noskey — who was born Klea Gjinaj — lived with her aunt and uncle in their Shelby Township home and took classes at Oakland Community College, where she studied to be a pharmacy technician.
“I knew I always wanted to do something in health care. It matches my personality,” she said. “I’m very compassionate and always wanted to help people, just be somebody’s support on their worst day.”
Since moving to Michigan and earning three associate degrees, Noskey also added another chapter to her fascinating story when she married in 2016. She became the first in her family to marry a non-ethnic Albanian when she and Patrick Noskey, a financial analyst in Troy, tied the knot 11 months after meeting in a class at OCC. The couple now lives in Lake Orion.
“It was outside the box, again, I guess,” said Noskey, laughing. “Actually, it’s another nontraditional story. I married an American. It wasn’t heard of in my family before. But it’s just worked out. I met him in January and married him in December. It was very shocking for everybody — but like we tell everyone, it feels right, and we knew it was right.”
In the fall of 2019, Noskey transferred to Wayne State and, two semesters later, earned a bachelor’s health sciences. On May 3, Noskey received a doctor of pharmacy degree from the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
It’s been nearly a decade since Noskey arrived from her tiny, picturesque village. The journey hasn’t always been easy. Noskey struggled to assimilate into her new country. There was doubt and loneliness, and she questioned her own decision to come to America.
“In the beginning, it was very difficult because I had never left my family,” she said. “I had never been away from my home for more than a couple of days. I had never been on a plane. Having no friends and life here is very fast. Not being able to have my family close, language, I have an accent, I felt very self-conscious. I was having difficulty making friends because I wouldn’t go talk to people. I was feeling very lonely.”
But a tragedy made her realize she had made the right move.
In December 2021, a fire destroyed the Noskeys’ Lake Orion condominium. The tragic event wiped out everything, but the outpouring of support gave Noskey a new perspective.
“The fire was a horrible, horrible experience that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but it was such an eye-opener,” she said. “To have the amount of people who supported us after the fire and the amount of Wayne State professors who reached out to me, particularly Dr. (Mary Beth) O’Connell, was amazing. Even people from outside of the pharmacy program, the nurse anesthesia program was reaching to help financially, morally and emotionally. I’m so thankful for everybody.”
She can’t say enough good about Wayne State, especially the different cultures of the student population.
“I didn’t know how diverse Wayne State was until I got here,” said Noskey, who has made friends on campus from Ukraine, Korea and Vietnam. “To be able to meet people from different parts of the world and share in their culture and share in their language and food has been amazing. I have met people from different parts of the world and talk to them about differences and similarities in our cultures. I’ve enjoyed talking to them about their journeys to the United States and different perspectives and different life paths. It’s been amazing.”
In June, she will start her residency at Beaumont Hospital-Troy, where she did her Longitudinal Advance Pharmacy Practice (LAPP) rotations as a doctoral student.
“I really want to work in a hospital,” Noskey said. “I would like to be a clinical pharmacist, and that’s why I decided to pursue residency because it gives me a lot more clinical knowledge and gets me more familiar with the system and will allow me to collaborate with the doctors and nurses and PAs and be part of the team.”