When Renata Nguyen was first asked by her sister-in-law to make a quilt, she had no idea what it was.
"She said, ‘OK, you know how to sew, will you make me a quilt,'" Nguyen, a Cumming resident, said. "She explained and sent me links over email and I looked it up and I thought it sounded pretty nice. I got a book, read about it and made a little one. I never took any class, I just picked it up and did it."
Nguyen created close to 70 quilts in the past seven years. Her favorite is based on a cartoon character, Krtek the mole, from a popular cartoon in her home country, the Czech Republic.
She loves to incorporate myriad materials in her quilts, which are just as colorful as the story of how Nguyen came to America in 1994.
She met her husband, an American of Vietnamese descent, when he visited the Czech Republic almost 17 years ago. Their companies worked together, and though they barely knew each other a week, Nguyen decided to drop everything and fly to the U.S. to be with him.
"I looked at him and in my heart I felt safe. I was very comfortable with him and told myself, ‘If I will fly over there and if it doesn't work out between us, there is always a plane for me to get on and go back home,'" she said.
The sudden change caused a rift between herself and her mother, who was angry her daughter was leaving the country. But Nguyen persevered.
"I didn't speak any English at all and he didn't speak any Czech at all," she said. "We were using a dictionary to understand each other."
At first Nguyen tried to teach him Czech because she was shy about speaking English.
Nguyen learned English from a variety of sources: English as a Second Language classes in Florida, Gwinnett Technical College and television.
"I watched ‘Jerry Springer' ... That was my learning channel," she said. "I was watching movies on HBO, I was listening and observing people when they were speaking. I was picking up words and where they were used."
She said looking back, she's not sure how they survived those first few years.
"When we were arguing with each other we were arguing in our different languages. I guess it was pretty funny," Nguyen said. "Now I have a problem when my family comes here or I go back home and it's hard for me to switch. It takes me a day to kind of adjust and speak fluently my own language."
Another thing different about returning to her home country is seeing how it's changed over the years.
"It's different. The Czech government sold all of the fields, they built supermarkets and big gas stations," Nguyen said. "I feel home when I go downtown (in Prague) but I get in the car and drive out of Prague, it's not the same. You see big stores and big shopping centers. The field where there was corn and sunflowers, it's all gone."
Coming to America wasn't much of a culture shock, Nguyen said.
"I grew up in communism. I was different than my people. They were always stuffing their nose in peoples' business and I was the opposite," she said.
"The only thing that I was shocked at was the superstores, the big malls and stuff like that, because at the time we didn't have them. That was something new to me."
Another difference was going literally from one day being an independent woman with her own money, making her own decisions, to being dependant on a man she loved but barely knew.
Dinner at the Nguyen household is an interesting event. She likes some things, he likes others, but Nguyen found a way around that issue.
"It's easy. You either eat what I cook or you don't eat," she said. "When we go visit my husband's family down in Florida then we're going to eat Asian food, which is awesome. I hadn't had it before."
After a three-year hiatus from college classes, Nguyen decided to enroll at Lanier Technical College after she and her husband moved to Forsyth County. She chose interior design as her major.
"I like art, I like fabric, I like colors. I like to design my stuff around the house and help friends," she said.
Her first degree was in sales, business and marketing from a college in the Czech Republic.
"I didn't want to sit in an office 24/7, answering phone calls and typing letters and invoices and stuff like that. It wasn't challenging to me and it wasn't fun," Nguyen said.
Though her interior design internships were with different decorative tile companies, Nguyen wants to ultimately work for a company with slightly different goals.
"I would love to get in a company that they have storage units for closets and for people who craft, just to make a nice organized room," she said.
"Interior design, every day is different. Different clients, different tastes."