Slovenia, with a population of 5,000, is Melania Trump’s hometown. According to the New York Times On days when Melanija Knavs could not play outside or grew tired of knitting her navy blue sweaters, she and her friends would exchange notes along the lines of yarn they strung between their apartment block balconies.
In fact, she grew up with humble roots in Sevnica, Slovenia, where she was known as Melanija Knavs and lived in Communist-style apartment housing that overlooked a river and smoking factory chimneys, the Associated Press reports.
“I think I can say Sevnica was too small for her,” Mirjana Jelancic, a childhood friend of Trump’s, told the AP. “Even as a child, she dreamed of moving.”
Jelancic said Trump, now 45, was a hardworking, well-behaved student with plans of pursuing an international fashion career.
“We would never hear her swear of say anything bad to anyone,” Jelancic said of her friend, adding that she was “an excellent student, very organized, disciplined, with very decent manners.”
Melania Trump, third from right
Diana Kosar / AP
After moving to Ljubljana, the country’s capital, for high school, Trump was spotted by a photographer on the street. She began modeling at the age of 16, traveling all around Europe and learning a variety of languages along the way, including English, German, French and Italian.
“I still remember how tall she was and how beautiful her figure and hair were,” Stane Jerko, the photographer who discovered Trump, told the AP. “There was no smile on her face because she was shy and scared, but I encouraged her to come to the studio.”
Melania Trump, second from right
Diana Kosar / AP
Trump soon changed her name to Melania Knauss and moved to New York City in 1996. She began dating her future husband Donald a few years later, after he asked for her number at a party in Manhattan. The pair were married in January 2005 and Trump gave birth to their son Barron in 2006.
Jelancic told the AP that she was surprised at first at the news that her childhood friend had married Donald, who is 24 years her senior. She eventually realized, however, a resemblance between Donald and Melania’s father.
“They are both hardworking men,” Jelancic said. “There must have been some kind of chemistry.”
Trump, who has appeared only occasionally at her husband’s side throughout his presidential campaign as she is a full-time mom to now-9-year-old Barron, spoke to MSNBC this week to defend Donald against the names he’s been called in the media (racist, sexist, jerk, to name a few) for his brash language and behavior in the campaign.
“It’s normal that will come up. We are prepared for that. We have a thick skin. And we know that people will judge him and people will call names,” she said. “They don’t give him enough credit. From June when he announced, they don’t give him enough credit.”