Before they met at a Dinearounds gathering at the local restaurant Bounty on Broad a few years ago, Kostadinka “Kosta” Atanasovska and Aksana Vasilyeva, PhD, had talked briefly on the phone a few times. Their professional lives crossed paths for work purposes—Kosta works in the Office of Human Subjects Protections and Aksana is a project coordinator for neuro-oncology research in the Cancer Center.

Had they not met that evening, the pair may never have realized they both hail from eastern Europe and share mutual interests in local food and meeting new people. While they enjoy social interaction, both are self-described introverts who like to spend time getting to know people.

There was a large group of employees that night at Bounty, which made for some initial uncomfortable moments, but the lively conversation quickly dissolved that.

“As the night progressed, I started to get to know everybody and I really enjoyed my night and meeting Aksana,” Kosta said.

Both had attended Dinearounds meet-ups before, but the dinner would be the beginning of a new friendship.

Created by Human Resources in 2017, the Dinearounds program gives employees an outlet to meet their colleagues by enjoying dinner at popular Memphis restaurants. Because many St. Jude employees are from many different parts of the world, getting out and socializing in a new city can be difficult. Employees sign up for the event they’d like to attend, and St. Jude makes the reservations.

“We’re both friendly people, and being from another country, I feel like I’m often drawn to people from other countries. When I see an unusual name, I always wonder where they’re from, so we just started talking and had a great time,” Aksana said.

Aksana is from Belarus and Kosta hails from Macedonia, but they’ve made Memphis their home. Both still like to attend Dinearounds, but they also meet up at other places for fun.

Together they’ve attended additional Dinearounds, Memphis Redbirds baseball games, the movies and they meet for walks in Overton Park. Aksana also performs with the Mystic River Dance troop, and Kosta’s attended a few performances to see her dance.

“It’s really nice that St. Jude offers Dinearounds for employees because sometimes work-life balance can be so elusive,” Aksana said. “I think this helps support the St. Jude mission because it helps us do better work if we know each other and connect better.”

“I recommend Dinearounds to anyone looking to meet new people or looking to experience new things,” Kosta said. “The benefit is getting to know more of your colleagues and the possibility of meeting someone who can become your friend.”