Crossing the Valley; Refugees in Global Migration
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My Interview with Jelena
I had an opportunity to interview an immigrant from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her name is Jelena and she is 21 years old. She came to the United States in 1998 with her family. Right now she lives with her mom and dad and has no brothers or sisters.
The war in Bosnia went on for three years before she fled. Right before the end of the war, her house burned down along with many others and her family was forced to seek refuge into Serbia. From 1995 to 1998 Jelena’s family lived in refugee camp in Kosovo. Kosovo is a Serbian province and was largely populated by Albanians. The Albanians wanted to separate Kosovo from Serbia and that’s how the war in Kosovo started.
For the second time, Jelena and her family were forced to migrate north to the capital of Serbia, Belgrade. They stayed at a school that was made into a refugee camp for thousands of refugees arriving every day. There was no food, no electricity, and the unemployment rate was rising every day. United States, along with United Nations, put on sanctions on Serbia for getting involved into the war with Albanians. Jelena’s father described this as the hardest time in his life.
One day, Jelena’s father found out that they could get visas to leave the country because they were two-time refugees. They had a choice of applying for relocation to the United States or Australia. They chose United States because of all the great things they heard about the America. The process of relocation was done through the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Upon receiving the news that they will be accepted to the United States, Jelena and her family had only few days to pack up and get ready to leave. All she knew about the U.S was from the American movies. She believed that the life in the U.S. was easy and that you can have anything you want. However, when they came to the U.S. in 1998, she realized that success wouldn’t come on its own. You have to work hard to make it.
Relocating was a huge change in all of their lives. Being a new person in a new country, new community, and especially new at school was very difficult for Jelena. She had to overcome social, cultural, and most of all, language barriers. It took time for her to adjust to the people and different surroundings. She described her first few months as the hardest and most challenging.
In the first months of school she felt unwanted because of the communication problems. She focused on learning English as soon as possible. In the article “Passport Photos” by Amitava Kumar, an Asian man says “fie” instead of “five” dollars and he gets insulted by an American man for coming to the United States and not learning English(Kumar). Jelena was often criticized for her accent and mispronunciation as well.Learning the language was one of Jelena’s worst experiences since she came to the U.S.
Although she quickly picked up a lot of phrases and was able to understand a lot, she still struggled communicating back. But this did not slow her down. It took her three years to learn English and graduate from high school. Graduating high school was one of her best experiences in the new homeland.
After all there years in the U.S. she has always stayed in contact with her relatives and friends from Serbia. She talks to them twice or three times a month. She also sends them letters, money, and all kinds of photos. She has developed and maintained multiple relationships across different countries (Transnationalism).
Overcoming the language barrier has allowed Jelena to fully function in the society and as a result, many new friendships formed. Jelena even started going to an American church. A USA Today/CNN survey shows that 58 percent of the immigrants feel it is important to blend in into American culture (Clark).
Although the interview brought sad memories back, Jelena was excited and enthusiastic to share her immigration story with me.
Kumar,Amitava “Passport Photos. ” . Language: pp16-25, 29-34.
“Transnationalism.” Schiller, Basch, Blanc - Szanton 1992.
Clark, Charles. “The new Immigrants.” CQ Researcher January 26, 1997: pp 49-72.