Borjana is originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia. In one night, her life totally changed when war broke out in her country. Being a refugee was huge unbelief for Borjana, who was 17 at the time of war. She decided to leave her mom and go back to their home in Sarajevo, where the painful reality hit her.
After giving birth to her first child while being a refugee, Borjana decided to leave her beloved country to give a better future for her child. Five years and many applications later, she managed to emigrate to the United States. In the US, she was able to finish a medical geography degree, which she used to understand her country’s locality.
In 2017 Borjana went back to her country to conduct a research study with the refugees. There, she was welcomed by overwhelming stories of people who need help and hope. This moment kept Borjana motivated to spread awareness to the world and be a means to bring help to her fellow citizens.
When I look back what did happened like I didn't know, you know, if I knew back then what I know now of course, I wouldn't do that. But like, I just had to see it for myself. I just could not accept the fact that there was a war. And once I got back, I think the first thing when we crossed the border, from Serbia to Bosnia and Herzegovina, it for shock seeing all these houses burn to the ground. All these line of cars withe people and everybody's like soldiers around and it's like, I was like, Oh my god, you know, like, there's a war here.
Hi everyone, and welcome to episode number 40 of the Emigrant's Life Podcast, where we share stories of people who left their country to chase a better life. And from the stories you can find ideas, resources, and motivation to do the same. I'm Daniel De Biasi. And my guest this week is originally from Bosnia, a country there was a center of the Civil War in Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1995. Borjana was 17 when the war started, and life literally changed overnight. In this episode, Borjana shares his story from the night she was transferred to a refugee camp in Serbia, to move into the United States and becoming a doctor. I grew up in Italy, a country very close to Bosnia. And yet my teenage years were quite different from Borjana's, I wasn't forced to recognize the sound of explosions and shootings to survive in a war. Nor I saw people I know dying on the street. I strongly believe that resilience is the immigrant superpower. And Borjana is like a super woman. Despite her situation, she managed to create a better life for herself and her children through tough choices and artwork. Borjana didn't forget their roots. And in 2017, she went back to Bosnia as a researcher to learn more about borders, and people wants to cross them. She's collecting data with a hope that one day she called up people in the situation she used to mean having a normal life. And now, without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Borjana.
Hi, Borjana, thanks for being on the show.
Hi, Daniel. Thanks for having me.
It's a pleasure. So Brianna, you are originally from Sarajevo in Bosnia. And now you live in beautiful away.
All right. I am from Sarajevo, which is capital Bosnia Herzegovina. And now I live in Honolulu, capital of Hawaii. And for the past, this is year 17th. There I've been living in Honolulu.
So you're now living Hawaii. But what age did you leave Bosnia?
Well, there was a couple of times. So first time when I was 17, there was a civil war that started and my parents took me outside of Syria outside of the Bosnia and Herzegovina into nearby spent a couple of months in Montenegro, which is like one country south of Bosnia, and then a couple more months up in Serbia. And so that was a first time so when I was 17. But that was really to save our lives. The war started in the middle of the night, when my father walked me up to war, you gotta go. And I couldn't understand. Like, that was Friday or Saturday morning at 3:30 am. And Friday, I remember with my friends at school, we were like hanging out, you know, like, we were supposed to have a math test on Monday. And so it was kind of like, practicing studying together for the test like what a last peaceful afternoon has been with practicing math and I never liked math. And then like next morning, then I never got to see my friends ever again. I never got to set the foot in my high school ever again. So it's like literally my life changed overnight. And we left but I could not understand that there was a war. And I found a way to go back to Sarajevo. I literally escaped from my mom from the refugee place that we were in Serbia. It was one small town called "" and at first we were in this. I was like a community center turned into refugee camp. There's hundreds of 1000s of people. During that time, more than 2 million people got displaced from Bosnia and Herzegovina, so I was one of them. But you know, as you're young and you cannot understand what is going on, and that there is a war like you just literally taken out of your bed. One night, I returned to Sarajevo, a couple months later and then got stuck in a war until the end of 1993. And that's when my family again, pull me back to Serbia and I stayed there. That was I guess, second time I left sorry. Well, they stay there for five years in Serbia as a refugee. I believe it was like a couple days before, of the last couple of days in 1998 when I returned to Sarajevo, and that was a post war, right. So already peace in 1996. And I stayed until 2002. That's when in September, on September 24 2002, that's when I left Daario finally, like, not Finally, but for good. And I emigrated to the United States. And here I am, like, almost what is it 2021 like 19 years later, here I am. And 17 of that, I believe in Hawaii.
Going back to you moving to the US later, but I like to ask at the beginning. So you told me that you left Sarajevo overnight, before there was no like a sign of a war or something or just it left right at the beginning?
You know, looking back now from this perspective, right? When you know what has happened? So I was born in a country that doesn't exist anymore, Yugoslavia, right? It was the communist country, Yugoslavia. That was non aligned, meaning we were not under the Soviet Union, as many people think, especially when I came to the states everybody think like that Russia was reign Yugoslavia, which was not true. Um, but in, you know, early 1990s would have followed Soviet Union's kind of like a domino effect, the fall of communism and Yugoslavia started to break you know. So Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the was a central Republic, one of the six Republic's that made this whole Yugoslavia. And you know, like the first signs right to the first now country, but back then Republic, Slovenia, was that separated from Yugoslavia. But that was like, really lasted about 10 days, really quickly, they separated and then went down to Croatia. And that's where it started. So we kind of we saw it, right? We were watching on a news, we knew, you know, people really like the war started. But you never think it's going to happen to you, especially for Bosnia Herzegovina, we were like such a multi ethnic environment. You know, like, I'm Bosnia served my best friends or my, you know, like Muslim or Bosnian crowds. And I remember, you know, like, hanging out with my friends, after school, or in a cafe, we were talking, and we're talking what's happening in Croatia. And I remember saying to my friends, like, if this mass comes here, like what we're gonna do, there's so many mixed marriages, how do you draw the line between the streets, the building, it was just, you know, like, surreal, and I really didn't think it will ever happen in Bosnia, I really didn't think of whatever happened in Bosnia. But unfortunately, it did. And it was the one of the bloodiest war at the threshold of Europe since World War II. And not just that, I was not ready for that, that I didn't believe it's going to happen, I feel that and with the history show, the rest of the world was not ready for it. Like there was literally all these killing more than 200,000 people died in this war. Like I said, more than 2 million people became either internally displaced are refugees. Internally displaced is like when you leave your home, you know, to save your life, but you stay within the national boundary of your country. And then once you cross you become like a refugee. So I was both like, during the war, you know, and I said, When I returned second time to Sarajevo, I could not live in my home because my home was the front line, you know, like, is full of the soldiers. And so I was like, this place then some another, I don't know, some cottage or something interior where was a more homogenous people live in of my group, you know, whatever that means now, but yeah, eventually, there was like, the separation happened. The lines were drawn so you know, where's the our territory? Where's their territory? There was a time of cease of fire. There was a time when there was shooting so.
So you were a refugee, and you kind of were safe, I guess, when you were a refugee. So why did you decide to leave your mom and going back to your country?
That's a really great question that kind of like really loaded description whether I was safe or not, like maybe from immediate shooting or something, but any other when you're like, a vulnerable population, you know, like in too, especially being a girl a female in a different country, you really become target to all kinds of predators. I would say that way. Why did I return? Yeah, for this couple of months, my brother was six. My mom was there, and my maternal grandma. And I just, it's just that I mentally could not accept that there's a war in Sarajevo. I just could not accept that. I remember crying every day. And then, you know, I learned that like, you know, people were coming soon like my dad, dad, you know, like he brought us to Serbia thinking he put us in a safe place. Safe like you said, safe. I think what he thought. And then he returned back, you know, to defend our home. And you know, we've been living my family. My family name is Lubura we've been living like over 900 years in Sarajevo in that area outskirts on this small village, this call crumpets, it's like on the outskirts of the city of Sarajevo near the airport where the airport was. So I just could not accept that. I just could not accept that there's really war and I was I feel I was not the only one, I guess maybe I was one of the very few crazy there, I know that there are other friends who return into the war. You know, I think that's how I am and who I am. If I set my mind into something that would just go ahead and do it. And I just could not understand that. And during that time, from the first shooting, I was 17, right? I was still minor. But during this first 20 days, I turned 18. So I was like, I remember seeing my mom, like you can do anything you can keep me you know, like, legally, I'm an adult now you like the things you say only when you're at age 17. I'm having three kids, right? And the one is 27. Almost the other is like turning 18 this year, the youngest is 15. So yeah, I hear this. I'm an adult, you know, and just when I look back what happened, like I didn't know, you know, if I knew back then what I know. Now, of course, I wouldn't do that. But like, I just had to see it for myself, I just could not accept the fact that there was a war. And once I got back I think the first thing when we crossed the border from Serbia to Bosnia and Herzegovina, it first shock seen all these houses burn to the ground, all these line of cars with the people and everybody's like soldiers around and it's like, I was like, Oh my god, you know, like, there's a war here. You know, and it got even worse with with a time you know, like, once I got into Sarajevo like, yeah, I literally went all the way down to sorry about and it's pretty quickly I understood, like what I did, and the life has changed, you know. And then once in a war like really quickly your survival kicks in. I think we're always in some kind of survival mode. In a war, there's is a different way you think about life a different way to think about everything, and see your conscious completely changes once you're in a war.
And wereare you able to reach on when you're dad, or you're just on your own?
I was able to you know, but my dad was like he said, he got some little cottage because like I said, from the time when I left the first time when I come back does sort of like these boundaries between the three ethnic groups were like created. And so the where my house was, like I said, I was living on outskirt when my house was that was literally front line. But like people know each other like they were literally neighbors against neighbors, you know? You literally have half of the building that is on one side, half on another side, half of the street on one side half of another side. Right? We will come so close to the border. Right? That you can hear people talking on the other side. Right. And I guess that's what war does.
So I guess you managed to find your dad just because you want your own town and people knew him. So he did.
Oh, yeah. Everybody knows. Yeah, I'm sorry. Yeah, that was your original question. I was like, why was I telling you that? Yeah. So everybody knows everybody. Like I said, there's like whole village, half of the village is like the family, you know, right knows everybody and even the other you know, that's where my elementary school was. That's where I grew up. You know, like, everybody knows everybody. So it's pretty much easy, you know, to know, where's who I mean, unless they were like somewhere in positions, you know, somewhere in the trenches fighting out in the mountains or whatever loads for us, you know, so they would go for a couple of days fight and done. They would have a day or two off. That's when I would see my dad. Yeah, I wish sometimes he would just send me back immediately. But for whatever reasons he didn't.
But were you able to go back?
No, I was in, I was in Sarajevo I'm about like I said, it was on the outskirts, I would come, there was a portion of the cities that I was able to go to, you know, like, in a war, you learn, where's the sniper shooting, where is when and where the grenades are falling. And most of the time, you know, like, you learn how to deal with it, you learn to distinguish different sounds of different bullets, whether it's coming from the shotgun, or from grenade or from the sniper. And if it's like, during the day, or it's at night, during day, you hear like a whistle, you know, it's gonna hit somewhere near so like, he just like lay down, like to hide, just to put the shelter somewhere, you know, like, whatever that's closest at night, you see as like lightning, like, you kind of see it before you hear before he hits at night. So that was kind of like differences that you have. And you just after some time, you learn to live that way. So I was there until the end of 1993.
So sometimes it's summer 1992, and the end of 1993 and that's when like, I was my mom was able, like, I don't even remember, like any more details, but I know like my my uncle, my dad, and they found a way somehow they transfer me back to Serbia.
Were you able to move to Serbia before that, and we were stuck in Bosnia?
So I was there stuck until like, 1993. And then they were able to get me off, like after a year and a half, almost two years.
Do you remember why? Why you were stuck in Bosnia?
Tell? No. Why I was just like, I was there. It's just that I was there. And yeah, I was just there. Also, yeah, during that time, I fell in love course, you know, and why I'm saying of course, but it's like, you know, it's a war. It's a different way of living. And I stayed. Maybe that was the also the reason that I was like, hoping, you know, that I was like staying and didn't even think up until to the point when I later on, I got pregnant. And so there was no food or shooting all the time. And I was pregnant. It was really a tough time. And that's when they started like thinking to how to transfer me to Serbia. That was the kind of in a nutshell. I stayed that long. Just good question. Like I never, I never like asked myself that question. But probably that's that's what it was.
So when the war was over I mean, I guess you weren't able to go back to normal life because the country was probably needed to be rebuilt. But how was your-
Oh, oh, yeah, I think countries still rebuilding and it's gonna take a while before it's ever even close to what it was before and more. Actually, I did not go back for good to Sarajevo when war was over, that was datum peace agreement was signed in November of 1995. In Paris, and I think it went into effect in March, sometimes in 1996. But as you can imagine, like it was really, the new boundaries were drawn, the country was split into two into the Republic of Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina. So there was a lot of as mass movements that were happening like that, because under the territory of Republic of Srpska, so that territory and people within that territory are under the administrative power of, you know, like Republic of Srpska. And then you have like third theory of Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina, which is under different administrative power of Federation, and you have three presidents, the many candidates is just the like, one mess overall. And it was for a long time, you know, like, I didn't know where to return. Right? It was there's no jobs, there's no nothing. There was not ideal situation in Serbia either. But it's like, it was really, really bad in Sarajevo. And then I finally returned close to the end of 1998. When there's a job opportunity opened up, because you know, the peace keeping forces started, like NATO and US started like placing the thousands of peacekeeping forces, stabilization forces or whatever they were Call they keep changing name from S4K4 and all of these different acronyms but pretty much do like peace keeping peacebuilding peacekeeping started happening after the war. And so international community came in, right. And it really near my house, there was the biggest US military base now it's the biggest NATO base, so I knew a little bit of English and the opportunity opened up that I couldn't go work in base because it was really, really bad in Serbia at a time really bad. You know, Serbia was under embargo, people are hungry over there. And in addition of hundreds of thousands of us refugees that we came, and you're like, when you come uninvited, you're not welcome anywhere. And so same with refugees. And so yeah, so that's when I returned to Sarajevo and it was quite a challenge and quite different. I remember being really scared because the first base they started working out was it was USBs but he was not the one that is near my home but he's in a part of the town that after the Dayton peace agreement was belonging to federation of BosniaHerzegovina we had a shuttle that was taking people you have to finish shift and bring in your new prayer ship into bays you're with this international shuttle right protected. They had people with the guns in I remember I think the French because there are people all over the world I remember working there kind of learn to distinguish different uniforms from all over the worlds like if I see uniform pattern versus coming in like I know for what country they're coming from. So I remember the French people were the ones that they asked her to the shuttles that they were driving us you know, pick us up to work and then if you're working like second shift if you finish the dark they would like drop you off right outside of your door so you're safe right when you're moving around.
So even though the war was over it was still not a safe place to be.
Oh my gosh, yeah, that first couple of years. Yeah. I mean, probably even more first of my couple of years like remember 1998 to 99 so you know like the they were borders like border literally passing through my house like my mom's house. Actually were was my uncle he died so and that's where my maternal grandma that's where I grew up with them so it's like really literally passing through the yard or the kitchen. The border. There is no border on the ground. Right this area was split in two with this inter entity border line IDL how do you call it but you kind of know you're there during the day okay, you can you go to town and stuff, but when dark comes down, you know, you stay on your own side. Like you don't go you don't want to be at night on the other side. It was just that fear right? Now it's different like now it's it's way different now. It's like, the border is still there. Right? And there's someone other things that you can see that you know, it's a difference you on a different side of the border. But yeah, it was really scary during that time. Like I said, today, like the base is still there. There's much less soldiers. I don't remember like what the numbers are. But the NATO base is still there.
So at this point, you were back in Sarajevo, you already had your first child, I guess, right?
When did you decide to leave Bosnia to move abroad?
I was thinking all this time, like even when I was you know, like I gave a birth to my son, you know, 94 as a refugee in a refugee in a hospital that there was nothing no anesthesia, no, no medication, nothing goes overall an awful experience. And from the moment I gave him birth, like I was I kind of knew I wanted to better you know, future for him. And it was my dream and my goal as a little kid, you know, like I was a good student for most of the part but like I had this dream You know, I want to become a doctor and I was really ambitious you know, and war shattered that like in a war I was like, Really? You you wake up in the morning and you touch yourself like okay, I'm alive right? So that's the all this you know, we have like just basic survival first that you're alive and then that you have something to eat that day. Most of the time it didn't. And it was much different. Like in Serbia, there were days when I didn't have anything to give for food for my child. And so it during all this time, like I was really wanted to find a way to give a better future to my child. I wanted him to be able to have a choice. And so I had this dream and I tried while I was refugee for these five years, I applied everywhere. I applied as a refugee, you know, like to be relocated to the third country I applied to through the IOM International Organization for migrations. And that's where I think the further I got was the interview with IOM. But according to them, I was not suffering enough in a war to qualify to get relocated, so which meaning nobody tortured me, nobody raped me in a war. So it's only the ones who suffered the most, they will get the opportunity or if you're mixed marriage right to live. And so, I wish so many times, like if I had gotten that chance, I think this was 95 how my life would like turn differently. I tried, I applied to the US, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, I don't know why the Europe, I guess it was not, there are no programs to fly for Europe, right. And I have many of my friends, you know, that we met either camp or, you know, in was Tana living that a refugee, or we met at the Red Cross, you know, where you would go like every month to get some ratio of your food, couple of kilos of flour, or, you know, like salt, or some clothing or stuff. And so that's how you meet people act like, you know, refugees, and they, they would get these paperwork and visas and I tried and never got it. And I try for five years and never got it. But like I never given up on this idea, right on this desire that I want to take my child out, I didn't want to, I want him to have an option. And I didn't know like what's gonna happen in the future. I didn't want him that he has to take a gun and be forced to choose the sides and to fight and so I wanted him to be on the ball with that. So that was that desire that was always always with me.
And how did you manage to go to the US then?
Oh, my God. Long story short, is I eventually I came on to the yeah, I met a friend who helped me out then I came to the States.
Can you elaborate more? Can you tell me more or no?
So I met the friend I was working at- this was my second or third job. So I was working for it was a free shop. It was an international company from Monaco Monte Carlo. So they had this big military base US base that's part of sorry, of all people who know sorry, who they know where that part is, because that base but there is a NATA base. So they had the wing of small wing with Italians, Italian Carabinieri so that's where I started working at the free shop. At some point, I think it was like 2000. And so I was working there. So I met there was the only one American Captain to work there. And I met him I knew him, you know, going I remember working it was like a shift that we had like six hour shifts. So we're working there. So I was also translator and liaison for our company and working at the free shop. So we would like chit chat that the shop right? And we were friends really good. I thought we were really good friends in you know, you share I shared like he knew I had a son and I wanted to very same age. And he knew I wanted to like I the my my dream at that time I was already Yeah, I started law school. So in 99 I started law school so I was a third year law school and I decided to leave Sarajevo because like I was I was going for him in the morning. You know, like listen to the classes and coming afternoon working there. So I was really working hard. I wanted to finish college I want to finish law school. Like all trying to build a better future for my child. So my friend he knew like that I wanted to that that's my goal. My desire that I always wanted to like pull my child outside from over there is so I don't know, the friendship turned into. He left but we were like in contact every day on a phone. And just maybe a year after he left. Almost two years. He literally like proposed me over the phone. Yeah. And so I decided like maybe if I was not in a position you know, this is really important like that when you are like coming from developing world you may be you making some choices that you would not otherwise write in order to how hard it is, as you know, like not being able to get to these and not being able to go anywhere because you're not welcome anywhere. So you might make a choice. You know, I made the choice to trust this person that I knew like I just saw him with my work, right? We did spend hours talking on the phone, but like, I didn't know who he was, I didn't know where I was going so, and I accepted. And I got the visa in September, I left September of 2002. So I left and it came to the States. Like I, I quit law school, I quit everything. And I came to the States. Yeah, that's all.
Oh, wow. Thanks for sharing that. Does that mean that the father of your child wasn't your life anymore?
So we, yeah, we were like sweethearts, they glow and everything, but I thought it was like more to life than of the environment I grew up in and I married into was extremely conservative, though. What I mean by that is like, once you married, not necessarily is like that today. But once I'm married, that kind of lost my name in the sense of like, they wouldn't call me by my name, but by the name of my husband. Like, I was belonging to him. Hey, like, that's like, there's no your use your name. So that tells you like, how you became the property in a way, that's so much change now, but this is what I was, you know, like, found myself situation into, and I was like, you know, that's where I start questioning like, Oh, just this life, you know, like, I want to go to school, I want to do this. I want to do that. And so I, you know, like, he wouldn't come with me. He wouldn't. Yeah, he's out of picture ever since we went on the, you know, like, we were from the same village, right? He didn't even make a problem when I needed his permission to bring my child here to the States. And my son was nine years old when I brought them to the States. I brought him six months after me. I came first to see what how, where am I going? I didn't drag him first. I wanted to like he was, and he was all that time he was in Serbia. That's a whole another story. He was with my mom in Serbia. So he was still even though I returned to Serbia when he was still in Serbia.
As a refugee?
Yeah, he was still there. And I actually I brought with him directly from Serbia to the US, because the life in Sarajevo was not was not that good at that time.
So once you move to the US, did you pursue your career as a doctor?
Yeah, that's a good question is I become a doctor. Yeah, I was on that track. And this is I hope that you know, whoever listens to this is the one thing that I can say is like, no dream is too big that you cannot achieve it then just really, you know, like, please, please believe in yourself. Don't listen to others. So when I came, I started the school and the therapists with English, you know, my English was I knew some but like, it was nowhere near you know, for me to complete TOEFL you know, the language test or to get into college and stuff. So first, like a couple of years was studying language itself. And yeah, I wanted to be a doctor. But then, after two years, we moved to Hawaii, my den, right. I married the friend. Anybody can see me now using quotation mark, right? The friend, which I thought it was my friend, I married a and we moved to Hawaii, because he was military good station here. And I had two kids. When my daughter was born like the six months later, I started college as well. Finally, I was able to start college. And I was on a track for I was microbiology major first then wanted to go to pre med and I sort of pursued Community College. But on my first semester, I accidentally right, I was working with advisors registering late so the one class that fit my that time, you know that I could do my schedule was geography class, right? It took it and taken that first class in geography, I fall in love with geography, and it was a great professor who I ended up he asked me to be tutor for geography courses after I finished and then I ended up taking all geography courses over there. And I wanted to combine you know, medicine, like we'll see the medical geography. And when I moved to University of Hawaii at Manoa, to the geography and environment department, my junior senior year, actually, I didn't move to geography. First I was microbiology, like I said, and I was pre med students, I still wanted to, and I remember that first semester, at the UH, I talked to my pre med advisor. And she told me that while I was 32 at a time, and she said, Well, you need like two, three more years to finish this and then you know, like the years of med school and stuff, and she's like, maybe you want to reconsider I'm like, I really now when I think back, you know, to any advisor out there, don't ever, like, do that. Don't ever tell your tool to go to school if if I had continue, you know, I would have been doctor by now. But no, I had that then also I had my my husband at a time. Like he also said, like, oh, how long do you think you're going to go to school? And so I decided to quit microbiology major after first semester. I turned to geography, you know, in a longer run, it worked much better. I went on, I completed my undergrad in GIS remote sensing, like geographic information system in remote sensing and cartography. Because like I said, the boundary goes through my house with the Daytum peace agreement. So I wanted to know, like, who made these borders, you know, like how they could use draw borders through the house. So went on and I studied, I studied GIS and GIS was like, really, really, you know, I say diaper at that time, like it was really not developed and later learned, it was just some kind of military guy who did his master's in GIS. And he just finished his master's, he was the main guy with the map for drafting the Dayton peace agreement. And it was just a straight military male perspective, like not even looking at what's going on on the ground. So that's what when send me to be interested in cartography and stuff, and then I completed my master's, and then second in conflict resolution at matauranga Institute for peace. And that's where I'm teaching now as well peace, conflict resolution classes. And I took a couple of years break when we were kids to Bosnia, and went through the divorce and stuff. And then I started teaching geography courses at the same class from when I took the first class at the community college and not universities author. I never thought about being a teacher, I never thought of being a professor, right. And after a couple of, even after a couple of months, I realized like, this is where I want to do like, I really realized that's, that was my world. That was amazing. And somehow it came naturally, that I decided to take a next step to do my doctorate. And here I am. Now I'm a PhD candidate, I study migrations, I think it's kind of leading migrations and border for my doctoral, I studied migrants along the western Balkan route. So it's kind of like 2015 2016 is when the mass people on the move started coming through the western Balkan route towards Serbia, and in 2018, through Bosnia and Herzegovina, like those what I'm doing now for my PhD, so hopefully, in about here, I should complete my doctorate. So I am really close to become a doctor. But also, you know, like, I given up many years ago, from the track of MD, because somebody told me, I was too old. And there was just like a point I said, You're never too old. Like I'm now a couple of days turning 47 I mean, this community, right of young girls seeing on on Instagram, or on social media, who are like PhDs and doctors, and, you know, you see these questions like, Oh, I'm like, 30, or I'm late 20s. Like, is it too late? It's never too late to get your education. It's never too late to do what you want to do. And just not listen, anybody what they tell you. I wish somebody told me that 15, 20 years ago,
Do you feel like it was actually a good decision just because you like, the field that you're doing now? Or you're regretting that you quit?
Well, we will never know. That's the thing. Like I think we in life, we regret things we didn't do. We didn't even try more than things we didn't fail, right? So it stays with me for the rest of my life now to think that what could or should have happened, right? If I had decided to go that and I will never know that. So I made a peace with it for myself. Like, yeah, I say it's not too late. But now like you said, I don't have those interests. Is it too late now to go to med school? I'm thinking like, no, I would have if I had that, you know, desire, but like, I don't have that desire anymore. But I will always ask, you know, myself, like, what if I did go that way? What if I didn't give up and switch the majors. And so, for that reason, only, you know, like, don't let anybody tell you you're too weak or too young or too whatever, too, because you're not we pretty much can do anything we want to do. So I'm definitely happy with with the major I'm doing now with what I'm doing now. You know, I like being the refugee be on on Earth. receiving end of all this humanitarian so called humanitarian help organizations and being actually managed, they were managing me for so long, which put me in such a horrible like life situation as a refugee, that I don't like to talk about it. I think I definitely feel I am in a better I am where I'm supposed to be in what field I'm supposed to be now. So I'm happy for what I'm studying. And being that subaltern voice, you know, for refugees for people on the move, or migrants,
Because if it was a couple years ago that you went back to Bosnia to to study to do your research, right?
Yeah, I spent 2017 and 2018. Yeah, I was doing research. I was in Serbia. In Bonia in multiple locations.
And what were you were studying there? What were you researching?
I was actually documenting, observing, I did my ethnographic work, I was documenting everyday life of people on the move on their passing through the western Balkan route and their way to the European Union in any country of European Union, because Bosnia and Serbia and those are countries, they're still developing, and economies poor for the people who lived there. It's like, similarly, we're not my situation was right, when I was a refugee in Serbia, it's just different. Now you have a complete people with a completely different background, different culture, language barrier, you know, like, and they don't want to stay there, they don't want to be there. They just want to go to somewhere in Europe to some poor country where they can do the same thing that I want to have a security have a better life for their children themselves and better condition of life. It's like, it's interesting, every every young girl, you know, they're interviewed had the same dream, like I did back then to have a better life. And to get education, they want to be pilots, they want to be engineers, you know, they want to be doctors, all they want to go it's be like any other peers in their, their age, in a similar age and just go to school. Instead, they're stuck in, in refugee camps, in the jungles, along the borders, subjected to structural border violence, and push backs, because you know, like these bumper states, Croatia and Hungary, right there like Holden, they close the borders. So you cannot, the migrants cannot cross the legally. So they try illegally, and the border police is beating them pushing them back. And it's whole stories that going on behind it.
So I guess you're going there and interviewing these people, I guess you were like an inspiration for for these people, because you will live the life that they're dreaming of.
You know, I returned to Soviet in 2017, like 25 years after I set the foot as a refugee there. And I was not able to go anywhere. And there was no such thing, like I crossed the border illegally back then not illegally, but this clandestine way of crossing the border, as we see it today. And it's just for dare parts. Yes, it was inspirational, because, you know, okay, they see me. So they see hope, you know, they see hope that maybe one day they are going to be successful like that, and they're gonna be my shoes and be able to be free. And it's really sad, like I was, all of a sudden, I was free. And I could travel wherever I want. But it was I feel the same Borjana, but I just had this different passport, I had a different like piece of paper, that was American passport. And that shouldn't be the case. You know, it's like a basic human right, the people move through the spaces. And that's how humans evolved through the mobility, right? moving throughout the world, and we shouldn't draw the boundaries and you know, limit people who can pass who cannot. So they definitely did see that inspiration, but also what was really the hardest for me is that a lot of people thought that I can give them some ad hoc help, right, that I can help them and I cannot help them, you know, like, it's, you know, like, I'm doing this for educational purposes, right? So it's be the hope eventually but academia is like that really slow. And hopefully that's going to impact and policy changes, migration, policy changes and so on so forth. In to tell these people's stories, right. To going back to original thing that was the hardest part. I could not help them right there. Right. So there's a way in academia like their hope to change the make some changes, but it's really slow, painful and slow. So it was hard for me spending there at the refugee camp, talking with these people, with women, with girls with the children and everything I can see my mom and myself, I can see me having this hope. And you know, not knowing what what is next, when it's happening. There's a lotsof minor boys as well. Now, in along the Western Balkans, as young as nine years old, there are subjected to all kinds of old things along the way. Mostly, the migrants are coming from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, people are trying and only one like everybody else, like you, and I aren't just a better life, right? better conditions. So the family with four or five, six children 10 children would send this one kid, you know, they would borrow money that's in cost to cross and it's a lots of violence at the border. It's just really, really tough along the way. And so, yeah, it was hard. For me, it was hard experience, knowing what it's reality and not being able to help. But the only way I could help is like to record their stories, you know, like the write it down and to tell their stories to tell their perspectives. And because the people on the move are moving, they're gonna find a way I found my way, eventually, tomorrow. And these people are finding their way to move I have a few people that I follow, you know, that are now in Paris, in France, or in Belgium, or in Spain. They're follow the journey, right? From from Serbia, Bosnia. And now in Europe, and once they cross in Europe, that's not bright either, you know, people living on the streets of Paris, and it's just overall a situation it's really, really hard, really harsh for so many people, as we speak now.
And you were lucky enough to be able to leave your country leave like to call a better life in the US. But do you miss your country? Did you miss Sarajevo?
There's a couple of things there, when you sit, you're lucky. Like I was thinking about that, like, I wouldn't call myself lucky. Like, I really work hard for it, to find a way to leave, I would maybe consider my son to be lucky that I work hard to bring him here. So he didn't feel that I tell him many times, like the kids your age, they're like, beaten up right now. And a lot of them die along the board. Right? Some that we know that there's records of some that there are no records of, you know, they drown in the rivers and die in the woods and forests. And, you know, see these pictures of dead bodies, you know, the migrants sent to you know, there's join groups and stuff that I'm part of, on Facebook and WhatsApp and other you know, like obligations. And it's horrible now very talking about that sense. I consider my son for example, him be lucky to be here. These two kids I got after it was like you're lucky because you're born in core country. Like you got that passport just by coming out of your mother's womb. You know, like, You got that right for what I had to work really hard to be where I am now in perhaps marry the man that I wouldn't have. Otherwise ever write in a hope to you know, get a better, better life for my kids.
I didn't mean to say you were lucky, I didn't mean that you didn't work hard. Just like a lucky like being able to actually-
Yeah I see. I see what you mean. Yeah. Do I miss past your mess a lot. You know, like I feeling I have feeling that if there was not the war I would never thought of leaving my country, right. I never that never once crossed my mind before war. And I was teenagers. I was watching you know, barely his 90 to one or something. It was like teenagers. Yeah. And so they were like they were starting high school and I was starting High School. So we were watching that out of our two little channels we have somehow we were lucky we had that that show. And so I was seeing how you know, it was like just in a movies I never thought that's real life. Like that's even possible people really live like that. But obviously they do right? But I never really like never really thought of living anywhere. It was not common You know, my family and you know, my father had like five sisters and brothers my mom's side and like we were all cousins, there are lots of us. And every weekend getting together you know, for barbecues and stuff, and I have a in a sense part of my childhood was really I really like it I have a happy memories part of my childhood. And but I never never thought that like of leaving. And I think just going for a better life and then doing it for your child because you want your child to have an option. I always felt like I had to leave. Like I did not have a choice. You know, I had to live on the inside. So I'm missing it. I always do. But now I have like kids are here their lives is here. And I'm finishing my school like my, you know, I develop life and career here I teach at the university. This is my seventh year now. And you know, like, my kids are here. My oldest is turning 27 in couple of weeks. Like he's married. He's here his wife is here. Yeah, I'll try to go visit more often. But definitely My plan is to retire in Bosnia. You know, one day.
What's the thing that you missed the most?
I miss the people the community, my friends laughing way of life, which is nowhere near here. Like over there. Here's it's you know, I think it's most of the core countries you know, like maybe even in Italy little bit like it's individualistic country. Well, maybe not so much Italy like families really important and stuff. But like in America, it's really individualistic country like there's no so much feeling of community. Like if you want to go to have a coffee with somebody pretty much you have to put in a schedule and a calendar right? Like back home You don't have to do that like your friends can just show up at your door at any moment. And you can do the same right? You can just go and have a coffee you know, it's like seemed like an eternity there's so many like little shops outside like the urban centers here. Like you have this completely different way of living even though gentrification started knowledge and bid bringing the life to the city centers. But here's like suburbans areas you have to drive forever everywhere two hours to one way to work and then you have to drive to the mall sorry go shopping. You have to drive everywhere where back home is like you live and you down below our shops you walk and you know, it's it's just that sense of community that I miss and then of course like food even I tried to cook a lot of Bosnian for my kids so they don't I was one of these generations you know, like the two had to learn really early how to cook so my kids are lucky in that sense that I know how to cook not that I cook off in Bosnia because everything is from scratch everything those are our but yeah, so it's I guess that's just my way of living way help people are like really easily like spontaneous make celebrations It's enough you have like two three friends some music and we'll add there's there's lots of laughter and lots of it. I like that here I have great friends here and a met them and but it's just it's complete. Like I said everything is casual. Everything is planner. Like everything you have to put from minute to minute that doesn't exist in Bosnia. I don't think so. Yeah, that's that's not on the books are there. So it's like more spontaneous, more more people are opening, you know, my kids when they became little bit, you know, the two little ones, the youngest one. When we went to for the first couple of times to Bosnia they were like, Oh, my God, everybody loves us. They're like, you know, and we have so many uncles and Auntie's, you know, everybody's like, when they see them, like, Oh, it's Americans, you know, they had them and, you know, so it's like, people are more open and friendly. And I think that's what I miss. But definitely, you know, for education for school for economy. My kids didn't used to be there. So I don't think so that's definitely better schools for them here and better colleges and stuff. So I'll stick around for a couple more years, until they're all in colleges and out of the house. So then, hopefully find a way to go back, find some more time in a year during the year back home. That's the goal.
How often did you usually go back before COVID?
Before COVID? Well, I may be one for all these times, I'll tell you now, not so many trip because we're in Hawaii. Number one, not just that is really takes forever, from it's on the other side of the world. But it's extremely expensive. You know, it's extremely expensive to travel for kids. And so I was maybe all together, let's say five times, all together. And in the cloud, usually, like, I don't know, once every four or five years every two, which is really a lot. You know, like I missed so many different things out there. But you know, like the parents are getting older and it's just yeah, I missed a lot of life of being there. I would just wanted to spend more time in a year over there.
Yeah, no, I totally get it. And do you feel lucky to be an immigrant?
In a way Yes, in a way No, you know, like, you're really, once you leave your home once you emigrate, right? You're sort of like always this diaspora right? This custom biter how the German says or like you're no longer local in a sense because I was like, are you you are Americanize you know, anything that you try to movies too bad our or do not better, let's say do differently they're like ooh, like look at her, you know, like she emigrated. But then here you are immigrant forever. You are foreigner forever. Like no matter that I got my citizenship in 2007. And there got all these degrees, you know, like college, bachelor's to Master's PhD. Now, it doesn't matter. Once I opened my mouth and my accent comes through, everything else falls down. And you get to be discriminated, you know, like, when it comes to job in theory or anything, it's like, definitely you are not the same rank as a native, or as an American who was born here. And you are in some Twilight Zone, I would say like you're not belonging there anymore. But then you're here. Always that kind of feeling that you're a foreigner. But I still I'm lucky, I feel I consider myself lucky because I have that choice, right that I can when I have a choice. Definitely. I'm lucky for that. Right? That I can educate myself that my children can go to school that we have an opportunity. So I am lucky in that sense. I have a lot more choices than my brother for example, back home. I'm in America 19 years, I was never able to bring him as a tourist just to visit the see like he got three times rejected visa.
Just as a tourist to visit where I live, he was never able to come. Because you know, like he's young, he doesn't have a millions in a bank. And so he cannot come.
That's crazy. Even like showing your family this part of your life. It's, it's crazy that you can't.
Yeah, it's my it's my brother. Yeah, my mom came, she came visited several times and stayed, sometimes six months, you know, at the time, so she got a visa. But I guess because she's older. And you know, like the and she would never move live in America, you know, she's back home. But she didn't have an issue, but my brother was never able. And then we given up like this was at the beginning and I never even tried after so.
that's crazy. And last question, do you have any particular advice you'd like to give to the listeners that maybe they're thinking to move abroad?
Like I said, already, during our conversation, like people are dreaming of moving abroad or changing, you know, like the countries, it's never too big of a dream. It's a, it's doable. and on budget, really what it takes it takes to take risk and get out of your comfort zone. And it's definitely that's the only only way to do it. And I would definitely advise for anyone who listens to this and thinking of moving somewhere else and trying somewhere else to do it to find a way and to do it because like I said, even if they fail, at least they know they tried, you know, I think in so many times and I talked about us with my oldest child, you know, because he was nine when he came. So he got to experience school and system and life over there. And then it came here. And we went through the really tough life really hard life once we got here. It was really, really hard. I was for years living in domestic violence. And being an immigrant you know, coming from another country that's like adds to it. And what human I have really, really hard life here, which is for whole another topic. And sometimes ask myself, Did I make a mistake, right? That I wrote him to the states and he would always said Mom, like, despite everything that had happened, like he would always say it I'm glad you did. You know, it's worth that. And that's the one thing that keeps me you know going that he has choice, he has a choice that his peers don't have back home choice. And that's in a way for me, at least, I guess the good confirmation that despite of everything, making that decision to pack to quit the job and pack up to suitcase and move to the country. I didn't know language. I didn't know anybody. I really didn't know anybody. It was really tough, but it's worth it. At least you're gonna know even if you come and you don't like it. You can always Go back. Right? What's worse that can happen? Yeah. Like, try it. Don't sit sometimes in old age and thinking, reflecting on your life and thinking, like, what would have happened if I, you know, made the decision if I left, like how my life would unfold, at least now, you know, even if it fails, you would say like, okay, I tried, you know, you can tell the story, how you try and how you failed, but you learn and then you kind of like, made peace with yourself, right? Either you're there or you stayed or or you return. I don't think it's worse to just ask yourself, you know, what would have happened if I did do it? You know why I didn't, you know, I think regrets is worse than failure. And failure is a lesson. Failure is another way to learn something new and grow out from it. And you know, when one door closes, there's always another door opens. And there's always the produce just that first move that first step, when you want to go and move and do something. It's like, it's like a snowball effect. It's going to bring out something else, it's going to bring in something new. I mean, look at me, if I didn't always make these steps forward, even though like they're so crazy as returning to sorry, yeah, we're in the middle of the war. Who knows what would have happened? If I did stay in Serbia? I don't know what would have happened, maybe I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be doing my doctorate. My child wouldn't be in America, you know, like, so. It's good. I did it. And from each step, I learned something new. I grew from it from each step along the way. And I'm still believing in in people, and I'm still believing in kindness and love. And despite what happens to you to any person, I still believe they're good people. And that's what really kept me going along the way. Yeah, I met some really bad people, some really bad things happened to me. But I also met a really amazing, inspiring people. And that's the energy that I was trying always to keep that positive energy. So this is not cliche. But it's like when something like that happened, there's always you know, same like a night and day, there's always cycle it's not dark forever, there is a day and the same with life. So nothing lasts forever. Not problem, not the obstacle, not bad situation, not happy situation. Like there's always these oscillations, right that we have in life. And I think is instead of like fighting it, if we embrace it, and take the lesson, take the best out of it with us as we move forward. It's like and I understand that that's why that's why it goes up and down all along, and it's so short, and it's so unpredictable. So just live it, just go for it.
Yeah, no, you're totally right. Actually, there's a quote that I really like, which is an Italian quote, I tried to translate it in English is like, there's not night long enough to not allow the sound to rise the next day.
Yeah, that's perfect. That's exactly what I meant with this.
Sounds better in Italian though.
I know, there's so many these sprays in my language, when I translate directly, they really don't make sense. So it's really hard. I guess this is our like, second language obstacle, you know, like that, it's going to be always there. And I, I embraced that, too. You know, like I tried at the beginning. But now like, I, I start my semester, right? At school, and I tell my students, you know, like, if you didn't notice, I have an accent, you know, at the end of the class was like, you're stuck with me sorry. But I'm always, you know there to repeat and to say things, and it's, yeah, it's just a part of life and just the part of us immigrants.
Wherever we are. That we have to love it so.
Yeah. Okay. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Such an inspiring and beautiful story. Thanks a lot Borjana.
You're welcome. And thank you for having me. It was really, it was my pleasure and honor to be here being your guest. And I hope I didn't bore people to that.
Oh, I don't think so. I don't think so. I was captivated the whole time. That's why I was like so silent that there was a guy usually talk more in the interview, but today, it was just just listening. And thank you. If people wants to get in touch with you wants to know more about you and what you do, and maybe people read your story wants to get in touch with you. What's the best way to reach out to you?
Yeah, if anybody wants to get in touch with me they can there's my Instagram BorjanaLubora that's my handle. I think to begin with, that's the best way to contact me or stay in touch or find me. It's through the Instagram.
Yep. And guys, go check it out because she's got like a beautiful picture of Hawaii and very inspiring quote as well. So definitely check it out. You can find the link in the show notes.
Thank you so much.
Thank you so much, Brianna. be on the show and share your story. I really, really, really appreciate it. I really enjoyed it.
You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
Thank you. Bye bye.
Thank you so much for tuning in this week. You can find the show notes at emigrantslife.com/episode40. If you liked this episode and wants to support the work we do, you can share this episode with your friends, or you can leave us a review on Apple podcasts and pod chaser. Also, if you're planning to move abroad and need the help or support, please send an email to [email protected] and schedule a call with me. This is something I'm trying out. Don't worry. It's totally free. I just want to help as much as I can. So don't hesitate to reach out to me through my email or from our website immigrantslife.com. Thanks again for listening. Talk to you. Next one. Ciao.
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