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Serbian Students React to America - 2002-04-17

English Feature #7-33771 Broadcast June 5, 2000

In today's segment of New American Voices you'll hear five students, all immigrants from Serbia, share their impressions of life in the United States.

"America for me, as for most Yugoslavs, was a country you looked at through the movies: New York skyscrapers, Chicago, L.A."

That is what Yugoslav student Dejan Kojoch expected when he came to the United States as the son of a Yugoslav diplomat. But as might be expected, he learned that you can't always believe what you see in the movies.

"Since I'm in Washington, D.C. for me it was a very big surprise and a very pleasant surprise that there's no skyscrapers, it's a very unique city, I think, for America."

When war broke out in his homeland, Dejan decided to stay in America and pursue his education. Just recently, he received his degree in computer science, and he found a job. Arriving as a diplomat's child, Dejan had many advantages over most immigrants. But, along the way, did he experience any obstacles or disappointments?

"Obstacles? Not any major obstacles that I could see. Disappointments? In the sense more that here in America the life style here is not so much family-oriented as back home. And I think that's kind of a little disappointment. Right now I work for a computer company, and my wife also works, we both work, I guess that's the norm here in the United States now if you want to make a decent living you have to have a two income family."

Eventually, Dejan hopes to earn enough so that his wife can stay home and take care of the children. He says he hopes to stay in this country, have many kids, and be very happy. His compatriot Slavko Bradich, on the other hand, wants one day to return to Serbia and apply there the fruits of his American education. Slavko's ticket to the United States was his skill in basketball.

"My first steps, I came to Wisconsin, Mount Scenario College in the middle part of Wisconsin. A small private school, about 500 students. I came on a basketball scholarship. I played there for four years, we were really successful and I really enjoyed a great basketball program."

But Slavko also found life in America was not quite as he had expected as a boy in Belgrade.

"Maybe I expected more. I didn't realize that there's different parts of the United States and different people, and a different kind of life. In Wisconsin, you know, people live really slow, and for me, coming from a city of almost three million people, it was a big, big difference."

These days, Slavko Bradich is also studying computers, and working part-time in a computer company. His goal is to earn a doctorate in Business Administration and then, maybe, return to Belgrade. Another student basketball player from Serbia is Vesna Perak, who received a scholarship from George Washington University here in Washington.

"My first steps in America were very tough. I had the barrier of language, I couldn't speak really well, my schedule of the day was very hard, and then there was no mom and dad and sister and friends that I used to have in Yugoslavia to cheer my days, someone to share whatever I experienced, be it difficulties and happy times. So that was tough, and that was one of the things that was hardest for me."

Music student Sanja Petrichich, at Oberlin College in Ohio, had a similar experience.

"First of all it was a little challenging to get used to a different culture, to the language, different style of living, so that was a little difficult, but once I learned the language and found new friends then life became easier. The only disappointment would be in terms of human relations, because here they don't have time to really sit down and really relax, and a lot of times I feel like I don't have enough time to really get to know people… (laughs)"

While any new immigrant will face difficulties, one young Serb who came to the United States to study music loved the whole experience. Piano player Vladimir Valkarevich studies at Mannes College of Music in New York City.

"The school was a very good school and I enjoyed very much my time at Mannes. There I met wonderful friends, wonderful teachers. I believe I learned a lot from the school and just being in a stimulating environment was a great treat. I enjoyed greatly living in New York City and simply enjoying and taking all the opportunities that it gives."

Five young immigrants from Serbia, five experiences as students in the United States. Next week we'll talk about the programs a local high school offers its immigrant students to help them adjust to America.