Hanka Grabovica, December 2, 2018


Hanka Grabovica, December 2, 2018


Utica, New York
Bosnian War
English as a Second Language (ESL)
MVCC (Mohawk Valley Community College)
Utica College
Utica School Board
Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees
Bosnian Community in Utica


Hanka Grabovica is a resident of Utica, New York. She was born in Bosnia in 1985. After the Bosnian War ended, she came to America with her parents and her brother in 2001. Grabovica is a black belt in karate and traveled to Japan in 2004 with the USA national team to compete, which she describes in the interview. Grabovica also details her time at Proctor High School, Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC), and Utica College.

After graduating college, Hanka Grabovica worked as an English as a second language (ESL) teacher to both elementary students and adults at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. She eventually became a Dean of Students and is now a Student Affairs Officer at the Utica Academy of Science. She recently ran for a position on the Utica School Board. Grabovica married her husband when she was 20 years old. They have two children together.

I interviewed Mrs. Grabovica at her home in Utica, New York. She lives there with her husband and her two children. Due to her experience growing up in Bosnia and moving to the Mohawk Valley, she provides a unique perspective of someone who was new to the community, but now has been a resident for 17 years. Grabovica speaks about her own education and the education of children in American schools today. She also provides insight into the processes of immigrating to America as well as the challenges of adjusting to a new country and culture while never forgetting her own background.

Mrs. Grabovica speaks with a distinct Bosnian accent and speech pattern that is not evident in the transcript. As it is impossible to accurately reproduce all of the details of Grabovica’s dialect, researchers are encouraged to listen to the audio recordings of the interview.


Carlie Doggette


Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta




Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY


36.9 mB
551 kB






Upstate New York
Utica, New York


Carlie Doggette


Hanka Grabovica


1511 Roberta Ln.
Utica, NY


CD = Carlie Doggette
HG = Hanka Grabovica

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

This is the December 2nd, 2018 interview of Hanka Grabovica by Carlie Doggette for the Cooperstown Graduate Program Community Stories recorded at Hanka Grabovica's house in Utica, New York. Thank you for being here. So first can you tell me about when you first arrived in New York?

I came December 13, 2001. I came with my parents and my brother. I was sixteen years old. It was winter; it was a very interesting place. I did not expect to come to Utica. I was more expecting coming to New York City, to be honest. So I was super excited to go to America and New York State to see New York City. But I was a little bit disappointed, and to be honest not just me but all my family we had a culture shock coming here. We used to live in Bosnia in the city. We had pretty much everything. We didn't have to adjust much except the language here. But it was a culture shock for us. We're fine now. You learn, yeah, you learn. So when we came here, we really didn't even have anybody. We just came with suitcases and around 200 dollars, to be honest. We reported to the refugee center. They helped us and supported us a lot, to be honest. They were the ones that found an apartment for us. And then once you got an apartment then we had the Bosnian community kind of helping us with the refugee center to buy furniture and doing the paperwork and things like that. After that, it was much better. We had to go to school. And for six months my parents didn't work. I went to school. They went to school to learn the language and once they started working that was it. For six months we received support. After they started working that was that. Everything stopped from food stamp support [to] any social service support, anything because my parents were working.

Can you tell me more about your high school experience when you first arrived?

Wow. High school. I sometimes don't want to go back and talk about my high school experience because for me it was, as I said, culture shock. I didn't speak English at all. I studied French in Bosnia. I had to start from zero. Pretty much they just threw me out there in a huge school, around two thousand students. I'll tell you one example of how much I knew; I was in one class and I'm like "Oh this is English class." You read some book and I didn't understand. And then at the end of the class some Bosnian stood up [and said] "Oh, this was a social studies class," and I'm like "Okay..." Now I can laugh but at the same time it was so sad. But you know what, one other thing is that I used to be a student who likes attention, I mean I still like attention. When I was in Bosnia, everybody knew me, like a popular student. And coming here, putting you somewhere where you can't even talk, you don't know anybody, it was such a struggle for me. But then I never gave up, I kept going and pushing and doing it. My first friend was from Poland, a Polish girl, believe it or not, even though we had Bosnians in school. I did associate with them too. She didn't even speak English well. We had to figure out somehow [how] to get together and hang out together and, it was ok. I struggled a lot [with] writing and reading and everything across the board I struggled. But again one thing that I learned about American education is you don't even have to be that smart as long as you never give up. You keep doing it. You keep pushing. My thing was okay tomorrow is a new day. I remember even in college and high school I didn't have support at home when it comes to academics. Nobody could help me. But I had a support at home where my parents believed in and valued education and that was it. You know, "You have to go Hanka, this is just a one day, tomorrow is a new day. Keep pushing." So I had that, I don't even know how it is, it's like a family thing, "you'll do it, you can do it, just keep pushing and keep doing it." And that's what I did. I never gave up. I never gave up and then I graduated from Proctor High School in 2004 and I went to college.

Can you tell me about college then and how that was different?

Yes, college was another struggle. It was again a struggle and it's not because I didn't want to go because I was interested in everything. But the language barrier. You know I spent three years in high school where I didn't get a lot of support from teachers which means I didn't learn much. And then you go off to college and then here's a new role. Everything is different, you are on your own. So I struggled. But let's say the tests. I would sit in a lecture for two hours and I'm a person who was nodding but had no clue what that professor was talking about, to be honest. Like, "Yeah, here's me focusing a hundred percent on you, listening to you." But I didn't know, I couldn't understand much. Well, here and there. But then what I did is every time I had a lecture, if I didn't understand the lecture, what the professor was talking about, I would go into [their] office and on- on-one I would sit with the professor and just go "Ok, what is this?" It was kind of to explain to me the basic language, that pretty much covers it, so I could figure it out. I used to study a lot but then I would take a test and because one question with one word that I would not understand I would not be able to answer that question. So that was happening still at college until maybe the end of my second year beginning of the third year of college then I was like, finally I understand, finally I'm comfortable, you know, listening, answering the questions and having that engagement in the classroom with the professor and students. But until then it was just like sitting and listening and you go home and use a dictionary find out ways of how to do homework, how to understand what they were talking about. And to be honest the biggest [help], and I even give students advice today, go to your professors, knock on their office door and say, "Listen, can I come and see you whenever you're available?" So just to go. And professors saw something in me. They saw that I wanted to be successful, I wanted to finish college. So I remember my professors were just like sometimes I used to fail three major tests and one pass and they're like "you know, Hanka you did so much throughout the whole year but the tests were not really good. We'll still figure it out." And they tutored me and they gave me some extra things to do just to make sure that I [could] pass and go on. I still have a really good connection with all the professors. Just an example, a couple of weeks ago I was going to support my professor who had an induction to the hall of fame for MVCC [Mohawk Valley Community College]. It was nice to see. I'm like, "Oh my God, look at me. I'm here now supporting you, and you remember me," and the things like that. It was a really nice and amazing time. I went to college two years at MVCC. From MVCC I went to Utica College for two more years. For my first year, I wanted to be a gym teacher. I was so into sports so that was my thing. I'm a black belt in karate, so I wanted it to be a gym teacher and I was all into sports but I changed my mind. My first semester or second semester I said "I would really like to be a regular teacher to teach first through sixth grade." So I just transferred to be a one through six teacher and they accepted all my credits. I received my bachelor's degree in liberal arts and science [and a] minor in childhood education one through six. Then in the meantime, when I was doing my master's degree, I also received the certification for English as a second language to teach students. My master's degree is in education administration. So that's pretty much it. When I came from Bosnia I said "If I, in ten years, finish college that would be a big success." But I actually finished everything pretty much on time, maybe one semester extra. Pretty good. And now I work at a school as an administrator, student affairs officer. I used to be an ESL teacher before that. I used to be dean of students. I mean, I did a lot of things. I can say I'm successful. I succeed. I had days, to be honest, I remember sitting in a college library and crying and thinking "I will never finish. I'm done. I'm quitting. I can't do this anymore." There was so much on me, but my parents were the biggest supporters. They were like, "OK, Hanka, you can do it. It's hard today but tomorrow's a new day. Keep going, keep going." And that's what I did. I kept going and I did it.

Can you tell me about the first teaching job you had out of college?

I used to be a substitute teacher at the Utica School District. My first experience as a teacher was the kindergarten kids. You know what, everybody thinks they are little kids, it's easy. That's the toughest job, I'll tell you. Teaching little kids, you have to do everything for them. But I loved it. I love kids. They're my passion to be honest, still today. I had a hard time. But I had a good mentor where they supported me. They taught me what to do and I had fun. And then I kept doing subbing while being in school still. So still working and going to school. Then I was hired at Donovan Middle School as an ESL teacher and I was teaching sixth grade. And I did a phenomenal job, I did. I really enjoyed those kids. I'd give everything for them pretty much. I was the first one at work at 6:45. You can see me there leaving the last one at 5:00. Even teaching them karate after school. It was just a really nice experience for me to work for a public school. Then I moved for a little bit, I taught adults too who were coming from other countries. I taught them English, just the basic skills at the refugee center [Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees]. That was a really great experience too. At the beginning, I was like "I don't want to do this." But then it turned out [to be a] really great experience. Then after that, I was hired at the Utica Academy of Science and I am still there. This is my sixth year. I was hired as Dean of Students also supporting teachers in the ESL department since I have a professional certification in it and now I'm in a little bit higher position, student affairs. I enjoy kids. That's what I like. That’s how much I care about kids to the point that this year I ran for Utica School Board be on a board to be a voice for kids. For all the kids, but most of those kids that [have a background like me]. They came from other countries. They don't speak English. They don't know. So I said you know what I can be the one to represent them and be their voice. I ran a pretty good campaign but it didn't happen, I didn't win. But I was grateful that I did it and I learned a lot. And you know, I am still young, I think I can still do it if I want. That was my main focus; I said, "I can do this."

So can you describe your job now, like maybe an average day?

My job is more flexible than ever before. It's flexible and it's interacting with students, teachers, community, pretty much everyone. I oversee elementary, middle school, and high school. I have to make sure that everything runs smooth and nobody's complaining and nobody has any problems. I report to the superintendent. So before anything gets to the superintendent I have to figure out how to handle it. Also interacting with the students and teachers and other staff in the school. I also work in the community and I try to bring the community to school. One example is every month I bring a community member or community leader to our school and they give us a speech. They talk to our students. They talk to our students, for example, [about] how important the community is for them. Just so our students can learn from those leaders in the community. Also, I go to different events. I'm a face of the school. Wherever I go it's like "Oh, that's the charter girl." You know, I'm a face. I represent the school and I oversee all three schools there. It's very flexible and I enjoy it. I love it. I love doing it. It's people. I'm a people person so it works perfect for me.

[TRACK 1, 16:48]

How do you think education has changed since you were in school to now you working in a school?

I'll tell you it's changed a lot when I look at the support for students who are coming from other countries. Big, big changes. When I came here they didn't have anything. They just took me to the library and they were teaching me A B C D. There was just nothing, no plans, no curriculum, nothing. Now we have everything for it. We do so much and we have so many plans and then there's a curriculum out there. There is everything for English as a Second Language students. That's what I can tell you. There's all these laws, regulations, and rules. When I came there was nothing. They were just [teaching] whatever they knew. Now, it's amazing; it's really good. Same thing with, let's say, all the regular students. There's all sorts of different improvements, also for special education students. I'll tell you this, it's amazing. For me [it is] definitely a change. And specifically the part [that] affected me a lot when I came. I was like "So how are you going to teach me language or how am I supposed to succeed when I'm with 20, 30 kids in the classroom and I just listen and nobody is there to tell me anything?" Now, actually, you have teachers that they go in with those kids in the classroom. You have a regular teacher that teaches and you have an English as a Second Language teacher. They push in and they take those kids out and they do one-on-one things. So it's amazing. It's really big changes. That part of the education in that department. But I can see also other departments. I'm not saying it's perfect and I think we have to work so much more. But I think if we continue working step-by-step we can definitely have one of the [top educations systems] in the world again.

[TRACK 1, 19:08]

Can you tell me about the Bosnian community in Utica?

There are around six thousand people here. It's like a little Bosnia, I have to say. There's a lot of us. We have pretty much everything here. We have a Bosnian community. We are workaholics. We like to work. We like to invest. We like to have nice houses. We like to work hard; we like to spend money and things like that. But also we have everything that we pretty much need. We have our stores, we have our clubs. We have our centers; we have religious places. Anything that you can think of, it’s here. It’s like a little Bosnia. When people come from Bosnia here to visit it’s like "Wow, you guys have this too?" It's really, really good. It's nice to see that we try to keep our culture and tradition and things. I believe it's so important for everybody and for my own kids to know that my parents came from Bosnia, and we have so much more. But the one thing that I am a little bit disappointed in Bosnians is we are not connected as much as we are supposed to be. When I say supportive of each other, that's one lacking part that we have in this community. We have to work on it. I'm not saying it's really awful. It's just I think we need to work more together and support each other. I'll tell you one example. If we are more connected and more supportive of each other, we can even have a [Bosnian] mayor. That's how many people are here. We can have anything we want here because once you are together and support each other, that's what you need. But that's one lacking part that I have to say. But it feels nice that you have pretty much everything. Especially for my parents. Maybe not younger generations, we are more Americanized now. But my parents, they don't even have to speak English. I don't even know if it's a bad or a good thing. You know what I mean? They don't even have to speak English but they can go to the store. They work mostly with Bosnians. It's good and bad because they work and they speak Bosnian, but then the language here is English, how are you going to learn? And that's why my parents still struggle speaking the language because of constantly being with Bosnians. There are a lot of people with a lot of success also. We have doctors, lawyers, teachers. We have businessmen. It's nice to see this. I'm proud of it, I have to say. I'm proud of it. I'm proud of the Bosnian Community. But at the same time, we have to work more to be supportive of each other.

Tell me about how you specifically are teaching your children Bosnian culture?

So pretty much in our house. One example is the language. But I'll tell you this, my husband and I, we came really young. We learned language early, and now when we speak in the house as much as we want to speak Bosnian, for us it's much easier to speak English. So we are half and half there. The way my kids are learning about Bosnia is with my parents. We go every day there. We eat there. Anytime I have something outside they stay with them. So my parents fully speak Bosnian at home. Even the TV, they have Bosnian TV right now. Everything is Bosnian. They cook Bosnian. My mom makes Bosnian food still to this day, almost 20 years. She still makes Bosnian food. Also, we have other family. My in-laws are here. They came to visit and they are the ones that one hundred percent speak all Bosnian. Hardcore Bosnians and my mother, my brother, brothers-in-law and sisters they all also speak Bosnian. So when we go to their house we speak Bosnian. When they come to our house we speak Bosnian. Then another very important thing, my husband and I were discussing this morning too, my daughter's been going to religious class at the mosque on Court Street. This is her fourth year, I believe. She was four years old when she started, very young. And that's where all Bosnian kids are. That's where the Bosnian language is. Also, you can learn other manners and other things of the Bosnian culture. A lot of problems that are happening now [are because] kids’ parents are not taking kids to the religious classes. I believe if you have a religion, it doesn't matter if you're Christian or Muslim. I think if a person has a little bit of religion inside you would not do such a thing outside. Something was really happening outside [our house] and I'm like, "Are you seriously doing this?" And I'm like you know what? If he had any sense and a little bit of religion in his head he would not do such a thing. All these problems nowadays with the young kids doing alcohol and drugs and those things, I believe if they had any religion in them they would not do things they are doing. Those are the things that we try to keep up with the language and tradition and culture. But also the biggest thing is we go to Bosnia every second year. So when you go to Bosnia everything is in Bosnian. For as short as like three or four weeks, my kids start speaking Bosnian there. You would not believe it. I was surprised when I saw my [daughter] she was five when she went there. First, she was really young, a baby. But the first time we went when she was speaking English we came back from Bosnia and she starts speaking Bosnian. And I'm like, "Wow, this is amazing." So that's another thing. We're going this July to Bosnia. That's going to be a good thing. Also, my future plans are for her to actually be an exchange student. I have family that are teachers in Bosnia so I would put her with my uncle that works at the school and maybe bring another child here from Bosnia. Just for the language and culture. There's so much to do and I know we try everything, but it's not going to be really successful one hundred percent. Another other thing is, we just got her this iPod and she's texting with my mom and my dad but in Bosnian! And then I explained to her, in Bosnian, however you say it, you write it. In English it's different, you say it one way but you write it a different way. She picked up really quick. Now she's texting with my mom and dad in Bosnian, so that's good.

Can you talk about your in-law’s decision to move back to Bosnia?

Yes, my in-laws moved almost 10 years ago. That was so interesting. I hear stories, when they came here it was like, "Oh we'll be just here five years and then we're going back." But then your lifestyle's here. My father-in-law moved back a long time ago because he just couldn’t adjust here I guess. It was just hard for him. It was always "Bosnia, Bosnia, Bosnia." He invested some money there. He bought some stuff that he needed to and one day he just packed his stuff and he left. He left all of his kids here. He has three sons. Same thing with my mother-in-law. And now they're there. They lived for 10 years here. They moved there. They come often to visit us and we go there. But their heart and their happiness is there. But then I'm like, "Ok, how about us?" I don't know, he just couldn't [adjust]. I don't know exactly the personal reasons but he could not stay here. His kids are fine here. But them, they moved, they're happy there. They have their house and they have their land. They enjoy their life. They're retired, they don't have to work. When they want to see us they come and we go there. That's pretty much what it is. Where, for example, my parents, my mom would never, she's stuck here. It depends on people to be honest, it depends on the person. But now their

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

kids love it. It's just one thing that kind of bothers me. I am a person who likes to balance everything and respect everyone, and they do too, but when it comes to Christmas now and all these holidays my in-laws are more like "OK, that's not ours. We're not doing that." And I respect that, you know it’s fine. But at the same time, my kids are growing here. My kids see other kids doing things. For me, I don't celebrate Christmas because I'm not Christian, but at the same time, this tree will not do any harm to me if I put it up and make my kids happy. So that's one thing with my in-laws they like, "No, no, no don't put up a tree. No, no, no, don't do this." But it's fine. They're here and they're probably going back [to Bosnia] in March and then we'll go back [to visit] in July. But again it comes to that tradition and culture. We are here and they are there and they see different and we see different.

Can you tell me about how the mosque here was helpful to you when you first came if it was?

No it wasn't. It wasn't here. The mosque was established in 2006, 2007. When it comes to religion for Bosnians, it's pretty much your choice. There is nobody that can tell you have to do such a thing or you have to do this or you have to do that. It's your choice. So if you want to be part of the mosque and you go to the mosque, it’s your choice. If you don't want to, you don’t have to. It's your choice and that's it. At the beginning, when we were young, we did support it. The good thing about mosque is, yes, it’s a religious place and it’s a mosque, but another thing is it’s where all Bosnians get together and that's a good thing that you want. You want to see Bosnians being together and do things together? You're going to go there. Yes, it's a religious place but it doesn't mean that we're [always] praying. It's like a community center there too. It's nice to see each other and speak Bosnian and eat Bosnian food and Bosnian events are happening there. My husband and I we were very young when we got married. We were not really part of it. I was 20, he was 22. So young, we were still in college, it was not something that we did. We went to mosque when we were kids and that's about it. But then, once we had kids, the value of family and what comes with it, [it became], “Oh. our kids need to go because we did the same when we were kids," and we believe that helped us a lot to be successful. A lot of things you can't do because God will see you or something like that [laughter]. And then we just said, "OK now it’s time our kids go to it,” and so that's what we did. We started when Amila was four years. I don't go often, to be honest. Amila, my daughter, goes every Saturday. I go when there's events, especially during holidays like we have Eid and Ramadan. You can always go there and there's always people and food. So that's the busiest time and that's when you can see me there. It's sad to say that I don't go often. But my kids go every week. Actually, you know what, I go every week too because I have to pick her up. It's really nice. The mosque can't help us because we have to help the mosque to be honest because it's not like a church. Churches help us a lot. I have to say the church helped us when we came here. You could go to church, I remember and get turkeys one year when we came here our first year or second year. "Oh, there is turkeys and Thanksgiving." So we went there. I remember that. But not mosque, no.

Can you tell me about how you met your husband?

I was working at the Hannaford store as a cashier and he came one day with his friend and we met there. That was it, "Hi, how are you and my name is..." I didn't see him for a few months. I did karate and the USA national team asked me to join them to go to Japan in 2004. I said yes, so I had a going away party. All of a sudden this guy showed up at my party that he was not even invited to. It’s like, "Who are you?" I had the party at the karate club and that's where we exchanged conversation. Then I went to Japan and came back and one day I saw him in the park. And then that's how everything started. I remember one good thing that I said to him when he asked me out. I said, "If you can keep up with my karate, my job, my school, and my work, we can date. But just to let you know my priorities are karate, job, school, and everything else. But if you can do it, we can be boyfriend and girlfriend." So it happened. We were totally different personalities. You have this one nice family girl; that was me. I like family, karate, and my job. I wasn't really going out. And here's this guy that extremely wants to go out and have fun and enjoys extreme stuff. I was like, "Oh my goodness." So I guess opposites work really well and I am really happy that I accomplished most of my goals. I had all these, "My goal is this and my goal is that." The one goal that wasn't accomplished was I wanted to get married when I was 30. I got married ten years earlier. But I don't regret it because it worked really well. By 23 I ended up buying a house. I ended up having everything one family needs. By 25 I had my first child. By 30 I was this successful educator [laughter]. When I got married it was like I'll have a kid by 25 maybe, not earlier. But the marriage part was ten years earlier. But again, it goes back to tradition and culture when it comes to marriage. For me, being 19 years old living with my parents, you still have to follow the rules. Come home at 10:00, 11:00. You can't travel. You can't go to sleep at a friend's house or a boyfriend's house. There's no way in the world you could even ask that. Or travel with your boyfriend or friends. You couldn't do anything. That's it. That's the tradition and culture that we have. So I couldn't do much and then when I was deciding should I get married or not my parents were against it 100%. But then my dad said, "You know, if we don't do it now and we say no to you, you'll do it anyways. So why not do it the way it's supposed to happen?" The only thing that they were scared of was that I wasn't going to finish school. That's the only thing that they were worried about. I told them, "The only thing that I will maybe come to you and ask you for is money to buy books because I may not have it but everything else is on me and trust me, I will finish school," and that was it. I really, truly have a beautiful family. You know I usually don't say this out loud because I'm scared that something could happen but I'm extremely happy. My husband is very supportive. Maybe little things in the house he [could] do more [laughter]. But he is a really good person, a husband, a father, that I don't think I would be able to find now. I'm 33 now so I would still be looking. I'm glad I did it and now it's good.

Can you tell me about going to Japan for karate?

Yes, I used to be a child that was dreaming and even now I often dream about things. I'm always like, "Oh maybe one day I'll do this. Maybe I can do this." Even now I'm reading this book about Michelle Obama and she has a lot of good advice. I'm like, "Oh maybe one day this can happen to me." When I was in Bosnia I did karate. I was a blue belt in Bosnia. That really helped us to come to America because if you want to come to America it’s not like, "Oh let me buy tickets and I'm going to America." It's a process. It takes a year to go to another country, do the paperwork, do the interviews and things like that. We had the last interview, it's like passing or failing to come to America. They interview me. And then they ask, "OK, so what do you do, why do you want to go?" So one thing I said was "I'm doing karate and I want to be successful in karate." That was for them like a "ding, ding, ding, ding you're going. Even though if your parents fail you can go." It's like you could see it in their faces. Those people thought, "That’s what we need. We need those kind of people in America. We need to know who's going to be looking forward to being successful there not just come and we need to support you." And then I came [to America] really excited. In the first two weeks, I found a karate club here really close to my house. A Bosnian karate club. I started going. I signed up. I didn't even have a car and I didn't have anybody to take me. I used to walk but then I found this family that would give me a ride a few times [a week]. My parents were like, "Just stop doing it." I never gave up, I kept going even walking in the rain and the snow, getting rides from other friends. I really showed my talent. I have to say I was pretty good. I went all over America in such a short time. I went to North Carolina, Florida, California. I believe there are people here that have never visited different states that I, one person who came from Bosnia, [have]. I traveled a lot with karate. I was always bringing back trophies and medals back to Utica. The last tournament that I was in was in Florida in 2003. I took third place in the Junior Olympic Games and that's where they asked me to go with them. Here is me, I came 2001, and 2004 this is happening in Japan. I got here in 2001 in December so let's forget about that year. So I'm talking about 2002, not even three years. I'm going to Japan with a national team and I don't know anybody. I met those people at the airport. I spoke about three years of English. I was still in high school going to Japan with these people. This was unbelievable. I was always dreaming about that. Karate in Japan. I wanted to go. My parents didn't have money. They couldn't afford it. But then my dad asked at his work to support the nation and me. Then [I got] some other things from the community. Three thousand dollars, we figured it out somehow. My dad took out of the savings that he was saving to buy his car and gave it to me. He sent me and I went to Japan for 10 days. It was only a two-day competition and on the rest of days was pretty much a vacation. We were going from five or six different top-notch hotels and beautiful sightseeing. Tokyo was like, wow, you can't even really know. It was just amazing, for me it was life-changing. I learned so much from the Japanese tradition. We had to wear kimonos and eat on the floor. It was just amazing. I have pictures somewhere. I was there for 10 days with different people from different states like Chicago, Florida, all over the place. I was sleeping with three or four girls in one room. It was just amazing, even though I struggled with the language sometimes. I remember that was my first time outside of the United States to actually stand up in front of flag [during the] national anthem. I was getting goosebumps. Like wow, seriously, this child from Bosnia is here standing in front of everybody representing the USA was just unbelievable. But it happened. I was very proud of myself. I took sixth place. The Japanese girls [are very good at] karate. My first fight I got hit in my nose six times. I couldn't move my whole jaw for 3 or 4 days. I couldn't really talk much. But it was worth it, it was really worth everything. It was really great. I'm glad that I did that. I learned a lot. Traveling is a really good thing to learn. [You] see other people and see other cultures. That's what I've been doing. We've been traveling. My husband and I've been traveling constantly. Even my kids now, we always travel and go different places, different countries. It's really amazing.

[TRACK 2, 16:57]

So I think we have time for about one more question. Can you tell me about more into that interview process that you had to do to come over to America?

Yes, that was really tough. It starts with bringing the simple papers to another country. You had to go to Croatia and do the paperwork then come back home. You would constantly go back and forth, back and forth, because in Bosnia you couldn’t [do] that part. But the way we came up with the idea to come here was my dad had problems with his job in Bosnia. Then after that, they went to vacation in Croatia. They were passing by the American embassy and the Australian embassy. They were joking around, "Let's see what's happening. Let's go. We can go there too." To be able to go there you have to have a lot of reasons like you have to have been tortured because we were in the war. We survived the war. Australia's embassy was closed and the American was open and my dad came and he said, "What would I need to be able to go?" and she [the lady at the embassy] said, "you need this, this, and this." He didn't have a lot of things that she mentioned and then he's like "I probably don't even have a chance to go." My dad was in the war and he was wounded. On his arm you really can see it and his stomach also. The grenade went through his arm or stomach. She saw that and he explained it to her and she said, "That’s the reason that you can go." We had all of the paperwork and we had to do the medicals. So that interview was a nightmare. I was so sweaty. I remember a lot of sweating. You have people waiting. My mom goes into one room. My dad goes in another room. They had to make sure to say the same things that they ask you. If one says something different, it's possible that you're going to be [not able to go]. Then you have us, my brother and me. Actually, we were together first; we went in together. I remember talking about karate for a while and then I kind of saw as soon as I said that they're going to let us go. Then they separated us. I really don't remember exactly the questions they were asking but they wanted you to be honest with them [so they know] you are really struggling. Are you really in need to go to another country or is it just something that you want? To be honest, we struggled but there were probably other people [who struggled more.] One luck part of it, I think it was me. They wanted people that are going to go to America and not just looking for America to support them but also to be an asset to America and doing positive things and improving it. My parents were pretty much honest and at the end of it they said, "You know what? You guys, good luck, you get to go." Then once they said good luck, we were excited. We went back home, we're waiting for the tickets and they have to contact you. September 11th happened. It's September, on TV America is going down, everything is war. So we lost our hope because everything stopped. Nobody could come in America. Everything was canceled. So we were like OK that's it. We're not going. And then they opened it and they said, "This is the last group of people that will go." That's exactly what we were; the last group of people that came here. Maybe a few more families and that's about it. And they let us go. So, it's September 11th, December 13 we came here. That was very interesting. It was pure luck with us. A lot of people say it's so easy to come to America. It's not easy. It's a huge process. It takes a year, maybe even a couple years, it depends on your case. It takes years to get those papers. A lot of investigation, a lot of checking background and things like that. At least from Bosnia, I don't know about the other countries. But it was really a lot of time. It's not easy. Once you decide to go you have to have money at the end of the day because you have to go back and forth and do things. It's a big process. But I still deep down believe we were lucky. We were just a lucky family. And we came, I'm here, pretty good now. When we came, we only used the support for six months. That's all. While they were getting support they were going to school to learn English. Once my dad started working, we had to pay the tickets that paid for us to come here. We had to pay them back as soon as my parents started working. We had a monthly fee they had to pay back. So we paid off that. It's not like you come here and you have everything. They've been working since that day they never stop working. I've been going to school. I was going to school. I work now. My brother has been working. It's pretty good. My dad has a house. I have a house. So everything is pretty good now.

Do you have anything else you would like to add that we didn't get to touch on?

Once in a while we talk about how thankful and lucky we are. Bosnia is a beautiful country too. But there's a lot of struggle still there, we have to still improve things. And we are so lucky that we are here. Sometimes I think about, "What would it be like if I stayed there? What would I be doing now over there?" But look at me now. I am so proud of my beautiful family. I can say I am successful in my job, my career. My husband is the same way, my kids are pretty good. I'm so thankful. Without this community here I probably would not be doing what I'm doing right now. And that's why I always say I want to give back to the community and one way that I was trying to give back to the community is through running for school board, representing and being a voice for the kids. I said this is one way to give back to the community. And definitely in the future, I am 33 years old, I am still young. I can see myself definitely giving back because I believe that people helped me here so now it's time for me to help other people.

Thank you so much for your time and your information.

Thank you very much for coming.


29:59 - Track 1
25:26 - Track 2

Bit Rate/Frequency

172 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 16:48 - Changes in Education
Track 1, 19:08 - Bosnian Community in Utica
Track 2, 16:57 - Immigrating to America




Carlie Doggette, “Hanka Grabovica, December 2, 2018,” CGP Community Stories, accessed September 29, 2022, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/362.