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From Bosnia, with love

After being forced to leave everything behind in 1992, this family of Bosnian refugees has found a place to call home — Jonesborough,

Danijella Stefanovic is an average teenage girl, looking forward to her future after graduating in the Top 10 percent of her class at David Crockett High School on Saturday.
Quick to smile and laugh, she talks like most girls her age from East Tennessee, with a slight southern accent shaping her words. Then she turns to her mother and speaks flawless Bosnian in a burst of Slavic sound and rhythm that creates a startling contrast to her very American looks and bearing.
Danijella and her parents, Goran and Enisa, fled their home in Bosnia in 1992, at the beginning of the Bosnian-Herzegovina wars, which tore their homeland apart with unspeakable acts of genocide, torture and destruction.
The family lived as refugees for six years in the town of Malsch, located in southwestern Germany.
Determined to provide for his family, Goran took odd jobs at first. Eventually, he found steady work as a roofer, which was the best job he could find at the time, despite his degree in electronic engineering and experience in furniture manufacturing.
“No one would hire refugees because they think they are going to give you a job and, in a few months, you would leave,” he explained.
Enisa worked in housekeeping at a local hotel even though she was a bookkeeper for over 17 years back in Bosnia.
Goran knew his family couldn’t stay in Germany permanently.
“The reason that we decided to leave Germany was that we want for her (Danijella) to get started going to school and learn one language,” he said. “The idea was to leave sooner rather than later so she could catch up with school here.”
With the help of the Trinity Assembly of God Church in Johnson City and the International Organization for Migration, the Stefanovics relocated to Johnson City in 1998.
Six-year-old Danijella worked hard to learn English, but that steep learning curve isn’t prominent in her memory.
“I just remember first grade when I didn’t have any problems with English, so I picked it up (easily,)” she said.
The Stefanovics moved to Jonesborough in 2006.
“I was 14, it was right before my freshman year,” Danijella said. “It was nervewracking at first, because high school is so much bigger than middle school, and I didn’t know anybody.”
But Danijella soon made friends — and maintained excellent grades that allowed her to win the Courtney Hensley Scholarship to East Tennessee State University in the fall.
“I’ll study something medical, pharmacy, orthodontics, an optometrist or something like that,” she said.
Danijella and her mother have been back to visit relatives in Bosnia twice in the last five years. But to Danijella, it didn’t feel much like going home.
“I couldn’t remember anything from there, because I left when I was four months old,” she said.
Danijella and her mother have also been back to Europe to visit relatives in Germany.
Danijella plans to return for her first solo visit this summer, after freshman orientation at ETSU in June.
“I’ll probably be there until August,” she said. “It’s a lot of money, and I’m paying for it this time, so I’m going to get my money’s worth.”
Goran hasn’t left the United States since his arrival here in 1998. He has worked as a truck driver, travleing all over hte country, since 2001.
Enisa stopped working then, to stay home and take care of Danijella. She speaks very little English, but smiles and laughs as easily as her daughter.
According to Goran, his wife works tirelessly in her garden, coaxing everything from vegetables to strawberries to life.
Goran and Enisa have no plans to leave the area any time soon.
Goran said he feels at home in Jonesborough, where the people are friendly and the mountains remind him of the Bosnian landscape.