Fleeing the destruction of the Bosnian war, Verdrana Durakovic, her sister Jasna and mother Mira came to the U.S. as refugees and now for the first time in a long time the family will be coming back to Poulsbo for the holidays.
Durakovic has been traveling back and forth between Bosnia and the U.S. most of her life, since initially arriving in 1994.
Durakovic moved back to Bosnia in 2002, where she finished high school in 2004. She returned to the states to earn her undergraduate degree in international studies from the University of Washington. After graduating in 2008 she moved back to Bosnia for a year before returning to the states to earn her master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Where once again upon graduating, she moved back to Bosnia where she has been living for the last eight years.
In June, Durakovic returned to the U.S. and is now living in Seattle and working as a program manager for a nonprofit organization that works to provide different types of services for aging adults.
“Ultimately I will always be kind of torn between two places, but a huge part of my life was shaped here in the U.S. and particularly in Washington State,” Durakovic said. “Being back in Bosnia after so many years, I just never really felt fully … a sense of belonging or like I fit in. Even though my family is still all there, I decided to move back here just because I feel more of a sense of belonging here.”
Durakovic and her older sister Jasna both attended schools in North Kitsap and the University of Washington.
Jasna returned to Bosnia in 2001 after graduating from UW with a degree in public relations and earned her master’s in political science from the University of Sarajevo where she is now a professor of political science. In 2014, Jasna was elected as House representative of the parliament of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. She currently serves as a member of parliament for the Sarajevo Canton Assembly and is also a single mother of a 7-year-old boy, Nijaz, named for their late father.
Durakovic remembers the journey from Bosnia to the U.S. beginning with an underground tunnel at the Sarajevo airport that got her and her family on a plane to Slovenia, where they lived for two years before coming to the U.S.
While in Solvenia, her family had to go through a rigorous process to immigrate to the U.S. under refugee status.
“[There] were background checks and all kinds of checks. We had to have sponsors, which were Dennis and Marilyn. [For] Poulsbo we had to have like all of these guarantee letters from family. So getting refugee status and being able to come to the U.S. was kind of a long and detailed process,” Durakovic said.
The Dennis and Marilyn, Durakovic refers to are Dennis Walters and Marilyn Hoban. At the time, Walters and Hoban were married and were already sponsoring a foreign exchange student from Croatia, when Durakovic and her family came into their lives.
“I remember Dennis and Marilyn gave us their guest house to live in and that the community really came out in support. I think back then, Poulsbo’s population was like [4,500] people or something like that… most of the community knew that we were coming,” Durakovic said.
Durakovic recounted her first day of school at Breidablik Elementary.
“Everybody was expecting me … I came in during recess, all the kids were outside and then when they came back in, I was sitting at a table and they all crowded around me and they were like ‘she’s arrived’ and I felt very … like I was a bit of an alien,” Durakovic said.
Durakovic also recounted her return to Bosnia afterward and how it has changed each time she has returned.
“After the war … there was a lot of optimism, a lot of money was coming in … people were just happy to be alive. For like the next decade or so, things seemed to be really positive and progressing, but, honestly, since then, I’ve mostly seen kind of [a] regression,” Durakovic said.
Durakovic’s mother, sister, and nephew will be returning to Poulsbo for the holidays. This will be her nephew’s first time in the U.S. and it will her mother’s first time since 2008.
“They’re excited, the area has changed quite a bit since they were last here,” Durakovic said.
Durakovic ended her story with a thought about the hospitality her family was shown during those troubled times.
“Had it not been for the kindness of others we wouldn’t have been able to have the lives we have now.”