Livija Mujkanovic immigrated to the U.S. from Bosnia at 19. She arrived in Vermont with her family, speaking no English. During her first year here, she worked two jobs—one as a housekeeper and one at Burger King. At home in Bosnia, she had been a student in law school.
When they arrived in Vermont, she and other family members were pressured into working, unaware that they were eligible for a stipend that would have afforded them time to focus on learning English and adjusting to life in a new country before joining the workforce. She worked for a year and realized that she didn’t like where her life was going. She decided to go back to school.
Mujkanovic knew of other refugees who were going to CCV. People told her that the College would be a good stepping stone, so she enrolled at the Burlington center to focus on learning English. She did learn English, and she held onto her dream of finishing law school here in the U.S. “When I was at CCV people knew that I wanted to go to law school,” she said. “So that’s where I focused my studies, and there was a great support to help me get there. I didn’t know the system here, I didn’t know how anything worked, so my instructors were very aware, my advisor was very aware, and they just wanted to help me get there. It was a very positive experience.”
After completing a degree in liberal studies at CCV, she continued to UVM and graduated with a degree in in sociology and women’s studies. Still intent on law school, she took the LSATs and began applying to schools, but wanted to visit Bosnia before beginning that next chapter. She returned for what was intended to be a brief visit to see family. But one month in Bosnia turned into six as she stayed to care for an ailing relative, and it was this caretaking experience that led her to develop an interest in health care.
Back in the U.S., Mujkanovic changed her course of study entirely. She enrolled in the nursing program at Vermont Technical College and earned her second associate degree in 2008. Today, she has worked as a nurse at the UVM Medical Center for almost a decade. She currently works the night shift caring for medical surgery patients, where she says there’s never a dull moment. “…abdominal surgeries, transplants, burn trauma…there’s no quiet night. There’s always something that happens.” She says it helps to have the support of her peers. “I have a great group of coworkers and we really are a team.”
In her personal life, Mujkanovic and her husband are raising two young sons. She says they take their children’s educations seriously, and want to pass on their academic ambitiousness. “I hope both of them will love to study and be as education-driven as their parents.” For a start, they’re bringing the boys up tri-lingually. “My husband is Italian born and raised,” says Mujkanovic. (“I met him in Italy. I always joke I imported him to the U.S.,” she adds with a laugh.) “He speaks five languages but primarily German and Italian, and I speak Bosnian, so between those three languages and English…” Just three, technically, because they “don’t enforce German as much yet.” Mujkanovic’s husband teaches social science classes at CCV-Winooski, and also teaches at UVM, St. Michael’s College, and CVU high school in addition to working at the UVM Medical Center.
Mujkanovic has made both a career and a life in the Green Mountain state. Not without a hint of irony, she explains that Vermont is home. “Bosnians are known to have these roots where you plant yourself…we don’t relocate much. You stay close to family.” And she says she still feels a similar tie to Bosnia. “I go every year. It would be hard not to…it’s still like home.”
Looking back, says Mujkanovic, CCV was the right place to start her American education and build the foundation for her life in Vermont. “When you come as a refugee this is all new. You need someone to be there for you, to understand you. There was a great group of people [at CCV] that were able to see where I wanted my life to go, that I wasn’t ready to just settle, that I wanted to strive and have a better future.”
She still has that same desire to keep striving, and for good reason. “Nursing is a field where you’re never done; it’s an ongoing thing. I definitely did not make a mistake. People need us. Patients need us.”