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Elvir Berbic: From Refugee to Master’s Degree

RADFORD --In May of this year, Elvir Berbic earned his M.S. in corporate and professional communication, following the successful completion of his B.S. in communication in 2008 and his recognition as one of the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences’ Dean’s Scholars. Not bad for a Bosnian refugee who could barely even speak the English language upon entering Roanoke’s Woodrow Wilson Middle School 15 years ago.

When communism fell across the Soviet Union and Eastern European bloc nations 20 years ago, the former Yugoslavia was thrust into turmoil, with its six provinces all declaring their immediate independence. The nationalistic fallout resulted in a full-scale civil war throughout the region, with Berbic and his family stuck right in the thick of it in their homeland of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Elvir Berbic
Elvir Berbic with Governor's School Students

Fearing for their lives, Berbic’s family landed in a Croatian refugee camp, before fleeing to the United States in search of a new, more promising life.

“My family and I moved to the states under a status of a refugee,” said Berbic, crediting the immigration center in Roanoke for helping them acclimate into the American lifestyle.

His family and country’s pain however has played a pivotal part in shaping the man Berbic has become today.

“I always refer to my experiences in the camp and how far I came and what I’ve accomplished so far,” he said. “I remember how we lived, the food we ate and how we survived from day to day. The struggle of my parents to keep my younger brother and me healthy, happy and disciplined truly paid off.”

According to Berbic, his brother’s medical school education and his master’s degree from Radford University is proof of how far his family has come. Berbic initially chose Radford for its esteemed communication program. However, it was the university’s small classroom atmosphere and comfortable student-to-instructor ratio which proved to be a big selling point.

“It is very important that I was able to connect with my instructors and classmates,” said Berbic. “I knew everyone by name, and I think that is a necessity—especially in a communication department—to interact and form relationships that last a lifetime.”

Berbic hopes to offer that same one-on-one interaction and relationship to the high school students he is helping counsel this summer in the RU-hosted Governor’s School for the Humanities and Visual and Performing Arts.

“I wanted to be involved with governor’s school because it gives me the opportunity to be part of a program that allows young men and women with various backgrounds to interact with peers of similar interests, express ideas and build relationships that will last forever,” he said. “It makes me happy that I get to be part of the experience that provides opportunity for growth and expression. I’ve met amazing young men and women who are oozing with talent, knowledge and imagination. It is great to see students interact with our faculty and share knowledge and talent that they acquired throughout their lives.”

Despite at least a 10-year age gap between himself and the high school students, Berbic appreciates the unbridled energy and mutual education found at the Governor’s School.

“Even though there is a clear age difference between us, these high school students truly bring out the energetic, enthusiastic and passionate young man that is still within me,” he said. “I’m clearly benefiting from them, as I hope they’re benefiting from me.”

After the governor’s school concludes, Berbic will be headed back to Bosnia and Croatia for a visit, the fifth since his arrival in America.

“I’m going to visit the town where I was a refugee. I still have family there,” he said. “This year, however, it’s going to be special. I was able to contact many former refugees and volunteers that served in the camp and we’ve scheduled a reunion. I didn’t see these people in more than 15 years, and I’m very excited to see them again. Things have changed in Bosnia – life is harsh, economy unstable and people are struggling to earn money and keep jobs,” he said. “The war that killed many is not forgotten.”

July 22, 2010
Keith Hagarty; 540-831-7749

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