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SAMHSA News - May/June 2008, Volume 16, Number 3

Communities Join Together To Promote Behavioral Health

The Refugee Experience

By Leslie Quander Wooldridge

Nadja Memic, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, is a refugee. As a youth participant in a summit workshop, she smiled often but shared a story of hardship that was more than a decade in the making.

Originally from Bosnia, Ms. Memic was there during the 1990s, when acts of genocide resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. As a Muslim in Bosnia during this time—when Muslims were targeted—Ms. Memic remembered that people were killed every day during the height of the conflict. “We weren’t of a certain blood, we weren’t of a certain religion, so we had to be gone,” she said frankly.

Held in a concentration camp along with her mother and brother at one point, she and her family struggled to have access to staples such as shelter after their release. “You were at the lowest point ever. There were days when you didn’t have food to eat,” Ms. Memic recalled.

She and her family left the country in 2001. Ms. Memic was 18 years old, and she already understood the refugee experience.

“I was actually living as a refugee for 9 years in my own country,” she said, explaining that she and her family could not return to their home in Bosnia during and after the conflict. “So, being a refugee is something positive for me. In a way, it’s a blessing because it made me who I am.”

Although she became a thriving student, after living in the United States for 7 years and learning English well enough to help her parents with their needs, her adaptation experience was difficult at times.

When she first arrived in America, Ms. Memic said she didn’t have time to process her emotions—to go through the grieving process that emerged from being a survivor of war—because she and her family were focused on day-to-day needs.

But now that she’s living a “normal life” and has fulfilled her goal of getting an education, she can reflect on her past, even while she moves forward.

“I had the time to allow myself to heal. I could talk to other people, I could relate to other people, whereas when we come here, we don’t have that luxury,” she explained. “I was frozen, and now I’m kind of melting.”

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