When Dragica “DJ” Jovanovic arrived in Richmond, Va., from her home in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she didn’t speak a single word of English. But eight years later, with the help and support of her colleagues at the University of Richmond, Jovanovic is now a U.S. citizen.
Jovanovic, her husband, and her two children immigrated to Serbia due to the war-torn state of their home country, and a few years later they came to the U.S. with a green card. Her older brother already lived in Richmond and sent the documents necessary to make the move.
Three months later, Jovanovic got her first job working as a bagger at a local Food Lion. She surprised her manager by learning to use the register after watching the cashiers work and earned a promotion to cashier. She also used the time to listen to conversations and learn English.
“I would listen to English-speaking customers, and if I misunderstood a word I would go home and look it up in the dictionary to get the meaning,” she says. “It was hard, but I learned.”
In 2004, Jovanovic began working at the University as a custodian in Weinstein Hall. Her work put her in contact with the faculty and staff of the journalism and rhetoric and communication studies departments and the Speech Center, and her colleagues became an asset in her citizenship process.
“Nuray Grove [director of the ESL program] helped me a lot,” Jovanovic says. “She found tutors to teach me English. Two years later I was in her English class and I had to do a presentation on the culture of Bosnia in front of a room full of people. I still can’t believe that I did it.”
When her daughter Biljana, ’12, a student at the University, was selected to study abroad in Spain, Jovanovic decided it was time to begin the naturalization process, which requires applicants to live for five years in the U.S. with a good record; pay nearly $800 in fees; and pass a test consisting of U.S. history, government, and geography information, and English-language skills in reading, writing, and speech.
“When we went to Norfolk to be fingerprinted, they gave us a book and CD,” Jovanovic says. “Every day I listened to the CD in my car going to and from work and I studied from the book at lunchtime. My daughter showed me how to use flashcards.”
Faculty and staff from the journalism department, Speech Center, and human resources celebrated her success with a surprise party in honor of Jovanovic and her daughter receiving U.S. citizenship in February.
With the citizenship process behind her, Jovanovic recently received her passport and looks forward to traveling with ease. She also hopes to take accounting and economics classes at the University, since she was a bookkeeper before coming to the U.S. She can’t thank the Speech Center and journalism department staff and faculty enough in supporting her to this point.
“I work with nice people in Weinstein and they’ve helped me a lot,” she says. “Every day I learn something from them. They’re like my family.”
Photo, from left: Mike Spear, chair, journalism department; Betsy Mullen, adjunct instructor, journalism; Linda Caperton, administrative coordinator, journalism and Speech Center; Biljana Jovanovic; Dragica Jovanovic; Robert Hodierne, associate professor, journalism; Tom Mullen, director of public affairs journalism; Linda Hobgood, director, Speech Center.