Written/Photo by: Emma Baldwin
Jelena Mrkonjić is a freshman from Serbia, who has shown great courage and determination in deciding to study at OKWU. Jelena made the twenty-hour trip from Serbia to OKWU in the fall of last year, her flight to America being her first time on a plane. She said, “I wanted to prove to myself that I can live far from my family and friends. I wanted to challenge myself and to push myself out of my comfort zone.” When her family asked her if she wanted to study abroad, she “didn’t wait for a second. I immediately said, ‘Yes, I want to,’ and that’s how my journey began.”
Jelena is originally from Osečina in Western Serbia. “I love my town because of its nature, and because it’s a small town and people know each other,” she says. “Small towns give you an opportunity to be with your people like a family.” She then added, “I like that we are so spontaneous,” explaining how they don’t plan things months in advance in Serbia, but rather see each other when they can.
Though Jelena is far from home, and she plunged into this adventure not really knowing what to expect, she doesn’t feel any regrets now that she is here. There are so many things she has done for the first time that she would never have been able to do if she had stayed and if she didn’t say to herself, “You can do it.” She says, “You have to leave your comfort zone so you can feel the difference and so you can improve. You cannot just wait for things to come. You need to make the step and do what you need to do to achieve a goal. And of course, I haven’t achieved my goal of graduation yet, but I’m trying to and I’m striving towards it,” she said.
Other people play a major role people play in Jelena’s life. She said that she is the happiest when she is around her family and friends. She said, “My family is so supportive. Without their support, I wouldn’t be here.” Behind every successful person is his or her family, so Jelena says she certainly wouldn’t be here if her family didn’t support her decision or “if they didn’t tell me when it’s hard, ‘You can do it.’ Family is everything.”
Even though Jelena is now far away from her family, she said that the group of Serbian students on campus have become a sort of family for her while she’s here. “It would be so much harder if I didn’t have them here. I would probably miss home more, but right now, my friends help me so much,” she said. When Jelena has free time, she loves to spend time with friends, watch movies, or talk to her friends from Serbia over video chat.
Jelena is majoring in business but plans to narrow her major into a more specific field next semester. She is interested in accounting as well as international business, which, as she said, “brings new opportunities to travel, to meet new people, and to work at the same time. It’s combining things I like and making money to live.” When asked what she has learned since she came to OKWU, Jelena responded, “I am learning to ask more questions and to not give up when it’s hard. I’m not perfect in that, but I want to become better.” Though she does not necessarily know what her goals are yet, Jelena is not concerned about the unknown. “I have goals for tomorrow, but I don’t have goals for ten years in the future,” she said, and then continued, “Two years before I came here, I had no idea. If someone had told me ‘You’re going to go to study here,’ I would [have said], ‘No way.’”
She concluded, “I live my day in the moment. I don’t want to think about future and past.” When asked what her dreams are, Jelena replied, “My dreams are to be happy with my life. Just to be happy and to wake up in the morning and be thankful for the people I have in life and be thankful for my life.”