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Bosnian students learn life-long skills during West Michigan internship

Bosnian students learn life-long skills during West Michigan internship. (WWMT/Matt Loughrin)
Bosnian students learn life-long skills during West Michigan internship. (WWMT/Matt Loughrin)
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A West Michigan organization is helping marginalized youth from the other side of the world shape their futures.

The Jericho Foundation partners with major companies in the area to provide internships to Bosnian students. Those companies spend six weeks teaching work skills and about life in the United States.

Tarik Rujanac and Ehvan Gradanin are two of six students staying with host families in West Michigan for the internship program, which is from July 16 to Aug. 24, while training with companies like AVB Builders, Bronson Healthcare and Stryker.

“I was having many concerns before I came here. Like, will I be able to perform on the required level? Will I be able to get along with everybody to fit in, to enjoy my stay here? To do many things that I wanted to do and I have been able to do all of these things without any problems,” said Rujanac.

Rujanac, a third-year college student, is interning with AVB Builders. He’s been training and working on some of AVB’s bigger projects, including a current construction project at Borgess Medical Center. Rujanac has also become certified in OSHA training and construction management software. This is the first time Rujanac has ever left Bosnia.

“I didn’t expect it to be so welcoming and so warm here. This company—I kind of feel like I figured out what a company should look like if I was ever to start one in Bosnia,” said Rujanac. “I feel so welcomed in this environment. I feel like a part of it from day one. I don’t feel like somebody who’s just passing through, like six weeks and he’s gone. I feel like a part of this. Work ethic and getting everything done on time in an efficient manner. That’s something I’ve seen here that I wouldn’t probably have the opportunity to see in Bosnia.”

The civil engineer student explained Bosnia has a 57 percent unemployment rate. He said the internship is experience he likely would never get back home.

“Bosnia is a war-torn country and it took a lot of the strength and willpower out of us to just break through the war to continue on as a country. So, people are feeling that stress even today,” said Rujanac. “There’s not so much help for those people. And even those who are well off, they still have they’re days when they are not really in the mood for anything and they take that out on their workers.”

“We have a tendency to just take for granted all the things we have. And you hear about a 57 percent unemployment rate and you think, ‘Wow! What would that be like?’ More than half the people are out of a job,” said Jack Michael, president of the commercial division at AVB Builders and Rujanac’s supervisor.

“There is a lack of job opportunities in any field, so this opportunity will place me in the, maybe, top one percent of potential candidates for any kind of job,” said Gradanin, an intern in Bronson Healthcare’s IT Department.

Michael said this is AVB’s first time partnering with Jericho Foundation.

“This is something that can change his life, really, in the trajectory of his life. And so, you don’t get an opportunity to do that every day. So, I think that for us we wanted to do it,” said Michael.

Gradanin, a computer science student, earned his bachelor’s degree in the summer of 2018 and will begin graduate school soon after his return home. He said the skills he’s learning in Bronson’s IT Department are invaluable.

“That could be the thing that lands me a job in Bosnia,” said Gradanin. “They are a company that really, truly value the development of their interns, including me. And I’m really pleased to be surrounded with people of different skill sets.”

Gradanin worked on several software systems and data archiving projects. His supervisor is Jody Meyers, Bronson’s IT manager of corporate information systems. She said they were expecting him to train his first week in the program.

“Within the second day, he was already—we had given him assignments, solving problems and answering questions and fixing things. I’m like, ‘holy cats.’” said Meyers. “He surpassed my expectations.”

Jericho Foundation students also get a chance to experience American culture. Both Rujanac and Gradanin said their culture shock was calmed with a warm welcome.

“Immediately noticed the Midwestern politeness and I was like (gasp),” said Gradanin.

Rujanac said his host family took him to his first baseball game.

“All the fun things that I’ve never done in my life, they want to show me as many things as they can about the U.S. and the culture. Make me enjoy my stay here, make it a good experience both at my workplace and at home,” said Rujanac.

The students said they’re also using their time to teach people about their home.

“My team has been touched by him. They’re never going to unlearn what they have learned about what it’s like to live, work and study in Bosnia. So, that is opening up the eyes of people who would not necessarily have paid attention,” said Meyers. “Having somebody come from the other side of the world and teach us about his culture and also experience the U.S. culture for the first time has been eye opening, not just for me, but really for my team.”

The students said they will take the skills they’ve learned back to their country and help rebuild the struggling workforce.

“Making a good company and a good place to work for Bosnians is what I would like to do. Start my own construction company where it’s not like hell to go to work because that’s probably how it feels for some people in Bosnian,” said Rujanac.

“I would like to stay in touch with the people that I met here,” said Gradanin. “Try to implement some stuff in Bosnia that people are doing right here in USA, maybe change some stuff in Bosnia.”

“They’re going to be leaders in their country and that can sort of change the trajectory of cultures and things,” said Michael.

Michael said he would like to stay in touch with Rujanac and even visit him. He told his intern, “I would love to help you start your company and give you some guidance there.”

The students said they are grateful for the Jericho Foundation for providing them, what they called, an experience of a lifetime.

“This makes all the hardships I went through worth it. This one thing that I got made it all worth it,” said Rujanac.

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“It’s already changing my life. I mean, it has and I think it will continue changing my life,” said Gradanin. “When you’re investing in us, you are investing directly in rebuilding Bosnia. And I think it would be really neat to get a country from its knees to standing up straight.”

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