BRAVER THAN EVER.
The ongoing refugee crisis is probably affecting me more than my friends and colleagues could realize.
When I was six years old, I had to run away from my beautiful family home in a similar manner. I packed my red teddy bear and a pink-haired doll with a hand drawn star on her cheek. She played “Für Elise” until her batteries ran out. Till this day, that tune still gives me a sense of nostalgia. And for the last few months, it's been playing in my head over and over again as I watch Syrian refugees walk through my country, trying to find their place in the sun — a sun that isn't shadowed by grenades or blinded by explosions.
My background is a bit complex for people outside the Balkans. I'm Croatian. I was born during the mid-eighties in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the republics being former Yugoslavia. After Yugoslavia fell apart and the war began, I left Bosnia and went to live with my relatives in Croatia in the spring of 1992. My mother joined me a week or two later, after the bridge — which had connected what would soon become two different countries — exploded. She was able to cross the river illegally, but my father and grandmother stayed in our family home. A few months later, my dad ended up in a concentration camp, and it would take months until our family would be able to finally live in the same place again.
THAT BOSNIAN GIRL
We went from weekends at my grandparents' house in the country, playing with my cousins, hanging out with my parents and constantly quarreling with my brother (we drove our parents crazy!), to living in a new strange place. From a beautiful family home, to squeezed in a tiny cold and damp apartment. Everything changed in one moment. In this new place, I became "that Bosnian girl”: a refugee, an outsider. And I remained an outsider for the most of my life.
Bosnian and Croatian languages aren't that different, but my accent was. My background was. Everybody knew that I didn't belong there, even though I was Croatian. I didn't understand why the kids laughed at me just because I talked differently. I was confused. I mean, I talked the way I was taught to talk. And I suddenly became a joke? Through my teen years, I decided to embrace my destiny and truly become an outsider; I listened to punk, flirted with anarchism, dyed my hair black, red, pink, and purple. I was angry and anxious because I never felt like I had found my home, literally or figuratively. Still, I was a very good student and planned to study journalism.
But the year before I finished high school, my father suddenly died. I didn't even get the chance to say goodbye; I was on summer vacation, visiting my relatives in Austria, and my last words to him were something like, “Bye, see you soon.” It turns out that “soon” still lasts.
It was another huge blow for my family. My father had started a small family business that simply fell apart without him. Our bare existence was threatened again. And my dream of studying journalism in another town faded away.
“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off": I did that a lot through the years.
I still managed to work as a journalist, even though I studied something else. It was a fun time; I learned a lot, I was pretty happy with my job and had huge plans, but a few years later, the economic crisis took its toll. Since I was still a student, I was an associate, not a full-time employee. Thus, I was among the first on the list to be let go. I became unemployed, did some freelancing, took some shitty and underpaid jobs... And again I felt like an outsider — like someone who should have been on the start of a fantastic career — rather than just trying not to starve. Again.
But, pick yourself up, dust yourself off.
The only place I didn't feel like an outsider was online. I felt connected to the world through the Internet. Forums, blogs, chat rooms, social media — I've seen it all. I used it for learning, fun, and meeting people similar to myself or completely different. I became interested in how technology influenced our lives and soon became a living example. I got a few freelance jobs through LinkedIn, and decided to move to another, larger city. A few months later, I saw a job opportunity on Twitter at one of the top Croatian PR agencies, and got it! I did some work in social media, worked with some large global and national brands. After a year I got an offer to go back to journalism and blogging.
I took that opportunity, and three years later I'm still here! I'm an Executive Editor at Netokracija, a collaborative blog that became an online magazine which writes about technology, startups, business, Internet marketing, and more. I’ve met some amazing people and I'm truly inspired by their work, success, knowledge, willingness to take risks (not something encouraged in this region), and their ability to fail, dust off, and start again. And, I suppose, that’s something we have in common.
Now, every day, I learn something new, experience something different. I get opportunities to travel, meet the world and share my new knowledge with Netokracija's audience, friends, and family. My Instagram feed has never looked better. :) I used to be so scared, constantly frightened! I was always expecting something bad to happen, because something bad always happened! Now I'm finally looking forward to the future, looking forward to every brand new day, looking forward to the future me. And I’ve never felt so confident, calm, and happy :)
There's nothing wrong with making mistakes (as long as you learn something from them). The problem is if the mistakes are not your own, if you constantly let other people's deeds affect your life. You need to be in charge of your own life. All of the past events have made me tougher, stronger than I thought I could ever be. I'm finally not afraid and anxious. And a few months back, Central European Startup Awards named me as one of the Most Influential Women in the Croatian startup community.
So guess what? I might still be "that Bosnian girl," and I will always be "a refugee," but I don't feel like an outsider anymore.
Mia Biberovic X UDD
ABILITY TO ADAPT AND START ALL OVER AGAIN
if I have to of course ; )
This little light o' mine, I'm goin' let it shine.
— Harry Dixon Loes | composer
War has displaced more than half of all people in Syria. More than 4 million Syrians have fled abroad since the Civil War outbreak in 2011. They are fleeing war, persecution, and violence. There are millions of refugees all over the world, with more than half of them on the planet coming from Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan. They are seeking peace and safety, a place to call home. And as I watch my own governmentsin the news debate whether or not to accept refugees, I feel it necessary to say — the refugee crisis is not just the responsibility of a few. Humanity is a global responsibility.
I don’t know what it’s like to go from hanging with friends one day to deciding to put your whole family on a raft to face the unknown in the Aegean Sea in search of a greater hope. I don’t know what it’s like to sleep on the ground in an overcrowded makeshift camp, with food and aid as scarce as hope, while trying not to think of the fate of loved ones left behind. This road is foreign to me. And to face these overwhelming obstacles and suddenly find yourself considered a joke, simply because you look different, speak different… well, that’s just ridiculous.
But, this was Mia’s story — to wake up in a strange, new world — as the outsider. Yet, she miraculously finds a way to pick herself up and dust herself off, time and time again. She has suffered loss in just about every way imaginable. But she’s still playful. She fights for that smile. She fights, like any other refugee, for a place to call home. Lessons learned from her father, no doubt. Tenacity. That unyielding spirit gifted from him, coupled with this fearlessness toward new beginnings — presumably, hard lessons learned during years as a refugee — is what sets Mia apart. She’s not afraid to lose; this fearlessness positions her perfectly for the win. This fearlessness is her light. And there is no dimming this light of Mia.
Mia Biberović aka The Influencer