Transitioning to a different world

By David Burton and Shawn Ma

When Danilo Dragovic ’11 moved to the United States two years ago from Belgrade, Serbia, he faced a lot of obstacles. But halfway through his senior year he has made a smooth transition into the American lifestyle.

Not a part of a formal foreign exchange program, he moved to California where his older brother already lived and spent last year at San Marcos High School before enrolling at Harvard-Westlake last summer.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to come to this school, and although it is hard at times, it’s a blessing that I want to make the best of,” Dragovic said.

One of the difficulties that presented itself America was the language barrier. Learning classes in a different language proved tough for Dragovic, but he has made the adjustment and is becoming more familiar with the American style of learning. Dragovic is currently enrolled in AP English Language and Composition taught by Arianna Kelly.

“Ms. Kelly has been immensely influential in my development of the English language, but it definitely still is a challenge,” Dragovic said.

Daily interactions with his friends, teachers, and family have helped him hone his English, he said.

Dragovic said that the standard for learning in Serbia is very similar to that of Harvard-Westlake. Both are demanding and strenuous, but also prepare a student for any future endeavors they might pursue. The primary difference is the cultural exposure.

The transition to American culture has been a daily learning experience for Dragovic. He has noticed a more diverse culture religiously, ethnically and socially since moving to America. He is a member of the Serbian Orthodox Christian church and in his home country, most of the people he knows are of the same denomination, whereas in America he has met Muslims and Jews, he said.

“There’s greater opportunity to meet all different types of people from different backgrounds with different interests,” Dragovic said. “It’s really broadened my horizons because in Serbia, everyone is Serbian.”

With a chance to experience new things in a new country Dragovic has taken advantage of the opportunity to immerse himself in the American culture. At first, he would eat only Italian and French food because it was most similar to Serbian food, but now after being exposed to new music and foods unavailable in Serbia, he has taken a particular liking to sushi and Lil’ Wayne, he said.

“At first I was reluctant to try new things but my new friends entcouraged me to,” Dragovic said. “Now, I have the best of both worlds.”

When he feels homesick, he maintains his strong connection to his homeland by calling his sister in Serbia and blasting Serbian music. Although at times he misses his family, making friends has not been a problem. As an avid basketball player, he has brought his talents to the varsity basketball team; but due to recent CIF rulings, has been deemed ineligible to play. Despite his inability to play in games, Dragovic still practices with the team as well as spends time with them. He has also made friends outside of basketball.

Dragovic resides with a host family whom he knows very well through a strong connection with his own family. They have helped bridge the gap between the Serbian and American lifestyle and have supported him in juggling all of his extracurricular activities. He spends time on the weekends with his host family watching movies or eating out at restaurants. Throughout the week, he spends time with his host sister who is also in high school.

“At first it was kind of awkward living with a new family, but now I consider them to be an extension of my own family,” Dragovic said. “They are very friendly and down to earth.”

Although his family lives in Serbia, Dragovic hopes to continue his education in America and one day see his younger sister move to America to study alongside him.

“I will always have strong ties to Serbia and I will always have family out there,” Dragovic said, “But now I have the chance to explore a whole different world and I am really excited.”