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November means Thanksgiving and saying what we are thankful for (and we Americans have a lot to be thankful for). Traveling is a good reminder of exactly how grateful I am for the opportunities that I have as an American because of my recent trip back to Eastern Europe. While there, my cousins, friends, and I–who are now mostly in our mid 20s and early 30s–had many conversations about our careers, our professional and personal goals, and our next steps towards those goals.

Most of these conversations went something like this:
Me: “I heard Mira started working recently. Does she like it? Is she happy with it? Is this what she wants to do with her life?”
Mira’s Mom: “It’s great. It’s a permanent position and pays her 320 euros a month. What more does she need?”

After several of these exchanges, I began to think about how my life is drastically different than what I was hearing. There was one underlying theme that I noticed from almost every person I talked with; for individuals in developing countries within Europe “passion” is not a word that is associated with the workplace. With unemployment rates in Serbia reaching up to 26% in the last 5 years (32% in Macedonia, 46% in Bosnia, 23% in Croatia) it is not surprising that what most individuals in former Yugoslavia care about is having a job and being paid a livable wage while how much a person likes their job is associated with how much they make. Very few are afforded the luxury of additional passion in their job.

My life is different because while I was born in the Former Yugoslavia, I immigrated to the United States several months prior to the Bosnian War (we were extremely lucky with our timing). When the war broke out, my parents and I were granted political asylum which allowed us to apply for permanent residency and ultimately American Citizenship.

If my family would have stayed in Yugoslavia during the war, who knows where I would be today. The chances of my mother ending up a single parent or me ending up an orphan were great. If we would have been able to escape and move to Serbia like most of my family did, I might have ended up being unemployed until many years after college where I think would have ended up working as a shop clerk, as a secretary, or somehow with the Serbian Government. Regardless of what would have happened in this alternate universe, I know that I would not have been able to have as many unique experiences.

Most importantly, I wouldn’t have found work that I loved, as I have here. My citizenship afforded me the chance to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania. This opportunity opened my eyes to my true passion which is giving back and helping people. My volunteer service is what ultimately steered me towards a career in the public sector where our collective mission is to help our all individuals living in America in some way shape or form.

To me, being an American and being a public servant means to be thankful. Not just for the opportunities presented to me in the U.S., but for the opportunity to serve others through my work. That’s my passion, and I will try to live it from now until next Thanksgiving.

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