Friday, November 12, 2021
Vanessa Miller

University of Iowa Fulbright recipient Jackson Guilford, 23, is pictured in Serbia, where he's conducting his English teaching assistantship this academic year. 

Vanessa Miller, the Gazette

IOWA CITY — When University of Iowa senior Ajla Dizdarevic learned in March 2020 she was a finalist for a prestigious Fulbright English teaching assistantship to Croatia, her enthusiasm was tempered by the many unknowns and precarious state of the world — plagued by a fast-spreading pandemic.

Upon learning her award might be truncated from a full academic year to half — with its original start postponed from last year until this March — Dizdarevic packed her bags and moved instead to Serbia in October 2020, hoping to get the most out of her international experience despite COVID-19.

In the Serbian capital of Belgrade, the 21-year-old Waterloo native got a job, began volunteering, found an American roommate and landed an apartment near a popular pedestrian hub.

Then she waited, finally beginning her Fulbright assistantship in October, a year after she took the leap from Iowa to Eastern Europe.

Like other award recipients from the upended 2020-21 term, Dizdarevic said she’s glad to get any experience at all through the esteemed Fulbright program — the world’s largest international exchange program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2021.

“We were all so nervous that it was going to get outright canceled, so I'm extremely happy and grateful to be in Croatia — in country,” Dizdarevic told The Gazette over Zoom from the coastal nation where she moved from Serbia for the start of her assistantship at the University of Osijek.

“Even though a lot of social things are kind of limited … I'm still happy to be here and be able to do what I can do,” she said. “I'm just happy they didn't cancel it.”