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Tragic event leads to "something amazing" for nursing student
Marcia Porter
4th year student Elbonita Kozhani

The sound of Albanian folk music leaves Elbonita Kozhani in a sentimental state of mind. It's all she can do to stop from crying.

"I really love it," says the fourth-year student at Memorial University's School of Nursing, "But it brings back a lot of memories and makes me miss my family."

Luckily, Elbonita doesn't hear much Albanian folk music on campus. And though she thinks about family in Halifax and Kosovo, she also has her Memorial University family to make her feel at home.

If you met her on campus and it's possible you just might since she's a busy volunteer, you likely wouldn't guess that her journey to Memorial involved late night escapes past gunfire and burning villages in Kosovo to refugee camps in Macedonia.

Back in the 1990s Elbonita and her family were living outside Prishtina in Kosovo.

War was consuming every country in the Balkans, and the west began hearing horrific stories about something called...ethnic cleansing.

"Every hour you would always here gunshots...it was quite scary," said Elbonita, who was just a little girl when she moved to the country when her family heard about impending war.

"We always slept with our clothes and shoes on in case we had to go in the middle of the night.

"Then one day my father said this is enough. The apartment we were living in was broken into, and everything stolen. When we left, every house (around us) was on fire....police were pointing guns at my family..."

The Kozhanis boarded a train to Macedonia, made their way to a large refugee camp, and eventually were sent to Canada, a country they knew nothing about.

"It was like a dream a come true," remembers Elbonita about her arrival here. "We got off the plane in Halifax and all these people were waiting for us. We couldn't believe it was happening."

Elbonita's family still lives in Halifax, and she still speaks fluent Albanian.

And though she has no connection to Newfoundland and Labrador, when it came time for her to choose a post-secondary school, she opted for Memorial University.

It was her school guidance counsellor, a Memorial graduate, who encouraged her to apply.

Though she kept a low profile for the first couple of years, once in third year Elbonita jumped into campus life. She became a resident assistant (RA) at Burton's Pond apartments, a mentor with International Student Advising, and a Memorial Ambassador, just to name a few of her many roles.

"A tragic event has led to something really amazing. I would be a completely different person if hadn't come to Canada, and to Memorial. I wouldn't be so open-minded, so involved. I really want to make a difference."

Feb 5th, 2014

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