DAYTON, Ohio — Students are coming in from across the globe to Ohio to learn about American culture after the Bosnian War and a peace agreement made almost three decades earlier.
For the first time, Dženan Zahirović is walking on American soil. He traveled close to 5,000 miles, from Bosnia in Europe, to get to Dayton.
“People are more outgoing here,” said Zahirović. “They apologize a lot for some reason.”
He’s one of about 20 Bosnian high school students specifically chosen to make the trip to learn about American culture and democracy alongside local students for three weeks.
He said he wants to use what he’s learning to make a change in his home country.
“I know a lot of kids my age who had really bad childhoods and I just want to work to make the local community safer for everyone and more inclusive,” said Zahirović.
His experience here is all a part of a student foreign exchange program, the Youth Leadership Program, on its fourth time bringing in Bosnian students.
Miranda Brooks is the stateside program manager.
“We have a range of programming, some of it is academic, civic engagement, community engagement and we try to balance everything with a little fun,” said Brooks.
She said the program became a reality because of the three-year Bosnian War and a nearly three-decade-old peace agreement.
“The Dayton Agreement was negotiated here, which effectively ended the Bosnian War in the mid-1990s,” said Brooks.
When Dayton leaders traveled to Bosnia for the anniversary of the agreement, it sparked the idea for the student exchange program.
The U.S. Department of State put in $120,000 to make it happen.
The young exchange students hope to be what keeps the peace across the globe.
“I really want to make a place a community in Bosnia, that people can say, ‘Oh I don’t need to leave, I have my own people here,’ or ‘I have the infrastructure to develop myself here,’” said Zahirović.
The Bosnian exchange students are staying with host families while they are in Dayton and also plan to make stops in New York before heading back to Europe.