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Local refugee tells story of journey to the Hill Country

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It was 1993 and Slobodan Vujisic's home town of Belgrade was in the grip of war.

Vujisic was worried for  his family’s lives and for his.

“My wife couldn’t sleep because she was thinking that they would come to take me,” Vujisic said. “Which was something I didn’t want because it was not my war, it was not something I supported.”

In the 1990s, during the heat of the Yugoslav Wars, a series of conflicts in former Yugoslavia that left the country war-torn and shattered, Vujisic lived with his wife, Neli, and young daughter, Mia, in a constant state of concern.

Though the conflict occurred outside of Belgrade, where he lived, Vujisic fully expected to be drafted into the army at any time.

Economic sanctions imposed on the country during the wars hit civilians hard, and for Vujisic and his family, it was no different.

“To say it was a difficult economy would be to understate it,” Vujisic said. “There was no gasoline. You would wait in line all night in front of gas stations to fill up the gas tank,” he said.

Even though Vujisic made a living as a music professor teaching guitar to children at the Josip Slavenski School of Music, the wages were almost worthless, due in part to massive inflation.

“In those circumstances, there isn’t much you can do,” he said.

“A stroke of destiny”

Around September 1993, one of Vujisic’s colleagues at the music school, who had come back from the Guitar Foundation of America Convention held in Lubbock, Texas, left a flyer in the office.

Inside, Vujisic saw event listing of a speech that day given by Kevin Taylor, owner of the Childbloom Guitar Program, a musical education school teaching guitar to children. The program had details about the speech and an short bio on Taylor's life.

“I was seeing a presentation by Mr. Taylor at that convention talking about working with young children and to me that struck a note,” Vujisic said. “I thought that we shared the same area of interest,” he said. “It was like a stroke of destiny.”

He quickly sent letters to Taylor.  In about a week, he heard back from him, which Vujisic noted, was relatively quick with no high-speed communication readily available at the time.

“He wrote back saying, ‘how can I help?’,” Vujisic said. “It was like a little ray of sunshine at the time.”

A flurry of letters, faxes and phone calls ensued. Taylor got to work securing Vujisic an H1-B visa to come to the United States and work for the Childbloom Guitar Program.

“I didn’t know anything about the visa process,” Taylor said. “I shopped around for an attorney and he said he could do the visa and we started the visa and [Vujisic] had all his paperwork ready,” he said.

Within 3 or 4 months, and after some delays due to education equivalency troubles, Vujisic’s visa was finally approved.

“We don’t give out any information”

Vujisic received a telegram from the U.S Embassy in Belgrade telling him that he needed to go there at 9 a.m. the next day and sign some paperwork to receive the visa.

When he arrived at 8:30 a.m. the next day, guards stood in front of the entrance to the embassy, located in the center of town. After he approached the guards, one of the officers told him it was closed and that he could not go inside.

 “I said, ‘I have an appointment,' and [the guard] says ‘no, the embassy is closed,’” Vujisic said.

When he asked why the building was closed, the guard’s response was simply: “We don’t give out any information.”

“It was awful. You have such expectations and hopes, and you prepare yourself for departure and then you hear something like that. So that day was a bad day,” Vujisic said.

Luckily, the closing was only a temporary setback. It opened the next day and Vujisic was able to go in and pick up his visa.

A New Life

When he arrived in the U.S. in  1994, the culture shock was somewhat difficult. 

He and his wife had dressed formally for the flight, as Europeans do.

“Where I was coming from, a lot of things, like where I worked in the school, were a lot more formal," Vujisic said.

But, they were not prepared for the way people in Austin dressed.

"I came dressed in this English suit, this sort of woolen thing, and my wife too," he said. "We walked out and there were folks here like Kevin who was in shorts and a shirt and was very relaxed, very Austin-style."

It wasn't only the dress. Things Texans take for granted were sometimes jarring.

“Everything smells different," he said. "There’s air conditioning everywhere, which I was not used to, the food, people out on the streets in a big city, a lot of these little things of change. At the same time, it was something exciting.”

Eventually Vujisic grew used to the new environment, but not without great effort.

“I saw how hard Slobodan worked to fit into this system and to fit into this culture, and to make it work. That ardor and determination on his part really impressed me,” Taylor said.

Vujisic still works as a guitar teacher for children ages 5 and up at a Childbloom Guitar Program branch in Austin and currently lives in Cedar Park. He is also the Artistic Director of the Austin Troubadours, a Renaissance music group.

Vujisic and Taylor maintained a close friendship over the decades. Looking back, Taylor remembers an anecdote that amused him when Vujisic arrived.

“He gave me some Yugoslavian money, I guess to repay me. He gave me a 9 billion dinar note," Taylor said.

"It was worth about 40 cents.”

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