Tessa Adzemovic (BA 2013, French) grew up in Ann Arbor, with her elementary and secondary schools within a four-mile radius of one another. While others might have preferred to leave town when starting college, Adzemovic decided “to make the (hometown) university experience as diverse as possible.”
She began traveling as much as she could, first working in Paris at an internship (funded by the Romance Languages Department) in a bookstore named Shakespeare & Company, where an employment requirement is to write or produce art. “This experience made me want to major in French,” Adzemovic reflected.
Her Senior Honors Thesis was about a very little known and, in her opinion, very under-appreciated artist, Jean-Francois Raffaelli, a painter, printmaker, and writer in the 19th century. “I fell in love with one of his paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago while on a trip with Professor Howard Lay’s class. We had to choose one painting on which to write a term paper. I picked the painting not knowing anything about the artist. The most recent thesis about him was from the late 1970s. I was fascinated because he was such a mystery! Plus, his work portrayed a population not usually portrayed -- beggars, alcoholics, characters of the street,” Adzemovic said.
“I spent my senior year studying Raffaelli. It was exciting and challenging; I felt I could actually contribute to scholarly work.” She applied for an Honors Travel Grant to support a research trip during spring break to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. “I was lucky to get funding from Honors to go to LA. I spent a week in the basement of the Getty with the largest collection of Raffaelli’s manuscripts.”
Another experience that helped determine Adzemovic’s direction occurred after her sophomore year, when she participated in a GIEU (Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates) program that focused on the sustainability of culture and environment in Bali, Java and Indonesia. After seeing a health clinic in Indonesia, Adzemovic thought, “Maybe I want to be in health care. I started balancing my passion of French literature and global healthcare.”
During her junior year, Adzemovic studied abroad at Paris-Sorbonne University with funding from the Center for South Asian Studies. “I found I could fuse my interests in language and different cultures with healthcare the summer after my junior year, when I worked in a health clinic for eight weeks in an urban slum in New Delhi. That confirmed that I wanted to work with marginalized and underprivileged communities.”
Additionally, as part of her diverse campus experience, Adzemovic was co-president of Salto Dance Company. As disconnected as all of these interests and experiences seem, they converged in an interesting way, when Adzemovic began her own NGO (non-governmental organization) -- Bridging Mostar Youth.
“One Friday evening we had dance rehearsal and we get to the studio to find someone there dancing! There were double-booked appointments. The owner of the studio told me, “She’s a humanitarian, she’ll let you in.” We ended up splitting the time. Rebecca Davis was the woman’s name and she handed me her card for a dance company in Rwanda, Guinea and Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Adzemovic enthused. “I was fascinated because it’s a corner of the world where NGOs are fleeing, not going. There’s a 40% unemployment rate. It was a project working with dance -- I’ve danced my whole life! It’s in Guinea and Rwanda -- French speaking! And Bosnia and Herzegovina -- where my family is from! It was meant to be!”
Though Davis’ project in Bosnia had lost its funding, Adzemovic applied for the Davis Project for Peace through the Ginsberg Center for her own start-up. “I wanted to see what I could do. I designed a project that was tripartite: a month in Rwanda to see how the functioning art and reconciliation project worked, two months in New York City with the Rebecca Davis Dance Company to see how NGOs worked, then, several months Bosnia to develop a program in Mostar, bringing together Roman Catholic Bosnian-Croatians and Muslim Bosnians.”
Adzemovic stayed on in Mostar through March 2014, working on setting up her program. “First, I defined which populations I wanted to work with. I realized how devastated the country was. I wanted to work with three populations: a group of about 20 kids from an orphanage on the east side of the city, a refugee camp (kids from Kosovo and the Roma population), and Bosnian-Croats in a refugee camp on the west side. Most kids are in the school systems, but the schools are ethnically homogenous. I started working with the populations one-on-one to build rapport.”
In December, she applied for the US Embassy Grant. Work continued from January 2014 through March, when she returned to the US. In May, word arrived that the Embassy Grant had been awarded. Adzemovic traveled back to Mostar to hire two dance instructors, a project director, and a financial administrator (all funded by the grant).
“It’s a more sustainable program with locals running it. I have weekly Skype meetings with the project director.” Adzemovic is hoping to visit in January 2015 for the program’s first performance.
While remotely supervising Bridging Mostar Youth, Adzemovic is also continuing her education at the University of Michigan Medical School, where she was named a Dean’s Scholar, earning her a four-year full tuition scholarship, as well as fifth-year funding if she pursues a dual degree. As a Dean’s Scholar, Adzemovic is automatically enrolled in the School’s Healthcare Engagement and Leadership Program, which aligns perfectly with her interests.
“I want to commit my life to service in the medical field, to the reduction of health disparities and also promotion of cultural awareness in medicine. I would love to go back and work Bosnia and Herzegovina, possibly in a rotation or with Doctors Without Borders, especially because the need is so great right now.”