Many educators teaching diverse students report that they do not receive enough cultural background information on their students. If you are teaching students from the fomer Yugoslavia, it is important to be aware of newcomers’ backgrounds. The information below is meant to provide an overview of key highlights, so you develop culturally responsive teaching strategies that are in tune with your students’ unique learning styles. This cultural information was developed for teachers, but it can be used by anyone working or interacting with newcomer families.
Here is some cultural information to help educators and other professionals or volunteers who are working with refugee, immigrant, and asylum-seeking families. This page is about former Yugoslavian students in the USA.
Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian, Slovene, Albanian, and Bosnian
Teaching in the classroom
Most individuals in the countries that make up the former Yugoslavia are literate, and education is mandated through the 8th grade. The length of the school day and mandatory subjects are very similar to the United States, and children do not get to choose elective courses until late in elementary school or high school. The majority of elementary school teachers are women. After eighth grade is completed, students can opt for vocational school or academically oriented high schools.
School culture is very formal, with students frequently standing up when a teacher enters the room, not engaging with teachers socially, and viewing them with a high level of respect. Former Yugoslavian students do not question teachers in elementary school, but intellectual confrontation is not uncommon in secondary school or university.
Although the culture of the region is very collective, Yugoslavian students rarely work in groups for projects. High value is placed on learning a foreign language, particularly English or German. Families are proud of their students’ academic success, as it is often seen as the only way out of poverty.
Many Yugoslavian students who live in small communities must move to larger cities to attend secondary school. This means families are used to entrusting their students’ education to teachers with minimal family involvement. There is a high value placed on education and succeeding in getting a college degree is challenging and rigorous with a high focus on tests and exams.
Teachers are held in high esteem, so most parents will value your input and take your advice to heart. Former Yugoslavians are known as a friendly, hospitable people. Individuals from the nations that make up the former Yugoslavia are warm and direct in their communication style and not hesitant to express their emotions or opinions. Kissing on the cheek is a common form of greeting for both men and women.
Children are given less homework than in the United States and are expected to complete it with minimal supervision. There are fewer after-school sports and activities that children from the former Yugoslavia engage in, instead choosing to play sports recreationally or focus on academics. Parents may need encouragement when it comes to helping with homework and encouragement to attend and help with children’s extracurricular activities. It is important to keep in mind that many refugees do not know how to drive or lack access to a car, so transportation to school events will be a challenge.
Mothers would be more likely to attend parent conferences, which are also held several times a year in the former Yugoslavia, so it would be advantageous for you to stress the participation of both parents, or to reach out to the father separately.
Culture, gender and family
Due to many years of political conflict, many Bosnian refugees (and others from the former Yugoslavia) stay within their own ethnic or religious groups once in the United States: Serbs, Croats, and Muslims (sometimes called Bosniaks, although not all Bosniaks are Muslim) all have separate communities.
If you are unsure of the background and religion of your former Yugoslavian students, it is a good idea to ask. Generally, Bosniaks are associated with Islam, Serbians with Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Croatians with Catholicism. If you have multiple students or families from this region, be aware of historical mistrust and use the proper terminology when speaking to them.
The culture is collectivist, and individuals frequently live in the same towns or cities their whole lives, forming deep bonds with their friends and neighbors. Facilitating potlucks or activities where parents of students get to meet each other may be comforting in fostering acceptance and a feeling of community.
Women are responsible for all domestic tasks, including cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. Women who work outside the home generally have lower-paying and lower-status jobs than men, although there is not a stigma about equal education and opportunity (except in some rural and/or traditional communities).
Print this Information as a PDF
You can download and print this Yugoslavian learner profile as a PDF and keep it as a resource in your classroom.
Sign up for our online professional development class or find cultural background information about refugees and asylum seekers – useful for professional educators and anyone who wants to support newcomer families.