By Emily Rushton
Alijana Kahriman, administrative officer for UIT University Support Services (USS), just completed her master’s degree in gerontology at the University of Utah – and she’s got a bright future ahead of her.
Kahriman’s undergraduate work focused on human development, and while studying the human lifespan, she became intrigued by end of life and older adulthood – an interest that stemmed from being raised by her grandparents, as well as taking care of her grandma, who was diagnosed with dementia while Kahriman was in high school.
Additionally, before being hired with UIT, Kahriman worked for the Utah Diabetes & Endocrinology Center, occasionally assisting with translation work for older Bosnian patients. She finally decided on gerontology for her master’s degree, because, as she said, “Everywhere I turned, I was interacting with older adults.”
Kahriman successfully defended her thesis, titled “Social Isolation Among Older Non-English-Speaking Bosnian Refugees,” on July 19, 2017.
“It passed,” she said. “Everything went great.”
In the thesis, Kahriman proposed the creation of an ongoing club for Bosnian elders that would take place at a senior center once a month, facilitated and sustained by the Bosnian participants, with the goal to reduce the prevalence of social isolation among the older Bosnian refugee population. The idea was so well-received that she’s been asked to present the proposal to Salt Lake County Aging Services for implementation.
The idea originated from her own experience as a Bosnian refugee, as well as the experiences she’s witnessed of older Bosnian refugees in her life. During the Bosnian War, Kahriman’s parents left Bosnia for a refugee camp in Austria, before moving to Germany, where Kahriman was born. She, her parents, and her older brother immigrated to Utah, where some relatives already lived, in 1998. Kahriman was just five years old.
“I remember getting off the flight, and all of these people were hugging and kissing me, and I didn’t know who these people were,” she said. “I mostly spoke German, and no one else spoke German, so nobody knew what I was saying.”
She remembers starting kindergarten, being fluent only in German and Bosnian, and relying on hand signals to communicate what she needed – until she learned English, thanks to ESL classes. A majority of older Bosnian refugees, however, never had the same opportunity.
“I just noticed that there’s a prevalence of social isolation among that population,” said Kahriman. “They can go days without talking to anyone. The clients I’m working with now, sometimes I’m the only phone call that they get.”
Kahriman still visits Bosnia from time to time.
“I really like being there. It’s kind of weird when I walk through the city that my entire family is from,” she said. “This is where I would’ve been raised. This is where I would’ve been if the war hadn’t happened.”
In her spare time, Kahriman loves hanging out with her dog and doing anything outdoors – hiking, canyoneering, rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, and ice climbing are just some of her many interests. And now that she’s completed her master’s degree, Kahriman is considering going back for her doctorate – most likely in nursing or public health.
“Ultimately I would just like to do research. I wouldn’t mind being a professor,” she said.
For now, though, she’s just ready to take a break and relax for a while.
“That’s the million-dollar question: ‘what are you going to do now?’” she said, laughing. “And I’m like, I don’t know, live? Have free time? I’m not in a big rush.”