awards the CITATION & “Ruža” Order
to JELENA ŠIPČIĆ,
for being an exceptional “regular girl”
“My story is a small one, in this big story of yours”
Banović Strahinja, in the play “Banović Strahinja” written by Borislav Mihajlović Mihiz, directed by Nikita Milivojević, The Theatre City festival in Budva, 1996.
In these turbulent times we live in here, we gradually stopped appreciating ordinary life, focusing only on the heroic, the world champions, the big stories and Swiss standards. But is genius and international acclaim really necessary for us to praise the effort, perseverance, diligence, ambition and optimism of a regular girl? The girls who, although not necessarily satisfied with what they have, don’t complain-but work, don’t wait but grow, the girls who don’t judge, who learn? They wear make up, have crushes on handsome actors, listen to their mothers, want to get married on time, finish college, do a summer job or two and make it all happen. It might seem unreal to some, maybe even like a vapid 80’s American movie, when a small town girl moves to the city and takes it over. Making her little dream come true. Isn’t that the life we all aspire to have, but forgot to appreciate- in the name of some bigger story?
In an attempt to reconcile the small and the big, we award this CITATION to one such “small story”. The big ones get enough attention already. We chose Jelenu Šipčić for the lead role in the story of a regular girl in Serbia today.
Walking along with Jelena and photographing:: KATARINA MARKOVIĆ
I’m a student that always dreamed of becoming a successful journalist. I dreamt of it since I was little. But I’m just a regular girl, trying to accomplish something.
Together with family:
a happy childhood during war
How much has family influenced you?
My parents always supported me: congratulated me for good grades, for every big step, for getting into college…I did need their advice and support. Their upbringing, the way they taught me how to push through in live, it definitely influenced me. I wouldn’t be what I am now if they hadn’t taught me so. Parents definitely play a big role, I think, in what they teach you and the atmosphere they create in the family. I do see some difference in how me and my friends were brought up.
So who is your family?
My dad is from Montenegro, my mom is from Belgrade. They’re regular people, they have modest jobs, but they always gave their all to their kids. Even if they had very little, we would never feel it, they gave us even more than they had.
You were born in 1993. Did this year of poverty, sanctions and wars, influence you in any way?
I wouldn’t say it did, not significantly. I remember the day the bombing started. I was waiting for my dad to come home from work and my sister and me used to hide so he would go look for us. When he came in, and we were hidden under our bed, the first bomb fell. We heard a loud noise but we didn’t understand what happened. Our parents always protected us from it, they didn’t let us know it was really dangerous. It’s only later, in college, that I realized how scary it was for a lot of people.
What is the picture of your family happiness?
Oh, I had a lot of those, growing up. Christmas, Easter, with extended family. My mom would always respect tradition, we painted eggs, collected herbs…We were always together for holidays, it was always a happy time. Oh and Sunday lunches, we’d have guests or we’d go visit our aunt. We’re very close to our aunts from my mothers side. And my uncles in Montenegro.
What did you play with when you were little?
Mostly Barbie dolls .My sister and I would dress them up, we had kitchen sets…Classic girly stuff.
How many dolls did you have?
Oh, a lot.
Do you still keep them?
Some of them, yes. I give them to my little cousins to play with when they come over.
What’s your favorite fairytale?
Cinderella. I always felt sorry for her.
I knew it! Did you have to bring back A’s in school?
I did. In elementary school, I had to get good grades and behave well and not get into any trouble.
But you were a good girl, so it wasn’t a problem?
No, not the best. I always had excellent grades, but I wasn’t the best. I’d get a B here and there. I wasn’t particularly nerdy, I wouldn’t nervously shake before tests or anything. I was relaxed, in school. I knew I had to study, but I didn’t feel any pressure.
Were you the best student in your class?
Ne, nisam bila najbolja. Bila sam uvek odlična. Ali ne naj, naj. Uvek se potkrade neka četvorka.
Ali nikad nisam bila štreberka, kao tresem se i govorim: “Jao…. sutra je kontrolni!” i slično. Sve to u školi za mene je uvek bilo nekako opušteno. Znala sam da mora da se uči, ali tu nikad nije bilo nekog pritiska.
What were you best at?
Serbian class. I loved it, I was the best at writing essays. That’s where I stood out. I’d read them in front of the entire class, get awards…
What did you want to be when you grow up?
I dreamt of being an actress, like every little girl. Then when I grew up a bit more, I wanted to be on TV, to write or be in front of cameras, something that everyone would see. I remember, when we got a computer, I made magazines- I’d cut up pictures, type out some texts, print them out and assemble a magazine. I found it very entertaining.
The city, college, success and disappointments
Was going to college always implied?
It was. Resnik, where I grew up, was on the outskirts of Belgrade, it had one elementary school but for everything else you had to travel. It was a bit of a long ride, you needed more time to get somewhere then people who lived in the center. But I always felt like I was from Belgrade, it was normal for me to go on to college. I could even choose where.
Was it the same for your friends?
Yes, of course. Almost all of my friends went to study in the city. Of course, I had friends who weren’t good students and didn’t want to get into a good college and go on to have a high-paying job. But that wasn’t something I chose my friends by anyway. It didn’t matter to me if they wanted to study political sciences or go to beauty school.
Why journalism? Because of the essays?
Well it’s not that I was always so certain about it, It changed a lot. But journalism always stayed in the back of my mind. When I was finishing high school, deciding where to go next, I didn’t even know they had a Journalism major at the Faculty of Political Sciences. I wasn’t particularly fond of it at first, I didn’t want to be involved in politics. When it started, almost all the classes were political and I got used to it. It interested me more and more. Then we had internships and I got to experience journalism for what it really is.
Did it turn out better or worse than you expected?
Definitely worse. When we were just starting off we all had this idea of how amazing it is to be a journalist, but we didn’t really know what it entails, or what we actually wanted. When I say we, I mean most of my classmates. We all had this idealistic picture in mind. The first two years we studied politics and theory and we all wanted to do more practical work- write, record…Then when it came to it, we realized it was very hard- taking statements, finding someone to interview. Then we realized journalism itself had plenty of problems- it’s severely underpaid and unappreciated. Nothing was as we expected.
Did your professors point out this less than ideal situation?
Yes, especially the ones whose classes were directly journalistic. They let us know how hard it was, that only the best, most talented make it. They gave us the impression that only the exceptionally talented could be journalists.
What is journalistic talent?
To be able to investigate, find out something new, go deeper than anyone else. You have to have this talent to make it.
Was this disappointing to the students?
It was. They told us to forget about family, get ready for many renouncements. They warned us about it and prepared us. Because really, wherever you go, most editors are like that.
You managed to get a great internship at a TV show on the Radio Television of Serbia?
Whenever we had a famous journalist as a guest speaker at college, and there were a lot, we all wanted to take advantage of the moment, but not everyone was brave enough to come up and ask. I wasn’t either, at first. Then when they left, I would tell myself: you should have asked, you should have fought for it, tried harder. So when Olivera Kovacevic, the host of the show, came, we were already junior year, and it was time. The amphitheater was full, and I waited for a chance to approach her. She thought I wanted to take a photo, like everyone else, but I asked if they were taking interns and she just said yes and gave me her phone number. I was shocked. A few months passed before I called, not because I was nervous, I just had things to finish up at other classes. I knew that when I get started, I would work every day, dedicate myself completely to the show, forget about classes and exams. When I started Senior year, I called Olivera and started my internship.
How useful was it to it you?
It was good to get some experience. I got to see how a serious show is prepared, I met a lot of people, both journalists and guests. But I didn’t get a chance to show what I could do. I just did what they told me, there wasn’t any space for it. Maybe if it was a news program, I could have gotten more opportunities. But I had Olivera’s number and went there, I took the chance I had.
Anything can be accomplished if you work hard
I have this impression that you’re a bit embarrassed about the effort and hard work you put into things, the fact that you did side jobs while studying. Why is that?
I’m not. I did jobs so I could have money for myself, clothes, makeup, pocket money for when I go out. My parents paid for the first year of college. I was still young then, it didn’t even occur to me to start working. It wasn’t easy for them. They asked me to try and get a scholarship for next year. I took it very seriously, I knew how difficult it was for them to collect the money.
I got a scholarship for all the remaining years. The fact that I had side jobs…I knew I couldn’t get a full-time job with the responsibilities I had in college. I made the distinction right away: I could get a serious job and neglect college or I could take college seriously and finish it on time. But I had a lot of needs in the meantime, girls need a lot of things (laughs). My parents couldn’t afford that so I realized I had to do something to afford it myself. I did summer jobs or worked on weekends. I babysat, did some promotional work, cleaned up apartments. I’m not embarrassed, although not everyone sees it like this.
What do others see? Were they sorry for you?
I don’t want it to seem like I want pity. It was normal for me, but not to many. Many of my friends even complained about not having money, but would never take “just any job”. They wouldn’t take jobs they considered to be below them. There were always talks about how to earn some money while being a student, just to afford things like shirts, lipstick. But many of the girls would just talk about it and then change their mind tomorrow, say they can’t, it’s not for them. Whenever I wanted something I got a job, and I would get it in a couple of days. My friends say I’m a person of action, and they’re just not.
Did they judge you for cleaning houses? Did it bother them?
They didn’t exactly judge me but they found it very weird. Why that, you’re better than that, you’re a student, etc. I think it’s normal for a student to take on any decent job, until we can move on to something better. But not everyone shares this opinion.
So, surroundings can cause feelings of shame. Were you ashamed of anything?
Your surroundings define you in a number of ways. Even in primary school, everyone wants to stand out. Then later, in high school, it’s all about what girl has better clothes, which one dyed her hair, which one has the jewelry you don’t. You need to learn to fight it. I never had the problem of feeling ashamed. When it came to looks, I was always a pretty girl and I never had reasons to feel ashamed about how I looked, but I never made fun of the less pretty girls, the ones who were overweight or wore glasses. I wasn’t ashamed of not having much money, maybe because where I came from it was the norm. There were maybe a few kids whose parents had a lot of money but they stood out as a minority. So I don’t have any particular reason to feel shame, I was always okay with who I am.
How important is it that you’re beautiful?
It’s important to me. When you asked about shame- those girls who were less pretty or had a weight problem, they were made ashamed, and I think it influenced them greatly, to be constantly ostracized. It would have been the same for me if I wasn’t considered beautiful enough for these surroundings.
What’s your ticket to success?
Wanting something. When I want something I know I’ll accomplish it. I’ve always worked like that. Maybe that’s why I’m so confident. But if I don’t really want something it’s all pointless.
Do you think there’s perspective for young people in Serbia?
It’s not that bad if you really want something and you’re ready to work for it. I think you can succeed then. Maybe i don’t have the job I want and love right now, I’m not a 100 percent satisfied, but I know I’ll accomplish what I want one day. Even if it’s in five, ten, fifteen years, I know I’ll be satisfied and everything will be worth it.
I used to think as soon as I finish college I’ll get a great position at some company or TV station, but I’ve realized it doesn’t work like that, you need to take it one step at a time.
To stay or to leave?
I would honestly like to leave, but it’s not the only way. I would stay if I had a good job, if i lived nice and secure, why not. Many have managed to do it. It’s possible. But if I get the chance I’d like to go to Germany or Italy or some other European country.
How does one look for a job in Serbia?
It’s good to get an internship while still at college. It’s usually not paid but it gets you into a company. It’s important to make contacts, get to know your profession, so later you have who to turn to. I think you really need to take it one step at a time, and volunteer work is usually the first one. Then you apply for a real job. There’s a lot of useful websites, we had a Career Center at college with lots of good openings and honestly, there are plenty of opportunities and chances, plenty of positions.
You got a job at SBB?
I applied for a vacancy and it’s a low-level job, it’s nothing “wow”, but there’s opportunity to advance. It’s okay for now, it’s not to hard, I get paid, I go to work every day, it suits me. And I’m finishing up with college.
The future: when dreams agree with reality
What’s your plan?
To finish college as soon as possible. I dragged it out a bit. because of internships. But I have to finish it by summer. And I do my job, I’m raising money to maybe get a masters degree, maybe at the Faculty of Organizational Sciences.
Ambitious. So what’s your end goal?
In the beginning, I was certain it’d be in journalism, on television. But that changed and now I’m thinking maybe being a manger at some company, having a decent pay. Anyway, it will be whatever comes up as a good position and enables me to buy a car, go to the seaside, travel, live a nice life.
Do you worry about having to choose between being a mother and having a career?
Maybe I’m too young to talk about it. All my friends are still in college and none of them are mothers. I do think women have it hard, especially those with demanding jobs, it’s very hard to be a mother and keep such a job. There’s always someone younger and more virile, it’s always a struggle, you have to to get back from maternity leave as soon as you can and but your children second, just to keep that job.
Are you interested in politics?
I do talk about it sometimes, especially with friends from college. Not so much with others. We comment, of course, but we’re not too troubled by it. I wasn’t interested in it at all before starting college, didn’t even know about it. Then with college I got more into it, especially international affairs. I even considered getting a masters in it, but then again I don’t see much of a future with that. I thought management was maybe better. I’m still debating it.
Do you vote?
I do, yes. The polling station is nearby, so I go (laughs).
How easy is it to separate yourself from family, both emotionally and financially?
Emotionally it’s not that hard, if you stay in the same city. It’s even good, when you finish college, get a job….it’s normal to move away from your parents. I’d like to rent an apartment in the city center. I often imagine having my own little place, or sharing with my friend or sister. It’s not possible for me right now, financially, but hopefully in a few years it will be.
What do you dream of now?
I’d like to do a job I love, get married, have children, to somehow make it all work and be happy.