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War Refugee Turned College Student: How One Rasmussen College Student Overcame Adversity to Achieve Success

Michael ValentichFrom the outside, Michael Valentich looks and sounds like many 24-year-old college students. Having recently earned his Criminal Justice Associate’s degree at the Rockford campus, he decided to continue his education at Rasmussen College by pursuing a bachelor’s degree online, double-majoring in Homeland Security and Investigation/Law Enforcement. Like many students, Valentich is also balancing school with a full time job that only allows him to be home on the weekends. So far, he’s been very successful and is earning a 3.77 Grade Point Average.

Valentich’s recent success is no doubt impressive; how he reached this point in life though is truly inspirational.

Escaping War

Valentich was born in Banja Luka, Bosnia (part of former Yugoslavia) in 1988. Just a few years later, war broke out in Yugoslavia as new countries emerged and declared independence. It’s often described as Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II, characterized by bitter ethnic conflicts.

“The so called ethnic cleansings from Croatian and Bosnian Muslims spread fast,” said Valentich. “Because my family and I were from Croatian descent and Christian Catholic, it was not safe for us to stay in the country.” Valentich and his family escaped the war in 1992. They ended up in Stuttgart, Germany, a foreign place with an unfamiliar language. Valentich says his family enrolled him in school, hoping he could quickly learn to speak German. He also attended Croatian school in order to read and write his native language.

“It was not an easy transition,” said Valentich. “I was an aggressive kid at first, perhaps because of all the violence back home, but I finally calmed down and learned to live in the new culture.”

Starting Over

In the winter of 1999, Valentich and his family decided to move back to Croatia. The war was finally over, and the region was stable, but once again Valentich and his family were forced to start over. Valentich says he only learned the basics of the Croatian language while in Germany, so when he moved back home school was difficult.

“I failed language class,” said Valentich. “I remember staying up countless nights studying and doubting myself. It took some time before I was comfortable writing my homework.” Valentich and his family eventually settled in, but life was hard in Croatia after the war. Jobs were difficult to come by and work that was available paid very little. Valentich says he and his family had no choice but to move again – this time half-way around the world.

Moving to the United States

On February 22, 2001, Valentich and his family landed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. His aunt and uncle lived in the city of Rockford, which would become his new home.

“I felt like we landed on another planet,” said Valentich. “Once again I was faced with the reality that I was in a foreign country, and I couldn’t speak the language.” Just two days after arriving in the United States, Valentich started school, something he calls a complete culture shock. It took several months before Valentich could communicate with his classmates and fully understand what was going on.

Valentich graduated from high school in 2006. He enrolled in a local community college, but Valentich says he quickly lost interest. He started a full time job as an over-the-road truck driver and eventually quit school.

“I was able to afford anything I wanted, but one morning I woke up and my entire attitude about school changed,” said Valentich. “I realized I wasn’t going anywhere with my company. I didn’t just want a job, but a career, and I needed a college degree for that to happen.”

Earning a College Degree

At first, Valentich thought about attending law school, but while researching different degree programs he found Rasmussen College. Valentich went on to earn his Criminal Justice Associate’s degree in a little more than a year – graduating with honors. He only has two quarters left before earning his bachelor’s degree.

“I decided to double major because I can market myself better to potential employers along with my language skills,” said Valentich. Speaking five languages, he hopes these skills will help him find a job with the CIA or FBI following graduation – something he says is now possible after earning a college degree.

Valentich has accomplished a lot in the past 24 years, but earning a college degree is something he says he’s truly proud of. He has this advice for other students.

“College is just like an endurance race,” said Valentich. “Things are going to get tough, but if you stick through it, better times will come. Eventually, you will make it to the end.”

Do you have a success story? We are looking for more students like Valentich to feature on our College Life Blog. If you are interested in sharing your Rasmussen College story or know someone we should speak with, e-mail us

Molly Andersen

Molly Andersen is the Senior Strategic Communications and Brand Engagement Manager at Collegis Education. She's a passionate storyteller who believes in the power of education. Molly is responsible for creating content that educates, engages and inspires current, past and future students at Rasmussen College. 


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