International student graduate finds home at GCU

GCU cybersecurity major Tijana Zlaticanin, who has worked as a model in various countries, traveled from her home country of Montenegro to pursue her education at GCU.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Many European students dream of attending college in the United States, including Tijana (pronounced Tiana) Zlaticanin, from Sutomore, Montenegro.

But actually turning that dream into reality felt like very distant possibility for Zlaticanin, who has traveled everywhere from Paris to Milan and New York to work as a model. Yet, this morning, she received her bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity from Grand Canyon University.

Before she moved to the United States, three of her sisters made the same big move across continents for their education. Two of them attended GCU, and after seeing the opportunities that came their way, Zlaticanin was inspired to follow in their footsteps.

“GCU fit everything I wanted. I was sure I wanted to study cybersecurity. It’s hard to find colleges in cyber, but when I found out GCU had a program, I went on a Discover GCU trip to look more into the program, and I really loved it.”

It took more than a plane ticket for the now GCU graduate to make this happen. A language barrier, culture shock, navigating the immigration system and cost challenges are all things she had to overcome to study in the U.S.

Tijana Zlaticanin waves to family and friends in the audience during today's 9 a.m. Commencement ceremony in GCU Arena.

“GCU treats their international students the same as local students. They provide the same scholarships, programs and plenty of opportunities to be a part of the school.”

Zlaticanin applied for various scholarship and financial aid programs to try to cover as much of her tuition as she could.

She did not want to burden her parents with college expenses because of everything they already had provided for her and her sisters back home. So she took it upon herself to get a job and pay the rest of the uncovered college costs.  

GCU quickly became her home away from home.

“One of my favorite things here has been the intimacy and connectivity of classes. My professors would remember my name quickly after classes started. They would constantly check in and support me. I never felt like I was here to study by myself, but as if we are in this together.”

With the help of her classmates and professors, Zlaticanin felt comforted and supported as she navigated school and adjusted to a new lifestyle.  

“We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Europe, but seeing how that is an American holiday, most students would leave campus, and it would be lonely. GCU’s International Student Office reached out to me at that time because they were organizing a dinner for international students. This was one of my favorite memories because they made sure that we, as international students, felt included when we were so far from home.”

Tijana Zlaticanin receives her diploma from GCU Provost Dr. Randy Gibb during the this morning's Commencement ceremony in GCU Arena.

By getting involved with different programs and clubs, Zlaticanin thrived. She embraced various opportunities and grew as a student and person.

In her time at GCU, she worked as a mentor at GCU Tech Support, participated in the Technology and Cyber club, and served as the vice president of public relations and marketing for both the Honors STEMists and the Honors College Student Advisory Board.

She also worked part time as a program analyst for 360 SOC Inc. in Phoenix and will be a full-time employee there after graduation.

“It sounds like a lot, but when you are passionate about what you do, it’s not as difficult and it doesn’t feel like work,” she said.

GCU doesn't do things like a regular college, it does things like a family.

Tijana Zlaticanin, GCU cybersecurity graduate

“Being surrounded by people such as Dr. Breanna Naegeli, dean of the Honors College, helped me a lot, because it felt like I had someone to look up to. I never felt like I couldn’t approach her because she is the dean, but instead she made herself available and intentional with me and the other students.”

Zlaticanin persisted and pushed through difficulties with the help of her support system at GCU.

“When I had internship and class scheduling conflicts arise, my dean and her team started a whole separate class in the middle of the semester for me and one other girl with the same scheduling issue. They went out of their way to ensure we completed all our requirements. I cried so much.

“GCU doesn’t do things like a regular college, it does things like a family.”

With her family by her side, classmates turned friends, professors and faculty, Zlaticanin turned her college dreams into reality.

From speaking very little English upon her arrival in the country, to excelling in her classes, being involved in multiple clubs and programs, and already having a full-time job after college graduation, Zlaticanin has grown so much in her college years.

“GCU offers a lot of experience. It gave me options I didn’t believe I would ever get. It almost feels like a dream how everything just fit into its place.”

GCU staff writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU News: Sisters from Montenegro find second home at GCU

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GCU News: GCU graduate fulfills late mother's dream of her getting a college degree

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