Danijela Krstic is the first first winner to be born outside the United States in the pageant's 61-year history
Just like any other American student, Danijela Krstic used to run over her phone minutes month after month trying to stay in touch with friends. For her, texting, emailing, calling and even visiting were all an attempt to bridge the distance between her new home in Beaverton and the distant neighborhood where she grew up.
Krstic, the newly crowned and the first foreign-born Miss Oregon, moved to the Beaverton area 10 years ago as a refugee from Bosnia. Now she will spend the next year as an ambassador of the state she now calls home, and is one of 52 contestants who will compete for the Miss America title.
'Every year is amazing, every candidate is amazing,' said Darla Harman, an organizer for the Miss America pageant. 'For Danijela, her life situation makes her so strong and so unique.'
After leaving Bosnia, Krstic's family stayed with close friends, a family who had sponsored their immigration from Bosnia. They shared a house for several months, until her family found an apartment in the Bethany area.
Just weeks after her arrival, both Krstic and her older sister started to attend Sunset High School.
'Nobody spoke my language,' Krstic said. 'Pretty soon I figured out that I had to talk to people somehow. The only way was to learn English.'
It only took her a handful of months to be able to communicate with others.
'I was able to speak and understand people after those four months,' she said.
After Krstic graduated from Sunset, she attended Portland State University for two years and then decided to transfer to the Oregon Institute of Technology, where she received her bachelor's degree in science and dental hygiene.
During school, Krstic entered the local level of the Miss America competition, which she saw as an opportunity to finance her education, and won the title of Miss Klamath County in April 2006.
'That pageant really made me start to look in a new direction,' Krstic said. 'This was the first time I heard about the Miss Oregon competition and how it was so much more than the scholarship money. I wanted to be involved in the community and be a role model, which I was never really sure how to do before.'
When it came to the Miss Oregon pageant, Krstic competed for the title twice before winning this year, becoming the 63rd Miss Oregon in pageant history.
In the competition, she turned heads with a flashy belly dancing routine and chose a platform that held personal significance. She decided to highlight the children's global health crisis that related closely to her degree and volunteer experience.
'I was a child growing up in war-torn Bosnia, and I understood what it felt like not to have basic needs met,' said Krstic. 'I now have a chance in the United States to help the children who are going through the same thing that I went through as a child.'
Krstic has volunteered with organizations UNICEF and Medical Teams International, teaching children how to prevent tooth decay.
'I've gone to schools and shown children how to brush and floss and what they should eat and not eat,' Krstic said. 'It's my career, and it's something I chose to do and something I love.'
Other than promoting children's health care issues, Krstic plans to use her year as Miss Oregon to represent Oregon as best she can. The most important part of her job is being a public ambassador, she said.
As Miss Oregon, she will travel across the state and find out what's unique about the towns and regions she visits.
'When I go to the final Miss America competition and they ask how I best represent Oregon, I will have my experiences from across Oregon in the back of my mind,' Krstic said. 'I can tell them what I've learned from the people I've met during my journey.'
Krstic already made her first public appearance to one of Oregon's small towns, Hermiston. The town in Eastern Oregon has about 15,000 residents.
'I'd never been there, but it felt like a home to me, because the people were so happy to have me there,' she said.
When it comes to describing Oregon at the pageant level, Krstic said that her travels will help her explain the complexities of the state.
'I'm still thinking about how I can put in a sentence or two everything that represents Oregon. It's not just rain. Driving to Hermiston was all desert, but it was beautiful too.'
The Miss America judging and crowning will occur in January in Las Vegas, but Krstic said she's not afraid of the upcoming national competition. She also said she doesn't think her immigration from Bosnia will influence the judges.
'I hope they look at me as an individual,' Krstic said. 'When I'm on that stage, I don't think the judges will be thinking, 'Oh, she's from Bosnia, let's give it to her.' They want to see whether I'm ready for the job.'