I came to Bosnia this summer to intern. I was really counting on eight weeks in a post-war country to give me the insight into human rights violations and reconciliation that would make me an invaluable asset to organizations next year when I begin my quest for a job. I certainly could’ve spent a lot less money to find an internship in the United States that would’ve satisfied the requirements set by Korbel, but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to get a new experience, which would undoubtedly set me apart from those that I will be competing with for a job.
This week’s blog post is supposed to be about perspective, and since it is the only thing that I can think about these days, I’m dedicating mine to the perspective of a Yankee trying desperately to get work experience in Bosnia. It seems to be nearly impossible. I was so eager to get as much experience as possible that I requested to have two internships while I am here, instead of the standard one. I wanted to make sure that I was constantly busy and learning more than I could imagine. Even with my two official internships, I have e-mailed other organizations here on my own and asked (pleaded?) them if they need any assistance.
The Bosnian Work Ethic is an interesting beast. Before I got here, I was imagining it to be similar to what us Yankees think about the speed of things in the South…kind of slow, not in any real rush to get things done, but eventually it all gets accomplished. I have a hard time dealing with that when I visit my mom in Virginia, but I had prepared myself for two months of it. Well, it’s even more extreme here. Forget getting things done…it doesn’t seem that there is anything to do. For one of my internships, I only spend four hours a day there, twice a week. My first day, I was given half-an-hour of work to do. The rest was spent consuming coffee.
I am not saying that taking a break is a bad thing. But when the whole day is spent drinking coffee…what is there to take a break from? The beauty of the American coffee break, to my mind, is that it gives you a break from work. Here, it’s almost the opposite – work is the break from drinking coffee.
I really do understand the value of slowing down and appreciating life more. I’ve begun to do that even in Denver after moving there from Boston. Life goes at a different pace, and it’s really pretty nice. But being from New England, life seems to be almost at a standstill here. Plenty of people have told me to appreciate it, but I’m having a hard time seeing it that way. For instance, Foreign Policy magazine recently released the 2012 Failed States Index (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/failed_states_index_2012_interactive). They listed Bosnia and Herzegovina as being ‘In Danger’ of becoming a failed state. The country has an unemployment rate of somewhere between 40-50%. Following our visit to the US Embassy, we know that the United States is trying to push BiH towards EU and NATO membership, but the likelihood of either one doesn’t seem to be terribly positive.
To me, there’s a very evident correlation here. People spend time drinking coffee and chatting, and not working. Therefore, their economy is failing. It doesn’t seem like a complicated conclusion to draw. Of course, this is far too simplistic a reason to explain it all away, but it’s got to have an impact. If people here spent all day doing work and being productive in the Yankee American sense, who knows where their country would be. I have a hard time accepting that the Bosnian way of doing things is superior to the American way. Of course, talk to a Bosnian and they’ll ask why we’re here since our own country is failing miserably, in their point of view.