It’s been about a week since the program ended, but just a day since I returned to Denver. I arrived at the airport last night and was greeted by my best friend and a view of the Rocky Mountains. I missed this place.
Leaving Sarajevo on Tuesday was not easy. I cried in the cab. I cried on the plane. Correction: I sobbed on the plane. The sort of muffled/huffy sobs where I bit my bottom lip to try to not bring attention to myself. Before going to Europe this summer, I had not traveled abroad since high school, and I had never studied or worked abroad for an extended period of time. The experience has so much value. Not only did I develop a deep fondness and knowledge of Bosnia, but it also changed and helped me in ways I know I am just beginning to understand.
I feel thankful. Thankful to everyone I met and befriended throughout the summer. I am thankful for Ann and everyone in the program who I lived with the past two months. I learned to rely on these people and was forced to be honest with so many of my feelings that I usually don’t like talking about. We talked about tough stuff. We walked for miles and miles together, became intimately connected to the war and history of Bosnia, discussed war and politics and social issues until I thought perhaps we were beating a dead horse. But it was all for something.
I feel more like myself than I ever have before. Maybe that’s just the jet lag talking. But I hope not. Two years ago, I returned to my undergrad as an employee, and ran into our school’s president several times that fall. I was going through a lot of changes at the time. I had recently dropped out of grad school and spent two months on the Appalachia Trail. I cut all my hair off. I was reevaluating my values and who I wanted to be. Anyways, President Casey told me that we are constantly reinventing ourselves and becoming new people. We go through cycles in life—learning processes—which we think we may never go through again, but we inevitably do. We are (hopefully) constantly becoming the person we want to be.
I feel insignificant. Not in a bad way, but in a there’s-more-to-this-world-than-me-and-myself sort of way. Like my Croatia/Bosnian/American journalist friend Alex says, “look out the window. Not in the mirror”. This summer helped me become more present and aware of the people around me. In my attempt at travel journalism, I had to notice and describe the places around me to people who had potentially never visited before. I became aware of how plaster cracked on the side of a building, or the crooked smile of an old man in Lukomir who laughed with his soul and could tell a story just by the deep crevasses of worn wrinkles that decorated his face.
The same insignificance was also frustrating. On the plane ride back home, I wondered what I had really done—if anything—for Bosnia or for Green Visions. My actions partially felt futile because of the deeper ethnic and political tensions that divide the country. But I would be egotistical to think I could make such an impact in two-months time. Instead, I like to think I supported those who are making the good sustainable changes, and I got to witness this development in such a pivotal and energetic time.
I cannot say enough about how valuable this experience was from me. With greater depth and clarity, I understand some of the struggles of post-conflict reconstruction, and economic development, of refugee services and ethnic divides. Sarajevo is so rich in culture and history, and I’m so happy I had the opportunity to spend two months getting to know the place. Put simply: it’s the coolest. It seems silly to say participating in this program was the best decision of my life. I think our lives, our identities, are made up great decisions. But going to Bosnia affected me so deeply and provided me with experiences that will never be seen on my resume.
Thank you to everyone who made this summer special. The locals of Sarajevo believe that if you drink from the Sebij Fountain in Bascarjia during your visit, that the magical powers of the water will eventually bring you back to Bosnia. I don’t know if it will be because of the water, but I have a feeling I will return to the Balkans again soon.