Shortly after arriving back from Bosnia, I am left to synthesize the experience. With some time to think through my experience and to try to explain exactly why this opportunity to visit and intern was one of the best experiences in my life (needless to say, this simple communication was difficult and I am not entirely sure I have it down yet). Memories keep flooding back: watching others cook for the Bosnian-American party while I grated cheese, cooking in the kitchen of the hostel, watching two others create a delicious cake once again in the hostel kitchen, eating tomatoes like apples and so on. I keep thinking about how to come back. Simply put, Bosnia and Herzegovina sticks with you.
I am careful not romanticize about the country. Certainly there are deep structural/political/ethnic divisions that are difficult, to say the least, to overcome. I definitely spent time questioning what I was doing there; what impact was I truly having (two months is surely not enough to impact any situation let alone one as complicated as Bosnia.) – the standard questions of any international post-conflict NGO internships (and possibly similar work).
These are questions that take years to undertake answering, and will, most likely, make me undergo yet another bout of naval-gazing, as my father always called it (he has adapted the term from its original meaning half the times). This naval-gazing is self-centered (focused on who I am and how I want to continue my democratization/state-building/post-conflict studies) and hopefully useful, not just some self-aggrandizing or egotistical musings. Whatever the personal and professional impact, it is clear that I was given the opportunity to watch a non-governmental organization to try and change the political realities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The time and effort the small office I was at was inspiring. I am honored to have been given a chance to help, even if the only impact I had was my access through DU of academic journals and literally being another hand in the office to relieve a small portion of the pressure. It will, alongside the individuals we have met, their stories, and remain with me and will impact my future in ways, obviously, I can only being to hint at.
As cliché as this sounds, it has been an experience I will never forget. Even if my plans I am hatching to return to the area are successful, it is definitely something that will never be repeated. Much of that is thanks to our coordinator Ann and everything she did for us, our co-coordinators who tried their best to give us the experience they had the previous year and share their love of the country and the region, those who took us under wing at their organizations with open arms immediately, those we have met, and, of course, the other students we have traveled with. Without any of these, I could easily see my experience being different, much different.
While I realize any trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, let alone Sarajevo, will be different, I view my future work in the region as built upon this base. I am looking forward to this next step in life and to, at the very least, share this wonderfully complex country with others in my life.
Thanks everyone for the wonderful memories.