Leaving Sarajevo was hard, in many ways. There was of course the physical journey of leaving Bosnia. I had booked my round trip tickets in and out of Europe through Budapest since I had family I wanted to see there. However getting from Sarajevo to Hungary is not as easy as it might seem by looking at a map. My journey included busses, taxis, trains, and trams before I even got within sight of my destination airport. To add to this taxing journey, I got sick during my overnight in Zagreb and just wanted to crawl into a hole instead of lug my oversized suitcase across another international border.
Leaving a country by bus is much different than by plane, watching the country and city you’ve grown to love over the past few months disappear behind you a mile at a time felt more tangible and real than watching a place fade below you in a matter of minutes from an airplane window. I was able to process my departure from Bosnia in real time. This however did not make the journey any easier. On that bus from Sarajevo to Zagreb, I realized I was alone for the first time in months. For the past 8 weeks there was always someone around to talk to, to enjoy a Bosnian coffee with, to take a stroll by the river with. I made many friends this summer, not only within the program, but at my internship, in the city of Sarajevo, and at our hostel.
I had really enjoyed my time in Bosnia, and it was time to face the real world again. This program marked the very end of my graduate school career, the final piece of the puzzle of my masters degree, the crowning jewel of six years of higher education. Unlike the other participants I would not be returning to DU for fall quarter, and but instead to strike out on my job search. I would return to Denver, and still get to see many of my newfound friends but I still couldn’t help to be sad leaving Sarajevo.
I had never really given a whole lot of thought to Sarajevo, Bosnia, or the Balkans until I heard about the program at Korbel, but knew I wanted to go as soon as I saw the poster for the program. I had watched a lonely planet special about the Balkans a few months before heading to graduate school when I was heading to an ill-fated internship in Tunisia that had captured my imagination. It was hard to believe that less than two years later I would be there with my school and an amazing group of people. However at that time I knew very little about the area, I knew vaguely that there had been a war and many bloody atrocities, I knew Sarajevo had hosted a winter Olympics, but I knew nothing about the breath taking beauty of the country, the charm of Sarajevo, or the warmth and resilience of the people there. I could not anticipate the things I would grow to love and appreciate about my time there, both big and small, from being able to get an espresso just around any corner, practicing my Arabic with Naida (the hostel owner), small talk with the cashier at Maison Coco, or getting to walk by history changing sites around the city while running mundane errands. But that is Sarajevo, a cosmopolitan European capital, filled with well-educated, talented, and giving people who saw unspeakable violence and horror in their lives. So many locals asked me “why?” I had come to this city and their country, why Bosnia of all places? As if this were a country with nothing of note to see or do because it didn’t have the party and festival scene that every other person my age that visits Europe is interested in. But, truthfully, it was hard to describe why I chose to come to Bosnia aside from that I like to travel and the glowing reviews of the program Shannon and Marty gave at the info session left an impression on me (and of course the requirements it fulfilled for my degree program). Regardless of what drew me to the program, I am grateful that I decided to go, and that Ann decided to accept me into the program. I am grateful for everyone I met during the summer, the places I got to see, all the new stamps in my passport, the many miles walked in the Peace March, our folly of trusting google maps, to the LBGT people I met that refuse to hide in the face of widespread homophobia, the people who stand up to genocide denial, to Wings of Hope and Maja for having me intern for them, for the women who fight for everyone’s rights, for getting to experience the film festival, for Naida, Seaad, Hassan, Osman, and everyone at the hostel, for everyone in Srebrenica that shared their stories with us, for the endless coffees, and for so much more.
The lesson here is, I guess, if some says “why go to Bosnia?” the answer is “why not?” and if you get the chance to go, do it!