Hello from Sarajevo to all who will be following my blog! This marks the beginning of a weekly series of entries about my time in Bosnia & Herzegovina in which I will be completing a summer internship for my Master’s degree at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies while also taking part in excursions across the country to learn about the culture and the war which took place in the 1990s.
After my first 5 days in Bosnia, the former Yugoslavian nation has surprised me in many ways. As I am new to this region of Europe, my reality has not quite matched my expectations. From what I have witnessed and personally experienced, the country is much more developed than the image I previously held in my mind. From what I had taken in throughout my life about Bosnia via television, film, literature, and common Eastern European stereotypes, I imagined that things here would be much different. My first impressions however, at least on surface, tell another story. The country seems not to be too far off from Western European standards of living. I realize that much of this could be due to the fact that we are staying in a hostel in a touristy part of the city. Nevertheless, the low-quality infrastructure that I was expecting is nowhere to be found. Characteristics of developing countries that I have visited, such as India, Nepal and Peru (limited water, weak electricity, chaotic traffic conditions, poor sanitation etc) are not present at all (minus the literal hole in the ground toilet in the small village of Lukomir). Additionally, I have been surprised by the level of English of many whom I have met. While some, such as taxi drivers and employees in grocery stores seem to only speak Bosnian, it has not been too difficult to find others who are conversational or even fluent in my native tongue.
Geographically, Bosnia & Herzegovina is stunning. The drive between the cities of Mostar and Sarajevo is breathtaking and our group hike to the remote village of Lukomir was unbelievable. The incredibly lush, green mountains reminded me very much of my time in the alps of Austria and the Andes of Peru. One can only help but feel minuscule as they tower over all human creations and dominate the horizon. The architecture in the towns and cities is simple but aesthetically pleasing. Most homes feature orange tile roofs and are plain white, but look gorgeous against the verdant backdrop. Sarajevo itself is a fascinating juxtaposition of a not-too-distant history of conflict paired with the majestic scenery of the hills that surround the city.
The Bosnian people have been warm and inviting, willing to share a great deal of helpful information about their country and are quite talkative. With the eventful history of course, there is a lot to tell! I have been attempting to improve my elementary Bosnian language skills through practice with waiters, bartenders and tour guides but I realize that I have a very long way to go. I look forward to discovering more about this country, its past and its people over the next seven weeks.