First Impressions: An account of a first timer’s first week in Sarajevo

I am not going to lie, it was difficult to get to Sarajevo – lots of flights over the course of several hours. However, as soon as we landed I felt instantly comfortable. Having had just under a week to get acclimated and know the city a bit more, I can confidently say I am overwhelmingly ecstatic to be here. A theory that comes to mind is that of cognitive dissonance, the theory that a person can hold two opposing or inconsistent beliefs, thoughts, or attitudes at one time. I don’t think there is a better way to describe my first reactions to Sarajevo. It is overwhelmingly beautiful! Even with a day full of fog and rain, we were able to take in the landscapes and views of the mountains. Immediately following this, we went to the Sarajevo History Museum, where the poetically curated exhibit on the siege devastated me. I was particularly struck that the series showed individuals, including children, trying to flee sniper fire and the heartbreaking result when they couldn’t. I am both a tourist and a student here. I am an outside observer who can only begin the fathom the oppression that people experienced during and after the war. I have only touched the surface of what I am about to learn and experience.

My first impressions of this city are so much more than I thought I would get. I came in holding high expectations of how this trip would set the trajectory for my future career and dramatically increase my knowledge surrounding the region that my family comes from. I knew I would also be affected, but that was marked under uncontrollable uncertainty. Admittedly I have lofty goals set forth, filled with random activities and sites I plan to visit. However, even after a week spent only briefly walking around my home for the next seven weeks, I feel that I have just barely started to chip away on these goals and yet I am so far from experiencing everything I could be.

On another note, the opportunities that we have already been offered at my internship, Wings of Hope, are incredible. It is amazing to see how willing people are to take me in and trust my opinions and abilities without knowing much more about me than my resume. It’s wonderful to see such an effort towards cooperation and collaboration; I wish it were more widespread. I look forward to diving into the many projects I have been assigned and am determined to meet their high expectations.

Additionally, there are the first impressions of all the wonderful people I am traveling with and the experience of being put in a house with people that I have only met for about 18 hours over the course of 10 weeks. I had little expectation of how the relations and living arrangements would go down. However, I have been surprised by the flexibility and ease that we have worked together. It is true what they say about congregating in the kitchen. After living alone since starting graduate school, I typically eat dinner standing or on the couch, but here, even having separate meals, we still eat together. It has been a game changer to have instant support with seven other individuals who are also experiencing Bosnia for the first time. As we all come from different focuses, it is interesting to see our similar and differing reactions to this city and how we are interpreting our surroundings. It is these individuals that are helping me see things I would never have seen before.

Needless to say, Sarajevo has already provided me with wonderful opportunities and resources. I am finding myself feeling pulled to explore more and more each day. Although I made sure to drink from the infamous fountain in old town to make sure that I will be back, I plan to extend my explorations week by week and absorb as much of the city, culture, and people as I can in the short time I have been allotted.

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