Final thoughts on a life-changing experience

As the summer has flown by and is starting to come to an end, I sit here to gather my final reflections about my time in Bosnia and realize that not many days have gone by that I haven’t thought about what I experienced in that special country. The people we spent time with, the friendly faces that met us with open arms, the willingness they had to openly share their stories of tragedy, trauma and suffering –and most importantly: resilience. It was truly an experience unlike an other I have ever had.

As is standard when returning from a trip abroad, many friends and family members asked me about my time in Eastern Europe. What was it like? What did you do? Who did you meet? What did you see? And although each time I found myself somewhat giving a varied response, the overwhelming reality of facing these questions time and time again was that I found it very difficult to put words to what we experienced. In that way, I stopped talking about it for a while. I think it was easy for people who are closest to me to pick up on my hesitation to discuss it, too. It’s not an easy conversation, nor one that can be had in a corner of a room at a loud party or easily done around a dinner table with multiple conversations simultaneously taking place. That said, just in the last few weeks, I found myself more willing to put in the time, effort and somewhat draining energy (honestly) that it can take to really give another a good idea of what the experience was like. How it changed the way I look at things. And why.

Although I often find the experiential learning experience hard to revisit, it is one that I wouldn’t change or give up for just about anything — and know will have an impact on my career as a social worker, and more importantly, a human being trying to navigate the somewhat terrifying (politically and otherwise) world we live in. I also recognize the importance of sitting with just why it is so difficult to revisit, and continue to put things in perspective: the two weeks we spent there were fast, often emotionally draining and physically exhausting but my experience was only that way because of the traumatic, life-changing (or ending) events that these Bosnian folks experienced first-hand. There is no comparison and I count myself extremely lucky that I was able to get a better look into the lives of these amazing people because of Ann’s partner/friendships with them over the years, and their willingness to share with us. It’s got to be difficult, I mean think about it. I say I find it difficult to revisit hearing about their stories –imagine how it must feel for them to revisit the horrors, as they recount the experiences and losses for us. It truly takes a selfless and special type of person to be willing to do this. I recognize this and don’t take it for granted. Because reading about the war, the genocide, and all of the atrocities that took place is one thing, right? But being given the opportunity to hear about these topics from those who experienced it is entirely different. And I know that, and find it especially challenging to try to do those voices justice by recounting their stories to others, per their requests. But as promised, I am going to try. It’s truly the least I — and we all–can do. Not just throughout the rest of the summer, but hopefully for the rest of my years, as this experience and those stories are some that I know I will not soon forget.

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