Memories: A Student’s Journey on Processing the Summer

I cannot believe this is the last journal. I cannot believe that it has already been 10 weeks since I left. I cannot believe how I grew and changed during my time there. And I cannot decide on how to talk about my experiences.
My reentry process has been chaotic. I was immediately thrust into my domestic internship then school. I went from the beautiful and relaxed hours held in Bosnia to working at least 40 hours a week. Needless to say, I am not sure that I had a moment to catch my breath, let alone process what I experienced abroad. Frankly, this story has not been easily sharable. When asked by family and friends, what they decide to ask about depicts what assumptions they are making, and it feels like they are looking for simple responses. So slowly I have become accustomed to saying “It was wonderful, I highly recommend the Balkans.” While that appeases the request for information, it feels like it does not do my summer justice. However, what can I truly say? My trip was absolutely amazing! It was also exhausting, devastating, disheartening, heart-warming, and joyous. It was the full spectrum of emotions wrapped into eight weeks. But even writing this is difficult. How do I consolidate everything that coming home as met for me within 600 words? How do I summarize my summer in 600 words?
Recently, I had to give a presentation with my International Disaster Psychology cohort about our experiences abroad. I spoke about the pre-departure phase, the moments leading up to leaving. I detailed my dreams and hopes that I had ascribed to this summer internship, of how I imagined I would grow and change. I decided that this was the experience that would determine my future career. However, in the end, the journey was not strictly about meeting these expectations. My journey there was something that I could not predict.
The truth of the matter is that I am still processing what I experienced and how I am reintegrating myself back into my culture. I think about my trip daily, I put remembrances of it throughout my house. I try to honor those who gifted me with their stories but I am nervous that I do not do it justice. Bosnia was an experience that changed my perceptions, how I view myself, how I view my world, and how I view my clinical practice.
To say that I have completed my experience in Bosnia would be inaccurate. I will continue to use what I learned on this experience as I grow in school and beyond. My eight weeks in the country might be over, but I will forever hold this experience in my heart.

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Saying Good-Bye: An account of one student’s thoughts about her summer internship

I truly got lucky by landing at Wings of Hope. To be honest, it sounded like the only option when I first started this summer, I was a psychology student and it was at a psychotherapy center. However, as the summer progressed it became obvious that I was right where I was supposed to be. The first week was slightly overwhelming, not only coming into a new culture; we were sprung into a new workplace style. When it seemed that every individual from every department came to ask us for assistance I felt honored and unprepared. I did not feel qualified to do even half of what was requested. I had barely finished my first year of graduate school; they had been in the field for years. Who was I to give any input on anything?

 

However, here we are eight weeks later. I feel like I have been able to provide adequate feedback and development to the projects that are beneficial to Wings of Hope. I may not have several papers or documents to showcase the work I did, but I feel like I made an impact. I have learned many lessons about what it means to be working internationally, especially at a relatively small and underfunded organization, working with a multicultural team, and working in an area that is still on the road to recovery. I learned more about Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country and as a home. I heard testimonies from those in the war. It felt almost like I did as much talking over coffee as actual work. This would never pass as acceptable in the United States. I also took something more away from the internship, I learned more about my values, my hopes, and my dreams. Talking to individuals about different career paths has a way of influencing your own. I loved my internship and would highly recommend Wings of Hope to any prospective interns.

 

As we reach our final days at our internship site I am starting to think about how to say goodbye to those who have made my eight weeks so meaningful. However, I have realized that it truly isn’t goodbye, rather “until I next time.” All of these individuals have changed me; they were crucial parts of me falling in love with Sarajevo.

 

I have to give many thanks to my supervisor, Maja, without her my experience would have been incredibly different. She gave so much of herself to us, her generosity, dark humor, and support was offered freely daily. She trusted and respected us completely. It was amazing to be thrown in as an intern with such appreciation for our knowledge. I have never experienced this in the states.

 

Wings of Hope is a nonprofit psychotherapy and psycho-education organization. But that description does not fully fit the large capacity that this small center has. Continuously it creates new programs that are challenging social norms and helping one person at a time. Today it was the first place that I have to say goodbye to in Sarajevo. Not goodbye but until next time. The lessons that I have learned from this organization have had an incredible influence on me. It has informed my opinion of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It gifted me with the perspective of life in Sarajevo during the siege. But most importantly it showed me how mental health is treated and perceived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has changed where I want my career to go.

A Heartfelt Thank You: An account of student’s thoughts about the privilege of traveling

I grew up with some amazing opportunities. We traveled all around the West Coast visiting family, traveling on a few international trips within North and Central America, and spending weekends sailing around the Washington coast with family friends. I lived a wonderful childhood and was taught to always try something at least once. However, it really wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I got the ‘wanderlust’ bug. Even then, Bosnia-Herzegovina didn’t make it on that list. As a person with Slovenian roots this region had always interested me, but it seemed too far, too unknown to ever consider going to. Many years and a crazy journey later, I am privileged to say I have spent almost seven weeks in this wonderful country.

 

Within my master’s program, we are required to go on an international internship between our first and second years. We are privileged to have the opportunity for such a program and for so many organizations to have accepted us into their workspace. I had previously considered how surreal and lucky it was for me to be so easily walking around in a foreign-to-me land. However, those thoughts surrounded the marvels of modern aerospace technology and my employment that had allowed for such an experience. However, these were short vacations, ones taken with friends to go see predominately tourist sites. The feelings that I have in Bosnia, especially surrounding privilege, are so much deeper than that. Not only was I here, but I also learned so much more than a mere two weeks vacation could have provided. I spoke with more people than I would have simply walking around town, perhaps speaking to a shop owner or a waiter. I firmly believe Bosnia has proved to be the most generous and hospital country that I have been too.

 

I had had the honor of traveling to many countries prior to this trip, and this summer alone I have been to five countries that were new to me. This past weekend, I went to Korčula, a small island off Croatia. It was beautiful, peaceful, and relatively quiet. As a normally active traveler, I was excited to have the experience of just sitting on the beach and enjoying a book. However, more than that, the Balkans have a rich, integrative history. Having had the chance to experience more of that has been a huge treat. There is diverse knowledge that can create a larger understanding, but having the opportunity to hear multiple perspectives have been something I didn’t even expect when I started this adventure. Including the impact that Bosnia would have as I experienced these other cultures.

 

This is my first time in Europe, but I know it will not be my last. I have loved every minute of this experience; even the lowest lows have brought me insight and perspective. Spending eight weeks in one place changes how one experiences a new environment. You get to build a routine in a new home, but it also can leave room for taking for granted the time you have there. I know there were times when I would come home from work and go straight to my room. I didn’t spend the afternoon in the city but instead on the Internet. But that was also the simple joys; I am comfortable and able to have time to myself. Needless to say, I plan on spending my next 1.5 weeks here in the city living it to the fullest. I plan to enjoy the simple present moments and the larger ones. I will hold onto these memories for the rest of my life and want to ensure I make as many as I can before departing.

Home: An account of one student’s attempt to tell a summer romance using only one photo and 600 words

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This is neither the most beautiful photo I have nor the most powerful. However, this photo is special because it is the first photo I sent to my family back in the United States. This is the view I see almost every day because this is what I see as I walk towards my new home, my eight-week, summer home. This is the view that I love because never before have I felt so instantly comfortable, so instantly at peace, so instantly light. This is the photo that I want to remember forever because this is where I found a new home. Where I leave a piece of my heart. It is the road I take to walk to dinner with my new friends, the road I go to explore Old Town on, and the road to all the adventures we have had here so far. They say a picture can tell a thousand words but does this one? Can you see all that I want to tell you with this single photo?

Recently, a friend and I went to the War Children’s Museum here in Sarajevo. It was a beautiful depiction of resilience, strength, and holding onto hope that only children can provide. The entire museum is a simple display of objects that were important to the children during the war. It ranged from Barbies to bicycles to chocolate wrappers. Each was paired with a description written by the donor. It was short and sweet, but it made the object that much more important. The same applies to this photo for me. It might not look like much on the outside, but to me, this is my symbol of home here in Bosnia.

The weather in this image is not entirely accurate of our time here, but I managed to find a spare moment of sunshine, and it shows it all. The beautiful hills dotted with houses, the city buildings that stretch into the sky, and people milling about. We have learned so much here and so about the atrocities that this little country has faced and the resiliency of its people. Nevertheless, through it all, I have fallen in love with a healing country.

I came to Sarajevo with lots of hopes and dreams of what this summer would be. I anticipated a range of reactions, from struggling and heartbroken, to refreshed and renewed. Needless to say, I have hit them all. However, I never anticipated the love I would feel here and the love I would have for a place so far from where I call home. I have traveled in the past, but never before have I gotten this attached to one place so quickly. To me, this picture is more than a random street corner in Sarajevo. It brings back the copious number of memories from this summer. It is not one that I will probably display on my mantle, but it is one I will keep on my phone and refer to often. It brings me joy, strength, inspiration, and tranquility. It shows me that two emotions often coexist in the same sentence, and remembering that it is okay that they do.

As we are now entering our sixth week here in Sarajevo, I am starting to think more about leaving this beautiful city. I know it will be incredibly difficult to leave and I anticipate myself not wanting to. However, as my life in the U.S. calls, I begin to reflect on what has made this trip memorable and it is a struggle to even begin to put them into words. This picture is certainly not a highlight, but it shows where my home was, where I settled myself in, and where I started to immerse myself in the Bosnian-Herzegovina culture.

Srebrenica Part II: An account of one student’s shift in the perception of the future

I think about my future a lot. It is my favorite subject to dream about. Who will I be in five years or even ten? What will my children look like? Where will I live? How will I spend my free time? Will my passions stay the same? Since starting graduate school I also spend a great deal of time thinking about what I want my career to look like and what I want my legacy to be. I think about these things daily. I regularly make a five-year plan and then adjust it as my life changes. The point is that I have a future I dream about; it brings me hope and excitement. It is relaxing and endless.

This past weekend we got the opportunity to meet with multiple survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide. Each time they told their story they spoke about how they didn’t know if they would have a future, something I had taken for granted. As heartbreaking as that is on its own, it wasn’t even what struck me most in our time with these generous individuals. Instead, I was forever impacted by the perception of their future now. Many of these people had lost all family members: husbands, sons, brothers, and some more. This means that dreams growing old with their partner were no longer achievable. Thoughts of grandkids became painful rather than smile-inducing. Perhaps even more powerful, our guest speakers never talked about hate. No need for revenge. Those who talked of revenge spoke of their current children as their revenge. They lived and had another generation to fill the world with love and peace. I am inspired to live whatever future I have doing the same. My future now holds a new power, a new opportunity, and a new strength. It is a gift that I had taken for granted, that I had played freely with.

It was this moment, more than others in the almost five weeks that I have been here in Bosnia, that I tried to imagine myself in the people of Bosnia’s shoes. I imagined bringing my mother to the United Nations in hopes of protection. Or my three brothers and father being caught in the crossfire; my niece and nephew growing up before their time. I think about the pain and the suffering. I think about the testimonies afterwards and my brain cannot even fully comprehend. They managed to overcome so much and yet still some sit in this continuation of pain. The silent houses and empty spaces at the dinner table are daily reminders of the consequences of this war.

When we went back to Srebrenica I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotions I experienced. After all, I had come before, had done the peace march, and I was still who I had always been. That is not to say I wasn’t affected before, but I wasn’t taken aback like I was on this past visit. The openness, the honesty, and genuine lack of hatred portrayed a beautiful look at what resilience is; Of what strength is. These are not my stories to tell, but I will never forget and I will make sure I spread that message. This was the weekend I knew I left a piece of my heart in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I would like to note, as many of my peers have, that I in no way speak or understand the full extent of this war on the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The individuals that we have spoken to were incredibly gracious with their openness and generosity, for which I will be forever grateful.

Free Write: An account of a student’s weekend excursion to Belgrade

A week ago I was in Srebrenica and this past weekend I was in Belgrade. The stark differences between the two locations were astounding. Visually, you go from wondrous rolling green hills to a gray concrete jungle. Emotionally, I was pulled. I had learned so much about the pain Bosniaks had suffered at the hand of the Serbs, I had seen the sights of the mass grave, and now here I was walking in what almost felt like enemy territory. I was fortunate enough to have spent some time at ICTY where we had had a discussion regarding the need to prosecute the atrocities on an individual level rather than pursuing collective guilt. The first day walking around Belgrade, I continuously had to check my emotions. I was disregarding most things I was seeing because I now felt this immense loyalty to Bosnia. Thankfully, I went on the trip with some amazing individuals that were open to a discussion surrounding this topic. We spent a lot of time talking about how we were in an almost funk-like stage during the first half of the day. I was trying to be present and take in Belgrade’s offerings, but not being as receptive as I think we would have been just a few months ago. It was hard to remember that it was just certain individuals, albeit in the hundreds, that perpetrated the war, not the entire population of Serbia. Many of these individuals were just trying to stay alive themselves. I also had to check in with myself about the fact that to some, this war did not impact their lives as much as others, and as such, the lasting effects might be subtle or non-existent. Our friends that are stationed in Serbia were also great to have with us because they did not have the background and history that we had learned. Their perceptions of Serbia were built solely on their experiences over the past five weeks in the city and exploring. Where we noticed gray, they pointed out the rainbow lights projected onto buildings and fountains. They showed us their favorite bakeries and restaurants, walked the streets to their internship sites. In the end, while I will always hold a place for Bosnia in my heart, Belgrade was not that different than a large, tourist-filled city. This city has its own unique things to offer that have nothing to do with the terror of war. For instance, while visiting the Museum of Flowers or Tito’s grave, I was yet again reminded of the proud history of Yugoslavia. This was a time when everyone stood together under one man.

I am realizing that there is so much more to learn. If I’ve learned anything in my past three weeks participating in Global Practice Bosnia, it is that education is where everything starts. It is how you change minds, open hearts, and build relationships. I would by no means consider myself knowledgeable about the Balkans, Bosnia, or Serbia and am excited by the reminder that I have so much left to discover and understand. I am unsure I will ever get to a point where I feel like I fully understand the region’s complex history. However, more understanding and knowledge can promote peacebuilding, and that is what I personally strive to grow upon. Thanks to ICTY, I understand better the power of collective versus individual guilt and was able to recognize my growing biases while visiting Serbia. However, this need for education expands even into my own daily life and my own country. America has been a part of many wars, almost all of which were outside the borders, but I have no understanding, no knowledge of these fights. I have no emotional draw like I did when I entered Serbia. So what does that mean about my own ignorance?

Srebrenica: An account of the emotional journey along the Peace March

It doesn’t feel like enough. This week I had the amazing privilege and heartache of participating in the 3 days, 60-ish mile Marš Mira, or Peace March. Before I left, I had several concerns, including my ability to physically complete the march and my ability to emotionally process the events. I spoke with my professor regarding how to care for myself and speak to my family about what I was about to witness. Then I actually participated. The entire march is a test in being pulled in every emotional direction possible.

The first day was difficult but not as taxing as I had expected. Physically, it was a long day, but not exponentially hard retrospectively. The most troubling part was coming across the first mass gravesite and the first minefield. Simple signs denoted the mass gravesites, similar to those seen relators’ use during open houses. It was jarring to see such a small notation of such a significant event. It did not feel like enough. Similarly, minefield danger was indicated by yellow tape (like police tape) and a red metal sign not much bigger than a sheet of paper. We had the luxury of knowing where the mines could be, completely comfortable in this fact, and able to stay on the path. Those on the original death march did not. Yet again, my steps did not feel like enough.

During the march, I walked with two wonderful women who had a personal connection to the death march. They are both inspiring women, who were determined to complete this march for those they had lost. I also walked with a few people from my program, who were all open and willing to discuss everything, including regularly trying to get even a glimpse of the perspectives of those fleeing for their lives. However, it was difficult to maintain this perspective. This continued to become more and more challenging as the march continued. I finished day one feeling so proud that I actually made it through, then realizing that I was sitting close to a mass gravesite and again I was overwhelmed that what I had done was not enough.

Day two was by far the most physically difficult day. We had to climb a mountain that was thick with mud. It was distractingly hard, but it also included some of the most heartwarming moments. About halfway up the mountain, we were taken by the hand and helped (the most extreme version of the word helped) up the remainder of the hill. Most didn’t speak English and we communicated through hand gestures that were oblique at best. They were struggling themselves, but still took the time to work together to get others, including myself, up the muddy mess together. Time was no longer an issue. As we were walking into camp, I was at the point of pain where I was ready to cry. Then a fellow marcher, walking for his deceased loved ones, came up and started a distracting conversation. It was the large and simpler gestures that made the day what it was. Even has a write this only a few days later, and the pain started to blur, I will still remember these wonderful and alleviating persons that are the only reason I made it through the day.

The final day of the Peace March was the longest distance we had to complete. It got to the point where all I could do is attempt to keep up with the two women I was walking with and try to start processing what I had seen. Looking back again, it was a blur of steps, beautiful views, and devastating realities.

Many times throughout the three days when we came across a breath-taking vista that showcased the mesmerizing rolling hills of Bosnia there was a realization death was just around the corner. Every time we climbed a hill, we realized that the men had to climb down it too. Every time we tried to check the map to see how much farther camp was, we realized the victims of the Genocide did not even know when an end was in sight. Every time my feet or back hurt, I realized that the men did not have the luxuries of food, water, and good shoes. Every time my friends and I joked, there was this draw to know what the individuals on the death march talked about.

When I walked into the cemetery on the final day, the two women we walked with kept saying they couldn’t believe they made it. I felt the same way but I am sure for entirely different reasons. I was exhausted, hurting, and emotionally drained. But I couldn’t believe we made it, because this now meant I had a bed, a shower, and a hot meal to go back to. I was beyond excited to sit down, with the understanding that I actually had time to rest. Then I looked up and I saw the women, children, and men, connected and separate, welcoming us with somber spirits. They were proud, grateful, and hurting. It snapped me back to the gravity of the original march. The men may have reached Nezuk (our starting place), but they didn’t reach safety and they didn’t have the relief that I felt. They didn’t have beds, hot showers, or meals. They couldn’t call their loved ones like I was able to call mine. The ending was just another page for these brave men, not a finish. Even as I write this I worry about doing the March justice and paying respect to the men, women, and children who lost their lives. I also wanted to demonstrate the sincere honor it was to have been welcomed on this momentous march. I know I have changed as a person, but I have yet to understand the extent. I will never forget and that still does not seem like enough.

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.