I don’t enjoy it when people ask me, “how was Bosnia?” I’m still figuring it out.

Some certainties exist: I am changed. I have learned. I have grown. I have felt. I remember what I stand for, and what I can and cannot abide as someone whose career may well involve waging war. I can connect the policies and conflicts I entertain in the classroom with the names, faces, and personalities of the people they affect. There’s a renewed sense of purpose, direction. Patience. A slowing of pace in favor of being present, sensing and absorbing my environment. I find comfort in silence I once found terrifying.

It’s all still sights and sounds.












My mind is a strange beast; I have convinced myself that concerted attempts at closure will somehow do away with such a striking, meaningful experience.


Dovidjenja, Sarajevo. Vidimo se uskoro.


Samo a cure

“Meddling is the only way to stay relevant.”
— Heinrich Böll

“In high school I was always like my dad: I’m very loud. I always knew there was something wrong with being treated as less because I’m a woman.” Marija Vuletić, proud feminist, vegan, CrossFit trainee, and project coordinator at CURE Foundation, works to expand and solidify networks between women and women’s rights organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and throughout the Balkans. At just 26 years old, Marija has studied in the United States and advocated for women’s and LBT rights on three continents. My internship supports me reaching out to interview her, and we chat—rather, she speaks, and I earnestly listen—while a thunderstorm rattles the windows.

CURE, after the Bosnian slang term for “girls,” was formed in Sarajevo in 2005 and focuses its work on feminist advocacy, networking, education, and research. Marija is one of an all-female team of nine. She reports that the political climate regarding gender and sexual equality in BiH is hostile and largely unchanged since the formation of the postwar government in Dayton in 1996. Bosnian women face discrimination in employment, housing, education, participation in government, and access to healthcare.[1] “It’s the same as in primitive communities,” Marija exclaims. “The men are killing animals and the women are washing dishes—what the hell? It’s 2016. We’re at the same level.” Gender-based violence is prevalent, and dedicated government resources are minimal. LBT women face dual prejudice on the basis of their gender and sexual orientation, as do Roma women regarding their ethnicity.

In 2016, women continue to be grossly underrepresented in elected office at the state, entity, and cantonal levels, and the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Parliament FBiH) has failed to adequately fund its handful of remaining safe houses for survivors of domestic violence.[2] Marija and others point to a corrupt and incompetent executive, widespread patriarchy, and an absence of safe public discourse on these issues as current obstacles to progress.

Her wrists are stacked with rubber bracelets of every color, and her long, acrylic nails with glittery green polish brandish wildly as she speaks. She is unapologetically passionate, positive, and blunt, but also humble, periodically apologizing for her enthusiasm with comments like “sorry, I swear I’ll shut up soon.”

“I’m a very happy feminist. What’s different about me is that I have a positive story regarding my identity, my mom, and everything I’ve been through with my sexuality.”

Marija went to school in Sarajevo, and played piano. She came out as a lesbian when she was 15, which she says was an uncharacteristically bearable experience. “I outed myself to people who mattered to me.” Her mom was and remains supportive. She thinks her dad knows, but he doesn’t ask questions. “I see him twice a week, and he never asks me if I have a boyfriend. He had two bad marriages, so he just tells me ‘don’t get married.’ Please don’t get married, everything else is fine.”

“There were a couple of very bad things people said behind my back, but no one ever said it to my face. There was this one boy that told me once that I couldn’t find a boyfriend, and that’s why I was a lesbian, but he liked me.” We pause to crack up at this petty jealousy, but are quite aware that Bosnia’s pervasive anti-LGBTI sentiment isn’t the slightest bit funny. A 2013 public opinion survey of LGBTI individuals, 46 percent of whom identified as female, found that one in three faces discrimination based on their sexual orientation, and that in 98.3 percent of such cases, the discrimination goes unreported.[3] Public perception of homosexuality is alarmingly regressive; 42.2 percent of Bosnians deemed it unacceptable to have a homosexual individual as their neighbor, boss, colleague, or close friend, and 56.6 percent of Bosnians feel that homosexuality can and should be cured.[4]

Marija says she discovered feminism by accident. When she was a teenager, she and a friend embarked on a mission to see all of the museums in Sarajevo. At one stop, she was approached by a woman, who asked her if she was there for PitchWise.[5] The woman, a lesbian activist from Belgrade, told her about the festival, which since 2006 has brought women’s rights activists, female artists, and feminists together to celebrate feminists’ political engagement in the arts. Marija’s instinctual understanding of injustices experienced by women impressed her. “From that day, when I came there, I never left. This feeling that I had when I met her and when she talked to me, I still have that feeling today.”

She got a scholarship to study in the United States, and spent a year at University of Georgia taking courses in LGBT and women’s studies. In 2013, she earned her bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature at the Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo, and went on to finish a master’s degree there as well.

Since she’d been engaged in their work for several years, CURE was a natural place for Marija, and she loves her job. She travels, speaking and hosting workshops on LBT and women’s issues throughout the Balkans (and once, South Africa). Facing patriarchy head on in the social arena, she explains, is hard, but the positive reception she’s received speaking in front of feminists has empowered her to speak in front of larger, unreceptive audiences. “People recognize my activism so they call me to speak. I never had the courage to talk because—still I don’t know enough. People look at you with such importance, and that empowers you to speak in front of bigger groups…groups that are hostile…with the same attitude.”

“People call me a power lesbian. I’m trying to explain to them, ‘I don’t think I’m powerful.’ I don’t think I have power because I’m a woman here [in Bosnia], I can’t get married to my girlfriend, I don’t have any rights. I don’t have anything.”

“In the community, people think you are powerful because you speak your mind.” But what makes her feel powerful being able to bring her girlfriend home without issue. “And then when I have that positive experience,” she says, “people are more likely to think positively about outing themselves.” At CURE’s open workshops, some attendees admit that they’re lesbian out loud for the first time in their lives. She takes joy in helping them embrace their identity in a safe environment. “Some of them never want to come back. We never judge, and anytime a woman wants to come back, she’s always welcome.”

“Bosnia has amazing laws,” Marija says emphatically. “Implementation of those laws? zero.” Some positive change has been effected on paper, but has fallen through in practice. In 2010, the Law on Gender Equality was amended to require governmental bodies at the state, entity, cantonal and municipal levels to meet a 40 percent quota for female representation in elected office (Article 20, 2).[6] However, following the most recent election cycle, only 19.9 percent of elected positions at all levels of government were held by women, falling short of 2002’s 20.2 percent record.[7] That’s more than halfway to go to hit the current legal standard. In 2013, the Electoral Law (of BiH was also reformed. It now mandates 40 percent of the less-represented gender on electoral lists (i.e., female candidates necessary for elections to take place).[8]

The problem with both of these reforms is, not just 40 percent of Bosnians are women: 51 percent are.[9] Why do electoral reforms fail to raise the quota to ensure that the majority gender of Bosnia’s constituency is equally represented?

Marija wants quality over quantity, but feels the quota is indispensable—women need something to work towards. This year’s proposed changes to the reformed Electoral Law of BiH include the abolishment of the mandatory sorting on electoral lists for the underrepresented gender, reducing the already inadequate legal requirements for gender equity in elections.[10]

What should women who do hold positions of authority in politics be saying? “I just want them to freaking say something.” Marija implores female politicians to prioritize gender equality on their agendas, and to be wise about the facts and how they are going to use their position as a woman to further the cause. Gender is an inflammatory subject in Bosnian politics, and needs to be approached strategically. “Sometimes you need to find the right moment. You need to be smart. Feminism is a bad, bad, word here. They would get more use of a lighter term.”

Marija believes that the way forward for civil society is to teach women to come together and stop dividing themselves into categories. “Women were raised to think badly about themselves, and to think badly about other women, and to consider other women as their competition. So how can you expect a woman who was living through that for 20-25 years, to all of a sudden realize that maybe she should be in solidarity with a woman instead of being against her?” But, this judgement of other women undercuts the social and organizational cohesion required to effectively work toward gender equality, feeding the intractability of the problem. “Don’t judge women. If we don’t get together, we’re going to be divided. And if we’re divided, we’re conquered.”

She says Bosnian women often aren’t willing to come forward and engage in feminist activism. Due to a hostile environment and subsequent, understandable lack of will, they wait for other women to do it first. CURE has seen promising turnout for their workshops, but this discussion is confined to a safe space rather than contributing to public education on gender equality. So how do we get the first woman to talk out in the open?

Marija’s answer: Local ownership of the solution. “We educate them and give them tools in order for them to use them. They can always contact us, call us, whatever they need…but we can’t do it for them.” There have been several success stories of workshops bearing activists, like one rural woman who traveled far to attend, and when she returned, spoke with all the women in her village to research and produce an article for a CURE publication.[11] Bosnian women simply need to recognize their strength, and lend it to one another.

[1] Saša Gavrić, Inela Hadžić, Emina Bošnjak, Maida Zagorac, Adrijana Hanušić, and Meliha Lekić, The Orange Report 2016: Annual Report on the State of Women’s Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo: Sarajevo Open Centre, February 2016.

[2] Gavrić, Hadžić, Bošnjak, Zagorac, Hanušić, and Lekić, 9-11.

[3] Masha Durkalić, My Voice Echoes…, Sarajevo: Fondacija CURE, 2015, 64.

[4] Jasmina Čaušević, Numbers of Life: An Analysis of the results of survey of the Needs of LGBT Persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo: Sarajevo Open Center, 2013, 14.

[5] For more information on PitchWise Festival, see

[6] Law on Gender Equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Consolidated Version, Article 20(2) (2010), retrieved from:

[7] Gavrić, Hadžić, Bošnjak, Zagorac, Hanušić, and Lekić, 30.

[8] Electoral Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Article 4(19).

[9] Agency for Statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Census of Population, Households and Dwellings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2013: Final Results, June 2016, 23-25.

[10] Women Citizens for Constitutional Reform, “Women Citizens for Constitutional Reform” against the proposed amendments to the Election Law of BiH,” April 27, 2016. Available at

[11] Durkalić, 25-29.


Lasting Impressions

Missing this place. Our home for three months. You can see the sign for our hostel, Residence Rooms, on the left. 

It almost feels weird to be back. Especially after spending the entire summer romanticizing the idea of finally being able to come “home.” Instead of feeling a sense of overwhelming relief and comfort, I feel foreign and misplaced. Like someone has plucked me from an amazing adventure of new beginnings and strange people and has filtered me back into a fishbowl of practicality and boring, mundane routines. To have experienced so much personal growth in only three short months is a true gift. I am so thankful to have been able to have the opportunity to experience Bosnia this summer with the Global Practice Bosnia Program.

Whenever people ask me “How was Bosnia?” I’m never quite sure what to say. Is there even a word to explain my experience? Of course it was positive overall, but there were definitely some moments of devastating sadness. We were confronted with the realities of war and acquainted with the survivors of a genocide. Not every moment was full of light and happiness. Seeing the remains of those who were killed in Srebrenica, meeting Saliha and the Bone Man, standing amongst the final resting spots of thousands at Potochari–these are some of the saddest yet most profound moments of my life. These memories will stay with me forever. If there is one thing I learned in Bosnia, it is that you can take away just as much from something awful as you can from something good. That in the end, we can learn from the horrors and evil parts of humanity, and at least attempt to prevent them from happening again.

“How was Bosnia?” I can’t ever answer this question honestly. Because being honest means reopening wounds and reliving memories I do not want to relive. It means explaining things I wish I didn’t have to, and telling stories for those who never lived to tell them themselves. It almost always means tears. Only my fiancé, my parents, and my closest friends know the intimate details about my time in Bosnia. And of course, the people that were there.

Before we began this trip, I didn’t ever think that Bosnia (of all places!) would be able to weasel itself into my heart and impact me the way other people had claimed it did for them. Fortunately, I was wrong. Bosnia has burrowed itself deep into my heart and soul, and whether I like it or not, it is now a part of me. I know I’ll be back someday. After all, I drank from the Sebilj.



Reflections on reentry

I have admittedly been putting off this blog since I got back to the States. While my time in Bosnia was a truly transformative experience, it was also very difficult. My schedule got pretty busy once I returned to Denver, and I haven’t done a great job of processing my experiences because I’ve had so many other things to focus on.

I didn’t really think about my experiences much in the first couple of weeks after getting back home. My partner and I didn’t talk about it at all; I didn’t really want to burden her any more than I already had. People would ask me about my summer and I would find ways to dodge the question. Not because I thought they “wouldn’t get it” or because I didn’t want to talk about it. I just didn’t know what to say. It’s not the kind of experience you can easily explain. And i would think about responding more positively and how that wouldn’t really capture my experience, but also not wanting to focus too much on the negative. Even thinking about how to talk about it was kind of a source of stress. The one time I went into detail about my experience was with my internship supervisor. He asked about “the work” so I was able to focus on my experiences at Wings of Hope.

I think about Bosnia more and more as time has gone on. I often think about the dark things, and I have had some dreams that suggest that these experiences are still firmly engrained in my subconscious. But I have thought about the good times as well, and have encouraged people to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I continue to be fascinated by the engrained problems that exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina; I am doing an independent study exploring these issues with Ann this quarter and next. But I do often struggle with how to incorporate my experiences in Bosnia into my work around social justice issues in Denver. I work on issues that sometimes feel as intractable as those that exist in Bosnia, but ultimately the pathway toward justice and progress seems more attainable here. That is good in many ways, the least of which is that is is not nearly as hopeless and it is not as easy to get discouraged. At the same time, given the circumstances of my return to school, I have struggled with the idea that I may have invested all this money (and spent weeks away from my partner) for something that may not have helped my “professional development.” I know that I grew very much as an individual, and I would like to do work with an international or global perspective at some point, so I know that I will draw upon this experience in the future. But sometimes I still wonder what it all meant, and what exactly I will use from my experiences moving forward.

Ultimately I am very happy I spent the summer in Bosnia. It was a very difficult in many ways, but I had experiences I never could have had otherwise and I feel that it changed me as a person. I am just not sure exactly how, or how it will continue to impact me in the future, but I am glad it happened.

Getting Mostari


Hop on the road southwest from Sarajevo and the rolling, green landscape dries up, becoming something rockier and more reminiscent of Colorado. The Neretva snakes under and alongside the highway. Vineyards emerge. You’d think the sun grew a thousand times larger, the heat is so magnified.

Mostar seems older than the home base behind us. Its narrow, cobblestone streets require some careful maneuvering; even dry, their soapy limestone is a formidable challenge. The river bisects town, and the landmark bridge, connecting two original towers at each of its sides, stands proudly intact after its 2004 UNESCO reboot. Just as its been for centuries, young men hover over its rails and take the 78-foot drop into the mere 15 feet of water below. It’s theatrical, and terrifying. We grab lunch at the riverside, attempting to catch some video. When the sun goes down, old town becomes irresistibly romantic.


Initially, there was a typical sense of indifference to us as foreigners. But when we made our way to the river bank and started to take things in, we noticed Mostar had wrapped its arms around us.

The city takes its name from the word most, meaning bridge. The mostari, or bridge keepers, are its people. And apparently, they live to swim, hang out on the river bank, and jump off of things. (Is it too late to change my life plan?) The annual bridge diving competition was in swing, and thousands of people from all over Bosnia and the world were gathered to swim, dive off the rocks, ingest healthy amounts of beer, dance, and watch as the most skilled of the locals—and some brave visitors—jumped the bridge. A graceful, eagle-approaching-its kill form seemed to earn the highest marks. Mostaris on the bank were unbelievably friendly, upbeat, and generous; food and drink were shared freely. I am cheered on by a chorus of strangers each time I dive off the bank, and despite my significant fear of heights, find myself jumping—or, rather, falling—off the 45-foot practice platform. Of all moments in my experience in this country, I have never felt more welcome, more infected by positivity, than I do now.

Sure, there’s no shortage of ethnic tension here. The city’s Bosniak and Croat majorities defiantly blare the adhan and church bells at each other throughout the day. Telephone poles are plastered with obituary flyers, always in Muslim and Catholic pairs, to illustrate an equality of loss. Elections haven’t been held here in eight years, though they were supposed to in 2008 and 2014, due to strong nationalist agendas in both parties and Croatian meddling in local politics. But there’s this sense of enduring local pride here that I don’t feel in Sarajevo, Srebrenica, or Tuzla. It’s joyous. It’s hopeful. It’s the stuff that civil society is built of.

Srebrenica (AKA “Don’t Lose Your Watermelon”)

The following is an excerpt of my brain on genocide.

Anger. Grief. Shock. They crossed paths in my chest. Then, shots fired on screen, a dozen civilians drop dead in a ditch, wrists crudely bound with wire. In that instant, the tears I’d been stifling froze. I snapped back to numb.

The group fanned out in the grass, taking a solitary moment to absorb what we’d seen. I found a concrete block and planted myself upon it. I stared forward. Wildflowers speckled the lawn outside the battery factory, where thousands of men, women and children waited, frightened, seeking a shelter they wouldn’t be given. I could see them. I wondered if any of the men I’d just seen murdered were among the crowd.

My lenses started separating from my eyes, and I realized I hadn’t blinked in minutes. Hasan beckoned us towards the vans; we were on too tight of a schedule for reaction time. We moved forward in silence. I hate this sensation…to have such paradoxical and massive emotions stuck in your chest. You feel like you’re going to explode, but your survival instinct won’t allow it. You’re just frozen. I carried the weight towards the van.

Then, Arista bent down and picked one of the wildflowers in the grass. Suddenly finding myself capable of movements other than those instructed, I followed suit. It was bright yellow, like sunshine. Its petals were soft. We packed into the van to head towards Ramiz—the bone man—‘s house outside Bratunac. I gripped the flower’s stem with both hands, and fixed my gaze on it. As long as I’m staring at this beautiful thing, I thought—I think, because I wasn’t really thinking at all—I could block out what I’d just seen.

Then, three loud thuds woke me from my stupor: The trunk door of the van had open due to beast of a pothole in the poorly paved road, and the two enormous watermelons our driver had kindly bought for us that morning hit the pavement and began rolling wildly down the hill. We all looked up and stopped for a second, obligated to do something about it but fairly certain they were gone.

The driver, however, was quite unwilling to give up as easily as we had. He shoved the van in park and chased the melons through a dense thicket of blackberry bushes; Arista and Eric hopped out to help. 15 feet or so down the hill, our men down were recovered—miraculously, there were no casualties. The driver came back to the van with this enormous grin on his face, holding the melon up in triumph like an Olympian.

And the entire van burst into raucous, unadulterated, sincere laughter. The kind where if there was enough room, I’d be banging the floor with my fist. Like my body was encased in some kind of poisonous wax, the pessimism and sadness melted off my body as it shook. We arrived at Ramiz’s with tears in our eyes but smiles on our faces. Seeing that we needed a break before he began, our two adoring drivers gleefully chopped up the watermelon and forced it, piece after piece, into our hands. Hello entire emotional spectrum, in succession.

Bosnia Lesson #37: DON’T lose your watermelon.

Sarajevo: Part 8

The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning…”

Upon returning I remember feeling so excited to come home, but incredibly nervous. I knew that people were going to be asking me how my trip was, and wanting to hear about it, but was I ready to tell them everything that I had done and been through? All of the good and the bad? Would they want to hear the bad? Would they understand the bad? The thought of hearing my friends go on about seemingly trivial things was not something that I was interested in hearing. I am now realizing that it is important for me to tell my stories and experiences to those who decide to listen, want to listen; tell them to those whom I believe will benefit from my stories.

Culturally, I think I have adjusted quite well. There have been a couple of instances, like closing windows to not allow the “propu” (a breeze that will make you sick – its comes in one window and out another) or being shocked that I am receiving texts, where my brain has immediately defaulted to Bosnian ways of life, but those will subside.  I think part of me wishes to keep some cultural idioms.  Bosnia was such an enriching experience for me that I wish I could keep those cultural differences. They made my summer more meaningful.

So here I am, a week back from my travels, and still wondering how to adjust to being back. I do not think that I have fully adjusted but, in time I think it will get better.  I think I have grown immensely personally. I have seen people that hold the willpower and the strength of what seems like a whole village, and I have heard stories that I will never forget.  I do not feel all that different but I know that this experience has changed me in so many ways, and I think feeling that change and understanding that change is something that I will be working out for a while.


            Its been 2 months since I’ve returned. I was going to leave my blog post as just the words above, but I felt as if those words did not nearly grasp the emotions that I have felt in these past 2 months.

What is so amazing about my IDP (International Disaster Psychology) program is that my professors understand the whole “reverse culture shock” thing. They have been abroad, they have done work abroad, and thus, I feel like they really understand what I have been going through. Because all of the others in my cohort went abroad to different places this summer, for the first 2 weeks of school we had re-entry meetings. At these meetings we discussed our time abroad and our feelings and emotions abroad and coming back. I thought this would be somewhat boring and not needed, boy was I wrong. At first I was very reluctant to speak. I know that people were feeling the same things as I was, but for some reason is was just difficult to talk about. I wanted to tell my friends and classmates, but it was just SO HARD to start talking. But once I did it was like word vomit. Everything just came pouring out. It was in this time that I realized that I was in some sort of an existential crisis. I was transitioning, the world around me was different. My perception of this world was now different.  What the hell is going on?!

“…Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf… As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man…”

Before Bosnia I was by no means an “innocent” person, but yet upon return I feel as if I did lose this sense of innocence to me. I lost the ability to be a person who is oblivious, in the best way, to human suffering. Some people are happy and content, and not to their own fault, but because living a simple life and not thinking about these existential sort of things never crosses their mind. I am not one of those people. I lost the ability to be that person, even if I wanted to be.  Having people that I can talk to, people with whom I do not need to say everything to, but innately understand my feelings, is extremely comforting.

Coping with this has been hard. It is so hard to cope with feelings that are attached to such ephemeral and existential ideas. They come and go. When I lay down at night, in the quietness of my apartment, they come creeping back. Randomly I will be overcome with great sadness, and that sadness, turns into anger. It is extremely hard to describe these feelings, especially if people have not experienced these sort of feelings. I am extremely thankful that I went with a group of students because I feel as if they understand what I am going through. I feel as if they do. I am extremely thankful for having a partner who lived in Jordan for 5 months and experienced similar feelings to what I did, and views the world as I do. He understands this existential loss            …

“…But, if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul… He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining…”

Thinking about Bosnia, while the loss of myself that I experienced through that trip has been hard, it has simultaneously inspired me. It has inspired me to want to help people who are experiencing loss, especially in the nature of post-conflict societies. It has also inspired me to work with people who work in these sorts of places, such as humanitarian aid workers abroad. This struggle has been so intense and complex for myself, and I am so grateful that I have the resources like my program, professors, and fellow students to help, but there are some people who go through this process and are then stuck in the aftermath. They do not know how to deal with vicarious trauma, and research has shown that vicarious trauma can be just as harmful as primary trauma, grief, and loss.  Bosnia re-instilled my empathetic nature, and I realized that helping people who have first-hand experienced grief and loss due to conflict, and people who are vicariously traumatized due to conflict, are people I would really like to work with.

Bosnia was one of the most eye-opening and incredible experiences I have ever had. It was extremely profound. It was perspective shifting and personally shattering. But it was everything that I needed, everything that I wanted, and more.

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” ―Stanley Kubrick

Until we meet again.



img_2250What a summer. I cannot believe that I am finally back in the United States, and back to the real world. The last few days in Bosnia consisted of closure. Closure with friends, closure with internship, and closure with the city. I chose to stay in Sarajevo for a few days after the university program ended to attend some of the films showing in the Sarajevo Film Festival (second largest film festival in Europe). After that, I went to Italy for a week then I spent one night in Amsterdam, and then went back to Scotland for a week to visit my family.

When I was in Amsterdam, I met two guys from Melbourne, Australia at a bar, and when we started talking, I realized that this was the first time that I really tried to explain what my trip to Bosnia was like to people that had no idea the purpose of it. It was word vomit. I don’t think that I completed a full sentence when trying to explain it. I jumped from memory to memory. Trying to explain Srebrenica or seeing bullet holes in buildings all around Sarajevo is just nearly impossible. This was when I realized that I might have to be okay with the fact that people might just not get what my trip was all about, and how much it affected me, and how much it will continue to affect me for the rest of my life.

And I was right. Trying to explain this summer to anyone who wasn’t there is impossible. I have tried with pictures and stories, but no one understands to the extent of how it was. Its so frustrating, and I wish there was a word, a phrase that could completely describe how it was. When people ask me how Bosnia was, I say, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Sometimes that answer will satisfy people and we move on to the next subject, which occasionally I am okay with, as it doesn’t require me to attempt to explain the summer.

I could not have asked for a more amazing opportunity to end my academic career (at least for the moment), and Bosnia will remain apart of me for the rest of my life.

Back in the States

Ok, it’s been almost two months since I left Bosnia now. I’ve been reflecting, but not really intentionally. Every so often, something just reminds me of Bosnia. I’m trying to figure out how to relate the experience to my studies going forward. After leaving Sarajevo, I traveled for a week to Beirut, another post-conflict society. The conflict there occurred longer ago but like Sarajevo, there is still evidence everywhere. And like in Bosnia, Lebanon’s civil war was caused partially by religious tensions. I found myself boring my friend and her family (my travel companions) with random facts about the war in Bosnia because so many things in Lebanon reminded me of it! Of course, now that I am back and heavily immersed in my second year of grad school, I can’t think of anything in specific to write about as an example. Probably should have written a few things down…

I learned a little more about myself this summer. I learned that I process things internally and privately. Group discussions about difficult issues, in which we were encouraged to share our feelings, were exceptionally uncomfortable for me as I feel that my emotions are my private business. I suppose I was raised this way and also that I learned how to keep a strictly professional, emotionless look on my face when told personal, heart breaking stories while working with refugees and then briefly as a social worker. I stand by my internal processing of heavy material, such as stories of genocide, as I believe that when one hears a survivor’s story, the focus and attention should be on the survivor and the words they are saying, not on me. To be honest, I was quite relieved to come back to the US and be able to process my summer experience at my own pace and alone.


I’ve been trying to assess what skills I gained over the summer and it has been hard for me to put on paper. I did get a great perspective on the Bosnian conflict that I have been able to use in arguments with strangers. That’s always fun. I learned a lot about feminism and LBT rights that translates across cultures. I learned that fundraising is difficult and I really do not like it. But at this moment, I have a lot of regrets. I wish I had dug deeper into the world of the Roma. I wish I had been more active in making contacts and delving in to what I was really interested in. I wish I had known what I was really interested in. Lessons learned from this trip – have a plan going in. Life is short and I will only have so many opportunities to travel. I spent way too much time at the hostel. I should have crammed every day full of adventure. I should have found a way to volunteer somewhere else, since my internship did not require much time from me. I was lazy and unprepared, and I am ashamed of myself. Next time I move abroad, it will be for my career, and I know that I must be much more motivated and actively involve myself in the community. Lessons learned. Advice to next year’s group who may be reading this – take advantage of your time! Sarajevo is an incredible city with so much history and diversity. Explore and enjoy it to the max!

What? It’s Over?

It’s been quite a while since I last posted. Classes have started back up at DU and Bosnia is somehow feeling like a distant memory. The first few weeks back felt the strangest. It was weird to be back and understand all the side conversations once again. It’s kind of interesting noticing the banality of every day conversation when you can understand it and aren’t trying to decipher it with your limited vocabulary. It made me appreciate being back home but it also reminded me of the place I had just left.

The first 24 hours back were the oddest. I had spent a few days getting back, having made stops in Vienna and then Frankfurt before coming back to Denver, and so in addition to the time I spent in Bosnia, I had been separated from the English-speaking world. By then I had gotten used to letting people’s conversations meld into the buzz of the background noise. It starkly contrasted with eating at Chipotle – because of course you need to get that burrito as soon as you’re back in the States – and effortlessly understanding all the side conversations again. It made me realize that the past two months had actually happened.

It’s something I am always surprised with when I go abroad for an extended amount of time. When I’m there, life quickly normalizes to the new location and ebb and flow of daily life, but it doesn’t quite feel real for a while. For me at least, there is always a nagging suspicion that at some point I’ll awaken and find myself back in the bed I am used to. But when I return and actually get back to that bed, it hits that it was real and the experiences I had have formed a new exciting chapter that has unfortunately, like all others inevitably do, come to a close.

But I suppose the final question to pose to yourself at the end of the experience is: how did you grow as a person? For me the greatest thing I learned was not so much as something new, though there were plenty of those, but a reinforcement of the idea that people all across the world have the same experiences in their lives. They experience joy and sorrow just as we do and they have the same day to day errands to run. In essence, they become a body of people you relate to and care about and cannot simply dismiss as “those people over there”.

In academia, I feel that a great deal of analysis attempts to do so from an unemotional, detached, objective view of the human condition. While it may be useful, I sometimes feel that in doing so we glance over the emotional, psychological and otherwise social complexity that underpins humanity. While we must be conscious of the political and economic ramifications of what we do, emotion and the ability to relate to one another is also important.

We cannot truly comprehend the costs of what we do if we are unable to grasp what they entail to all involved.