For those who know me very well, I have a fairly Type-A personality and like to have things in a certain way because a sense of order and familiarity is calming for me. Of course, this had led to occasional contentions with my significant other because not having things put away in places where they “belong” flusters me. In a sharp contrast, Bosnia moves on a slower and less precise manner. Many questions about logistics are often met with “it depends” or “we’ll find out later.” Coffee breaks are a frequent and valued fixture of daily life. As expected with my Type-A personality, it was rather difficult to adjust to such a laidback lifestyle at first because I’m the kind of person that likes to have all the answers and details in order to organize every aspect of my life. But adjusting to the laidback culture here has proven to be a much-needed intervention for me.
During the school year, I often found myself stressed out and exhausted, which led to a compromised immune system and frequently being sick, due to a hectic school schedule, internship, and part-time job while also trying to balance a social life. Here I can feel how much my internship supervisor and colleagues care about me. At the slightest bit of a yawn, they immediately offer to make me some coffee. I’m frequently asked if I’m hungry or told that to just relax a little bit. Even when I was sick with a fever and stomach bug, my supervisor checked-in on me at least once a day and consistently asked if there was anything that she could get for me. What I appreciate most is how much Bosnians are willing to share, whether it is extra food or personal details about their lives. Their approach to interactions is so incredibly warm and authentic. Furthermore, the most amazing change for me is not having to feel that my self-worth is solely based on my productivity. Although there are projects and tasks here and there, our days are mostly unstructured as we are encouraged to build relationships with colleagues and the members that frequent the Centers for Healthy Aging. I feel that open communication and relationship building is often the best way to learn about a community because you can witness a person’s life and how it has been shaped by certain factors and events in their lives.
Lately, my new favorite activity has been playing chess with the male members. I’m not very good and I often try to preface that before beginning a new game, but I like how it is something that I can do to bond with the members as there is no specific need to know the same language. Regardless of one’s grasp of English or Bosnian, the game of chess remains the same. I have not won a single game since starting my internship, but I find a sense of peace when watching a game of chess because it is something that I can understand amongst all the confusion of being in a foreign country where I don’t know the language. I also tend to be a bit shy when surrounded by a lot of people I don’t know, especially if I feel embarrassed about not being able to speak their language. Chess has been an effective way for me to bridge the language barrier because I can often use context clues. Usually, I can figure out what they’re saying when they shake their heads or laugh at a certain move I made. Our games typically end up with me receiving help from my opponents as they either take pity on me or want the game to last longer. Although I may not be very good at chess, I’m grateful for there being a universal activity that I can engage in with the members as otherwise, I would only be able to interact with them through a translator, which may feel less authentic. Of course, my goal is to get better at chess, but if I still have zero wins at the end of the summer, but amazing memories with the members and my colleagues, I think I still found a way to win.