Social Identity and Our Collective Sense of Home

Social identity can be, simultaneously, powerful and destructive. I’ve given this idea a lot of thought this summer. Much of the reason for this is due to a loss and confusion I’ve felt within myself.  Living on a border between two different worlds has produced a complex and disoriented sense of identity within me. In my Bosnian community, I am not ‘Bosnian enough’ while any introduction to my American community is a reminder that my roots begin elsewhere.

But, social identity relies on a definition that is all too often set by the said community. My sense of identity relied heavily on my Bosnian community and being a refugee in the States had a lot to do with it. When you’re not familiar with the language, surroundings or traditions of your host country, you tend to fall back on what you know. While I found myself drifting further and further from my own cultural norms, I felt a sense of need to conform. While I felt no spiritual connection to Islam, I found myself in Mosques.

Definition matters and I chose to redefine my identity. I cannot forget where I come from and no longer have this fear that I will if I stray just slightly from my Bosnian community. America has become a home for me and I am fortunate to have all the possibilities it offers. It is undeniable that both communities influence me. Even more, that every place has changed me in some way or another. However, I cannot be conformed to a box – what I am supposed to be and what I’m not. I acknowledge my privilege is saying that.

All in all, having a sense of community or belonging, not so much identity, is essential to our wellness. In the same respect, where we come from (whether a different country or a local community) influences our character however; it is not limited to just that. We are more than the groups that we come from. We are a collage of backgrounds and experiences and that for me is one of the most beautiful aspects of our lives.

2013-06-11 05.56.47My first home, in Gomjenica (near Prijedor), that has been renovated after the war.

Bosanska Kafa

2013-07-05 07.51.28

Since I was a teen, I would wake up early in the morning in hope that I didn’t oversleep for my daily coffee routine with mama. Alongside my stepdad, I would join for her second round of the day. Due to her long workdays, it was one of few times that we got to spend together. Still, it continues to be one of the things I really miss while being away in Denver.

As many of you know, coffee in the Bosnian culture is very much social and interactive. I consider it a sacred time and space for many members of my community. Those early mornings with my mother are some of the more beautiful moments in my childhood. It taught me patience, care, family time and the importance of taking life one-step at a time. While the taste certainly matters (I’m pretty particular about this haha) it is more than a cup of coffee. It’s a sacred ritual that has always been an integral part of my culture.

Until Next Time – Final Reflections

This is to my wonderful coordinator who, so patiently, waited for me to write the blogs that never came. This is for you and my program. I hope y’all made it home safely. I’ll be joining you soon! 

Where do I begin when I am honestly filled with a whirlwind of emotions?  I know my words will not do justice to the experience I’ve had but I’ll try my best to summarize it in the most coherent way possible.

I can already feel a knot forming in my throat as I think about the fact that this is it – this is the end until next time. I’ve grown immensely from this journey. I reflect on how blessed I am to have been given the chance to return. As a refugee, that is a blessing that cannot be calculated. Many cannot return to their homelands and I want to express my gratefulness for all that I’ve been able to do. For all that I’ve been able to see. For the family that I was able to reconnect with and their warm welcome. Most importantly, for the better days that are in store for my homeland that allows me to feel its soil beneath my feet. Its presence I feel inside my soul and it is my source of strength and determination.

It’s been 7 years since the last time I stepped foot in Bosnia. I still remember the way I felt the day my sister Dijana and I landed. We were meeting my brother Dejan for what would be only the second time I would see him in my life.  I was filled with emotion. My dream to return had finally come to life and I couldn’t believe it.

The summer of ’06 left me with a new sense of being. My heart was filled and I felt so rejuvenated. At 14 years old, I found my passion, drive and motivation. I came back to the States with a mission to do my best because I was going to do something with my life. My past would not hold me back but rather be a source of strength. I was determined.

7 years later, a year shy of my college diploma and many beautiful experiences behind me – I felt an urgency to return. I needed answers but most importantly, I needed to find peace. This journey took me on a whirlwind and I can’t tell you that I’ve received the answers I wanted. Many of them remain unanswered but I’m finding peace in that.  

This journey was immensely difficult for me and at times, I really needed an escape. I found myself shutting down. I didn’t realize how much of the past I had repressed. I couldn’t understand how to simultaneously accept the past and be optimistic about the future. I was, also, overwhelmed with my own past – my family’s hurt and loss. I was seeing relatives for the first time in my life and for me that will always be a reminder of the past.

Over a phone conversation with my mother, she says to me ‘I raised you not to hate’. While short, her statement resonated with me throughout the trip. At times, I thought maybe that was my fall back. Perhaps it would help if I did. I thought if I could just hate then my hurt would subside and I would feel less weak.

But, my mother raised me not to hate and I am better because of it. I forgive those who have done wrong to my family and community. Justice will be served and I will use this experience to ensure that no peoples ever have to go through such realities. I am fortunate to have been given the beautiful experiences I’ve had thus far and this trip has only further engrained in me a sense of determination and strength.

So, as I sit here in a small café in Tel Aviv drinking a cup of coffee, I am ever more optimistic about the future. While I know that the tragedy of my homeland will not be the last in the world, I stand committed to all communities who have and continue to experience such strife. Their stories matter.  As for Bosnia – may she see better days and may my community find peace where it is hardest. 

The Coffee will Make Itself

I visited my internship supervisor’s home last week. She welcomed Ann and me in, and we got the chance to meet her two precious little boys. One, speaking English perfectly (learned from school…but mostly Cartoon Network) met us where the cab dropped us off and politely made conversation as he led us up the hill to their home. The other, constantly in motion, would occasionally stop and look at me and say something (in Bosnian of course). I tried to explain to him that I didn’t speak very much Bosnian, and he just stared back at me, puzzled, and smiled. My supervisor brought out a pitcher of lemonade and some watermelon out to the terrace, and started to go back inside to make the coffee when her son called after her. She answered him, and seemed to sympathize with his plight. I asked her to translate, and she said that he wanted her to stay on the terrace with us instead of going in to make the coffee. She then told him that if she didn’t go make the coffee, there wouldn’t be coffee to drink. He responded, intelligently, that she should stay here with him; because the coffee would make itself.


At the time, this was adorable. We laughed at how silly that sounded, but I remember that it struck me. How much do I focus on getting things done, and moving on to the next task, instead of realizing the importance of the moment that I’m in right now?

I hate being the last one here

It’s about 7 o’clock right now. I am one of the few that is still at the hostel. It feels dead quiet. It doesn’t feel the same. Our rooms have been taken over by strangers. Our private floor is no longer private. As I’m sitting here waiting for breakfast and for my cab to get here I am writing down the final thoughts about this summer experience.

This has been a fantastic summer. The entire experience was better than I pictured back in Denver. The combination of the great things that happened made this summer memorable. Sarajevo is beautiful; the people in this program were beyond amazing. I feel like I have grown a lot these past 2 months, the girls have taught me well.  I have to give credit where credit is due: this summer felt so great because of the people in it. Now that I am alone here in the common room thinking that no one is left here but me, I can already tell you that I miss them and that I cannot wait to see them again in Denver.  Every single one added something to this program, whether it was Mandy helping me with her social work skills, or Megan and I singing Flight of the Conchords or even Rachel Mary and Jillian’s obsession with Sy Fy movies (the list could go on forever but writing more and more about it is making me sad). This summer has been one of if not the best summer I have ever experienced.

In addition to the wonderful people in my program, the people I met in Sarajevo have made me want to come back. Yesterday I decided to stop by a few places and say good bye to them because they deserved it and I really wanted to see them again one last time before leaving.  Vladimir and Hussein were two of those people. Both of them have been really kind and shared their stories, it’s something that I will always cherish. The same goes for the people at my internship. Every single one of them has taught me so much as well laughed and procrastinated on work.

Finally I think this blog cannot end without a mention about Cheers. As I am sitting here with the window open I can hear them play Hotel California. Cheers has become a part of this program. The many loud nights have become routines that sleeping without dance music blasting in your ears feels weird.

I cannot think of good closing words. The only thing I can think right now is how amazing this summer has been. 

social responsibility

It is difficult to put my time in Sarajevo into words. There has been so much life squeezed into such little time, yet that time has been filled with such powerful meaning. If I were to choose one thing to write about it would be the idea of self and social responsibility. This is something that I believe in but have not given much thought to outside of an academic viewpoint.  I arrived on this program in a whirlwind made up of finals and weddings, with no decompression time.  My internship quickly began, and through laughter, lots of smoke, and binders of PitchWise records it became more real. Although I admire the work the CURE Foundation does, I really admire the women that are making that work happen more. Life is hard and it is easy to be concered with ourselves; and unfortantaely this attitude gets excused far too often. The women in my internship truly have a sense of themselves and a  strong desire to uphold their social responsibility through advocating for women’s and girl’s rights. This comes to fruition in a variety of programs which are all designed to create a society that values gender equality. Now, I dont mean to convey that we all abandon our paths and become feminist or ngo employees but what I do want to communicate is the all too scary truth that we each have a social responsibility. This idea was evidently incontestable during the two weeks spent in Srebrenica- the site of the horrfic genocide on July 11, 1995. Through stories told by survivors  it is evident that there were so many individuals who were giving so much of themselves to fulfill a social responsibility. And yet, those hopeful stories are accompaniyed by horrific examples of what I would define as a lack of social responsibility. This for me is the only way to explain the events that took place. Individuals valued themselves and their lives over a greater social responsibility in a scrammble for power and control. What about humanity and the human condition allows individuals to act outside of a code that benefits all? How is it that one is able to dehumanize, even at the smallest level? Are each of us aware of ways in which we are guilty of this? Are we making strides in our personal daily lives, or in our work, to correct the desensatization  of society that life is me, me, me and do something that contributes to change in the world as a whole? I can say that the women I have been fortunate enough to work with this summer and those who are contributing to programs such as Summer University Srebrenica are making a positive change while simultaneously living an example of what it means to have a code of social responsibility.  What I want to take away from this summer in Bosnia and Herzegovina  is not my photos or traditional coffee sets, although I’ll value those. What I want to carry is the truth that individuals can make change. CLR James speaks of ‘the sordid compromises of everyday existence;’ it is my hope that after this experience none of us allow our social responsibility to be compromised by the demands of life. Each of us makes choices in our daily lives that effect the well being of others. If we in our communities do what we can to create a better enviroment for everyone, regardless of differences;  I truly believe that we can create a better world.

(disclaimer, this was written two weeks ago)

This weekend was Sarajevo squeezed into 36 hours.  I hope the New York Times reads this blog and asks me to create an article for their 36 hour city series. Esmir, the driver, was meant to pick me up at Hotel Europe at 12:45pm. Emily and Karey described him to me as a young man driving a vw wagon. As I approached the hotel, a few minutes late of course, a young taxi driver nodded at me from across the street as he offered me a ride. I declined. I searched everywhere for Esmir and his car, nothing. Finally, I remembered that Emily had given me Esmir’s number. As I call, the man across the street picks up his phone…yep, that is right. Esmir was on time and had tried to get my attention. This is the moment that happens at least once a day in my life where I swallow my pride. I walked across the street and apoligized to Esmir, who doesn’t speak English, for being  dismissive. By the time I arrived, Zach was waiting outside. We expected to wait about an hour or so for our sister, Kelsey, who was to arrive shortly after him. Her flight was delayed, but this being Sarajevo Jadranka was there. She gracefully shared her waiting space and conversation with us. Finallllllly Kelsey arrived and our adventure could begin! Once checked into Hotel Kovači our first stop was Houssen’s for tea. We sipped on salep, a beautiful gift from the Ottoman’s as we planned their time in the city. First on the list was copper alley.  I may or may not have demanded this be the way it all began. We admired the sebji, pigeons and tourists, as we walked in the hot sun. We mayed through the alley as I described the skill of the hand carvings to my jetlaged siblings who politely nodded. I was obviously thrilled to have vistors, whether they were mentally present or not! Rescidence Rooms was our next stop, and luckily for us a few volunteers showed us the best pita shop in town! We sat down to enjoy three large servings of  burek, zeljanica, and krompiruša each with two LARGE scoops of cream. It’s not a true city tour without a stop at the chess park. There we were finding ourselves choosing sides and discussing the dialogue of the two divided teams. The night then naturally brought us to the Goldfish, an establishment we all love. Yet, it just so happens the atracttion of the Goldfish that we all have does not soely exists within our group. My brother quickly confessed his pleasure and sense of intrigue with the place. On the way back to Hotel Kavaci we climbed the hill and spent time observing the many graves around us. But we could not end the night on such a somber note so we made our way to the  sebji where we watched tourists and locals alike beginning or ending their Sarajevo stroll. After a few loops of the same wanderers, we ended our night with a short stroll to hotel kavaci. When I wrote the 36 hours it became evident that I will never be a novelist, I could not write to completion of 36 hours in the city and will never have a contract with NYTs. However, It was truly incredible to share the city with two of my siblings and be able to create lasting memories with them in a city that quickly became near to my heart. I will carry those with me always.


okay, weird. I have been doing a tango with this blog site for the past hour and a half. I had resorted to using my phone although Emily, our gracious coordinator let me borrow her computer. Yet, me being so dang technologically challenged could not successfully log in…its  not even a Monday. After some deep yoga breathing and way to many attempts to copy and paste on my phone I am back and this time the computer and I came to an agreement! Please keep in mind that I am 27 and had to watch the ‘how to post a blog for dummies’ video to make this happen. 

Travel, for me, is incredibly eye-opening and beautiful. I am reminded of this each time I set out. While I continually try to open my heart to the world around me in the States, sometimes things get bogged down with obligations, deadlines and little time to just be. I am so thankful to Bosnia and this group for allowing me the opportunity to remember and live the beauty of life.  The most magical part of movement is the realization that life is the same around the world. People laugh. People cry. People go grocery shopping and hurry to rush home for dinner with their family. People question where they are and their life in that place as well as wonder about life outside of their home. Yet, within all this there are small differences that make life in those new places so intriguing and addicting. It makes me want to go more and more to see what can I take with me and what has already been traveling with me all along. The kindness of strangers keep smiles near and hearts open, and it is that openness that I believe the world needs so desperately. Bosnia has reminded and reassured me that communication across cultures is more than differences, it is about highlighting the underlying themes in humanity and seeing the beauty of a world that is connected. 


A last post…

I’m preparing to leave Bosnia and seem to have hit a road block. I cannot decide where I will go afterwards to travel around for 2 ½ weeks. For some reason there are so many options but I cannot choose one even though there is nothing stopping me. When I think about it however I know that what is stopping me is the fear to move on and change pace form what we have been living for the last two months. I’m so excited to continue my journey but here are some things that I will miss:

Waking up in a small European room on a small European street surrounded by small European cars and cafés. I’m going to miss all the delicious halva and Badem stores. Looking up to the hills which are surrounded with scattered houses that light up at night like little light bulbs.  Houssain’s tea house up by the hill. The closeness of everything (which I just found out is called Cajdzinica Dzirlo_Tea House) . The random European friends I’ve made outside of the group and setting up meeting times to grab some drinks with them. Meet and spinach burek.  Going to the market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables which would be so much more costly in the states. My internship supervisor from MoBa Luka who is definitely one of a kind, corny and a classic male. The new puppy he just found in a box outside his apartment. The jokes that my co-workers at GS1 say in a sarcastic English. The hospitality of the Bosnian people.  And so many other elements of this beautiful city.

So here we all go on our next adventures, vaya con dios my friends.


Within days of arriving in Sarajevo, I was put in the position of justifying my going to the Sarajevo Tunnel of Hope to my supervisor, E. I was totally not prepared for this, first because I had only met E on one prior occasion and was surprised that he would be so aggressive and rude to someone he had just met. More importantly though, I was shocked by his overall reaction to our trip there in general. In my mind, the Tunnel is a symbol of strength, ingenuity, and people’s ability to overcome. I did not expect our going there to be seen as a bad thing, but to E it was. In his mind it was offensive that one of first things our group did was to see something about war because there is more to Bosnia and specifically Sarajevo than the war. I think I am able to look at the tunnel from simply a positive position because I can see the good it did without any of the negative emotions that people from Sarajevo also probably associate with it, such as fear and desperation. After all, when E discusses the tunnel, he also mentions how his father used it during the war to go and fight and how every time he left E would be left to wonder if he would ever see him again.