Research Assistant

This summer I had the honor of working for Enis Omerović a local human rights attorney working on a book about the genocide in Bosnia. More specifically he is writing about the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the implications of the court decisions on genocide case law moving forward. There are a few other international courts who have issued judgements on the genocide, but the ICTY holds the most power. While I would have loved to spend more time with Enis and learn the lens through which he approaches his work, the research itself has been fascinating and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

To summarize the research, the only official genocide in the war in Bosnia in the 1990s was in Srebrenica. The Peace March many of my colleagues participated in commemorates the events that took place there. Briefly, Srebrenica is located near the Drina River which forms the border between BiH and Serbia. As the Republika Srpska (RS) forces took land in Eastern Bosnia, the UN declared Srebrenica a “safe zone.” The town of approximately 6,000 people grew to 40,000 people in early 1995. The UN was able to transfer some people to Muslim-controlled areas, but tens of thousands of people remained in Srebrenica in July of 1995. For strategic reasons, the RS wanted to take Srebrenica. Even though it was a UN “safe zone,” RS troops under direct orders from RS President Radovan Karadzić and under command of Ratko Mladić (the #2 in command behind the president) and Radislav Kristić (commander of the Drina Corp) began shelling and attacking Srebrenica. On July 10th, 1995 Srebrenica fell and the tens of thousands of refugees fled to the Dutch UN base in Potočari or chose to run on foot over the mountains to Tuzla which was under BiH control.

Approximately 10,000-15,000 men, boys and a few women chose to flee to Tuzla. The rest who went to the Dutch base were ultimately denied protection and the women and children were deported to Muslim-held territory while men and teenage boys were detained. Mladić and the RS forces realized that most of the men had fled over the mountains and began ambushing the group of men. Some were captured, others were killed on sight and some survived. The RS soldiers were able to severe the column of men and boys fleeing to Tuzla by blocking a road. Only about a third of those in the column made it across and the others were captured. Over the next week the captured men and boys as well as those separated from the women and children in Potočari were transported to detention centers that were schools, warehouses, and other buildings before being transported to mass execution sites where they were systematically murdered by RS troops. In total over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men were murdered. Most of them were civilians.

The ICTY found that genocide had been committed in Srebrenica, and drew charges against several members involved in the events of Srebrenica. The 3 most note worthy cases are those of Karadzić, Mladić and Kristić. Kristić was the first to be convicted under the 1948 Genocide Convention that codified genocide in international law. As a crime genocide differs from most other crimes as the actus rea of the crime, that is the actions that took place, could vary. Genocide could be forced deportation, murder, mass rape all of which are crimes in their own right. For a genocide conviction, it must be established that a person not only willfully and knowingly did an action, but that they did so with the intent to “destroy in part or in whole” a protected demographic. This means that it is not as important what a perpetrator of genocide did, but the spirit in which he or she did it. Since mental status during war and even specifically the perpetrating of the crime is difficult to determine, the ICTY was tasked with deciphering whether and how this could be proven.

The prosecutors submitted hundreds of witnesses and thousands of pieces of evidence to establish not only the timeline of events, but the mentality of those involved in carrying out the crimes. Since Rwanda and Bosnia were the first two major cases to be tried in a tribunal since the genocide convention was signed into effect, they created the first case law in trying and convicting genocide. Much of the evidence were photos and videos taken by journalists, and the troops themselves as well as leaked written orders and the testimonies of RS officers who bled guilty and agreed to testify against commanders. Survivors of the execution sites were also instrumental in establishing a historical record of what happened. Each case has its particulars and contributed to the legal understanding of genocide in their own ways, but I will need a longer blog post for all that.

And so at the end of the summer preparing my personal statements for law school and thinking really intently about my future I have to wonder if this is the best course of seeking justice. At a dinner with 3 survivors of the genocide, Nedžad Avdić, Hasan Hasanović and Saliha Osmanović I asked a question about the ICTY and justice. Basically I asked, “how do the court decision make you feel?” Some of them had testified in various trials, but none of them reported feeling anything close to justice. Nedžad said that no earthly punishment could balance the tide for what was done to his family. He had lost so many people. His loss and his unlikely survival from an execution site near a dam were to the degree that President Bill Clinton met him. That is to say his loss was profound and his existence amazing in its own right. And if justice is beyond our realm, to what end does the time and money of the ICTY serve? While none of the survivors thought the court decisions could ever be justice, they said it brought light to what happened and created a reliable unimpeachable narrative of what happened in Srebrenica. And for me, who started in journalism to shine light on the corners of our reality, I found it comforting to know the work I did this summer and the career I am pursuing can still accomplish that goal.

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Internship: Post-Conflict Research Center

This summer I have been privileged enough to work with the Post-Conflict Research Center here in Sarajevo. When I first applied to this internship, I did not believe I was qualified or that they would choose me to intern for them. It was sincerely a surprise when they sent the first email! Immediately after being offered the position I was hesitant, but I was not sure why. I spoke with my mom and the director of our program, Ann about what I was feeling. I knew I did not want just a stereotypical internship with an NGO doing social media and gaining no experience. I wanted to do something special with my time here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After accepting the position, I was excited and nervous for what the summer had coming. Look back now I could not have prepared myself for the amazing experience and contacts I would gain.

When I first arrived in Sarajevo, I was immediately thrown into one of the many events PCRC cosponsors. This event is called the WARM Festival and it has the mission of bringing people together through art, reporting, and memory. This was a major event interns assist with every year. As I was the new intern, I was thrown into a group who had already been together for a month and a half. Along with assisting with WARM activities, I decided I needed to jump in head first, with the group and the event. I had the opportunity to guide participants and speakers in their days along with attend amazing films and art exhibits. I was tasked with making sure PCRC followers knew what the event was and what was upcoming for the next day. It was incredibly interesting because I had never been a part of a festival that was focused on the arts and reporting war through those outlets.

After working on the WARM festival, myself and the other interns were cued in to a social media campaign that was in partnership with the International Organization for Migration. Having the ability to work on a social media campaign, from start to finish, in partnership with IOM was sincerely a dream come true. I was able to work alongside individuals from Bosnia and Herzegovina on this campaign. It was incredibly interesting and exciting to see how this type of grant and project are completed and implemented in the NGO world. Lastly, I have been able to attend the Sarajevo Film Festival and write reports on the films from the category, Dealing with the Past. These films were documentary type films that sparked my interest immensely. Also, just having the opportunity to attend the film festival is a task and event I never imagined I would be able to attend!

To sum up this summer, I could not be more grateful to have had the privilege of internship with the Post-Conflict Research Center. Not only my fellow interns but the staff were incredibly welcoming to me from day one. I never felt uncomfortable or unsure of my place within the organization. For example, while attending an industry event during the Sarajevo Film Festival the founder of PCRC introduced me as her colleague. I was incredibly honored to be standing alongside such an accomplished woman but also to be introduced as her colleague. This organization is doing amazing things. Even when I was confused or lost, I could easily find someone to assist me. This organization enhanced my Bosnia experience immensely and I could not be more grateful!

Internship

Having touched on my internship in last week’s blog I will expand on my experiences there for this week. My internship was with a security think tank called Atlantic Initiative. This group is hired by a number of groups from around the world to conduct research and analyze information on a variety of topics. This year their projects have ranged from Russian interference in the Balkans to gender violence in international bodies such as the European Union. My assigned tasks have primarily worked with the former of these, having researched Russian involvement in the Republika Srpska, Montenegro, Macedonia, and most recently the interesting relationship between Russia and Turkey. Stepping away from Russia, I have also done some research on the increasing presence of Saudi Arabia in Bosnia and what the Gulf state’s interest here may be. In sum, I have been given a number of research topics each of which relate to Bosnia and Herzegovina either directly or indirectly; each has been of increasing relevance with the upcoming elections in October of this year in BiH. Different from many other research projects I have taken on over the years, this one emphasizes the importance of my sources being much more recent than in more academic contexts, which makes sense considering the rapid development of international relations.

As far as the structure of my internship it was typically as follows. I would meet once a week with my supervisors where we would discuss my work over the previous week and assign a new topic, as well as discuss my personal opinions and theirs as well. The rest of the week I would work from the hostel conducting research and formulating a paper based on my findings. Initially I was unsure what the expectations of my research were, but I essentially aimed to exhaust the content available on the task at hand. While this is ultimately impossible, there is a point where each article I found would begin to be repetitive, at which point I would consider the research stage complete and begin writing my paper. I found this process to work quite well for me and appreciated having freedom on what the papers would look like and how to work on them but was still given however many days to figure it out. Having a hard deadline but flexibility in the working process proved to be a really positive experience for me.

One part of my internship that I really appreciated was that I feel as though I learned at least as much as I was able to provide. Each topic covered was new information to me, and hopefully to Atlantic Initiative as well. While I did not come to Bosnia expecting to become an expert on Russian relations in the region (and I certainly am far from an expert), I feel as though I was able to go on a self-guided journey through the history and modern state of foreign affairs here in the Balkans and benefitted greatly from this. Every source I found provided new information that I will take away and bring back to my studies and potentially a future career. There was nothing repetitive about my internship and I really appreciated that as well; I’ve had internships before where each day was monotonous and provided little for me other than a bullet point on a resume and perhaps a free lunch once in a while. At Atlantic Initiative I felt like part of the team and appreciated that I was trusted with tasks that required a high degree of focus and dedication, and not once did I feel as though I was any less than an equal and therefore prescribed “easy” tasks. Ultimately, this was by far the most beneficial internship I have had, and I am excited to see how the skills and knowledge learned this summer translate to the second year of my master’s program and beyond.

Journal: Internship at CURE

This week we are supposed to write about our internship. This summer I worked with Foundation CURE, a feminist organization here in Sarajevo. Foundation CURE is a powerhouse of talent and activism. I am blown away by what this organization has accomplished with such little funding and support.

 

I spent the bulk of my internship researching artists and funding sources for the 2019 PitchWise festival. PitchWise is an annual feminist festival that brings artists and performers from all over the world to join together in a weekend of art and activism. It was interesting to learn about the women’s networks here in the Balkans. I knew of organizations in the South Pacific from my past work, so it was interesting connecting the dots in another area of the world. I also spent time researching, editing, and writing grant proposals for submission. I picked up grant writing as a skill randomly some years back, and haven’t looked back. Political Science and grant writing seems like a weird combination, but it somehow works. Anyways. I enjoy grant writing because I’m afforded the opportunity to learn all about an organization, and hopefully help create projects that benefit many people and communities. The moral of that short tale is that i’m extremely grateful for all of my internships and jobs that allow me to develop my grant writing skills and learn from others in the field.

 

During my short time with CURE i’ve learned many things. I’ve learned the importance of sharing a meal with coworkers and taking time to simply talk and build relationships with others. I’ve learned about the power of research… how projects and proposals are rarely funded without properly vetted research. I’ve had the privilege of attending a book launch in Tuzla (Tuzla round 3 for those keeping score) where members from CURE and the leading researcher presented their findings to the women’s group gathered there. Although I could not understand much, my coworker helped translate some, I could see that this research and event was important to many people in BiH. Being exposed to this much research has really impacted my plans for after GPB, in a positive way.

 

I’m grateful to the organization for taking me under their wing and sharing their stories and creative space with me. Feeling grateful for the coffee and tea time over cookies and other assorted snacks. I’m grateful to the people i’ve met at my internship, and the connections i’ve made here. I’m glad I trusted the system.

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.

Reflecting on my privilege as an American

For the past several weeks, I have had the immense privilege of being able to travel to various cities and countries. According to the U.S. Department of State, as of 2018, individuals with a valid United States passport are able to travel to 177 countries without a visa. This number is increased to 186 countries if we include destinations that provide visas upon arrival. Considering that there are only 38 countries that are eligible to visit the U.S. visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program, we cannot deny the privilege of having a U.S. passport in our hands. Furthermore, with the current political climate back home surrounding immigration, I recognize the sheer luck I’ve had in holding U.S. citizenship and being able to travel freely without any qualms. And I say luck because I’m no different from the individuals who I have had the greatest fortune of meeting this summer in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I am a child of Vietnam War refugees who received asylum in the United States more than 30 years ago. They too survived a war and were forced to become refugees in their own country. Like most of the younger generations of Bosnians, they made the difficult decision to leave behind their beloved home with all its familiarities, memories, and heartaches in exchange for a better life for themselves and their children. My identity as an American was granted to me on the sole premise that I was born within U.S. borders. I didn’t do anything special to earn this identity; I don’t hold a degree in engineering or medicine, I haven’t won a Nobel Peace prize, I don’t have the IQ level of a genius. But yet, I hold American citizenship. I have had access to top American universities. I have visited world famous destinations.

It has been more than 20 years after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but despite the peace that the Dayton Agreement has brought to this region, there continues to be so many obstacles that prevent true healing. There is the concept of the “two schools under one roof” where Bosniak and Croat children attend school in the same buildings but are physically segregated and taught different curriculum. From a first-hand experience, I have met so many people either my age or a few years older who are having trouble finding employment due to nepotism and the lack of available jobs. Additionally, many Bosnians have expressed how difficult it has been for them to apply for visas to enter the United States and visit their families. I find the American immigration system to be completely biased, if not egregious. I have had multiple Bosnian friends tell me that they have made numerous attempts at applying for visas, but there are just too many hoops to jump through and obstacles to cross. I remember that when my mother was sponsoring my uncle and his family’s immigration to the United States, the entire process took 11 years. I understand the need to screen individuals who are entering a country’s borders, but I am outraged by the disparities in immigration and visa protocols based on a person’s country of residence. Why does the narrative of the “illegal immigrant” only apply to brown bodies primarily from Central America? Why does a Bosnian have more obstacles than a German or Dutch person in terms of visa requirements?

It’s time for Americans to take a hard look at the privilege we hold for simply being born within the border of the United States. We have benefited from fortunate circumstances and different periods of time that have allowed for more free-flowing migration. It’s crucial to reflect on the fact that many individuals would not need to enter the United States if there weren’t conditions (that were out of their control) that led to forced displacement and separation of family members.

Preparation for Impending ‘Reverse Culture Shock’ [A different approach]

The human mind is programed to see differences. Tall, short, black, white. Without meaning to we’ve already analyzed situations and environments based on visual differences and past experiences. This ‘judgement’ served us well when discerning the differences from someone in your village and someone from a village that might attack yours, but in this day and age these differences pose only the threat that we create. ‘Culture shock’, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation”. It is interesting to me that as humans we created this term and still use it, even though those of us fortunate to have access to the internet should really not be so surprised that differences exist and that when traveling you might be exposed to them. This being said, I experienced anxiety when ordering food for the first time, or speaking with someone whom I had little language in common with. We cannot fully prepare, and as such we have this term: Culture Shock. I pose the question however, that rather than experiencing reverse culture shock upon returning home, why not incorporate the things you’ll miss and the things that you currently enjoy into your everyday life? Some things are impossible to not have get used to again, like driving on the opposite side of the road, but smaller things like not rushing, being blunt or honest, and finding ways to laugh even when all you want to do is cry are possible to bring home with you. I may be the only one in my circle or family doing so, but just because one returns to their primary culture does not mean they must abide by every socially constructed rule (laws-yes, you still must abide by those). As such, I want to share a couple things I want to bring home with me.

Before even arriving to Bosnia, our director Ann told me as she placed me at Wings of Hope that our supervisor there was one of a kind and some could not handle her blunt honesty. She wasn’t kidding, but this was the kind of person I always wanted to be. I notice that many persons living in Bosnia reflect this blunt demeanor and even though some speak with a sarcastic undertone, the truth is obvious. At home I have a wonderful boyfriend who is always honest, even brutally so sometimes, but I never wonder if he is bending the truth or lying. Ironically his heritage is Balkan. It’s hard for me to lie to make someone feel better, even though they might ask for it, because I don’t think the world needs more dishonesty. We already can’t trust the media, or persons in power. Perhaps the dishonesty and betrayal of the Yugoslav army, who swore to protect and broke that promise, along with many other factors, contributed to this cultural honesty. No matter the reason for the existence of it, the knowledge that other people choose to live this way gives me hope and comfort in my way of life as something I plan to continue to carry out.

Another such custom I wish to bring home with me is the ability for people to slow down and enjoy. This is a skill I didn’t come to Bosnia with and still struggle to accept. I am used to a fully packed schedule and don’t do well when I don’t know what to expect. Nevertheless, I was raised to believe that patience is an important skill. If anyone knows the famous psychology experiment using marshmallows, you’ll know that delayed gratification is correlated with success in all things. One aspect of Bosnian culture I do not understand is that people seem to be in such a rush while driving, but take their time if they see a friend on the road or stop for coffee along the road for hours. In the States, there is no patience and it shows in all aspects of our culture. I find I am most at peace when I practice patience while waiting for a doctor’s appointment or for traffic to move. Letting go of that urge to go, go, go is liberating and I thoroughly suggest practicing it, even if it’s hard. There is so much to learn from other cultures and although it might be hard to apply in other cultures, sometimes it’s worth the struggle and hard work.

Week 7: Writer’s Choice “I’m on a boat”

 

This week I chose to write about my rafting adventure in Konjic, on the Neretva River. Konjic is roughly an hour away from Mostar, and the location of Tito’s top secret bunker back in the day. It feels like yesterday we were touring the bunker, and here we are nearing the end of our program. We started the day off with a breakfast of fluffy donuts and the best cheese. After I consumed my fair share we scrambled off to find the rest of our tour group. We changed into our wetsuits (that was a struggle bus) and carried the boat down to the water (at this point the boat carried me… oh well) and we set off on our rafting adventure.

The water was beautiful. I know that sounds trite, but it was. I could see all the way to the bottom of the lake. The guide tried his best to explain the “rules of the water”, mostly in Bosnian. We figured if it was really important he would say something in English. We quickly discovered that when something was coming up when the guide said “big”, and nothing else. The best way I can describe our rafting adventure is a cross between a peaceful lazy river and bracing for the possibility of running into a rock, or flying out of the boat. The Neretva is very popular this time of year, and I enjoyed people watching. It was cool seeing people and children of all ages outside exploring nature. I was amazed at how the guides would just chill at the front of the boat side saddle, with nothing but a rope around their waist for support. We eventually took a break and feasted on chocolates, bananas, and assorted snacks. I think the funniest part of the day was approaching a rapid with a man just straight chillin in the water, and us trying to dodge him, the seagulls, and not fly out of the boat.

Once we approached shore I was pretty happy. We said goodbye to our new Bosnian friends and waited for the guide to take us to the bus station. We were on a time crunch, and i was getting nervous that we would miss our bus. One of the themes I keep finding here during my time in Bosnia-Herzegovina is that things end up working out one way or another-that I should focus more on what is happening now and less about 623 months from now. Surprise- we ended up making the bus and headed back to Sarajevo.

Although I was apprehensive about rafting (hello, flying out of the boat), i’m glad I went. Here’s to trying new things and going on more adventures. Sorry there are no photos, I couldn’t risk my phone flying out of the boat too.

White Water Rafting

Before I came to Bosnia, I didn’t really have much of a bucket list of things that I wanted to do this summer but there was one thing on it: white water rafting. When I realized that we’d be driving through Konjic on our way back from Mostar on Friday, I figured it would be the perfect time to go rafting on the Neretva River. I managed to convince a friend to join, booked a last-minute room in a guesthouse and off we went. We lucked out with the guesthouse location as it ended up being really close to the meeting point for our rafting adventure.

We met up with our rafting companions at a restaurant on Saturday morning. Breakfast was included in the trip so we had steaming hot donuts with kajmak and the day was off to a great start. We then piled into a van for the 45-minute drive to the entry point on the river. The mountains between Konjic and Mostar are unreal. I could stare at them for hours and never get tired of them. Once we got to the entry point, we unloaded the gear and put on our wetsuits. We “helped” carry the raft down to the river but I really wasn’t of much help. I held onto the rope as a sign of solidarity but I don’t think I carried much of the weight. To be fair though, the group was moving down the hill so fast that I was just holding on and trying not to wipe out. The river was so cold but it was absolutely beautiful. The water was so clear that you could see the bottom of the river the entire way.

I’ve rafted a couple of times before but this was my first international rafting experience. I figured that the guide would have some type of safety spiel but he just showed us how to hold the paddle and where to sit and that was about it. We just hopped on the raft and away we went. The guide would sometimes tell us the commands in English, such as “left paddle, right paddle, all together,” but he usually said the commands in Bosnian so we didn’t always know what was going on. We would just be going down the rapids and the commands would get louder and louder but we didn’t know if we were supposed to be paddling forward, backwards, on the left, on the right, or ducking into the middle. Needless to say, we had a blast. I figured that if five out of the seven people on the raft knew what was going on, that was probably good enough. At one point, we apparently didn’t follow directions very well and the raft got stuck on some rocks in the middle of a rapid. The guide got out and tried to push us around but when I looked back at one point, he had disappeared. Apparently there was a drop-off that he fell into but he got our raft off the rocks in no time.

The scenery from the raft was amazing. We rode through several canyons, some of which were massive. We also saw some underground springs that led to the river, which was really cool. We stopped a couple of times along the way to swim and have a snack. After the trip, we got dropped back off at the restaurant. Lunch was also included in the trip but we didn’t have time to sit around because we had to catch a bus back to Sarajevo. We got our food to-go and then got dropped off at the bus stop. We didn’t have any utensils to eat with so we just ate with our hands and the food was delicious. The bus pulled up right as we finished and the timing couldn’t have been better. Overall, it was a really good day and I’m entertaining the idea of rafting the Tara before I leave Bosnia.

Back home

The following weeks after Bosnia were filled with many amazing moments as I was able to continue my travels. Despite the breathtaking sites I was seeing, I kept thinking about what I had just experienced in Bosnia. Being in Bosnia and the whole experience is something I will continue to reflect upon and learn from.

 

When I returned home, a friend and I went on a bike ride in the middle of the afternoon, which wasn’t the best idea we had since it was blazing hot and the sun was beating down on us. As we were biking along the path, it suddenly began to pour rain. We quickly turned around and were racing against mother nature to get back to our apartment and out of the rain. On the way back we began laughing uncontrollably. There was something about biking in the rain that instantly made me feel like a kid again. I didn’t care about the rain, or getting wet because it was honestly the most fun I had in a long time. As quickly as the rain and laughter came, the unsettling thoughts of Bosnia’s past flashed in my mind. I felt guilty for being able to experience this when so many were racing bullets instead of the rain. So many children couldn’t ride bikes or play outside during the war for fear of being gunned down. When these thoughts enter my mind, I try to remember the incredible resiliency that was shown throughout the war and genocide. This resiliency is still continued on today, and what I try to explain to anyone that askes about my time in Bosnia. I have had many conversations about Bosnia and the survivors of the war and genocide with people I have just met, and those that have been in my life for years. It takes more than a few minutes to try to explain all of the complicated history, war and genocide, let alone my experience while also trying to tell the stories of those we met with while in Bosnia. I am still processing and trying to decipher what happened so explaining it all to someone else has been a struggle for me. But it is something I must do. We all owe it to the survivors and to ourselves to share the facts of what happened in Bosnia.

 

Although I am no longer in Bosnia, I still feel such a strong connection to the people and the country. I don’t think this will ever change. Even though we were only there for a few weeks, it feels like a lifetime was spent there.

 

I am so thankful for the many people that welcomed us with open arms. The vulnerability of those that shared their stories and their homes with us is something I will cherish and continue to talk about. Sladjana, our program assistant, made this experience more meaningful and powerful by sharing her own personal experience. I cannot put into words the gratitude I have for Ann, our professor, who brought this experience to us and continues to build relationships with the people in Bosnia. One day I hope to return, but for now I will keep talking, sharing, discussing and reflecting.