It is hard to summarise two months of new experiences in a short post, nevertheless, I hope I am able to do justice to the places, people and activities I have come to know in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
My longstanding interest in cultures and people, coupled with my ambition to work internationally in the future, culminated in me finding myself in the Grbavica quarter of Sarajevo, late on the 18th July 2021. Having never travelled here before, the environment was unfamiliar and intriguing, and I was eager to get started with my work and the cultural experience.
Early the next morning, whilst touring the city, it became quickly apparent that Sarajevo was not what I expected. I am embarrassed to admit that upon reflection I realise that back in July I was unaware that the vast majority of my “knowledge” of the city stemmed from outdated and sensationalised media and accounts, which painted a dystopian picture of a fragmented city. Whilst this may have been true in the mid 1990’s, my preconceptions were in stark contrast to the vibrant, bustling charm of the modern Sarajevo. This was the first lesson I learnt and one of the most valuable insights that my volunteering opportunity offered me – if possible, it is always best to leave your preconceptions at the door and immerse yourself into the realities of any new environment.
As my work got into full swing, it was serendipitous that many of the activities that the RESOLVE: Network was working on at the time were aligned with my own interests; I am passionate about the environment for example, and was delighted to be supporting the implementation of a Climate Change Digital Talk. Additionally, I appreciate the opportunity to meet young people from Sarajevo; I found their views on the social issues I was working on insightful, and their optimism encouraging.
In my free time, I was of course able to explore Sarajevo and the wider country and enjoy some of what it had to offer. The juxtaposition between the Ottoman and European influences in the city is fascinating, the mountainous landscape stunning, and the food and drink delightful. Throughout my time here, I have consistently felt welcomed by the locals, who in my experience are friendly, kind, and patient (especially in trying to decrypt my rather poor level of Bosnian: I perhaps now hold the record for the longest electricity bill-paying encounter, in which the language used, unsurprisingly moved beyond food, directions and animals).
One highlight of my time here would be seeing the Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo, followed by a trip to the Jewish Museum, which is situated in the oldest synagogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Learning about some of the less prominent history here was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to anyone who visits.
I understand that I am incredibly fortunate to have been offered the opportunity to spend my summer making memories and developing professionally and indeed personally here in Sarajevo, and I would like to extend my thanks to the RESOLVE: Network team, who made my experience fulfilling and rewarding. To anyone reading this in the future who is about to embark on a similar journey, my one piece of advice – and I apologise for the cliché – would be to make every effort to fully immerse yourself into the culture and environment from the beginning; it will make your experience more rewarding and enjoyable, which is so important, as it will be over before you know it!