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Embracing the Reality of Exchange

Helena In Belgrade

Above: Helena visited Belgrade, Serbia, on a school trip.

By Helena  C., YES Abroad 2017-2018 Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Herndon, VA

At least once a day in school, someone will turn to me, and ask “are you bored?” This is understandable, as I attend classes taught entirely in Bosnian, a language I can scarcely understand. “No!” I always answer, and that is (almost) always true. My life here in Bosnia is slower, in nearly every way, than it was in the States, yet boredom is very rarely an issue. In times of doubt, it only takes a moment to realize how very silly it is to be bored in this exhilarating new city, surrounded by possibilities: friends to make, museums to explore, words to learn. Even when I am sitting in a class I do not understand, the new people and language that surround me provide more than enough to ponder. It is true, though, that the daily life of an exchange student does not always feel exhilarating in the way one might hope. 

Helena And Host Niece And Nephew At Bjelasnica

Often my days are filled with quiet, mundane moments of enjoying the company of friends or my host family (right: Helena with her host niece and newphew). In Bosnia, there is a strong coffee culture that manifests in many hours spent over coffee. Rushing is not a priority here the way it is in the U.S., whether that means rushing to drink coffee, or to get from point A to point B. I often find myself a few steps ahead of my friends, rushing to return to school before our break is over, for fear of being late. “Slow down; we’ve got time,” they remind me. They are always right; we do have time. 

It has been strange, at times, adapting to this pace of life. Though I have found activities that I love to fill my days, like teaching English to local children, my days are nowhere near as scheduled as they were in the U.S. As a busy high-schooler in the States, I had my days timed precisely, always frantically fitting in extracurriculars and piles of homework. Here, my days are full, but often my schedule is not. I wake up in the morning sometimes with only a rough idea of what the day may hold. On occasion, this slow pace is frustrating, such as when my bus does not come and makes me late, waiting out in the cold. Without a rigid schedule, though, I am free to roam Sarajevo, exploring whatever may arise. I often return home to find guests in my host-family’s home who I did not know were coming, eager to share coffee and conversation with me. These serendipitous surprises make it impossible to be bored. 

Below: Helena (2nd from right) with fellow YES Abroad student Greg (center) and classmates.

Helena And Greg With Friends In Belgrade