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Six Months in Bosnia

By Haley Z., YES Abroad 2017-2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Rockville, MD

Ten months really isn’t so long in the grand scheme of things. Broken down, it can be categorized into roughly 40 weeks, 300 days, or 4800 waking hours. It can be sorted into numbers and moon cycles and current events. But for me, ten months is nearly 5% of my life (thus far). It’s the amount of time I’ve spent in school every year since I was four, and it was always represented by a calendar year from September to June. When I’m older, maybe ten months really will seem like a blink of the eye, but right now I’m only 17 years old and ten months feels like a lifetime.

I am six months through my exchange, which feels both painfully drawn out and mesmerizingly short. In some ways, I’ve become accustomed to daily life. My school, my friends, my bus ride through early morning smog have all become blasé. They’re no longer new and exciting; they’re just things I do every day. One day blurs into the next, and before I know it a month has passed by. Despite this, I often find myself caught in moments that never becoming boring. I often forget where I am when I am walking to school in the morning and see the vast rolling hills covered with snow, or when I sit down at a cafe and am surrounded by the chatter of a language I’m finally beginning to understand.

I catch myself at the oddest times: reading the newspaper, studying for a math test, or petting a stray cat. I catch my mind wandering and when I bring myself back to reality I am always taken aback by my surroundings. It’s sort of like living in a weird limbo. I am not a local, I’ll never be a local, and I’ll never know as much as a local does. But I’ve been living here for long enough that I can give directions to tourists, argue with taxi drivers who try to short me 20 pennies, and know where to find the cheapest burek near school.

I’ve gotten into this habit of measuring things as a series of “firsts.” The first time I ate cevapi, the first time I got coffee with a friend from school, the first time I got stranded at the bus stop in the snow. I marked down the first month, the first time I was angry or upset, and the first time I understood a full conversation in Bosnian. For a while there were so many new experiences that I always had a new “first.” Part of the reason the six-month mark scares me is because I am afraid I will have to stop measuring firsts and start measuring lasts. I won’t have to start saying goodbye just yet, but I can’t help anticipating it anyway.

There is no way to quantify my experiences, or even to say what’s to come from the remaining part of it. In the end, life goes on. Obviously I am living in a different country and constantly trying to keep up with a lot of things I still don’t understand, but at the end of the day I am still just a high school senior, and in four months I’ll step back into my comfortable suburban American life.