As of two days ago, I have two months remaining in Bosnia. I leave Sarajevo early on June 10th, and then fly into good ole Minneapolis-St. Paul International on the evening of the 11th. Somewhere in there we have a return orientation in DC and a presentation to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (those amazing people who organize the YES program year after year), and somewhere in there I’ll probably binge on hamburgers, goldfish, and ginger ale.
I hadn’t been counting down at all. I’d lost track of the time left here, something pretty easy to do while enfolded in a culture that embraces spending afternoons in a cafe, watching people stroll by. Yet my classmates and friends are looking forward to the end of the year, and are very aware that it’s almost here. My class is already planning its end-of-year trip and fighting about whether they should go to Vienna and Prague, if they should take a Mediterranean cruise, or if they should go to France, Spain and Italy. The weather is warming up, and I’m biking to school. My Bosnian is still frustratingly inadequate, and although I can make myself understood, it takes a lot of effort to smoothly speak and not stumble over grammar. I understand a lot more, even in the time since my last post, but speaking hasn’t improved much. Word order in complex sentences befuddles me, cases catch me by the ankles and make me fall flat on my face, I have a limited vocabulary, and too many people have gotten frustrated at my (lack of) fluency for me to speak confidently.
At least I’m not just searching for context clues anymore- I understand quite a few more words than just nouns and a handful of verbs. I can follow sentences pretty accurately, but the problem is that when I concentrate on understanding every word I don’t hear the next word in the sentence. I don’t want to imagine what I look like when I’m concentrating so hard on understanding everything that I forget to react to the content of the conversation. This, basically, is me:
Going back will definitely be a shock. I’m aware that people carried on with their lives while I left, yet that won’t keep things from surprising me. The internet keeps me pretty well-connected with home and goings-on in America, but a lot of times I’m too focused on life here to care very much. The natural consequences of this are that I forget a lot of things about life in the States. I was on Reddit the other day and saw, lo and behold, five posts in a row about March Madness. What is that? I had forgotten that an entire nation could care about (a) collegiate sports, and (b) sports other than soccer. Something else I’ve gotten used to is not having a snack cupboard that I can access, anytime of the day, for a handful of goldfish or wheat thins. I have seen three SUVs all year, and most of them belonged to Embassy workers. Do people cook without meat? When I return, I’ll have running water at five in the morning. I’m not sure why this is important to me, but I’m looking forward to it.
Those aren’t even the big differences. They don’t even approach cultural mannerisms or living styles, but they’re the first ones that come to mind when I think about living in America. I avoid thinking about the reverse culture shock I’m going to get, because I always feel slightly queasy if I don’t. For now, I’m going to enjoy my less-than-two-months left in Bosnia!
Coming to terms with leaving is really strange. It’s exactly what it was like coming to terms with leaving home- only this time, the trip is more-or-less permanent. Yet once I go home, then I have to face the horrors of embarking on an independent future. That’s exaggerating, of course. College is something I’ve been looking forward to since sophomore year, and although I have yet to decide where I’ll be going, it’s exciting to think about next year. Going back for me is, in addition to reuniting with friends and family, admitting that life progresses and continues to challenge you. Around the time that Bosnia will solidify itself in my mind as “home,” I will return to a different home and then be trundled off to college, where I will put my highly-motivated nose to the grindstone until I get my degree.
Another aspect of going home will be seeing friends who lived a very important year of their lives separate from me. For me, re-connecting will be strange, because I saw many of my classmates for the last time at the end of my junior year. There were promises of “see you this summer!” and “I’ll stop by before you leave!”, but not many of them came to fruition. And it’s not like I’ll see them around the booming metropolis of Wausau either, because the chances of running into people you know are very slim in a city that large. Aw, I’m kidding.
I’m so excited to see my close friends again, the ones who have kept in touch and whose lives I have followed in a confused manner that lacks too many details. It’s like watching the opening scene of “A New Hope” where Princess Leia is stunned and taken captive by Darth Vader, and then skipping to the end of “Return of the Jedi.” Who the heck is she kissing? And who is Luke and if they’re siblings, why was the dude she was kissing worried that she was in love with Luke? Why are there teddy bears running around the forest? It gets pretty confusing. Luckily, this summer there will be plenty of time to sum up everything that happened in between Leia being captured and Leia kissing Han Solo.
It’ll also be GREAT to see all those peers of mine who I have those quirky connections with- my friend I did a health class project with that led to high fives every time we saw each other, the friend I used to read in the hall with during off-mods (to any of my teachers reading this, this never actually happened), the kid who I always loaned a pencil to in history small group, and the ‘W’ row that was always tossed together in locker assignments, large group seating charts, and awards nights. Those are the unlikely friendships derived from pure circumstance that both sides meet with enthusiasm. “HEY! Wow, I haven’t seen you in forever, how are you?” followed by a long, happy conversation. You part ways completely convinced of the other person’s worth, don’t see them for another four or five months, and then repeat the process.
But don’t get the feeling that I’m not sad to leave Bosnia. I’ll miss the people I’ve grown close to, and I might even miss our cat. I’ll miss the completely different culture that I’ve come to embrace (for the most part), and I’ll miss how much I am pushed, every day, by the small things that affront everything I’ve learned up to this point in life. I’ve grown to recognize who I am, to know my limits, to push my boundaries even when it hurts my brain, and I’ve cultivated a persevering and stubborn attitude that I didn’t know I possessed. Speaking of which, it’s time for me to go study Bosnian.