Monday, April 27, 2015

Throwback Thursday

    Oi, it's been awhile. Happy 2015, I guess? Pretty much I'm writing because once again I was reconnected with the lovely people of YES Abroad and it's always so important to me to write about it. Somewhere... anywhere... so here we go!

    Three weeks ago, I was in Chevy Chase, Maryland for the In-Person Selection Event (IPSE), only this time, I was working as a shadower, experienced alumna, and hopeful interviewer. The last time I was at IPSE was three years ago. Three. I watched excited and nervous students come through the doors, making friends with all the other hopefuls, and was instantly sent back into a weird sense of déja vu. Had it really been three whole years since was that student? Three years since I was meeting up with other kids wanting to be youth ambassadors and seeing my Facebook friends in person and hanging off the words of each alum at my IPSE.

     As the weekend progressed, I was constantly thrown into memory lane, as I always find myself on any YES Abroad related event. The Alumni Association event in September was probably the worst of them all, especially having Emma from the year after me – who stayed with Nizama and Esad – be there. We bonded and were nostalgic together, craving all the little things Bosnia-Herzegovina had to offer. During a free moment of the conference, Emma and I escaped to Skype our host family and catch up on life. I sat there listening to Emma and the Hujdurs talk freely in Bosnian and I realized how much and how quickly my Bosnian had disintegrated into nearly nothing. I could barely muster out a "Jesam dobro, školi je dobro takoder," before I felt overwhelmed with how much of the language I had forgotten.

    It was interesting to be on the other side of the table during the interviews. I could feel a student's passion or nervousness as tangibly as if it was my own. I knew what they were going through. Yet, there I was, sitting in on interviews and learning what it truly took to be a YES Abroad student. It made me wonder what they thought during my interview. Which then naturally threw me back in to a whirlwind of emotions about missing Bosnia all over again.

    I've been home for nearly two years and I was expecting that by this point in life, I wouldn't be thinking this much about Bosna i Hercegovina. I thought that I'd look back on it as a happy memory and be able to move on with my life. However, I've realized that the farther away I get from BiH, the more I want to be there. Already the fourth generation of YES Abroad BiH students have been chosen and I'm sitting here like the kooky grandma telling them all about this fabulous country. Three out of the five SHAKE girls have already returned to Bosnia since we left and I'm waiting for the day that I get to do the same. I'm at the point where I could live there all over again. Bosnia-Herzegovina isn't just a place to me anymore. It is in my heart and a part of my being and I will do anything I can to return to that country soon.

    Anyway, I hope this post wasn't too terribly sad.

    Until I can return,
- Katie

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

One More Time Now

    Okay, so it's getting to a point in my life where Bosnia is literally so last year, but so help me, I will talk about this country until I die. So here we go.

    Number one piece of business: It's been a year since my return! Plus a few weeks. My mother told me that I need to let it go (cue Frozen playing in the background) and that I came home a year ago and it's time to just look forward to the rest of my college experience and career and marriage. However, I like remembering the days where life was a little simpler and I didn't have to worry about coughing up $2000 by August for my college downpayment when I don't have a job. Hopefully that will change in the upcoming weeks (or days or, you know, hour. That'd be cool.) and when it does I will gear my attention towards that.

    But as of right now, I'm allowed to reflect on my year abroad because... 

    I was at the YES Abroad PDO once again this past week! This year, working as the group leader for the third generation of Bosnia-Herzegovina students. I felt like some kooky grandma when all these high schoolers are asking me about my experience and I get the privilege to say, "When I was in Bosnia, I walked to school and drank coffee all the time!" This year there are seven students heading off to BiH and two of them are going to be hosted in a city other than Sarajevo, which is crazy considering my year (aka the first year Bosnia was offered), there were only us five SHAKE girls and we were the second smallest group out of the bunch. With seven, we become the largest tied with the kids going to Turkey.

Bosnia-Herzegovina YES Abroad students 2014-2015.

    I did my best to answer any and all of their questions and I found myself remembering details I had merely forgotten because they weren't outright facts. Things like how they carried Kleenex with them at all times and how some men wore murses and how making friends was an easy task due to how friendly everyone is. Okay, so that last bit wasn't something I'd forgotten. To this day I am grateful for all the friendships I've made in Bosnia. Reliving experiences was fun, but it took its toll. When I returned to my room, I went back looking at pictures and contacting my host family and friends, wanting to return immediately and found host-homesickness seeping back into my soul. At least I found a Bosnian restaurant back in Portland that I can go to so I can indulge in ćevapi once again.

    Not only was it fabulous to share experiences and wisdom with the upcoming class of exchange students, but it was just as great to talk about exchange life with other alumni! At the PDO were three other girls from my year, including Sara from SHOCK! Yes, I was very excited. The other girls went to Oman, Turkey, and Sara went to Indonesia. We spent plenty of time talking about return life and host-country life and shared and compared. It's always comforting to talk with other people who went through similar things as you. Maybe not identical, but definitely certain experiences were relatable.

    Anyway, I hope to participate in more YES Abroad events and will pester Skye and Julia and Tara and Elise (sorry guys) until they allow it and hope this is one of many in months/years to come.

    Until further alumni shenanigans,
- Katie

Hangin' with my main man.

Check out that heavenly glory over the Lincoln Memorial.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


    Ah, it's good to be back. Between church, work, school, and what ever else life throws at me, getting around to writing a blog post is sadly one of the last things on my mind.

    Just last week, I attended Ashoka's Youth Venture Social Entrepreneur Workshop which is a fancy title to say that I was in Washington DC for an exchange student alumni workshop for YES and YES Abroad that would give us the tools to address the social issues in our community. There I met, not only other Americans who spent a year in a foreign country, but other international students who spent their year here in the United States. It was so exciting to be surrounded by exchange students again, discussing our home countries and host countries. People from all over the world were in that little coffee colored conference room with common goals and purposes. Young adults from Asia, Africa, Europe, and America all gathered together to be the change makers in their community. 

YES and YES Abroad Alumni
     There, Emma (from SHAKE) was home in DC for Spring Break, so we met up and went out for ćevapi at a Bosnian restaurant not far from my hotel. Attached to the restaurant was a Bosnian grocery store. As I skimmed each *tiny* aisle, I found myself in another nostalgic rut of emotion, wishing I could buy each Munchmallow and Milka bar and blue Fanta bottle to take back with me. As I looked at the items, I heard the store keeper speaking with a man in Bosnian and I could have died, I was so excited. I understood. Not to mention I haven't heard Bosnian in months, so the fact that I knew what they were talking about when my Bosnian is pretty rusty, made my heart swell with joy. Then as we were checking out, the lady had heard us speaking English, so she checked out our items in English, asking if that was all and giving our total. As we left the store, I turned and said, "Hvala puno, dobro večer! (Thank you very much, good evening!)", the shopkeeper looked pleasantly surprised as she stuttered out a "Molim, priatno! (You're welcome, have a good day)" My smile widened and I nearly skipped, I was so happy for that moment of bosanski jezik (Bosnian language).
     As I spent time with my new-found friends from all sorts of countries, it just made me so happy to talk about Bosnia once again in an open environment where people were excited to hear my stories and live my experiences with me, because they had gone through similar events. Lately, the most I've talked about my exchange is sneaking it into essays for school.

     Then, just last month, my sister returned from India after six months teaching English and kid's church at an orphanage that my dad has been highly involved in for quite awhile. For the first couple of weeks that she was back, however, we couldn't find time to have sister time. She was back, but then I got snowed in at school. Then she was off to Hawaii to surprise our cousin. Then I was off to DC for the workshop. On Wednesday was one of the first times we had actually sat down and talked about life. As we sat on the stairs of the church stage after youth group, she looked down looking a bit melancholy.
    "Do you ever miss Bosnia?" She asked, quietly.
    I sighed, probably for added effect and being dramatic. "Everyday," I said. "Don't you miss India?"
    "Of course, but nobody cares anymore. Nobody asks about it."
    "I know." And I knew better than most. People hear your few stories that you have on back up that you want to tell everyone, but after that, they don't find it interesting. You went away, you came back, that's cool, move along. And there is nothing you want more than to find someone you can always go to and just discuss it with. People don't understand the slight changes in your behavior from being away and the only other people who get it, are the people who did the exact same thing as you.

Drinking from the Sebilj - it means you'll one day return to
Sarajevo and I seriously hope this is true.
    After that sister moment and missing our countries, I found myself wanting to speak Bosnian again and so I wrote my host mom and talked to my friends back in Sarajevo. Missing my host country isn't even something that comes and goes anymore, it's a state of my being. Sure, I've established myself back here in Oregon, become a college kid, made more friends, and gone on different adventures, but the thought of my Sarajevo life is always still there. I take any and every opportunity to slip Bosnia into conversation (I'm sorry, a billion times over if this annoys you) and am working ways to take my passion for my love of cultures and writing and mix it together (so far we're at blog posts, articles on Go Abroad, and essays for school. Next stop: everything.). My love for Bosnia won't die down anytime soon and there's nothing I want more than to be back at Panjina Kula with Esad and Nizama or down at a café in Baščaršija with SHAKE or sitting in my Teen Group at Evanđeoska Crkva.

    Anyway, there's my Bosnia love for the day.

    Until next time when I have more sentimental feelings to share,
- Katie


Tuesday, February 4, 2014


    Ah, exchange blog. I've missed you so much this past month. Shall we be nostalgic together?
    It's strange how such a normal task, even in your home and host country can bring you nostalgia and flashbacks when you start up again.
    This, for me, was taking the bus.

    Before Bosnia, the only busses I ever took were my yellow school bus for a max of ten minutes everyday and that one time I took a smelly, over-crowded bus in Las Vegas. Needless to say, my fondest memories of American life were not on those rides.

    When I arrived in Bosnia, I soon realized public transportation was going to be the main mode I would navigate the city. I wasn't too thrilled. My idea of busses were smelly and noisy and altogether unpleasant. People were grumpy and children were restless and it was the last thing I wanted to join in on. The third or fourth day of me being in Sarajevo, my host sister picked me up after language class and told me we would be taking the bus home. I couldn't imagine why, but that thought made my stomach churn. She told me to pull out 1.60 KM and that when the bus pulled up, I would squeeze my way on to bus, hand my money to the driver, and try to get a seat.
    The seat thing didn't happen.
    The bus quickly filled up and we ended up pressed against the windows on a hot day for the next fifteen minutes, falling into the next person every time we took a sharp turn (aka every thirty seconds).

     In those short ten months, the bus became a normal part of life. Every time I needed to get home, I would wait for bus 72 or 74, board the bus, flash my student pass (even if my bus driver soon started recognizing me and smiled every time I boarded), took a seat (or stood and held on to the bar for dear life) and rode up the mountain to Panjina Kula. Most days, I would sit silently and listen to my iPod or contemplate the next blog post I would write, but every now and then I would talk to the person near me.
     One day it was an elderly lady who asked me if the bus went to Sredrenik, but I didn't understand her at first and I felt disappointed I couldn't help her. But instead of writing me off, she slowed down her speaking and used easier language so I could understand her.
    Another time I sat by an old man who started talking to me about how he visited America when he was a college student.
    I rode up with my friends and showed them the beautiful view from my vantage point.
    By the time my exchange was over, I came to truly enjoy those bus rides. They were simple and uncomplicated unless someone heard me speak English and then I would hear them talking about me being an "amerikanka". That was rare enough though, so, I could deal with the immature teenagers that would confront me and make fun of me.

    Since I returned home, I hadn't ridden the bus since my last full day in Bosnia. No matter where I've gone in America or Canada, there was a car to take me there. I've started taking it for granted and have limited my going places because I don't have any way of getting around on certain days.
    Just last week I was hired for a job that is a straight 77 blocks down the road from my school which would take an hour and a half to walk and nothing important is down there for it to be "on the way" so someone could drive me. Friday was training day and I had to fall back on something I hadn't done in seven months. Public transportation. I looked up the bus schedule and made my way to the stop.
     Well that turned out to be an adventure.
     Firstly, I didn't know where to pay for my ticket and the bus driver got mad at me for being confused. Then I forgot my phone back at campus. Then I arrived twenty minutes early plus the general manager was home sick with the flu so my training was cancelled. Then I realized I didn't know the returning bus schedule so I had to call my mother to get the numbers for one of my friends from church who was currently in Portland and she didn't have them, so I had to call my dad to get them. By the time this whole ordeal was over, I was already exhausted and that wasn't even the majority of my day.

    However, taking the bus reminded me of all those rides in Bosnia, turning around narrow corners and talking to strangers (sorry parents and teachers who told me not to do that). The entire fifteen minute ride to my workplace, I was constantly thinking back to Bosnia and how different it was. The busses weren't hand-me-downs, there wasn't nearly as much graffiti, and absolutely no old people to hold your bags for you. There was so much room between each person, nobody daring sitting next to each other if they could avoid it and I found the whole situation funny.
    Bus rides were a normal, mundane task and here I was thinking back to how different it was and how I actually missed my old bus rides with the beautiful scenery and even the general people (my bus was full of old people)! I'm sure as these next few weeks go by and I take the bus more consistently, I won't think about my bus rides in Bosnia and how it was always an adventure, but instead just think of it as part of the job. But as for now, bus rides are a constant reminder and that's something I'm perfectly okay with.

    Anyway, I have to go do some reading for classes tomorrow, not to mention my sister returns from India tomorrow night! Ah, I am so excited!

    Until more bus rides and coffee,
First on the bus with Hels in BiH. It was a nice feeling.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of the Season

     Ah, here we are on the never completely over blog post where I become nostalgic and go over events of the year. It's crazy to me how much can happen in a single year. Twelve months, fifty-two weeks, 365 days.

    I can't believe that a year ago, I was in Bosnia, a fact I never fully forget, but don't quite always think about it. I would be at Savannah's host family's house watching music videos with the rest of SHAKE (Savannah, Helena, Anna, myself, and Emma for those who forgot. OR YES Abroad BiH 2012-2013 for those who don't even know) and eating the random food on the table. We all called out "Happy New Year" together and watched fireworks go off through the fog and smoke from wood stoves and it was so strange to have celebrated the old year and a new year in a foreign country.

     January: The month that went from zero to a hundred in a few days. First, nothing was happening as I slept in everyday and drank topla čokolada (hot chocolate). Then it was the youth conference in Mostar with some of my best friends and my package came from home and then my wallet got stollen on the tram. After that, January died back down as it slipped into February and into the second semester of school and my exchange.

     February: One of the quietest months I had. Conversations with my host mom, a SHAKE birthday party for Emma when we went bowling, and then my own birthday which was spent alone in my room because I was sick and my host family thought it was the next day.

     March: Life picked up quickly in March, kicking it off with a big youth group day at my church plus guests from Switzerland! It was one of the most fun days I had while being in Sarajevo and I still remember it so well as we dashed through Old Town, laughing until we cried. The next day was my birthday party with SHAKE as we headed up to the top of the mountain to see the view and have sandwiches and throw rocks as far as we could (Helena's could have gone far if it didn't hit a particular target...). Once we returned home, it was the Fruit Loop Catching Challenge and I won and it was lovely.

     April: My spontaneous month, full of impromptu hair cuts (a big deal in girl world, ok?), random photo shoots across Sarajevo, and practically living at my church for a weekend because of concerts and foreigners. SHAKE traveled to Croatia and I went golfing with my friend from church (an interesting experience indeed).

    May: My mother came to visit me in Bosnia this month and we traveled with SHAKE to Croatia again, this time Helena's mom joining us for part of the trip. It was wonderful to have her share part of my experience abroad. Once she left, SHAKE began wrapping up the year and it was so incredibly sad to think we were heading home that next month. We had our last cultural excursion, we talked to the American Ambassador, and another exchange student in Bosnia stayed with me for a few days which was so lovely!

    June: Probably one of the saddest and happiest months I had this year. I said goodbye to all my friends I made from a year abroad and then said hello to my friends and family waiting for me in America and Canada! My life at that point was just a big, jumbled mess of feelings and I didn't quite know what to make of them.
Saying goodbye to my host mom, Nizama!

SHAKE for the last time.
At the ECA for our Bosnia presentation

Finally get to hug my brother!
    July: Went to my home church's camp and it was so fun! My friendships only grew and everything, for that moment, felt just how it should be.

    August: I began my transition into American life again and then into college! My best friend became my roommate and college life vaguely reminded me of Bosnia. It was such a nice, familiar feeling to be meeting so many new people and going to classes again.

    September: Reverse culture shock bit me in the butt during this month, but I tried to ward it off by getting a super part-time job and going on late night Mexican food runs with my friends. Nothing too exciting other than my feelings for Bosnia were about to explode and what made it worse was my sister left for India to teach English!
This is me pretending to hug my sister because she isn't here.
    October: I became a published author on Go Abroad! I spent more time writing, which I absolutely adore to do as well as going out with friends more and doing things I normally wouldn't. It's been wonderful.

    November: Began the month with the crushing news of the mass grave found in Bosnia, but I think I just made it worse when I went to All-Night Prayer at school and just found myself crying more than I should. But it was still good to be a part of. It was also Thanksgiving where we had the multitudes of foreigners (Brazilians and Canadians, plus an Alaskan who is practically Canadian so...) and it was such a fun weekend, especially when my team won the football game. I scored a touch down even!

  And December: This month has been productive, to say the least. School ended and all my friends flew out to their homes (I merely got picked up. Perks of living 45 minutes away) and since then I have been hanging out with my family and local friends, keeping up on my writing and helping around the church and home. Christmas was small because my sister was gone, but then I received news that my French host sister is coming to visit me in July!

   So here's to 2014. I don't know if it'll top 2012 or 2013 (both were pretty fabulous years), but I'm going to make the most of it. It may have been six months since the end of the best time of my life, but I'm planning on making 2014 better. I'm not sure how, but maybe with a look of optimism, I'll accomplish that.

    Anyway, cheers to the new year!

    Until 2014,

P.S. Photo cred to the lovely Anna Wright, the wonderful Stephanie, and my own fantastic mother.