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.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Being Connected

    When you read the news, sometimes you feel a little disconnected. Something happening in a country on the other side of the world that doesn't truly affect you, so you feel a bit sad for the people that are experiencing it, but otherwise you feel generally okay. Your city and country are doing quite well compared to others, no wars being fought within the borders, no immense and noticeable damage done. However, when you are connected to another country, the stories become more real and more apparent. You feel for those countries, even if you aren't in them. And that's something Exchange has done to me.

    Every time Bosnia and surrounding countries are brought up, I instantly get excited. However today was a different story.
    This evening, while I was enjoying a basketball game, my mom texted me the link to an article about the Bosnian War. Thinking it would be something a bit fascinating, I opened it, not ready for what was to be read.
     "Hundred of bodies found in Bosnia mass grave" it read at the top in big, bold, black lettering. My heart sank at the words. My mind flashed back to going to Srebrenica where thousands of graves were spread out, thousands of people murdered and dumped into a ditch. We watched videos of families after they figured out what happened to their fathers and sons and husbands. We read biographies of bodies they identified. None of us left that building feeling happy. There was a hole in our hearts and we were living so close to the place it happened. We all knew families that had been affected by the war.
    All of us were connected, which is why, as I read the article, I fell into a deeper slump.
    "231 bodies found."
    "Body parts of another 112 dug up."
    "The number increases by the day or even the hour."
    "Personal items found to help identify them."
    "Grave nearly 33 feet deep."
    "Mass grave under garbage disposal site."
    I kept reading, no matter how much it hurt. These bodies found were people. They had families and friends and here, nearly twenty years after the war, they are finally going to discover what happened to them and those wounds are going to be ripped open once again.

     All this hurts so much more than I expected it to hurt. I had been there. I lived there. Both history and current events become so much more real when they have faces and there are so many faces and stories I relate to those found bodies.
    I told one of my friend's this when I heard the news. She was sad, of course, as anyone is when they hear tragic stories of war, but she didn't understand the pain I was feeling as my heart reached out to those families who are going to discover what happened to their loved ones. My friends don't understand that  I stood in the empty tire factory where they told the villagers to come and they would be safe. But they used it as a way to get everyone together in one place. They separated the men and women and then took the men away and shot them all, even the boys. I stood in the place they were buried, looking out over a thousand white crosses. I saw the empty shells of houses that were bombed. I lived with a family who had to abandon their home and live in a refugee center. Their children are still bitter and angry today. That is why news like this is sad to me. They don't understand that I had been there, seen that, and felt things I never thought I would feel. Never before had I been connected to such tragic pasts and there I was standing in the midst of a genocide. It doesn't matter that it was almost two decades ago. I was connected now and it makes this all so real and painful.

My prayers go out to the families that will have to face the news in due course. I never thought exchange would come with such a burden so long after it's been over. I didn't know that everything that happened in that country was almost as if it was happening to me as well. Nobody told me how 

exchange could effect me like it is now.

A fraction of the names of people found in Srebrenica after the mass genocide.
Anyway, I hope this post gives a bit of food for thought to all who read it. Thanks to my mom for letting me use some of her wording explaining how I feel better than I ever could.

Until Bosnia pops up in the news again (hopefully for the good - wait! Bosnia made it to the World Cup! Yay!),


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Application Season

    Wow. It's actually crazy to think that it's that time of year again for students all over the States to fill out the application to go on YES Abroad. It barely felt like any time at all that I was filling out the application to come to Bosnia. And it feels almost less than that when I first applied in 2010 (I was rejected, in case anyone was wondering). This is the fourth application season I've gone through. Twice actually filling it out, once witnessing it from abroad, and now witnessing it from within the States after my own exchange.

    The application season is stressful, no doubt. You think you have four months to complete your application, which you do, and that seems like so much time! But then the holidays roll along and you get caught up in singing 'Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer' and eating turkey and next thing you know the application is due!
    I took all four months to complete the application. Whether it was switching in and out my pictures or editing my essays or getting good recommendations, I was constantly working on it. The first time I did it, I wasn't really thinking anything through (hence why I was rejected). My essays were short and incomplete, my pictures not really clear on what I did, and I didn't explain my extracurriculars well enough to give anyone a clear idea of what I liked to do. So! For you current applicants for 2014-2015 (what even. How.) I have some advice.

1. Get a second opinion. And I don't mean from one of your friends. I mean, go to your English or History teacher or parent/guardian or someone who knows what a good application looks like. They will help you make yourself sound wonderful (when I'm sure you all are ;) ) and having a well-crafted essay definitely helps. I got my mom to edit my essays with me, rewording things that didn't sound right or adding things I didn't think of and it turned my essays into wonderful little pieces of work.

2. Take your time. This is extremely important. Most people will want to book it out in a night or two, but taking your time is really key. You can go over essays and change things you don't like, add things that you've begun, and be overall satisfied with your finished works. Plus it diminishes the stress when you aren't thinking, "Oh gosh this needs to be done by tomorrow and I've only written a sentence and put my information in." If you can slowly go through everything, you'll be sure not to miss anything and get everything perfect.

3. Talk to alumni. Whether it's for your sake or your parents, it's always good to talk to people who have been on the program before. It makes you feel secure and comfortable with what you're doing, not to mention they give you great help during the entire process. I had my list of alumni I talked to and they encouraged me and helped me like some people just couldn't. They assure you things will be alright and push you to keep going. There is a Facebook group so be sure to join it! You'll find people just like you, too. :)

4. Research. You may not know a lot about YES Abroad or the countries you are applying to study in and the last thing you want happening is saying something along the lines of, "I want to study abroad, especially in a south east Asia country like Oman!" It just won't look right. Having a basic knowledge of the countries you want to study abroad in is always good to use so you can convince the reviewers that you really want this.

5. Write your essays carefully. Your essays will always be tricky. It's difficult sometimes to convey feelings into words, so definitely think them through and plan them. It's easy to start rambling and stray from the original topic. With the Host Family letter especially, be honest, definitely, but careful with your wording. Don't use popular American slang or idioms that won't translate well into the foreign language of your potential host country and family. Make it clear what kind of person you are, your hopes and dreams, your family, all while using clear language that can be translated well. Again, don't lie about yourself or make yourself sound better/worse than who you are. Get that second opinion to help you write an honest essay of how people perceive you, so your potential host family/country know you before they even get to meet you.

6. Really, really want this. YES Abroad is pretty crazy in knowing the people who really want this and who would be good for this program. This program isn't some easy vacation where you can chill the entire year. It's important you have real, honest reasons why you want to be a part of this program. You have to want to challenge yourself and be tested. Don't try painting yourself in this grandeur, making yourself sound better than you are because they will see through you in the interviews. Learn your reasons for going and voice them properly. Don't go on a social media site being a know-it-all and respect everyone else applying. You have to be good for this program and to be good for the program, you have to be good with everyone else.

    I hope this all helps and I wish luck to all the current applicants! Feel free to contact me on Twitter @KateWells7 or comment on my blog. Here's the link to the application: http://www.yes-abroad.org/pages/how-apply
    Anyway, I have to go write an article for www.goabroad.org where I'm soon going to be a published writer there! So crazy to think that.

    Until more advice and nostalgia,

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Missing Bosnia

    Hello again, I suppose it's been awhile, but I found it fitting.

    Over one year ago, I arrived Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina on the YES Abroad program. Since then I discovered a new culture, tasted different foods, stayed with a family, and lived a completely different life. Those ten months spent in Sarajevo were the best ten months I've ever lived, and I can say that honestly. The Hujdur family was the host family of dreams. They were the kindest people and the funniest and were so easy to love.  The culture was so diverse and unique and I learned so much about it (and yes, I probably annoy people when I spurt out random Bosnian facts). The language was a struggle, but with it I had some of the best (albeit simplest) conversations with people and it was the source of most of my laughter.

    Coming home was fine at first. I talked with all my friends from before and, initially, it felt like nothing changed. For awhile, everything was exactly the same and I fell back into the rhythm of Newberg life.
     And then... reverse culture shock hit. I didn't realize that reverse culture shock worked the exact same way as normal culture shock. A little bit when you first arrived, but not too bad, then things got normal, and then all of a sudden you are desperately wishing and hoping to be back in your host country, talking to your host parents, eating ćevapi in Baščaršija.

     Lately, missing Bosnia is like a rock in my stomach. It's not a new, exciting topic of conversation that I can blabble on about incessantly. It's no longer in the strange dream state where I'm still figuring out if I even did that. I spent my entire Senior year in Bosnia and it was wonderful and I want to not stop talking about it for the rest of my days. However, the fact of the matter is I can't always talk about it. People get bored or they don't care because, to them, they have no point of reference, these aren't their personal experiences. Finding someone who actually seems genuinely interested at this point in mid-September - three months after my exchange finished - is pretty rare, but I take that opportunity. And getting me to stop talking about Bosnia is not an easy feat.

    Now that I'm in college, I find things running very closely alike to my life in Bosnia. My parents aren't always there, I go to coffee shops to work on homework, I have to walk a lot of hills to get places (my campus is built on a hill. Lovely.), I'm making brand new friends, and re-establishing myself. And instead of giving me a brand new sense of adventure, I just feel Bosnia homesick. Skyping Nizama and Esad sure didn't help either. I found myself longing to be back in my cozy room upstairs with the wooden ceiling and the view that overlooked all of Sarajevo. I wanted to sit in their living room and have cake and coffee while we watched Farma and they made me laugh about everything.

    When I first came home, I was surprised how easily I slid back into my American lifestyle. Sure, I mentioned Bosnia quite a bit, but now that I'm more or less "fully" integrated, I just want to go back to being a bosanka (Bosnian).

     What I'm getting at is... I miss Bosnia. I miss everything about it, from my family to my friends to my walks around the city to the view to the bus rides. I miss it and it makes me terribly sad I can't go back this instant.

     Anyway, I know this is a downer post, but the feelings are real and it's all exchange related. Just know that exchange seriously does some stuff to you and it's not always easy to deal with.

    Until more Bosnia/exchange student thoughts,

From the beginning...
...to the end.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Home Again

   Most of you are probably thinking that my blog entries were finished. I ended on a high note and finished with sentiment and I should stop while it feels right. But to me, it doesn't feel right. True, my exchange year is done, but there's so much more to it than just being in your host country.

    I've been home a little over three weeks. It doesn't seem like a lot of time, but so much has happened since I've arrived. But before I reach that, a few exchange related things.

    1) The final goodbyes. The drive to the airport that morning was weird. The sun was rising over the mountains and I said my last goodbye to my home for the past ten months. As we drove down the familiar road, Esad turned and asked me, "To school, right Katie?" and I laughed and said, "Yes of course!" Sadly, I wasn't going to school as we continued to drive across the city to the airport. Once there, we unloaded my suitcases and Esad looked at me and told me goodbye.
    "Goodbye?" I asked, thinking he'd be coming into the airport.
    "Yes, I have to go to work," was his reply and I didn't hesitate to give him a big hug as he kissed my cheek.
    "Ćao, moja Keti (goodbye, my Katie)." I gave him one last tight squeeze and waved goodbye as Nizama and I headed into the airport. There we found the other girls and their host families checking in when the thing we had all been dreading happened.
     Over. Weight. Luggage.

     All of us ended up with our suitcases open, rearranging items, pulling out the heavy clothing and boxes and adding them to carry-ons. Eventually we had everything perfected and checked our luggage through, booking it up to security where we had to rush goodbyes. That wasn't fun. I hugged Nizama tightly four times in-between hugging others and she told me, with tears in her eyes, I have to come back very, very soon. After a final hug goodbye, I headed through security, waved across the gate and boarded our plane.

    Helena sat beside me and we gazed, quite sadly, out the window as we departed from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; our home for the past ten months. The red roofs disappeared from view, the Dinaric Alps slowly dissolving underneath the clouds. Helena and I then found ourselves speaking random Bosnian just to console ourselves.
    Our plane landed in Vienna and we quickly found our gate, bought some lunch, got checked through, and boarded our flight to the U.S. of A!

    The flight was ten and a half hours long, so I won't give you a play-by-play of what we did. Mostly sleeping, eating, and watching Pokémon with Emma. We also met some Bosnian-Americans sitting across the aisle from us and it was nice to talk to them for a brief while.
     We eventually landed in DC, all of us excited, nervous, and pointing out every single different thing that America had and Bosnia didn't. The "trolley", that took us from one terminal to another (except it had leather seats, double the size, extremely clean. and everyone was speaking English), the advertisements in English, the customs guy saying, "Welcome home, Katie," and the sheer amount of shininess of American things. We all grouped together, quickly passed customs, grabbed our super overweight luggage, wrapped my Bosnian flag around my shoulders like a cape, and then headed out of the gate to find Skye!

l-r: Savannah, Anna, me, Helena, Emma
     2) Return Orientation. Once we were grouped, we loaded into a van and headed off to the hotel. Every second was us pointing out the window at a store and exclaiming excitedly about things we hadn't been able to do the entire time we were abroad. We arrived at our hotel and found the Morocco group in the lobby! It was a fun reunion, especially with all our stories to tell from ten months abroad.
    After checking in and dinner, we headed back up to the rooms f
or discussion on our past year. It was weird to talk about ten months worth of events. To look back on everything that had happened to us, good and bad. Bosnia was still in a dream state. It still didn't feel like twenty four hours before we were in a separate continent, let alone country.
     We wrapped up our Reentry Orientation and then discussed our presentation for the ECA the next day. Skye headed out around 11pm, leaving us to finish our presentation and then do Paper Plate Awards among ourselves. Each award was dead on and Anna should have won 'Best Pun Award' because oh my gosh they were prime. By 1 in the morning, all of us were dead on energy and jet lag hitting hard so we called it a night.

Morocco and BiH YES Abroad 2012-2013
     Next morning we were rushed off into a van and headed towards the ECA for our presentations. As we made our way in, we all expected different things of how it would be; most of us expecting a large auditorium with a giant crowd. Much to our liking, it was casual and relaxing in a small board room, allowing us to talk more than to present. Once finished discussing each of our countries and reminiscing on the still dream like place we were just in, we were awarded our Completion of Program awards that will definitely be hanging on my wall in due course.

    3) More goodbyes and more stress. Once we were done with our presentations, we began the last, worst step of exchange. Goodbyes to the four girls you just spent the last year with. Emma was first and we didn't have a lot of time to give her a real, true goodbye as SHAK was rushed away onto a shuttle bus and Emma taken away to where she was meeting her parents. It was sad to think that SHAKE was officially being broken apart as we waved away through the window as the bus pulled away. As we headed down the road towards the airport, I kept thinking, "Oh, I'll see Emma on Thursday when we have History," but then I remembered that I wouldn't be seeing Emma. At least for a very long time and that was upsetting.
     At the airport we began to check-in, however our group had tripled in size when we joined the returnee Lithuanian YES students and had to check in all together. That caused a bit of stress when everyone had to reorganize their luggage again because American luggage criteria were very different than Bosnian luggage criteria. So I began taking things out again and switching my heavy things out into my new State Department tote bag and, after a lot of work, I was able to check everything in. Once we were done and through security, we had to say goodbye to the Morocco kids who had a different gate than us.
    Eventually we reached our gate, bought lunch, and then next thing we knew, Savannah had to catch her flight. More hugs, some tears, and then Savannah was out of sight and we were down to HAK. We finished our lunch, talked about going home and already missing Bosnia, Skyped my mom briefly, and then it was Anna's turn to leave. I wasn't enjoying the cutting down of SHAKE. We hugged each other tightly, more tears were shed, as we watched Anna board her plane and then it was down to me and Helena. We waited at Helena's gate, speaking Bosnian because hearing so much English was weird, until it was her turn to board her plane and I needed to head off to my gate because it was far down a corridor. With much dread, SHAKE was officially dispersed, heading towards our separate corners of America.
     My plane was a bit delayed as I waited with anticipation and a bit of anxiety to get on my flight and get to Portland. While I waited in line, however, I found myself eavesdropping into everyone's conversations because I still found it so strange to hear so much English. Finally we boarded and took off and I was on my way home.

     4) The hellos! The entire flight home, I slept. Which I found strange, considering how many emotions I was going through. But it was good, because in the end it completely eliminated my jet lag. When the plane landed, I felt my entire stomach erupt in jitters as I waited to get off the plane and run to where my family would be waiting. The hallway was practically empty and probably not very long, but it felt like I was maneuvering around everyone and it was a mile long. Finally I reached the edge, my brother yelling my name as loudly as he could until I spotted my parents, sister, and one of my brothers (the other was in New York). Lots of hugs, smiling, and kisses. We then made our way downstairs to baggage claim, I being perfectly content with everyone who came to get me chattering aimlessly about anything that happened to me in the past 48 hours. We waited for my bags when I noticed my mom standing sort of awkwardly, trying to snap a picture that nobody was really in.
    "Mom? What are you doing?" I asked her, very confused of how she was maneuvering around people.
    "I'm taking pictures."
    "Of what? Nobody is in your shot."
Charity and I!
    "No, it was just the way you were all lined up, but then Anna moved," she told me.
    "But Anna's right there, Tyler's over there. Mom, what are you doing?" I asked her again when she was still trying to take a picture. Tyler huffed and pointed to the side where I turned and found Charity! My hands flew to my shocked face as I exclaimed excitedly, "Oh!" then turned and noticed her sister, Esther and shouted again, "oh!" and then grabbed both of them and hugged them, as I hadn't done so in those past ten months. I then noticed Ashley and Tim (family friends) and concluded that this night couldn't get any better.
     We gathered the rest of my luggage and then, after I said I was awake enough, we went out for ice cream at Salt & Straw in Portland, before heading home while I was riding an emotional high. At home, I found my Grammy sitting in the living room waiting for me and I found this a good time to give out gifts from Sarajevo. Around midnight I found my body crashing and decided it would be a good time for me to go to sleep.

     5) Summer and settling in. Since I've arrived, I've had even more hellos, especially when I visited Canada from our family friend's wedding and stayed with my best friend as we had adventures. I've been keeping myself decently busy and am always more than happy to answer any questions people have about Bosnia. However, I've gotten some Frequently Asked Questions, so I decided it would be best if I answer them here:

    a) How was Bosnia? Bosnia was fantastic! I loved it all so much. But don't expect me to say more than that. You give me a broad question, you will get a broad answer.

    b) What was your favorite/least favorite experience? Again, I can't go through ten months of events and pick out one experience that was the best or worst. Instead I'll give you five or six, like Travnik with my host family was amazing, the youth events with my church were so much fun, getting extremely sick on Christmas and my birthday was not fun, and losing my wallet and both my cameras was definitely not a good experience. But that was my own fault, so I can't really blame anyone on that.

    c) Do you miss Bosnia? OF COURSE I MISS BOSNIA. Nizama sent me an e-mail two weeks ago saying how they miss me and then a certain song comes on that reminds me of a certain event or simply my walks to school. I miss my friends, I miss my host family, I miss History (even if my teacher scared me to death), I miss cevapi (more than I care to admit), and I just miss Bosnia.

    d) Did you learn the language? Yes? No? Sort of? I could communicate alright, but there is no way I could have a complete conversation without a lot of errors.

   e) Are you happy to be back? It's a bittersweet feeling. Of course I am happy to see my friends and families and be able to go in a store and actually be able to ask for help without miming things or praying that someone will speak English. I've been home for three weeks and four days and, while some things feel very familiar, life still feels a bit off at times. I feel like I need to do my daily walks into town for school, I feel like I should be speaking Bosnian with Nizama and scolding Irfan. I feel like I should meet up for coffee at Bombon or go bum around BBI or Baščaršija.
     My exchange doesn't feel like it should be completely done... but it is.
     And so I move along, off to PBC and *hopefully* greater things. More world travels, more people, more experiences. I've done a lot for an 18 year old, but like Ariel, I want mooorrreee.
     I'm happy to be back and now I'm settling into life a bit more, even if I do sometimes yell random phrases in Bosnian.

     And now, after a week and a half in Newberg, then a week and a half in Edmonton, and finally back in Newberg (and in my own room! Ahhhh!), I like to say I've readapted and Bosnia is out of dream state and I can say with confidence, "I did that," and I can picture everything perfectly inside my head and enjoy everything that happened there, especially as I look pack on diary entires, blog posts, and pictures. I miss and love Bosnia and I'm sad that I'm not there anymore, but I'm happy to be home again.

    Anyway, don't expect this to be the last blog post, because I may or may not write again if something happens like our anniversary or exchange advice. We'll see. I have some ideas.

    Until you come back again,

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Doviđenja i Vidimo Se

    So here we are. Sitting at our computers, witnessing the end of my exchange. Maybe I've become too attached to this blog, I've overly enjoyed telling you about my day-to-day life, but here you are reading it. And I thank you for that. So let's do this together and finish up my last few days here.

    Friday marked the last day of high school I will ever have to attend. From that day on, I am officially a high school graduate and now moving on to bigger and better things aka COLLEGE. I'll be attending Portland Bible College in Portland, Oregon and I am super excited for that. After that, I'm not sure. I just hope it involves a lot of writing and a lot of traveling.
     After school finished, I donated my unwanted clothes and books to the office and turned in my cell phone which provided a huge problem because from then on out, I had no way of communicating with the other girls. Eventually we hunted each other down through Facebook and other friends' phones and eventually I met up with Savannah and we headed over to Helena's house to help set up her present to her host family. Once that was finished, her host family arrived almost minutes after and insisted we have ice cream, cake, coffee, and juice to celebrate. Already so much food and we hadn't even arrived at the main event!
    A while later, we set off to meet our favorite Swiss-Italian from school, Lorenzo, who invited us over for homemade, legit Italian pizza. Needless to say, it didn't take much to convince us to come over. Once at his extremely gorgeous house (I'm not even kidding, all of us kind of died when we saw how nice it was), we began working. And by 'we', I mean Lorenzo started the pizza and Helena and Emma started dessert, Savannah was on music duty, and I sat around waiting for someone to tell me to do something. Eventually I got to set the table and I didn't feel useless, aimlessly wandering the main floor looking at their library (with books in English, French, and Italian. There might have been a German book in there, I don't remember).
    Once the pizza was ready, we sat down to eat, but not before making Lorenzo read Dante's Inferno to us in Italian. I think I speak on behalf of all of SHAKE when I say that was one of the highlights of the evening. We have been waiting for him to speak Italian all year. And it finally happened.
Deciding the movie and reading random books.
    We finished up dinner, just as Lorenzo's parents were leaving for their date night and we did a quick meet and greet before getting a tour of their house, which led us to find Lorenzo's baby pictures and all of us laughing at our Baby Italiano. The top floor was this attic space with a really awesome turtle that Savannah was particularly interested in and that's where we ended up hanging out for the majority of the night.
    After securing the turtle when we left the top off the cage and Savannah asked, "can turtle climb out?", we headed back downstairs to watch Galaxy Quest, a sort of parody of Star Trek and Star Wars. Half way through the hilariously nerdy movie, Lorenzo's mom called to tell us they would give us a ride home which resulted us in hearing Lorenzo speak French. All of SHAKE went into this sort of weird mode; me fangirling, Helena in this jealous attitude, Emma giggling, and Savannah kind of like, "oh my gosh this is cool."

    We finished up Galaxy Quest and then headed back up to the attic for more chilling, weird conversations, and lots of jokes and laughter, until his parents were home and we all loaded into the car to head home, but not before his mom told us that we were welcome to stay in any of their homes whenever we visited, whether it was Switzerland, Italy, or Bosnia; we had a place.
     I was the first to be dropped off, which was sad, because that resulted in me being the first good bye. It was sad, Lorenzo being one of the first true friends I was saying good bye to. We hugged goodbye, made promises to Facebook and Skype each other, and then waved goodbye as I headed into my house.

    Then came Saturday! Busy, busy day. It started off with me meeting up with Helena to finish up gift shopping and grabbing our last cappuccino in Baščaršija. Oh sad day! Once the rain stopped and I bought my Bosnian flag, we headed out to Anna's house for a barbecue of ćevapi and chicken, with cake for dessert. It was nice to all hang out together before we take off tomorrow and just talk with Anna's host family. Our friend, Amila, joined us, which then added to our hard goodbyes, especially when she handed us all cards. We hugged tightly and then went our separate ways; her to the main part of the city and I to Megan's house (a friend from church). Again, the house was absolutely stunning and I got a happy, talkative taxi driver on the way over, which always makes things better. There we had girls night with six other girls from church, sitting around the dinner table eating a traditional Swiss dinner of cheese, potatoes, and meat, with small dishes of fruit and vegetables to grab and slip on your plate. We all had a great time, talking and laughing about guy stories, weird adventures, and Megan's irrational ginger fear. We drank our coffee and ate Swiss chocolate (oh my gosh so goooood.) and lounged around with their overly excited dog, Hana.

     Eventually, the evening came to a close as all of us became fairly tired and again I had to say a permanent goodbye to Megan. She offered her home as another place to stay and I was so very grateful that I was able to meet her and hang out with her, even if it was only for a few times.

    And then there was today. My last day at Evanđeoska Crkva. My last day walking down my mountain. My last day taking the bus home. My last day hanging out with some of the best friends I could have made.
     I walked into church today in a weird sort of daze. Immediately I found Jovana and David and was especially excited to see Becca who I didn't think was going to make it. Moments later, Selma and Nađa walked through the doors and the majority of our teen group was there. When the service began, Pastor Slavko asked me to come up so they could pray for me and asked if I wanted to say anything. I began to thank them for welcoming me in their church and, although I wanted to continue, cut short with a simple thank you again because I felt my voice start quavering and my eyes begin to fill with tears. How did I know this was going to happen? Slavko then asked the teen group up to pray for me and I felt my lip tremble more.
     Nobody could possibly understand how much these kids have meant to me and how they impacted my exchange. They were my friends when I didn't know anyone else, they helped me out with the language without contempt, and I could not have asked for better friends while I was here. Jovana handed me a small book that the teen group made for me, with notes written from all of them and pictures of my time with them. I never realized how much exactly I was involved with the church, but as I flipped through the book and saw pictures of us in Mostar together, at the Christmas and Easter concerts, at special Teen Group days with guests, and out for coffee. These kids have made my life here incredible and I love them all so much.

    After they were done praying for me, I hastily wiped the tears forming at my eyes and smiled, knowing that would be the hardest part of my day. Surprisingly goodbyes are usually fast and painless, but when people who mean so much to you, pray for you and tell you how much of a blessing you are, it's hard and it hurts, but it makes you feel so loved that you don't mind.

    The service progressed and once it ended only meant one thing: more goodbyes. I began my rounds and began hugging the many friends I made over the past eight months. Then we (Jovana, David, Becca, Nađa, Selma, and I) decided to go out for lunch and meet up with Rahel who was at her friends house. We set off and I waved goodbye to the church that I've come to love more than I thought I could. Together, we wandered around the city until we made up our minds of where we wanted to eat, dying in the heat of the day (of course the day before I leave the weather is perfect). We settled on chicken sandwiches and sat around for about an hour, eating and talking; back and forth between English and Bosnian which I was proud to say I understood quite a bit of.
    And then the first goodbyes came. Rahel and Becca had to head home, so I gave them each a tight squeeze and handed them their cards and waved them away as they boarded the tram. The rest of the group came with me to my bus stop and we talked and tried not to focus on the fact that this was our last time seeing each other until either they visited me or I came back to Sarajevo. Slavko then pulled up and told the group that he would take them all home. Realizing this was our goodbye, I sprung to my feet and hugged everyone tightly, not wanting to let them go. At least we have technology now so we can keep in touch. Sometimes, I really, really love Facebook and Skype.
     Once they left, I waited and then got on my bus, realizing this was my last bus ride and the last walk from the bus stop to home. I was still in my haze, not quite comprehending what this all was. Coming towards the house I saw Esad and Mugdim working on the car and then passed Nizama bringing some stuff downstairs, just a quick passing. Moments after I was in my room, Irfan came knocking, telling me he was going out for the night and wouldn't see me off tomorrow. We hugged goodbye and I told him that he was a great host brother and that I was glad he was mine and then followed through with saying if he were to get another host sibling next year, that I would be his favorite, which he laughed and nodded in agreement.
     Then the evil task of finishing packing began. I can't remember how many times I added and removed certain items, debating if something should be in my carry-on or suitcase, if this could squeeze in this corner or not. I am now content with my loaded suitcases, but Nizama said that if I can lift it, it shouldn't be over 23 kilos. I can't tell if that's a compliment or a diss... how much can a normal person lift usually? We then talked a bit of how it was sad that I'm leaving and how she's going to miss "moja Keti." Nizama, I just love you, ok?

    This past year has been, without a doubt, the best year of my life and I can't believe it's coming to a close. Tomorrow morning I board a plane to take me back over the Atlantic and to DC and then the day after I'm on a plane to Portland. It's strange seeing how far I've come from that terrified student who decided that going to Bosnia by herself was a fabulous idea. Back when I took one look at my language books and thought, "oh dear, what have I gotten myself into?" and then stared at pictures of Sarajevo on Google for days on end and thought Sarajevo was pronounced with a hard 'j'.
     I couldn't have done this year without so many people and I thank all of you who took in a part, especially YES Abroad for choosing me to go and the State Department for funding this incredible exchange. My family and friends both here and abroad have helped me day to day, whether with support in any kind or simply being there when I wanted to talk about something random.
      I'm leaving with such a different view than the one I came with and even more than that. I'm leaving with a family I didn't know a year ago, friends I didn't have, and a home I couldn't have dreamed of. This year has been so fulfilling and so incredible and I cannot wait to share it with everyone. I hope to tell everyone about Bosnia and YES Abroad and bring all these cultures together.
     And I'm excited to see what the future holds. So many things that I don't know or care about right now could be coming up in my path soon and I am anxious to see what happens.

     Anyway, thank you all for joining me on this adventure and take care.

     Until something fantastic happens,
-Katie (Sarajevo, Bosna-Hercegovina, YES Abroad 2012-2013)

Ja sam bosanka i ja volim Bosni. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Suitcase

    And thus it begins.
    The daunting task of packing the suitcase, carry-on, and backpack to head home after spending ten months in one place. Looking at all of my things, I thought before that it would be easy - kind of like adult tetris.
    Let's be clear: it's worse.
    I've probably rearranged my suitcase five times right now, deciding I don't need that top or maybe this book could squeeze in this corner. Once again my room is a disaster of laying out outfits for my last three days here (*nervous laughter*) and slowly things are disappearing off my shelves. My suitcase isn't even completely full and I know it's going to be super overweight. My mom even took one of my suitcases back with all my winter stuff! How on earth did I acquire so much stuff over this year? The answer to that is that I shop all da time.
    Packing I usually always save until the very last moment. Before I came here I packed everything the day before I left and I planned on doing the same thing this time round. But once Anna convinced me I should start early, I did so, setting on the task of filling my suitcase to the brim.
     And oh is it filled. How can such little things take up so much room!? My shoes aren't even in there yet and I'm running out of space!

The practice pack

     Maybe one of the reasons I'm so stressed about my suitcase isn't just the fact that it's really difficult to fit all those things in one. It's the fact that starting the suitcase task means that this year really is over. I have three days left here. Three. Tomorrow is the beginning of good byes at school and then dinner at a friend's house. Saturday is finishing gift shopping (ha. haha. I'm out of space guys!) and then barbecue at Anna's house, followed by Swiss night at a friend from church's house. Sunday is my last day at church and my last full day in Sarajevo.
    And that thought is depressing.
    I've had such an incredible year here and I think the reason I'm hating packing up my suitcase is because it feels like I'm also packing up memories. I don't care how terribly cliché that sounds or how corny, it's true. Slowly I am packing away the life I've built here and carefully taking it apart and shoving it into a bag. I don't like looking at my empty drawers in my desk, or the bare shelves with no books or letters, or the vacant wardrobe. It simply reminds me that the life I've formed here is coming to a close and soon I'll be back on a plane back to Oregon and have to readjust to being a normal American teenager who just graduated.
    No more getting excited when I hear people speaking English on the streets.
    No more people getting excited when they figure out I'm foreign.
    No more using, "I don't speak Bosnian." as an excuse to get out of trouble with GRAS guys.

    My suitcase now lies mostly full in the corner of my bedroom, waiting to be finished, zipped closed, and hauled on a plane, similar to me and my exchange. And once I hit American soil, I'll have that bit of Bosnia in me and I'll get to rip it open and share it, just like my suitcase carrying all my Bosnian trinkets and memories.
     Yes, it's sad I'm going home. I've established myself here and I'll miss it so much I can't even begin to fully describe.
    However, I'm excited to see where life takes me now.
    I don't know anything else I'm doing in these next few months that start with a 'C'.

    So here we go. Finishing up the best year of my life, my last year of high school spent in Sarajevo.
   Je bilo odlično i hvala puno svima ko mi su pomogli ova godina. (It was excellent and thank you so much everyone who helped me this year. <- I did not use google translate, so I do not know if that is correct.)

    Anyway, I'm not sure if I'll have time to write before I leave, so if not... I'll see you on the other side.

    Until 'Murica (možda),

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Drawing To a Close

    It's been awhile! But here we go!

    Two Saturdays ago was our End-of-the-Year Orientation where we began the wrapping up of our year abroad. We talked about reverse culture shock and wrote thank-yous to our senators and the US Ambassador here in Sarajevo. Together we came up with ideas how to battle reverse culture shock and ease back into our life back as a regular American where it won't be weird to hear people speak English. Seriously. I'll be walking in a mall here and I can hear two words of English and I will get excited. I've mentioned this before. It was sad to think that this meant we're drawing to a close. All of us talking about our bittersweet feelings towards going home; what we're looking forward to, what we're not. I try not to think about going home and live in the moment. But when every second you are reminded that you're going home soon, it's a little difficult.

    After our monthly meeting and the wrapping up of the orientation, we headed over to Anna's house to work on CAS stuff and just bum around for awhile.
    Yeah, we ended up bumming around for six hours.
    We dyed Emma and Savannah's hair, we talked about weird stuff (as you do), we took Hogwarts housing quizzes where we figured out I was a Hufflepuff, and we just chilled. And it's really sad to think that in two weeks I won't see these girls again for a ridiculous amount of time. From hanging out with them almost every day to not at all, I'm not sure how I'm going to cope with this. Guess we'll find out.
    As evening came along, we headed out to the kino (movie theater) to watch the new Star Trek! And oh my gosh, I think I just became a Trekkie. I don't know, man, but the soundtrack and the storyline and the acting (Benedict Cumberbatch aka Khan is incredible. Watch BBCs Sherlock. Seriously. Go watch it. Now.) and the action was just so good. Not to mention I got to see it with my favorite girls and have Helena freak out when the original Star Trek theme song started playing (if you don't know it, apparently you're the spawn of Satan according to Helena.) and Anna grab your hand for dear life when something dramatic was happening. Needless to say it was an excellent end to a great day with those girls. It always makes us realize how grateful we are that we got put together all that time ago.

English Through Tolerance class + SAKE
    Last Saturday, SAKE visited Žepče where there is a two schools under one roof. This high school has two separate entrances and curricula for the Croatian/Catholic students and the Bosnian/Muslim students and the students have no contact with each other within the school. However, the reason for our visit was to meet up with the Tolerance Through English program, where students from both schools joined together to learn about American culture and speak English. We met up with the class of about eight or nine students and talked for about a half hour about the school and their life, while they asked us questions about differences between Bosnia and America. It was nice talking to them, especially as they told us how despite the two schools under one roof, they still are friends with the other school's students. Žepče isn't a very big town, so it's hard to just ignore one another and the students are all working at easing away the tension.

    We were then all paired off with a student to have them show us around the town and get to know one another. I was paired off with a girl named Kristina, who was one of the Catholic students, and we became really good friends during our half hour walk around the city. We talked about both our lives and she told me how she wanted to become an English teacher in Bosnia, which I found really, really cool.
    We then met back at the school with the rest of the students and said our goodbyes! It seemed like we were just getting to know them and it was already sad to just be making new friends and having to head out so quickly.

     After our goodbyes, we headed out to Vranduk where there was an old fort that we were able to explore, as well as get our coffee. Once done there, we went to Zenica where we mainly grabbed snacks and hung out for about a half hour before heading home.

     Since then, my friend Alex came to visit for the past four days. She's also an American exchange student, studying up in Banja Luka, so we've only been able to hang out twice. We had a great time with lots of movies, games, and food. I'm going to miss her so much, but thankfully she lives fairly close to where I live in the States so we're going to meet up sometime soon :)

     In that time, we had coffee and cake with the Ambassador Patrick Moon at the American Embassy, where we talked about our year and how it incredible it all was. And if you don't know this already, it was a really, really incredible year.

l-r Luljeta, Helena, Selma, me, Savannah, Ambassador Patrick Moon, Emma, Anna, Toma Mesa, Emily Armitage
    And now we prepare for the last ELEVEN days here. Well. Ten now, if you don't include today. How is that even possible? We have so many things to do still, including so many last minute adventures and goodbyes. Pretty much everyday for the next ten days is completely booked, but that's ok! I'm excited to do as many things as I can in these next few days. And then, next thing I know, I'll be on a plane home to the US of A.

    Anyway, I better go write some more thank you cards and figure out what college courses I'm taking next year.

    Until after the SHAKE sleepover,

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother and Me

    WELL. These past few weeks have been incredibly busy! If you're wondering why, which I hope you are, it's because...


    I haven't seen her in eight and a half months!

    This was the best belated birthday gift EVER!

    We had been Skyping all the time this entire year and there were brief moments where I wondered if when she came I would be acting like a completely different person and suddenly I'd be like, "Oh dear, I'm so different and my relationship might change with my mom and I love my relationship with my mother, I can't have the happening. What if it's more evident when we're in person? Oh my gosh, oh my gosh." Well. All worries were put aside when I waited anxiously for her at the airport on April 26th.
    I waited outside of the arrivals gate with Nizama, not saying a word, just a constant mini panic attack anyone came through the doors. I don't think I was exactly nervous or scared, but my stomach was doing little flips every time I saw a small brunette or the doors slid open.
    Then she came out.
    In my head, I always try imagining what I'm going to do when I see someone for the first time in a long time. Whether it's pretending I don't know them or hiding and surprising them or just something completely ridiculous. However, even if I imagine and even plan doing something weird like that, I always go for the same thing which is I end up smiling immensely, running to give them a giant hug, and start squealing like a five year old girl who just got a new Barbie (I definitely squealed when I got a new Barbie).
    Mom immediately went over to Nizama and hugged her, telling her that it was so nice to see her. In English. And that was the moment I instantly became the resident translator for the next half hour. Mom and I talked like nothing changed, taking momentary interludes to talk to Esad and Nizama. When we arrived home, I showed my mom around the house, letting her meet the rest of the family and experiencing what I experienced eight and a half months ago. When her things were settled in, we headed down to talk to the host family, while I passed on the translator job to Medina. Because she's ten times better than me. If not more.
    We talked about everything. At least anything that could possibly come to mind. We ate cake, we laughed, we went on and on about how fantastic it all was that my mom was here. And it was. When we decided we had better go to bed because we were going to Srebrenica early the next morning, my mom and I took a quick picture to show that she was here and alive and well (mostly for my dad who messaged me the second he could asking, "KATE IS MOM THERE YET?"). We then headed to our rooms at around midnight for much needed sleep.

My mom and I! We're dopplegangers, I know.
    The next morning, we were up early to go to Srebrenica with SHAKE and our coordinators. Srebrenica was the location of a mass genocide in the Bosnian War after it was declared a Safe Zone. It has been turned into a grave sight and memorial, which was definitely a sobering experience, especially for my mom's first thing to do in Bosnia. We toured around the graves, watched a video about people who survived while family members were taken, and read biographies of people who were identified. Incredibly sad, but fascinating at the same time.

   After leaving Srebrenica, we headed to a small, family owned restaurant for lunch where I had ten ćevapi! Everyone knew that little Anna had a surprisingly large ćevapi belly, so when she ordered ten, nobody was surprised. However, I've never really bragged about it. So when I ordered ten, both my coordinators looked at me and went, "Ten!?" My mom was equally surprised, but she wasn't entirely sure what ćevapi was like, so she was like, "Oh, that's alright."
    Well then the food came out. My mom gaped at my loaded plate of bread, onion, and meat fingers (that is the actual translation of ćevapi. SHAKE has never laughed so hard.).
    "Kate." My mom said. "You can't eat that whole thing."
    "I've eaten ten before." I stated. It was a fact, after all. To her shock I ate the entire plate, just as Anna did and, despite my mom being horrified, Nizama was so proud when I told her. Ja sam bosanka (I am Bosnian)! Woooo!

Mom and I in Copper Alley
    When we arrived back in Sarajevo, we headed down to Baščaršija to show my mom around old town. She drank from the Sebilj, so GUESS WHAT? That means she's coming back! Yay! We wandered around the winding streets, when suddenly, I overheard a group of American women speaking. My mom rarely noticed when people were speaking English around her, there was no trigger that went off, while for me, I could hear two words of English and I would seriously stop and point and be like, "English! I heard it!" I wouldn't say this directly to the English speakers, but I did get fairly excited. As my mom and I were browsing a store that I stopped at often, a woman turned around and asked, "I heard English, where are you from?" Her accent was purely American, so I knew if I mentioned a state, she would know.
    "Oregon." I replied. "And you?"
    "We're from Michigan!" Another lady chimed in, seeming excited about finding fellow Americans in the Balkans.
    "What are you doing here?" A different lady asked.
    "I'm an exchange student, and you?"
    "We're with a program that offers scholarships to Bosnian students who want to study in America." They all seemed excited about their project and I thought their program sounded fantastic.

Me at my church!
    The next morning was church! I had been excited to show my mom my church forever now. Church is where I've truly found a place where I belong (I went the distance and everything) and showing my mom all my really close friends and people who have helped me along the way was a big deal to me! So we were up early, got dressed and called a taxi to head out, because Nizama insisted we eat a huge breakfast and have coffee before we go.
    Because of that, we arrived at church nearly a half hour early, giving my mom the opportunity to take pictures of my church, something I didn't even do when I first started attending. Irfan made fun of my mom for taking so many pictures, saying that not even I was even that bad when I first arrived. And I definitely wasn't! I still have zero pictures of my church on a regular Sunday. The only time I take pictures there are for events!
    As we were waiting for the service to start, suddenly four women walk over to the American section where I recognize one woman in particular. She turns towards me and instantly I recognize one of the women from the women we met the other day! Out of all the places to run into them, we see them in my tiny church. It was pretty fantastic :) The service was great and we had fellowship afterwards where my mom met everyone that I had been talking about for the past six months.
    Once we were done, my mom and I headed down to Alta to exchange her money and grab a quick coffee before we headed out to Vrelo Bosna, a gorgeous park on the other side of town past Ilidža. We took the crowded, hot tram all the way down and eventually navigated our way to the park! When we reached horse drawn carriages, we couldn't say no, so we plopped inside, letting the horse take us to the main park.

     Once there, my mom and I wandered around, just talking about everything that we could. We had a lunch of fish, veggies, and potatoes along the river where a mini waterfall was. We then decided we had better head home as it was going to get dark, so we began the long trek back to the tram station and headed home.
    And that's when my mom saw my walk in the dark for the first time.
    She was slightly terrified. I've gotten used to the creepiness of the graveyard lit up in shallow lights, and the wind-y road with partially destroyed buildings. None of it bothers me anymore. My mother on the other hand was all, "Oh Kate, you don't walk this alone do you?"
    "In the dark?"
    "Yeah, a lot."
    "Isn't it scary? Look! I just took a picture of the graveyard and this is what it looks like!" She showed me a picture of the cemetery, all the gravestones looking an eerie green color.
    "That's your camera! It's fine, Mom." Mom was a little bit iffy still. But after walking that road in the evening every time we came home for the next two days, she grew used to it and it didn't even bother her.

    The next few days were mainly me showing her around. I showed her pretty much everything I could in those spare two days. Nizama took us out one of those days and, although she was the one showing us around, we were the one who worked her. We walked a lot and the sun was hot that day. I managed to only get a small burn on my shoulder, but Nizama was completely burnt all over! However, despite that, our adventures were great! We found a great coffee place (one I've seen all year, but never tried. It's called Spazzio's) that had one of the best iced coffee's EVER. There we met two Bosnian girls and one of them used to be an exchange student in Colorado! It was so fun talking to her about exchange student experiences and it's always fun making new friends everywhere you go. I try.
    Once all our exploring was done, we headed home to pack for... DUBROVNIK!

    Early last Wednesday morning, we headed out to the bus station to meet up with Anna, Savannah, and Emma and head out to Dubrovnik, Croatia. The bus ride was long and all of us ended up falling asleep. Besides, for the majority of the ride, we've all seen it before. My mom, on the other hand, couldn't believe we fell asleep. She was snapping pictures right and left, too afraid to turn of her camera because she never knew when the right shot would come!

    Later that evening, we arrived in Dubrovnik and it was beautiful. However, we all wanted to get to our villa first and drop off our suitcases so we could go explore. We didn't know how to get there, so we hopped in taxis, giving them the address, and we headed out. And that's when it all kind of went wrong. The drivers pretended they didn't know where they were going and dropped us off at the bottom of a hill, pointing upwards saying it was "just up this road" and opened their hands for the money. SEVENTY KUNA. For a five minute ride! That's almost $12! That is ridiculous. All of us couldn't believe it, but since we really had no other choice, we handed over the money and grabbed our suitcases and trekked up the hill.
    And was that ever a hill.
    It consisted of a roughly paved road, going steeply up, which then turned into stairs. We lugged our baggage up and up until finally we came across our host who told us to follow her to the house which was up more stairs. Eventually we reached our villa, where our host immediately brought out fresh pressed orange juice from the oranges that grew fresh in her garden. Best drink to have after hiking up a mountain! Once we were settled and our hosts telling us where to go, we set off for Old Town Dubrovnik! The walk was about twenty to thirty minutes, all downhill and we all knew that coming home would mean going up.

    We wandered about Old Town, exploring narrow alleyways, shops, stopped for coffee and then, when we decided we were all hungry, we headed out to meet up with Helena and her mom who was visiting also for Hels birthday dinner! It was fun, having all of SHAKE together, plus my and Helena's moms. The other girls remarked how similar we were to our moms and how speaking to them was like talking to an older version of ourselves. After dinner, we loaded into the car that Claire (Helena's mom) rented and headed to our villa.
    However... we didn't know exactly where we were going. Eventually we found a parking spot on the shoulder of a road and pointed downwards, stating we were somewhere down there. That led to a half hour trek around streets we weren't familiar with, hoping we'd find our street along the way. Once we reached our villa, we all took our showers and got into our PJs before Claire brought out a cake that she brought for Helena's birthday. We sang 'happy birthday', had a quick bite of cake, and went to bed before we headed out the next day.

    Day two consisted of walking the Old Town's wall that surrounded the entire city. Lots of stairs. Lots of up and down. Lots of sun. The walls gave you a great view of the entire city and ocean. We finished the walls around 11 and then went to buy our tickets to take the ferry across to the little island called Lokrum. When we arrived at the island, we grabbed a quick lunch of sandwiches and then headed out to explore. We went into an old monastery where peacocks roamed about and one was even showing off for us! I had never seen a peacock make it's tail fan out and I had no idea it had little pom-poms of fluff underneath those long, colorful tail feathers.
Seriously. What?
    We then started hiking up to a fortress which only meant more hills, which naturally, I complained about the entire way up. I was also stupid and wore fashion shoes, not walking shoes. When we were done exploring the fortress at the top of the island, we headed down to the edge of the island to swim! We found a rocky ledge where several people were, mostly sunbathing, while we quickly changed into our swimsuits and jumped in.
    Except not really.
    There was a little ladder at the edge, so we started to climb in, only to figure out the water was freezing cold! One by one, we inched in, teeth chattering from the ice cold water. One nice thing was how we could float so easily because of how salty it was. I would barely have to tread and I remained afloat and my mom never stopped saying how she "has never floated this easily on my back before! I'm just laying down!" Savannah, being our little desert baby, took a little more persuading to get in the water as well as some bribery of a back massage to fully put her head in. After we were all done with swimming, we got dressed, and headed back to catch the ferry so we could explore the other fortress on the other side of a cove from the wall. Which resulted, naturally, in more stairs. Joy. The fortress included spots where several scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed, causing Emma and Anna to fangirl quite a bit.
    Once exploring was done, we found a seaside restaurant for some local seafood. Everyone had their different plates and most of us took bites of each others to get a good taste of everything.
    We then called it a night and started the long trek back home where all us girls gathered in one of the rooms to catch up on some TV shows and relax after a long day of walking.

    Next day was much more relaxed. We ended up leaving a lot later to head up to the gondola/tram so we could go to the highest view point in Dubrovnik. The view was incredible and, while the other girls rested, my mom and I went on a mini adventure, finding an abandoned tunnel, an old amphitheater (we couldn't find the spot that makes your voice echo. It was a sad moment), and I got my feet scratched by grass. But it was overall gorgeous! I was complaining because we were walking (why am I the laziest human being?), but now looking back, I'm so glad my mom made me explore with her (yes, yes, I know, Mother knows best). We then headed back down to the main part of the city where we explored the pier, where we soaked our feet in the cool ocean, relieving our tired feet for a moment before getting up and going to see the old Franciscan monastery. It was gorgeous and interesting, but honestly, pretty much like every other monastery we saw.

   We all wanted to go swimming one last time, so my mom and I offered to "run up" to our villa and grab our swimsuits because Savannah was the only one who remembered. That led my mom and I on another adventure, following a map as our bus took us around the city and we had to make sure we got off at a relatively close stop to our villa. Well. We got off at the stop below our villa, making us walk up that God forsaken hill. Grabbing our swimsuits, we headed back down, glancing at the map to find a nice place to swim. We found a beach and told the girls to meet us there. At the beach, there was only one other person who happened to be a Canadian! Instant bond, once again made. This water was colder and less buoyant, not to mention the sun was setting, so we only stayed in for a little while. When we were done, the girls wanted Mexican food, however I don't like Mexican food (usually. I can handle tacos and nachos and sometimes enchiladas, but still. It's not my favorite.) and my mom didn't feel like it, so we set off to the other marina to find our own restaurant.
    I was very happy with this, actually! Together we found a bunch of cool boats, watched the sun set, and found this hidden away restaurant with delicious food! We sat there for quite awhile before deciding it was late (only 10pm. Pffttt. Only 10pm) and grabbed the bus back home.

    Next morning, everyone was up early to back and catch our bus to Mostar! Mostar was... Mostar. I had been there four times already, so navigating the city was no problem. I showed my mom everywhere that I had loved, while I slowly melted away, unfortunately becoming a bit irritable. When we finally stopped for coffee in the shade, I could feel myself getting in a better mood and I apologized to my mom because I realized how crabby I was. I'm not good in heat unless I'm tanning. Once I showed her all the sights and even bought a few things, we headed back to the train station to meet the girls and go back home!
    The train ride was hot and stuffy, but we all ate candy and talked for the entire ride, which was nice. When we arrived in Sarajevo, I called Esad and we were taken home and headed off to bed because the next day was Travnik!

    Esad, Nizama, and Irfan took us to Travnik last Sunday! The weather, unfortunately, was a bit bipolar and as we sat down for lunch, it started pouring rain. Not exactly the most fun when we had to go tour around the fort.
    But we grabbed our umbrellas and went up to explore the fort. It was my third time, but it was still nice to see it again. When we were finished, Esad and Nizama picked us up and we went to FIS, which is a giant shopping center, bigger than SuperStore or Fred Meyer or... Tesco... I'm not sure on worldwide shopping centers... but FIS is really big! We could pretty much find anything in there, including a tea cup the size of a large mixing bowl. I really wish I bought it, because I can never get enough tea. I love it.
   Once we were done exploring both FISes (the department store and the Home Depot-type), we piled into the car and headed back home.
    However, we didn't stay long. Mom had last minute shopping to do, so we headed back into town for her to grab last minute presents as well as meet up with Kat, my teen group leader at church. Kat had been a big help in my adaption here, as well as a great friend and general person! So when I asked if it was possible for Kat and my mom to meet, both were eager to meet each other. We met up at Torte I To (great cafe in BBI) and talked for quite awhile. At one point they were talking about me and if I've changed or developed and whatnot, and I felt myself going into an awkward, bashful mode and I didn't quite know what to do with my face. Eventually we had to say good bye and we all headed back home, where we didn't have a lot of time to talk, because we had to pack!

    Now when I say 'we' had to pack, it's because I sent home one of my suitcases home with my mom, so I had to pack it up and send it off. The next morning, we finished all our packing and called a taxi as we headed off to the airport. It was a weird sensation, being on the other side of security. I'm so used to my parents being the ones waving me off and I was going on an adventure, but instead I was waving goodbye to my mom, wishing her a safe flight. And it was just strange! I don't know how else to explain it.

    Then came the complicated bit, which was getting out of the airport. I took a wrong turn somewhere, so I ended up walking in an unknown part of Dobrinja (a neighborhood in Sarajevo) until, about an hour later, I came across a tram stop and I honestly had no idea where I was.

    Since saying goodbye to my mom, everything has fell back into normality. I can't explain how strange it was to have my mom here and she even felt the same way. I've established myself here by myself and suddenly having my mom here was the weirdest sensation. Going to Dubrovnik felt perfectly fine, because it was new to both of us. But having her come to my home for the past nine months and I had to show her everything was just a little bit weird.
    It was wonderful seeing her and I can't believe I see her in four weeks. Time has flown by so fast and I can't even comprehend it. Life here has gone from everything being exciting and new, to normal, to a bit boring, and now I'm just settled in. I don't double glance at certain things that used to through me off, I'm not scared to leave my bedroom, and it's strange to think I'm about to be uprooted again and replanted back in Oregon in a month. A month. It seems like the other day I was saying I left in a month! Crazy how this all happens so fast.

    Anyway, I have church tomorrow and this is way overdue.

    Until more stories,