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,


  1. Wow, I just read your entire blog! It makes me homesick for a place I have never been.I have been dying to do YES abroad since I first heard it existed last spring ( applications still are not out and it is killing me). Your blog has made me even more excited about the mere possibility that maybe, with a lot of hard work and luck, I might be leaving this time next year for journey like yours.And yes I know that was an awful run on sentence...Reading your blog made me feel like your a long lost friend of mine. I wish I had your amazing ability to be somewhere and start a conversation with anyone (in a different language no less!). Thank you so much for your blog, and good luck in collage!

    An exchange obsessed sophmore

    1. Hey! Thank you for your comment, first of all! It makes me happy that my blog inspires you to go on exchange. Exchange truly is one of the best experiences ever and I loved it so much. If you would like any help/advice/or simply someone to freak out to, I'm your person :) If you have Twitter, you can ask me anything about exchange :)
      Thanks again for your comment and I'm glad you liked it! Have a great day!
      A really happy blogger.