Reminder of the Past, Hope for the Future: Salma Elsayed-Ali (Arabic Studies/Global Studies) participates in the William & Mary American-Bosnian Collaboration (ABC) Project

SalmaEarly in the morning, I rise to the usual tune of my alarm and hurriedly prepare for a full day ahead as my host mother pours fresh Bosnian coffee into a delicate ceramic cup. The coffee is warm and sweet, filling me with just the right amount of energy for a 45-minute walk to school through hilly neighborhoods, parks, and the main city center of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Hercegovina.

As I arrive to the facility where I work as a teacher, I am instantly greeted by my Bosnian co-teacher and jubilant children who voluntarily arrived much earlier than needed out of anticipation for the planned activities. Afterwards, I treat myself to either Bosnian borek or Turkish doner kebap in Baščaršija, the Turkish quarter, and then head to the preschool where I volunteer in the afternoon. The remainder of my day is spent with fellow co-teachers preparing lessons for the next day while sipping, of course, another cup of coffee.

The four weeks I spent in Sarajevo as a part of the William & Mary American-Bosnian Collaboration (ABC) Project were nothing short of transformative, and if I were to attempt to list all the things I learned, the list would be inexhaustible. Certainly, the experience had its fair share of challenges, but I learned how to live independently in a new environment, manage a class of over twenty students, communicate with children of different ages, and work day and night preparing for the next day’s lesson.

Arriving in Sarajevo with prior knowledge of the Arabic and Turkish languages certainly helped in more ways than one. Foods indigenous to the Arab and Turkish worlds have found their ways into Bosnian cuisine, and I am quite certain my mouth and eyes watered several times while eating Bosnian food out of pure satisfaction. The Islamic call to prayer, recited in Arabic, emanates from mosques around the city five times a day. This is not to say that I had an easy time wandering the streets of Sarajevo and communicating with people

Bosnia & Hercegovina is nestled in the heart of the Balkans with rolling mountains and turquoise rivers running freely. The lush, green landscape is speckled with red roofs, minarets, and crosses that dot the horizon in every direction. It is a country where its ethno-religious diversity is both a point of pride but a source of contention and vulnerability to external nationalist aspirations.. Bosnia is a beautiful country with the most heartwarming people, and it is as strong as it is fragile, united as it is divided. I am beyond thankful to have had the opportunity to teach and learn from my Bosnian students this past summer, as they are, ultimately, the future leaders and hope of a nation.


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