When I first decided to study abroad in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, I was not sure if I would feel comfortable. I did not know the language of either country, and I had heard that they were not very racially diverse nations. Thus, I was not sure what to expect in terms of how people would view me. However, my experiences upon arriving in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were more fulfilling and eye opening than I could have imagined.
The first community I connected with abroad was my peers from Northwestern. I only knew a few people beforehand, so I wasn’t sure if I would feel comfortable with everyone. However, my group ended up becoming a close-knit and dependable community. I came to value the chance to reflect on our experiences. We learned about the recent civil wars and turmoil in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was overwhelming at times. I would not have been able to grow as much as I did without my peers, who taught me a lot about myself and about how to process my emotions and experiences. Many of my friends had journals or diaries, so I started to journal, too. Having a journal helped me track the most memorable experiences I had, and encouraged me to write down goals for the future. These goals were simple, but often reflected positive qualities I learned from my peers, such as being motivated by my passions.
The community that taught me the most, however, was the locals. Despite the jaded or cynical perspectives we expected from people who have suffered through tragedy, I found a humility and a warmth in the people there. The locals take care of each other and everyone they meet. When a taxi driver talked to us about life during the violent Siege of Sarajevo, he said it made him a more humble person, because everyone is living with pain. The profound sadness of this statement made me think about how the people we met were much more aware of others around them. I learned to open myself up to conversations with local people, and I hope that I can integrate this openness and awareness of others into my life back home as well, because it would help me be more empathetic the way so many Serbians and Bosnians were to me.
My time abroad taught me how to value the experiences of every person I meet, and always be open to learning from them. I did not always agree with every person’s point of view, but I learned that I cannot judge someone for his or her beliefs without first attempting to be understanding. In a time where the United States is experiencing such deep divisions, learning this lesson in a different part of the world helped me gain some perspective on our current situation. As I move forward in life, I hope I will be able to keep this openness and continue to learn from the people around me.
Author: Avni Singh