I’m Victoria, an American student interning at Reunion for three days. I am 15 and about to begin my third year of high school. I am part of an exchange program with Dayton, Ohio and Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This exchange is based on entrepreneurship, and business.
Dayton and BiH have made connections in the past which have formed a sister city connection between Dayton and Sarajevo. A teacher at the Dayton Regional STEM School came to BiH the summer of 2016 through this connection, and he got contacts through INTERA Technology Park in Mostar. This led to creating an exchange between students in both cities.
I found out about this exchange at my school, and I was immediately interested. I have never traveled out of the US before, and this was a way to finish an internship in a completely different way. I went to meetings about the trip, filled out applications, and interviewed to make sure I was right for the trip. When I found out I was going, I was excited, but I also wasn’t completely sure what I was doing, and my parents were worried about me going to a country known for war in the US.
We still had a lot to learn about the country, and its current situation. Because my teacher had previously come to BiH, and there are a few Bosnian and Herzegovinians in Dayton, we had access to people who were able to talk about the country, and they assured everyone that we would be safe. The fact that everyone was so worried about it being dangerous here made me realize how little we know about BiH in the US, especially because of the part Dayton played in the war.
Politics here are one thing, but the personal culture, and direct relationships are not what people believe them to be.
After months of waiting, planning, and excitement, it was time for the group of six Bosnian and Herzegovinians to arrive in Dayton. They spent 20 days in Dayton staying with families in the area. We did just about everything you can do in Dayton throughout their trip. The most important part was the class we all took at an organization called The Entrepreneurs Center. We spent 11 days building a startup company then, pitching it to investors in the Dayton area. Everyone enjoyed themselves and learned a lot about business. We also made lifelong friendships and learned more about Dayton.
The day after the Bosnian and Herzegovinians left Dayton, it was time for our group to leave for BiH. We stayed in Dubrovnik for the first night then, made the drive up to Mostar. The first thing you notice when driving is that Dayton doesn’t have any mountains. I was blown away by the view the entire car ride. At this point, I’m about eight days into this trip, and I still go to take pictures out the car window in the mountains.
The other thing I learned quickly was that the food here is amazing. We stopped at a restaurant along the way, and probably had the best meal of our entire lives and they continued to get better somehow. We’ve all tried many traditional meals here including Ćevapi , burek, pizza, pancakes, and fresh pastries. There is one big difference with restaurants here versus the ones in America. In BiH, all restaurants have Bosnian food, while in America, restaurants have food from different cultures. You can always go get Italian or Mexican or Chinese food there, but I’m not complaining about constantly eating Bosnian food.
The other thing I learned quickly was that the food here is amazing.
The thing you never notice is the situation everyone is worried about. Every person I’ve met in BiH has been welcoming, and respectful to us and each other. There is not tension between the ethnic sides at a personal level in Mostar, or any city I’ve seen. Politics here are one thing, but the personal culture, and direct relationships are not what people believe them to be. I can’t say that I’m surprised by that, but I know others in the US will be when I tell them.
My time in BiH has been the best time of my life, will open many doors for my future, and I hope it inspires other’s to come visit this beautiful country. I will make the most of my last few days here and cannot wait to return.
I hope this experience continues for years to come, and I want to thank everyone that helped make it happen, including INTERA Technology Park, Telemach, and especially Reunion for letting me write this piece.