Life in BiH has brought with it many surprises and challenges. As a Fulbright Scholar living and working in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have had to navigate many different expectations in the classroom, and in daily life.
On a personal level, the greatest challenge here is staying healthy. While the food is outstanding, the air quality in the winter is terrible. Further north, the factories burn coal without filters, filling the air with grey brown smog. Although Mostar has no industry, the valley fills with smog and smoke in these winter months. Everyone waits for the Bora wind to come through and clean the air. In addition to the smog is the constant presence of tobacco smoke Cafes are great places to sit over a coffee and cake, but they are as full of smoke as outside.
So, I try to maintain health by running. On a typical run up into the mountains, I pass goats and sheep grazing, and Roma women carrying their camping gear. I dodge soccer balls.. At the top, I can see Mostar. On other days, I run around the track at Džemal Bijedić University. Here I often see men running laps or teenagers practicing soccer drills. Nearby are clay tennis courts, which are busy on the weekends. Throughout the country, I have found nice parks for running. But nothing beats the mountains for fresh air.
But in a poor country, the real challenge is day-to-day life, and feeling a sense of future. This is the purpose of the Fulbright, to share culture. In class, I have striven to explain American education and our historical commitment to education. At Džemal Bijedić and the University of Zenica, I have given talks about the land grant university, of which the community college is a part. Students are fascinated by the idea of how much time we spend in class, and that students are expected to discuss ideas, and even challenge their teachers. The other difficulty is that in this contested city, my students are segregated by language and religion, and politics. So, discussions in the Bosnian universities are rather different than at the University of Mostar, a Croatian school. But all the students do tell me of their fears of a continued poor economy, lack of jobs, and the divisiveness that marks this country. It is hard to see youthful enthusiasm so dampened. But the few curious ones, the ones with questions give hope. The best that you can do as a Fulbright is to share your own culture, and hopefully, inspire those you meet. I do know that they have all inspired me, and taught me more about American culture than I knew.