Because I went right back to my US classroom, I have had immediate opportunities to talk about my Fulbright experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I always have to start with the map of the country, and a brief outline of the political and social structure. That is often followed by explaining the purpose of the Fulbright: citizen diplomacy through education.
So education becomes central to the talks. What does it mean? Does it mean the formal classroom? Or is it the sharing of day-to day experience? Of both? to be in a new classroom means first learning about how the culture operates. As an American, I was a little cursed by the overwhelming presence of American culture in television and movies, and it was a challenge to change my students’ ideas about American culture.
In the US, we focus on a broad education, and we focus on the importance of education. In BiH, students take many classes, but at the higher levels, they focus on one subject. Or two. Contact hours are a fraction compared to American classes. Add to that, the lack of resources, and the opportunity to retake exams until one passes them, education becomes a routine. recitation, not questioning, is the key to success. Since returning, I have been shocked by how talkative and how inquisitive and how opinionated my American students are. But in the discussion is the chance to guide thought. At the U of Mostar, it was a challenge to have them answer questions. Yet, in America , we are focused on practical courses, and a chance to leisurely consider ideas about art and culture are rare. My courses in film, theater, and art history are electives, not required core courses.
But then again, I find myself talking more about life in BiH. The disconnect between the beauty of the place and the poverty is one thing I return to again and again. The astonishing protests that have gone on for two months is another. It is a challenge to convey this to a people who are used to freedom of expression. But I also find myself totally exhausted by the relentless pace of life in the United States. In BiH, and in Mostar, my life unfolded in a relaxed way. I could walk everywhere. I had time to work on my class preparation. I had time to travel and learn. I had time to think. Back in the Washington D.C. area, I drive everywhere, and am caught back in the relentless work day that extends into the weekend. The people around me are pressured, stressed, and rushing around. The two hour Bosnian coffee is now a quick take-out paper cup from Starbucks. I wondered why I was always so tired. jet lag lasts for a few days, but return to a new pace takes more time. We work too hard at the expense of our soul. We assume that this pace is acceptable. Living in a place where the pace is slower raises a lot of questions about our work ethic.
These two places are diametrically opposed: in wealth and in pace of life. And this affects education. Education affects society. Endless circle.