Expecting the Unexpected: CIPA-Bosnian Internship Sees Program Expansion in 2011
Traveling to Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina proved to be a complex endeavor. After two days of flights and layovers, getting lost in Budapest, and a sleepless night in a hostel, I wearily boarded a train that was scheduled to bring me to my final destination some ten hours later. The trip was going smoothly until the train passed through Croatia and arrived at the Bosnian border. There, the train stopped abruptly and a frustrated rail employee announced, “The Bosnians are on strike.” Rail workers had gone on strike that morning, leaving those of us on the train in a lurch. Though I had barely crossed the border, I was getting my first lesson in Bosnian survival: always expect the unexpected.
I was traveling to Tuzla for an internship with the Tuzla Summer Institute (TSI). TSI is an intensive, four week educational experience for Bosnian youth. CIPA was integral to the development and launch of the TSI program in 2009. CIPA students have interned there every year since, and I felt fortunate to be a part of a successful program that CIPA played a role in starting.
TSI offers Bosnians a variety of classes ranging from website design to theater, grant writing, debate, business education, English, and more. The goal is to provide students with practical skills that will help prepare them for university and/or teach them job skills. It brings students together in a non-traditional educational setting and encourages learning in a fun, open environment. TSI demonstrates to Bosnian youth that people care about their education, their individuality, their future, and their country. A tangible and essential undercurrent is that TSI fosters respect and encourages understanding — it helps prepare Bosnian youth to be good citizens.
I was joined by interns from Harvard and Yale and we began work right away contacting students, thinking of ways to promote the program, and planning our classes. Chris Bragdon, Executive Director of Bosnia Initiatives for Local Development (BILD) and the codirector of TSI, had high expectations of us all and made clear that the interns set the tone for the successes or failures for the summer. I expected to work hard, but I could not have imagined how essential our role as interns would be to the direction of the entire Institute.
There were challenges throughout the summer. In Bosnia, even the most well-intentioned work can be hindered by special interests whose only goal, it appears, would be to keep ordinary Bosnians down. The resistance was mostly subtle, but it signaled to me that we were doing important work in challenging the status-quo.
In addition to running TSI, Chris had been working tirelessly to launch a new program that summer: DSI — the Doboj Summer Institute. Doboj is a neighboring city of Tuzla, but is vastly different. The population of Doboj is primarily composed of Bosnian Serbs while Tuzla has a majority population of Bosnian Muslims. There were political and social complexities to manage in order to expand the Summer Institute program to Doboj. Questions arose about our intentions, our motives, and our abilities. We needed a building, we needed municipal support, and most importantly, we needed students.
After a few days of trying to recruit students, I was not optimistic for the potential of DSI. However, word of our presence in the town eventually spread and students started approaching us. Some just wanted to chat but others signed up for classes. The first annual DSI was only a week long, but it was an enormous success. When students will return in the summer 2012, they will find that the program has grown and expanded its offerings. The most important component, however, will remain the same: it will continue to facilitate interaction between youth from Doboj and Tuzla. As a teacher in both cities, I could tell them all with confidence that they were not any different from each other.
It would be incorrect to describe my personal experience in Bosnia as typical for a CIPA Fellow. Our Fellows have diverse interests and immense and varied talents that they bring to countless projects, causes, organizations, and agencies around the world. There is no single way to have a typical CIPA experience.
In Bosnia, I was able to utilize and build upon what I had learned in my course work, but I also had the opportunity to make a positive difference in a country that is desperately searching for reasons to be optimistic. In that way, I hope and feel that my time in Bosnia was typical of the experiences of other CIPA Fellows. My work reaffirmed the significance of the knowledge and opportunities that CIPA provides it students.
It was a privilege to work in Bosnia. I met amazing people who are determined to make their country better and, though things sometimes look bleak, I believe they have the potential to turn things around. Remember, in Bosnia, you learn to expect the unexpected.