You’re going to Bosnia, right?

Ummmmm, no.

Believe it or not, this is a question I get quite often. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a country in Europe and I’m going to Botswana, in southern Africa. You’re probably wondering how any American (we’re so gifted in geography) could confuse the two. Well, I did send someone to Bosnia (OK, it wasn’t really me that sent her, but close) and she is there at the same time I’m in Botswana. So, I can see how it would be tricky.

I wanted to dedicate a post to one of my students, Tana Korhonen, who is currently studying in Bosnia-Herzegovina this year. I feel like she’s become part of my Fulbright experience as she applied for her YES Abroad Scholarship shortly after I completed my Fulbright application. We experienced all of the lows and highs of applying for a major abroad experience at the same time. Let me spit you some facts:

14713650_1467993353217138_4335663752765962789_n
Highlights: Traveling outside of Bosnia (pictured here in Croatia!)

Hometown: Kettle River (AKA: Moose Lake)
Grade: Junior in HS
Currently living in: Banja Luka, Bosnia
Length of stay: August 2016-June 2017!
Application Process: TOUGH

Tana was one of 65 students selected nationwide for the Yes Abroad Scholarship. This scholarship is run by the Kennedy Foundation in coordination with the Department of State. It aims to bridge communities and create mutual understanding between the US and countries with predominant Muslim populations. Currently, students are able to travel to 13 countries including: Ghana, Turkey, Thailand, Jordan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Philippines, Bulgaria, Macedonia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, and Senegal.  I recently asked Tana a few questions about her experience, here’s what she had to say:

1. Why did you decide to do this?
I have always wanted to study abroad, whether during high school or college. What I originally wanted to 15171148_1509394652410341_8728922021040751091_ndo was to study in Great Britain, Australia, or New Zealand or somewhere in South America because I thought you needed to speak the language before leaving. The only problem was the cost (usually ranging from $12,000-$15,000), until my amazing teacher stumbled upon the YES Abroad Program! After a quick glimpse at the website, I knew this program was perfect for me- the purpose is to experience a new culture and build bridges between countries with high Muslim populations and the US. That is exactly why I wanted to study abroad, to learn new things, see the world, and hopefully help people and do something good along the way.

2. What is life like in Bosnia?
My life in Bosnia is different from my life in the US in many aspects, but also similar in others. I live in an apartment in a city with a population of 300,000, which is much different than rural Minnesota. Every day I go to school, and I usually walk and occasi15181205_1509394715743668_8012289396579590050_nonally ride on a public bus. When students have breaks between classes, it’s very common to go to cafes, drink coffee and just hangout. That is another contrast to the “Starbucks to go, make it fast” mindset of many Americans. It’s nice and relaxing to sit in a cafe with friends for a few hours and talk. When I’m not in school, I like to go out with friends, hang out with my host family, play sports, play an instrument, read a book, etc. My life is different than it was in the United States, but it’s nothing fancy or extravagant. Many people seem to think I’m on an extended vacation, but I’m not lying on the beach every day, I’m just a normal teenager living a normal life.

3. What do you most enjoy (so far) in your experience?
There’s so many things about Bosnia that I love, and it’s nearly impossible to choose just one thing that is the best. However, if I were to focus on one aspect, it would be the people. The people I am surrounded with are really making my exchange an amazing experience. While I could go on and on about the amazing food and the beautiful city, nothing compares to my friends and host family here. I am placed with a great family, and we click so well. They are hilarious and kind and my host mom makes the best food.

Tana at a wedding with her host family!
Tana at a wedding with her host family!

Me and my host sister also get along super well, and I am so happy I get to live with them. At school, I have so many great friends and I look forward to going to school each day so I can see everyone. I really feel like I belong in my class, and they have said the same to me. Exchange is all about forming connections, and the connections I have formed in the past three months have made my life here amazing.


4. What is the most challenging part of your experience?
I think the most challenging part of my exchange so far has been the language. When I arrived, I hardly knew anything of the language. It was difficult to order a sandwich, or communicate with my host family. I have learned a lot in 3 months, but I’m nowhere near perfect. I still spend a lot of time feeling/looking like an idiot because I don’t know what my host family or some random person at the market is asking me. It has also caused a lot of trouble because while I am in the IB program at school, and it is supposed to be in english, my chemistry class is usually not in english. Chemistry is hard enough when you fluently speak a language, so this has been a huge cause of stress for me. While these problems are very difficult, they also motivate me to learn. I always feel so happy when I am able to successfully have a conversation. For example, today I asked a lady in a shoe store for advice, and together we decided which pair of boots ar15178971_1509394339077039_7906785446035317724_ne nicer and fit better. So while many things, including the language barrier, are very challenging for me, these challenges always teach me something and turn into a positive.

5. What are your future travel plans?

I currently don’t have any flights booked for future travel (yet), but I have always been one to have ideas in my head. When returning to the United States, I hope to visit a few out of state colleges. I am still undecided as to where I want to apply, but I want to travel to the east coast to tour Yale, and a few other universities. I also am hoping to tour University of Chicago and the University of Washington in Seattle, but I realize that is a lot to do in one summer. There are also many great universities in my home-state of Minnesota, so I will also try to tour many schools there. I’m also hoping to, at some point in the near future, travel to Germany to stay with my best friend Paula. As for the future in general, it’s impossible to say specific places I want to go, because I’d like to go everywhere. I love seeing the w14716245_1467993186550488_5965575512498951014_norld and new cultures, so I hope to do that as much as possible. I am even looking into careers that would bring me all around the world.

*Update: Tana applied for an international boarding school and recently had her first interview. If she makes it to the second round, she’ll have to do a face-to-face interview in New Mexico. Fingers crossed, but she might be living in the Netherlands next year!!

Tana is extraordinary. I’m so stinkin’ proud of her I could cry. In fact, when she found out she received the scholarship, I did cry. If I hadn’t received my Fulbright, it was my intention to visit her in Bosnia during spring break. Looks like I’ll just have to visit the Netherlands next year instead! Obviously, traveling is a passion of ours but to see so many more kids from our small community interested in traveling the world warms my heart. Awwwwwww.

The effect experiencing another culture has on a person is seriously profound. (Seriously-–Tana regularly texts me in Serbian and then remembers its me and I don’t speak Serbian). As I’m gearing up for my adventure, she’s almost midway through hers. Keep on keeping on lady! Miss you!

Just hangin' out with Tana in class.
Just hangin’ out with Tana in class.

 

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