Skip navigation

GSSWGraduate School of Social Work

Professor Petrila E-Mails Observations from Bosnia

June 25, 2014

I can’t believe how quickly time has gone here.  Our first group of students was incredible; they all were engaged and interested and respectful, and on top of that, they were really fun!  The weather was awful, raining and cold almost every day, but everyone hung in there.  They really were quite remarkable.  

In our travels throughout the countryside, we went along the edge of the flooding, but even there it was remarkably destructive.  Landslides, washed-out roads and evidence of how high how the water had been were all sobering.  We had to change a few plans because of it, but most of our time has been spent in parts of the country that were not immediately impacted.  Because of all the rain, the countryside is more lush than I have ever seen it, the wildflowers are everywhere, and the fruit trees are blooming like crazy.  As always, I notice the war damage because I see it through the students’ eyes.  Even though there is more and more reconstruction each year, there remain visible scars of war everywhere, both on the buildings and within the people.  In spite of numerous political challenges, and against all odds, the agencies with whom we partner are managing to do some incredible work.  The students are also struck, as always, by the nationalistic rhetoric that colors everything here.

 All of the interns have arrived, and the sun is finally shining. They all met their supervisors yesterday, and today is the first really day of internship.  Because the students are at their internships right now, very few people are trying to access the Internet at the hostel, so I actually have some “juice!”  During the evening, the Internet all over Bosnia is pretty bad, so it is a luxury to have some “bars” when trying to send an email.

Being here during the World Cup has been such a treat.  Bosnia is in the competition for the first time ever, and I have never been in a place where a sporting event had such meaning.  Their last game is tonight and, even though they are out of the running, the city is still gearing up for another crazy night of “futbal,” as soccer is called here.  During the first two games, there were tens of thousands of people in the streets, all wearing BiH jerseys, silly hats and scarves.  There were thousands of cars driving around honking their horns, and there was music everywhere.  It was completely insane and amazing all at the same time.  Every café, of which there are too many to count, has huge TV screens set up, and there are also screens in the parks and everyplace else you can imagine.  

Also going on at the same time is the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Austrio-Hungarian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophia, which set off World War I.  The assassination happened on a very nondescript bridge in Sarajevo, and there are thousands of people here from around the world at conferences and other events marking this historical moment.  It will be interesting when the end of the week comes and Ramadan begins, which brings an entirely different mood to the city. For the first time, the interns will be here for Ramadan in its entirely, including Eid at its conclusion.  Eid feels a lot like Christmas or Thanksgiving, where everyone visits friends and family, celebrates together, and eats traditional food all day long.  Quite a lot is happening in this little city this summer.

 As always, it has been incredible watching students go through the process of trying to understand how genocide could have happened so recently in a place like this, in Europe.  While it is actually impossible to understand, it is the best part of teaching to see the students expand their minds, insights and curiosity. It’s something that will – I hope – lead them even further down the path of social justice they were already traveling when they came here.  I hope you will share their experiences by following our blog.

Missing you across the miles and across cultures,

Clinical Associate Professor Ann T. Petrila , MSW, MPA, LCSW
Director of Field Education and Director, International Service Learning Bosnia and Herzegovina