Standing in a classroom of 20 Bosnian ten year olds, I was about to start teaching when I reflected that my summer schedule was almost unimaginable a year ago. I was about to begin my studies at William & Mary then, and though such global opportunities were part of what had attracted me to studying abroad in the United States I had never thought a year later I would be in a third country carrying out volunteer work during my summer break.
When I began thinking about study abroad opportunities a few years ago, I knew I wanted to find a program that would allow me to experience the American view of the issues facing the world, and to deepen my understanding of the United States both politically and culturally. I knew such insights would be invaluable to understanding how the US develops its foreign policy towards Britain and the rest of the world. With William & Mary I was able to take courses relating to issues crucial to United States security, such as the politics of Russia and China. In addition, a class on Southern Politics allowed me to bolster my understanding of the American South by studying its politics historically and to the present day.
During my time at William & Mary I was fortunate to be selected to participate in the College’s Bosnia Project. The Project has worked in Bosnia since 1998 and each summer a small group of students teaches English and non-violent communication skills to young people. I have always had a strong academic interest in the Balkans, particularly in state-building after conflict. I also enjoyed previous experiences teaching and working with children. When I heard of the Project it seemed the perfect opportunity to combine my interests.
As the Project’s Secretary I had an important role in writing various grant applications in order to raise the necessary money needed to travel and fund our stay. During the summer of 2011 five of us taught English for a month in partnership with a local NGO, Creativus. The focus of the teaching was on using games, songs and activities to allow the children to have fun whilst learning, rather than simply reciting facts as Bosnian children do traditionally. Each William & Mary student was partnered with a Bosnian student from the University of Sarajevo to teach together. At the conclusion of the teaching period the children wrote and acted in short films which allowed them to demonstrate their creativity in a way that is not possible within the Bosnian education system.
The five weeks I spent in Bosnia were fantastic. The children worked together to create short films that they wrote and acted in English. In addition, I was able to travel to some of Bosnia’s culturally important sites such as Mostar and Banja Luka, which helped me understand the challenges facing Bosnia as it seeks to move beyond the conflict it experienced in the 1990’s.
After my time abroad I now return to the United Kingdom to complete my final year of study at St. Andrews. I will continue my studies of Bosnia and post-conflict reconstruction after many rich experiences in both the United States and Bosnia. I thank the College and the Reves Center for making my time in Williamsburg so memorable.
Callum Forster is an International Relations major at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He attended William & Mary from 2010-11 as an exchange student. Prior to returning to St. Andrews he spent the summer volunteering with the Bosnia Project.