How to Immerse Yourself Digitally When Traveling isn’t an Option

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AC Study Abroad programs were held virtually during Summer 2020.

This summer has not gone quite like it was supposed to. As a grad student studying Linguistics and Russian & East European Area Studies at Indiana University, this is the first summer in three years that I have *not* been somewhere in the Balkans studying Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS). This summer, I was supposed to be in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but, unfortunately, a global pandemic had other plans.

Luckily for me, American Councils and the Balkan Language Initiative worked hard to move the program online. And for that I am very grateful!  So, while I’m not *in* Sarajevo this summer, I’m happy to still be working on my BCS language skills. Of course, I still miss the cafés, museums, travelling, and meeting people.  However, my daily classes, twice-weekly conversation partner meetings, and weekly cultural events have done a lot to make me feel like I’m still there. All of my BLI activities been tremendously helpful in pushing me to advance my language skills! 

Still, I wanted my experience to be as immersive as possible. So, I wanted to share some of the additional ways I’ve been experiencing Bosnia from the US this summer.  

Here are a few ways I’ve immersed myself digitally this summer:

Reliving the Balkans by going through old photos and keepsakes. Luckily, I visited Sarajevo for a long weekend 2 years ago, and these memories are key in helping me relive Sarajevo this summer. If you’ve not visited Sarajevo before, I recommend taking a virtual walk on Google maps! It’s strange at first, but it can really give you an idea of the labyrinth in the central market area!

Visiting museums online! When I visited Sarajevo, I remember being really affected by the War Childhood Museum (https://warchildhood.org/) so I’ve gone back through my photos and the website to revisit the museum. I’ve read and learned a lot more about the Bosnian war since my visit two years ago. Revisiting my pictures and the museum really helps to me understand the history and also how far I’ve come in my studies, and how much is still left to learn.

Sometimes, I set up my dining room table/ desk and pretend that I’m working in one of the many cafés that line Sarajevo’s streets again. What I wouldn’t give to drink Bosnian coffee from a džezva in the morning, a Turkish tea with a sweet piece of lokum on the side in the afternoon, and, in the evening, maybe even a Sarajevsko pivo! Café culture is so important in the Balkans, and I love spending hours studying or just people watching.

I also love to cook and bake so I’ve been expanding my Balkan recipe collection!  So far this summer I’ve made: baklava, knedle sa slivama – sweet plum dumplings, šopska salata – tomato & cucumber salad, pita od jabuka – apple pastries, and punjene pakrike – stuffed peppers. In this way I’m still experiencing the Balkan cuisine, which I love so much, and I get to share it with my friends in Indiana too!

There are so many different ways to immerse myself in Bosnian and Sarajevan culture through media too. I’ve watched movies, listened to music, read newspapers, and followed lots of Balkan and Bosnian Instagram accounts (highly recommend!). My conversation partners and teacher are very helpful in suggesting different classic or relevant media that I should check out. Every evening I try to watch some kind of Bosnian media, either a move or a news clip, to imagine that I’m watching TV with my host family in Bosnia. Sometimes though, I just grab a book and head outside and pretend I’m sitting by the Neretva River in Mostar on a weekend excursion.

What makes all this digital travel and immersion worth it for me, is knowing that as soon as this pandemic is over and traveling is safe again, I’ll be on a flight to Bosnia!

By: Kaitlyn Lee

Program: Balkan Language Initiative

Term: Summer 2020

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