Four years ago, on March 13th in 2017, I woke up for breakfast in the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzegovina. As I ate breakfast on the morning of March 14th of 2021 in the seemingly eternal era of COVID-19, it struck me.
Balkans and Bosnia.
My time abroad was counted in months, not years. Yet those five months in the Balkans gave me more opportunity to grow and discover myself than I could have anticipated. Living away from home is one step forward. But living away from your own country? Let alone somewhere you speak the foreign language? It is another three or five steps. I didn’t see it this way at the time, but my semester abroad broadened my passport and mind with each new stamp. Croatia first, then the Czech Republic and Belgium shortly after. Onwards then I went to Sarajevo, and then finally by bus to the company of great friends in Tirana, Albania. The end of my experience abroad would open an opportunity to travel and stay a short time in India, before returning once more to Albania and then finally back to the United States.
I remember my last-minute decision to travel over my spring break instead of studying in my apartment. The bus ride to Sarajevo was unforgettable. I was overcome by the thrill of learning something new and experiencing a city I had only read about. It was unexpected and wonderful all at once.
What strikes me now is the monotonous pattern of daily life. The opportunities for these learning experiences are fewer. On one hand, it was inevitable in some part due to a global pandemic. On the other hand, I have also been working on psychological well-being this year. Shockingly, it takes more energy and spoons than I originally anticipated (even with the great benefits and insights enabled by this work). The days when I counted the airports and train stations I passed through in a year is paused… but it is also difficult to imagine these places running at full capacity again.
My challenge in a virtual-first world is discovering new ways to restore and replenish the soul without being able to easily travel and connect with others face-to-face.