Katie Wells was used to her fast-paced schedule as a busy high school student in Oregon. But when she arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad program, she experienced a few cultural surprises.
“Coffee all the time! Bosnians love their coffee and it's typical to sit in a café for a few hours with friends, just talking and drinking coffee,” she says. “When we first arrived, sitting for coffee longer than twenty minutes made us all anxious. By the end of the trip, we all bragged of how we could sit in a café for four to five hours at once.”
Katie’s passion for culture, language, and food was a perfect fit there, and she says her year of endless exploring has left her with “calves of steel.” But the most memorable parts of her experience came in learning the Bosnian language and putting it to use. She recalled the pride she felt one morning when she was able to hold a conversation with her host mother in simple Bosnian.
“All we did was unload the dishwasher, but then she was asking me about my day and that moved on to her asking me about college and what I wanted to study,” says Katie. “It wasn't a special conversation to anyone standing around us, but to me it meant so much. I had a full, real conversation with my host mom, something we hadn't been able to do.”
Interacting with her host family and those around her has helped Katie appreciate diversity; and community service became an important part of her schedule. She volunteered at an orphanage, retirement center, and other events in Sarajevo as a youth ambassador and helped to disprove stereotypes about the American culture.
“Bosnia changed me a lot,” she says. “I'm more open-minded and I try to think a little differently than I did before. The more I interact with my friends and family [each day], [the more] it comes out.”
Through the YES Abroad program, Katie has realized her childhood dream of traveling overseas to “see what else was out there.” Blogging about her journey has made her interested in sharing her adventures with others, and she hopes that will eventually become her life’s work. Her curiosity, she says, will never change.
“I just want to see more,” says Katie. “The world is a fascinating place and there's only so much you can learn from books or movies or pictures. I want to live in it.”