Bosnia and Herzegovina has successfully blended cultures from the East and West. Over the centuries, Byzantine, Roman, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian settlements have influenced the architecture, cuisine, languages and religions of the area. These four cultures are now a hybrid that makes up today’s Bosnian culture.
Bosni i Hercegovini (or written BiH for short) is a largely mountainous and forested country. It’s no wonder that it has been a host for Winter Olympics (1984) and for white water rafting competitions (2009).
Your local chapter may organise get-togethers for AFS students or excursions to other cities or regions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also, over the course of the program, AFS staff and volunteers will hold orientations and evaluate your experience to help with your cultural adjustment.
There are three official languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian. They are officially three different languages, but they are so similar that learning one allows you to communicate in another. Different accents and some different words showcase the uniqueness of each. The most used common term in the international community for these three languages is “b/h/s”. There are also two official alphabets: Cyrillic and Latin.
Depending on where you are placed, your classes will be in one of the three languages. Remember – learning one means being able to communicate in all three, so don’t be intimidated by the unknown.
Host Family & Community
On average, towns and cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not very big. Many families live in rural areas and commute to the city for work, and you will likely be placed in a rural area. Talk with your host family about possible activities in town, and try to find a group where you can take part. Sports, music and similar activities are a good way to meet people and make friends.
Everything starts first with “Hello”. It is very likely that each member of your family will greet you with a handshake or even a kiss on the cheek, because this is the customary way of greeting in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are two ways of addressing people in b/h/s. “Ti” is the familiar or informal form used within families and with friends or people of your own age. “Vi” is formal and used by younger people towards older people, between older people or just between people who don’t know each other well. You should call all members of your family “Ti” and the parents by the name that their children call them. In most cases that will be “Majko”, “Mama” for mother and “Oče“, “Tata” for the father. Using informal greetings and nicknames helps creates personal relationships and is the best way to become a part of your Bosnian family. Also, say “Hvala” to show your appreciation, say “Dobro jutro” in the morning after you got up and “Laku noć” when you go to bed.
AFS host families all over the world host on a voluntary basis, without taking or getting any money for their hospitality. Please keep this in mind and appreciate what your family is doing for you!
Bosnians are very direct communicators. Oftentimes, offerings or requests are given in a very straight and direct way by saying exactly what is meant. For the typical Australian, this may not seem out of the ordinary. If you are not sure how to interpret it, just ask your host family or local volunteer. Bosnians also love discussions, voicing their opinions and talking about them – which may seem like fighting to you. It is just the way of communication, and it doesn’t mean that there is an argument or that an individual is personally attacking another. People may disagree with your opinion on a certain issue, but still like you very much as a person. Wishes and criticism are uttered openly and very directly in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Honesty is valued very much in personal relationships. In BiH, people expect you to say what you want directly, even if you refuse something. If your host family and friends have the impression you are not saying what you really think, they could be disappointed. In BiH, relationships between parents and children are mostly based on mutual trust. Parents in BiH expect to be informed and consulted – in return you will likely enjoy a lot of freedom.
Teenagers in BiH spend most of the time at school or studying. They spend their free time within the family or with friends. They take a walk trough the city with friends, drink a coffee or juice at one of the many coffee shops which can be found in the towns or they go to cinema, local youth centres, concerts, etc.
Bosnian food is closely related to Turkish, Greek, and other former Ottoman and Mediterranean cuisines. Most families say “Prijatno” before they start eating. If you don’t like eating or drinking one of your host family’s dishes, don’t be afraid to tell your family about it in a polite way, but give everything a chance.
The day starts with a more or less rich breakfast: e.g. bread with jam, cheese, cream or sausages with eggs. Also Corn Flakes or “Müsli” can be served. Adults mostly drink coffee or tea, and young people often prefer white coffee, milk, tea, chocolate or juice.
Most families in BiH do not have lunch at home since parents work and children are at school around noon, so they eat outside of the house. This is however different during the weekends when you will have lunch at home. In most families red meat, poultry or fish with vegetables, potatoes, noodles or rice are regular features.
Dinner is usually served between 5 and 8 p.m. It is normally the biggest meal during the day and also consists of red meat, poultry or fish with vegetables, potatoes, noodles or rice.
Meals are not always served at regular hours and you should ask your host family about their meal schedule. Meals usually do not last long (about 1/2 or 3/4 of an hour). In Bosnia and Herzegovina meals are eaten with silverware, though there are some meals which are or can be eaten with hands. If you are not sure how to eat, just watch what the other family members are doing.
Like your peers in BiH, you will have to go to school during your stay. This is the best way of getting involved with groups of youth in BiH, of learning about their everyday life, their activities, their fun and sorrow. And this is a mandatory part of the AFS program – even if you have finished secondary school at home.
You will likely attend gymnasium, which is high school level, and AFS students are enrolled in 2nd, 3rd or 4th grade depending on their age. Students usually go to school from Monday through Friday. In some schools, the classes are only in the morning, while in others classes are in the afternoon or one week in the morning and the other week in the afternoon. The class size varies from 20 to 30 students.
School clubs and activities as music, sports, art, drama sections which students can attend outside of classes are mostly held on Saturdays. Apart from regular school life, many schools organise one-day or one-weekend school trips inside of BiH or to the neighbouring countries. As an exchange student you have the option to participate in these trips, but you should be prepared to bring along sufficient funds for this trip, since it will not be refunded by AFS.
In addition to the orientations that you will participate in domestically, you and your fellow AFSers will have several orientations while abroad.
These required orientations are intended to help you maximise the AFS experience, reduce culture shock and to gain knowledge, skills and a global understanding.
In addition to the orientations, many local chapters organise activities for students and host families throughout the year. These will vary from chapter to chapter but may include parties or excursions to other cities or regions in Bosnia. Unlike the orientations, these activities are optional and are not included in the tuition.