Bosnia and Herzegovina Trip
By: Maggie Blaska featuring Paul Marsnik, Durran Thompson and Aretha McDonald
For fifteen consecutive years, E-Scholar cohorts embarked on an international business trip to China. That impressive streak was broken in 2020 when the E-16s were unable to make a global trip due to COVID. For a time, it looked as though the E-17s would be barred from international travel as well.
“It wasn’t looking good,” said Paul Marsnik, academic director of the E-Scholars program. “CSB/SJU had shut down all global travel for safety reasons and it was looking more and more like we would be stuck at home for the second straight year.” Then I met with Kevin Clancy, the director of the Center for Global Education, and he said that there was a chance that we could make it happen in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). I was like that guy in Dumb and Dumber, you know the one who says ‘so your sayin’ there’s a chance.’ I contacted my friend in BiH, Aco Bundalo, and he went right to work putting together a plan with all kinds of contingencies to make sure everyone would be safe. Fast forward a few months and the E-17s were off to eastern Europe for two weeks in Sarajevo and Mostar.
Students Durran Thompson and Aretha McDonald are current seniors at CSB/SJU and the last remaining E 18’s on campus who experienced the trip. Both recanted memorable times with classmates but noted their most meaningful experiences were with business owners that shared their stories with the E scholars.
Durran set up a visit to a brewery in Mostar owned by an entrepreneur. The owner experienced war and strife in Mostar, so he sought refuge in the U.S. After the tensions lessened, the owner moved back home and started a successful brewery chain. “The trip was a real eye-opener,” said Durran. “I learned so much about the fascinating history of that country. The resilience of those people is just incredible.” When asked about the language barrier, Duran said, “ At times it made things difficult, but you can always figure out a way to get a point across. You just have to embrace ambiguity. And it was fun to teach them a few American words and phrases and learn some Bosnian in the process.”
Aretha arranged several meetings in Sarajevo and Mostar, but she said that her favorite visit was kind of a spur-of-the-moment meeting with a mother and daughter who sold handmade pouches, tapestries, and bags. “It was nearing the end of the trip,” said Aretha. “I was looking for some souvenirs to bring home and I stumbled across a mom and her daughter selling these really cool handmade products. Their English was surprisingly good, and we talked for a long time. They told me all about how they started their store in the middle of the pandemic when they couldn’t find work. We exchanged contact information so that we could stay in touch. It’s funny how some of the best memories come from things that just kind of happen spontaneously.”
With the pandemic (hopefully) in the rear-view mirror, the tradition of traveling to learn about new cultures and international business lives on. The E-19 cohort is traveling to Vietnam over winter break 2022/23 and could not be more excited! They are looking forward to gaining new experiences, learning about Vietnamese culture and business, and creating stronger bonds with their classmates. Trang Pham (E-7) who grew up in Saigon, will be joining the group as the guide/translator. Vinh Ho (98), who lives in Saigon will be the local host. Vinh runs the Focus Asia-Pacific Youtube channel and blog (www.focusasiapacific.com) and has several Vietnam travel courses called Travelling Saigon (www.travellingsaigon.com).