One of the big differences was the small class-room size of 25 students which definitely helped everyone to get to know each other very well. Other than the great teaching style of Prof. Robert Austin, being in the region and visiting the places that you study about also allowed us to immerse ourselves in the mindset of people and to realize that war is still very present in the fabric of everyday life; things that would not have been possible in Toronto.
For me, one of the most unexpected part of the program was visiting memorial sites. It is truly moving to see that family members are still visiting these sites and that people remember everything about the wars. As I said, war and dealing with its aftermath are still very much parts of the everyday life in the region. But it is also very interesting to witness the progress that is being made twenty years after the wars.
Personally, I went in the program knowing very little about the Balkans but the course material and field trips helped me to come out very knowledgeable. The program also opened my eyes to a whole different region of the world which is still struggling and where tensions are still pretty much high.
I immensely enjoyed our trip to Bosnia during the second portion of the program where we had 10 days to travel throughout the region and to do research for our final essay. We stayed in Sarajevo for two nights, and in Mostar one night which was very intense but also fascinating at the same time because we had the opportunity to experience first-hand things that we had been studying about for a while. Seeing a whole different culture than what we normally experience in Canada was also very exciting. Throughout the program, we got to try many traditional dishes which actually inspired one of my friends to do her final paper on Ataman influences on the Balkan cuisine.
Taking a full year course in four weeks is definitely challenging. In addition, most of us did not anticipate the great emotion of the wars and the intensity of their impact on lives of the people.
All of us have definitely become much more interested in the region itself. Students are still posting articles on our group page and I know a former UofT student who is going back to the region to do journalist work there so you definitely have the opportunity to stay connected to what you feel passionate about.