By Ethan Brown ’21
The past two months have been challenging for every William & Mary community member. COVID-19 has suspended in person classes, distanced students from our beloved Williamsburg, and altered innumerable facets of campus life. While it was initially a spot of sore disappointment, one change that’s ensued since March has actually evolved into a moment of pride, one that I’m excited will unfold under the auspices of the Global Research Institute.
For a bit of background: I’m affiliated with GRI’s American Bosnian Collaboration Project, which is W&M’s longest running international service trip. Since the late 1990s, students from William & Mary have worked alongside teachers at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina to host an educational, fully subsidized camp for Bosnian youth for about four weeks each summer. This exciting and engaging project has brought four to seven American students to Bosnia and Herzegovina every June and July since 1999, and I was thrilled to travel to Sarajevo last year as a 2019 teacher.
Simply put, my time in Sarajevo last summer was incredible. I’m passionate about East Central Europe and children’s education, so merging those two interests into one cohesive, immersive experience was unlike anything else I’d experienced at the university. With the partnership of my lovely co-teacher, Alema Halilovic (an education master’s student at the local university), we drafted four weeks of comprehensive and creative lesson plans designed to foster intercultural communication skills among our students. Working with the children and hearing their experiences growing up in a post-conflict society was an eye-opening exercise in resilience, one that I vowed to bring back with me to Williamsburg.
My love for the ABC Project ultimately led me to spend another semester working with our advisor, professor Paula Pickering, in recruiting and teaching our new 2020 team members. Our incredible new team – Pooja Tanjore ’23, Hayley Hubbard ’21, Megan Goyer ’21, Marina Pantner ’23 and Truman Ruberti ’20 – had planned to make up the 22nd American cohort and travel to Sarajevo this summer, and I relished the chance to work with the new team this spring and to help them prepare for their collaborative teaching. As such, I was obviously tremendously saddened by the announcement that all university-sponsored travel would be suspended until August.
The response that this year’s ABC Project team developed in response to this decision demonstrates their genuine passion for our cross-cultural work. After dozens of Google Docs comments, countless email chains and some insightful Zoom conversations with our local partners in Sarajevo, we’ve crafted a plan for several remote teaching and research initiatives which we hope to pursue in lieu of our annual in-person camp this summer. For example, for the first time ever, we’re hoping to potentially connect American and Bosnian grade school students through a guided pen pal partnership, where ABC teachers on both sides of the Atlantic will create prompts to help students as they cultivate cross-continental friendships. This exciting new proposal showcases the enthusiasm we still have for our project’s goals this summer, despite adverse circumstances.
The 2019 team in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina last year. PC Ben Fox ’19
The ABC Project has been among my favorite experiences at William & Mary, so I was devastated when I initially struggled to foresee a way that our work could continue this summer. Thankfully, with the hard work and dedication of all our team members in Williamsburg and Bosnia, we were able to use the last two months constructively to create alternative ways to engage Bosnian youth. Through all the disappointments and let downs of the past several weeks, the ABC Project has still given me something to smile about nine months after I returned from Sarajevo, and that’s something to be thankful for.