I applied for a job, here in Bijeljina, from my home in Wales. When I was offered a teaching position, I came immediately with very little idea of what to expect. I am very glad I did it. I knew very little about the Balkans, culture here, or the long history – and I have only now scratched the surface. If you would like to see a part of Europe that is very distinct and rarely travelled, come to Bosnia. Despite, its recent history, Bosnia is a very welcoming place, with a very low crime rate. You can walk in town late at night or travel without any problems.
Bijeljina is a town of about 60,000 people. It has big shops, bars, restaurants and all the things that you would find in any western town. The Seal School here is in a large two storey building. The facilities are excellent, all class rooms have white boards and CD players, there are two large televisions with DVD players, and of course there is continuous internet access. The other three schools are also well equipped – all with extensive collections of literature and text books.
Courses are taught from beginner to advanced English [there are also German and Italian courses]. It is easy to organize classes, as they follow the Longman ‘Cutting Edge’ course books. If you aren’t familiar with these – they are excellent – exercises are well designed and interesting, and there is an accompanying teacher’s book [so you don’t have to think on your feet]. Generally teaching groups are small and friendly – usually between 6 and 12 students per class. The students are generally very good at English, and seem to really appreciate having a native speaker as their teacher.
As a foreigner here you are made to feel like a novelty. People make you at home, and are genuinely interested in where you come from. I have been eating a lot here. Meals are generally very good, and very reasonably priced, but I quite often get my food from one of the local bakeries. Fresh bread, and specifically fresh pies are a speciality.
I find it very interesting to talk to people about the past, of course I don’t dwell on the awful things [which are unimaginable], but it is very good to hear about people’s experience of life here. I am particularly interested in the fact that communism existed here until recently.
The scenery in Bosnia varies massively. Bijeljina is in the flat land, whereas Sarajevo for example is in a very mountainous region – where people can ski throughout the winter.
I have also been teaching in Brcko, a town about half an hours drive from Bijeljina. I drive there twice a week and enjoy listening to music on the journey and seeing the huge river that divides Bosnia and Croatia. The majority of students that I have taught have been very nice. It makes life satisfying when you know that the people you are teaching really want to learn. Being here has been a great experience, both for teaching, and culturally. I am now more confident and more self sufficient than I was before: it’s a very healthy feeling.
Whilst searching the Jason Peebles- ESL site, I saw a position advertised by Seal School in Bijeljina and Brčko in the north-east of Bosnia-Herzegovina.I applied for the position and then at the invitation of the owners I flew to Sarajevo 2 weeks later to check out the school. I was impressed by the excellent resources, the professionalism of the owners and the attitude and dedication of the students. The students are all so keen to learn English to further their opportunities in the world. Here was a school, in a country with little infrastructure that was still suffering and damaged from the war only 10 years prior, that was offering a service to the local community equivalent or better to any other Language School I had seen anywhere in the world. A real credit to the owners.Seal Centar za strane jezike (Seal Centre for Foreign Languages) has 4 schools in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Bijeljina, Brčko, Sarajevo and Zvornik. They employ local teachers for the Elementary to Pre-Intermediate classes, but are committed to offering classess from Intermediate and above with teachers who are English native speakers. I personally teach ntermediate, Upper Intermediate, First Certificate and Advanced as well as IELTS. I believe the classes are limited to 12 students, which is an excellent size for learning and teaching alike. At the present time there is one Australian, and one British Teacher, and the school is seeking to employ another English native speaking teacher. Seal also offer classes in other langauges ie Italian and German .I have now been in Bijeljina, Bosnia-Herzegovina for 7 months and I am really enjoying it. Bijeljina is in the agricultural area in the flatlands where the Sava and Drina Rivers meet about 15 km from the Serbian and Croatia borders. I live in a flat in the middle of town. The flat is a 2 minute walk from the Bijeljina school. I travel to Brčko 2 days a week to teach. Brčko is 40 km away and is situated on the banks of the Sava River, and also on the Craoatian border. Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian people are very friendly and welcome you into their homes with open arms,much interest and lots and lots of food. I have travelled to Sarajveo, Jahorina Mountain (1984 Olympic site) , Belgrade and other villages around here.
One last comment, is that I am attempting to learn the Serbian langauge. As you may know it is similar to Russian and very difficult. I am also learning to read in the Cyrillic alphabet, as ALL signs are written in Cyrillic in this area. It is a little easier than what I first thought.
I decided, in the year following my gradutation, that I wanted to spend some time away from the UK. My application to work in Bosnia and Herzegovina was made on the spur of the moment. Beyond some basic facts regarding the recent conflict I knew very little about the country. And since coming here I’ve discovered that I knew even less than I thought, as all those “facts” are far less substantial and far more subjective than they once appeared.
I have worked in Istočno Sarajevo (East Sarajevo, a suburb of the capital) for four months. Sarajevo itself is a city of contrasts, of cultures within cultures. The trolleybus ride which takes me into the centre carries me through grim and shell-scarred blocks of flats, past tiny farmsteads on steep hillsides, past shining new developments, through the -now mostly restored- Austro-Hungarian central area and into the tiny Ottoman old town, Bašcarija. I am very fond of the city, and felt an unexpected sense of pride in showing visitors from home the city that they had only ever known from news broadcasts.
The school is small, but well equipped; the text books (all Longman’s most recent publications) are reliable, and the others who work here are kind and friendly. I teach children (the youngest is 7) and adults of a wide range of levels, from near beginners (the children) to FCE. And I have enjoyed it immensely. The children are bright, imaginative and exciting; the teenagers by turns fun, thoughtful, sweet and exuberant; and there is always something to learn from the adults I teach- some of the local language, some cultural differences, or some glimpses of their personal history and of their present way of life. I have been both shocked and humbled by some of the ideas and opinions- political, religious, social- that I have encountered during my stay, so different to the safe and familiar generous liberalism of home.
I have felt very welcome here. Shopkeepers like to test out their English skills on me (and seem to enjoy my attempts to speak Serbian!) I have grown to like the food (which is heavier, meatier, and saltier than the diet I was used to at home- but which conceals some unexpected pleasures.) I will miss many of my students- friends- when I leave. I will miss, too, the mountains; the “pita” (the national dish- various fillings wrapped in flaky pastry); the excellent coffee; and the absolute independence I have enjoyed since I’ve been here. It has been a great experience, and I will always hold a soft spot for BiH.