Jenna Franklin spent eight weeks as a nurse intern in Bosnia/Herzegovina, and not knowing the language, she found that hugs and smiles could speak volumes.
Franklin, whose parents are members of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in West City Valley, Utah, is a senior in the nursing program at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn. Having never traveled outside the United States, she wanted to study abroad and also wanted to do volunteer work.
The Bosnia/Herzegovina internship dealt with the historical and cultural aspects of the country following the 1992-1995 war, Franklin said. "I’ve lived so comfortably and safe in Oregon until I was 9, and in Utah, and I wanted to experience how other people live in another part of the world."
Franklin’s internship was twofold. She spent time in Sunce, a day care center for people aged 9 to 60 with both mental and physical disabilities, assisting them with health education workshops, horse therapy, swimming in the Adriatic Sea, engaging them in daily activities and as a personal assistant on a week-long trip to Montenegro.
"As a personal assistant I was a nanny to two girls throughout the day," said Franklin. "At Sunce, I basically gave the members a lot of love through my actions. It was difficult but very rewarding because only one other person spoke English. I learned that only 7 percent of communication is through words and that body language, tone of voice and hand gestures also aid in communicating. I also learned some Bosnian words and they learned some English."
In addition, Franklin worked in the Eco Center, a nature conservation and environmental awareness center that works with endangered Griffon vultures and donkeys. "I gave some English guided tours, cared for the donkeys, created a website and did some janitorial work," she said. "At one point I wanted to be a veterinarian, and I have always wanted to work on a farm, so it was fun to have a rural experience."
What stood out for Franklin in her experience was that the unemployment rate in Bosnia/Herzegovina is 43 percent, the education system is poor, bombed out abandoned buildings remain throughout the city, and at first glance the city looks like there can’t be much hope.
"What I found was that the people are so beautiful and have such a rich spirit that it overshadows the poverty," Franklin said. "They are really strong and sincere, and affectionate once you get to know them."
Franklin spent time on the Stari Most Bridge, which stands over the Neretva River. "It was rebuilt after the war and is a beacon of hope for the people because it shows how the people are rebuilding their lives following the war," she said.
Franklin also learned the Bosnian people are hospitable; a value she learned from the Rule of St. Benedict. "When you visit them, they offer you coffee in their fine china," she said.
"Once they cooked a dinner for me that took eight hours to prepare. The homeless rate is low in the community because families take care of each other and live in multi-generational households. They also openly shared their stories from the war and I learned of horrors that I can’t even imagine."
The Croatians, who are associated with the Catholic religion, live on one side of the river and the Bosnian Muslims, referred to as Bosniaks, live on the other side of the river, said Franklin.
"A lot of the conflict was over religion and their solution is segregation," Franklin said. "I made friends with both Catholics and Muslims and it was sad to see the tension. It made me thankful to live in a place where many religions and different ethnic backgrounds can live peacefully together."
Posted with permission from Intermountain Catholic, official newspaper for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.