Bosnia is still very much a cash-only economy. The currency is known as the convertible mark (KM). The value of the KM is linked two to one to the Euro (EUR). US dollars and travellers checks can be exchanged for KM at most banks and at airport exchange counters. ATM machines are readily available in Sarajevo, Mostar and other cities. Credit and debit cards are accepted at larger stores and businesses with a valid ID.
Pick-pocketing is fairly common in Bosnian cities, as it is in most of Europe, but violent crime is rare. Participants in the Bosnia Project have often commented on how safe they feel in Sarajevo, even when they are walking around town alone. Students are encouraged to use common sense and take the same precautions regarding personal safety that they would in any U.S. or European city.
Landmines pose very little risk to students on the Bosnia Project. Paved streets are absolutely safe, as are the unpaved roads and parks in Sarajevo. Landmines do still exist in many of the hills and fields throughout Bosnia, however. These areas are often marked, but students should always check with their local hosts before venturing out into open and unfamiliar territory.
Student safety is a top priority on every program William & Mary sponsors. We stay in touch with our Bosnian contacts throughout the year and monitor information issued by the U.S. State Department regarding travel to Bosnia. If the situation in Bosnia were to become dangerous, we would cancel the project and, if the students were already there, get them out of the country as quickly as possible.
There are no particular health threats to worry about in Bosnia, and no special vaccinations are required. As a rule, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all travelers be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B, and have an up-to-date tetanus booster at least 6 weeks prior to travel. For countries in Eastern Europe, the CDC also recommends vaccinations against typhoid, rabies, measles, and polio. Most students have already been vaccinated for most of these diseases. It is up to the individual student to decide whether or not to get all of the vaccinations recommended by the CDC.
E-mail is by far the cheapest way to stay in touch with family and friends. Internet cafés are conveniently located and very inexpensive. Some host families have internet connections at home, but students should be mindful of the fact that this may be expensive for their hosts.
It is expensive to call Bosnia from the U.S., but international calling plans and phone cards can reduce the cost significantly. To call the U.S. from Bosnia, the best option is to use a phone card or go to a post office. There are phones there that track the cost of your calls, and you pay a cashier when you are finished.
Postal mail to and from Bosnia is fairly reliable, but slow. Letters and packages can take anywhere from 1-6 weeks or even longer to arrive at their destination. Avoid sending anything valuable through the mail, if possible.
Summer weather in Sarajevo similar to the weather in Williamsburg during the day and cooler at night. Daytime temperatures can range from the mid-70s to mid-90s, with nighttime temperatures about 20-30 degrees cooler. Bosnians do not use air conditioning, so students may need some time to adjust to the heat.
Most people in and around Sarajevo dress in jeans and T-shirts, just like a lot of Americans. Tank tops are fine for women, but avoid skimpy or revealing styles. For teaching, students are required to follow a basic dress code (no ripped clothing, no revealing shorts, no low-cut or revealing shirts). Head scarves and conservative clothing are required for women visiting mosques.
The language spoken in Bosnia is Bosnian. Bosnian phrase books can be hard to come by, but they do exist. Some phrase books still use the term “Serbo-Croatian,” although Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian are now considered separate languages. The languages are similar enough that a phrase book for any one of them would be useful. Bosnian and Croatian use the Latin alphabet, like English. Serbian uses the Cyrillic alphabet.
The range of food choices in Bosnia is much smaller than most Americans are accustomed to. Most of the traditional dishes consist of meat, cheese and bread. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available at street stands and outdoor markets in the summer. It is possible to maintain a vegetarian diet, but it can be difficult or dull. Host families will try to accommodate students’ eating preferences (within reason), but students should also be sensitive to the cultural and economic factors that limit the variety of foods available both in homes and in restaurants.
Sarajevo is a predominantly Muslim city, although most of the people are secular. In addition to mosques, there are Orthodox Christian and Catholic churches in the city as well. Students are free to attend religious services if they wish.