College develops relationship with country after student trip leaves great impact

Julie Conlon

Student Life Editor


The Keene State College Honors Program has sent students on eye-opening trips abroad for years. In the spring semester, a small group of students takes a class and learns about a country a little less plush and a little more complicated than their comfortable United States of America. And every year students come home with memories to last a lifetime.

But one trip this past summer left a group of students with a little more than just great stories and souvenirs.

In May of 2012, ten Keene State College students traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today, at least three students have plans to return, and with the growing development the college has created with the slowly resurrecting country, more students may one day soon have for themselves similar life-changing experiences.

Emily Fedorko / Photo Editor Left, Patricia Whalen, Former International Judge at Court of Bosnia, and Vahidin Omanovic speak to students in the Mountain View Room at Keene State College Feb. 13, 2013. Ten KSC students worked with Omanovic and his peace-building organization, CIM, in Bosnia this past summer.

Emily Fedorko / Photo Editor
Left, Patricia Whalen, Former International Judge at Court of Bosnia, and Vahidin Omanovic speak to students in the Mountain View Room at Keene State College Feb. 13, 2013. Ten KSC students worked with Omanovic and his peace-building organization, CIM, in Bosnia this past summer.

Brian Green, a professor of sociology, was one of the faculty members who took the group of Honors Students to Bosnia. He said he was impressed by the enthusiasm he witnessed from the ten even before they left the United States.

One student he noted in particular was junior Becca Brady. “She seemed to be the most interested and just really wanted to build a project and take it really seriously and learn a lot. I was very impressed with her work from the first day,” Green stated.  Green said once arriving in Bosnia, Brady took to the country “like a fish to water.  It’s easy for people to talk, but she’s been following through since the very beginning,” he said.

Brady said this trip to Bosnia was her first international trip. The junior explained once she arrived in Bosnia she was overwhelmed. She said she remembers thinking, “This is amazing, I need more of it.”

And more of it she got. Brady said she and the nine other students took every opportunity they had while in Bosnia to learn and explore.  “I think all of us were so energized. Even when we had free time we were going to the market and trying to navigate things on our own. I don’t think there was ever really a time when we were like ‘let’s just go sit in the hotel.’ We were always doing something, which made it more beneficial.”

But Bosnia held something beyond captivating landscapes and beautiful markets that kept these students engaged and intrigued even after they came home. Brady mentioned learning and seeing firsthand the effect of the not-so-long-ago genocide, or ethnic cleansing, the country faced and said this is what made the trip such a challenge—a challenge these students faced head on.

Brady said, “It may have been just because we were so sort of immersed into the culture. I think we got so much out of Bosnia in the two weeks. I don’t think there was anything more we could have gotten out of it. We learned the good stuff and the bad stuff and it was really emotional for us. I think that emotional stuff is what made it have a greater impact.”

This impact led Brady to begin fundraising for a return trip. Upon arriving home, Brady began searching organizations and internships in Bosnia that would allow her to teach. She started a website for funding and has since raised over $1,600 in personal donations. Last month, Brady was accepted to teach English for two months in Tuzla, Bosnia.


This “Bosnia fever” these students have brought back to KSC even has other students interested.  In February, to the great joy of these students, Vahidin Omanovic, their unofficial guide and mentor from Bosnia, visited KSC. The students worked closely with Omanovic and his organization, Center for Peacebuilding, called CIM. Omanovic shared openly his first-hand experience with the war and genocide. He said for years his life was filled with anger and hatred. Today, Omanovic’s mission is to restore peace to his country.

It was his visit that gave sophomore Logan Pare the fever. Pare, a sociology major, said he is in the process of working with Omanovic on an internship through the college for the 2013 fall semester.  Pare said it was Omanovic’s story that left a lasting impression. Pare noted he was blown away by Omanovic’s story. “He’s all about peace and he’s constantly smiling,” Pare said of Omanovic, “It seemed like something I’d want to be involved with.”

Pare stated the growing connection between KSC and a country like Bosnia will be beneficial to students.

“Keene [State College] is big on the whole genocide thing. I think it’s great that Keene’s doing this,” he said, “If a relationship works out, I think it’s great.”

Dr. James Waller, chair for the Holocaust and Genocide Studies program, also went to Bosnia with the group and commented on the presence of Omanovic.

“I think a large part of the positive experience we had in Bosnia was [Omanovic] as a person. he was just so engaging, so dynamic, so easy to connect with. I think [Omanovic] opened a door for continuing connections. it wasn’t just someone who hosted us and said goodbye—he really kept a door open there that i think was unique.”

Waller commented on the lasting impact is due to students’ “on ground” learning experience.

“I think the benefit of the connection is that when we have the chance to be on ground and meet the people who’ve been impacted by something like genocide, war, it just makes a completely different impression on you.” He stressed the meeting of the people—people students have viewed from behind a textbook as perpetrators.

“When they see they’re actually people…there’s something about that connection that you don’t really get until you have the chance to be on ground, like our students were.”

Green stated the college’s relationship to Bosnia as “informal,” but growing. Green said he met with Provost Melinda Treadwell and explained to her how many departments within the college, such as psychology, sociology and holocaust and genocide studies, would benefit from a relationship to Bosnia and even CIM.

“We agreed to kind of explore options,” Green said, and explained that as of now, an informal relationship has been developed through past course work, current collaborations with CIM, as well as faculty and staff, and anticipated and planned activities that students like Brady are taking on. Green stated there is “The hope or wish for a sustained ongoing, perhaps more formal, relationship in the future.”

Brady echoed Green, and Waller said a lot of people remain “unaware of the world around them,” giving reason to opening a partnership with Bosnia.

“Connecting with another country would open their minds up so much. You don’t know what’s out there until you go. Bosnia is an incredible country,” she said.

Brady explained that Bosnia was once a first world country, just like the United States. “They hosted the Olympics [in 1986],” she said, “And then to see the genocide happen, it’s a realizing that that could happen anywhere. We’ve never experienced war, at least not our generation, and to meet people and  hear they had the life we had and then had it torn up and they had to put it back together—I think that’s really important for people to know about.”

Waller said the challenge of Bosnia remains that the country is still hurting. He said Bosnia has yet to recover and “could well be on the verge of another conflict.”

“It has need,” Waller said, “It’s a present need. I think however [Omanovic] did it, he was able to bring the students into that awareness. The students are responding to what they feel to be a need.”


Julie Conlon can be contacted at

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