Nerkez Opačin: Experiential Learning is Key Part of Summer School

In July 2017, International University of Sarajevo is hosting 4th International Summer School “Learning from the Past – Bosnia and Herzegovina 1995 – 2017: Lessons Not Learned?" This was an opportunity to talk to Mr. Nerkez Opačin, the Summer School coordinator, about this educational program that attracts many international students to the IUS every summer.

IUS: Mr. Opačin, as the coordinator of the 4th International Summer School “Learning from the Past”, can you tell us more about the organization and the summer school program?

Mr. Opačin: I am coordinating the fourth Summer School titled “Learning from the Past – Bosnia and Herzegovina 1995 – 2017: Lessons Not Learned?” This year we are not staying only at the University, as we did in the previous years – we are also having field trips. The Summer School started with lectures delivered here at the International University of Sarajevo by different professors, either from the IUS or from other different universities from Bosnia and Herzegovina and abroad. The lectures are mainly related to transitional justice, dealing with the past, reconciliation, philosophical perspectives on the past or the present, and similar topics. Furthermore, we have also developed collaboration with different NGOs and IGOs, who we either visit and listen about their work related to Bosnia and Herzegovina, or we host them here at the University. Forum ZFD, PCRC, and Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina visited us and presented their work, and even conducted workshops with our participants. We have a few field trips scheduled, including the city of Sarajevo, Herzegovina, Mostar, Počitelj and Grabovica. The Summer School is supposed to finish with a four-day trip to Klotjevac and Srebrenica in the Eastern Bosnia, where we will live with the families who returned to their homes after the genocide. We will have a chance to listen to their stories and learn about the culture by living there and trying to see how an average person lives today in remote places like Klotjevac, and whether they feel that any justice or reconciliation is happening there.

IUS: How did you come up with the idea to start the first Summer School?

Mr. Opačin: The idea for starting the first Summer School came four years ago when I started to work at this University as a Senior Assistant, and while I was teaching two courses per semester. My aim was to go outside the classroom environment to gain more fieldwork experience, both for my own and my students’ growth as well. I realized that textbooks will not be enough to learn about peacebuilding and reconciliation in Bosnia or in general. I thought that I should start a project related to this issue. The university rector supported me in my intention, and that is how the Summer School story started. 

IUS: What are the aims of the Summer School and what is its significance?

Mr. Opačin: The aims of the Summer School are to attract international participants to come to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to come to the IUS, to do more research about Bosnia and the past conflict, and how a country like Bosnia that is still a developing country could move away from its current situation towards better future. My personal goal and hope is that those young people who come from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina are returning to their communities and becoming change-makers themselves.

IUS: Who are the participants of the International Summer School?

Mr. Opačin: This year we have participants from eight different countries from all over the world, starting from Brazil to Australia, Germany, USA, Netherlands, etc.

IUS: Since the International Summer School “Learning from the Past” has been going on for the fourth year now, can you tell us something about your personal experience with it, and how important it is to continue with it in the future?

Mr. Opačin: I can surely say that this is the most difficult thing that I am doing right now, definitely the hardest job I have, but at the same time it is the most satisfying job. Why? Because of the whole idea of the Summer School, and I really believe that it can make a difference. Furthermore, the last day of Summer School is reserved for finalizing the trips, summarizing the program, and while talking to participants and already seeing the change that is happening in them, my expectations are fulfilled in the sense of learning outcomes, and the feedback is always really positive.

IUS:  It is obvious that, through the Summer School program, the participants will spend a lot of time in the field. Can you say what is the aim of that part of the program?

Mr. Opačin: Fieldwork experience is one of the most important parts of our program, but, of course, the classroom should not be neglected. The experience in the field is important because I think experiential learning is the key where we leave the classrooms and go to the field and see the things that you are talking about. Once this happens, the feedback of the participants is also overwhelmingly positive, because they see these field trips also as the highlight of the Summer School.

IUS: Do you have feedback from participants from earlier summer schools and their experiences in communities where they could apply the knowledge they gained through the International Summer School?

Mr. Opačin: Amazing thing this year is that one of the participants from two years ago decided that she wanted to come back again and attend another Summer School with us. We are including our former participants to be among the program makers, and Dara, the last year’s participant who got a scholarship, was our tour guide in Herzegovina. As you may see, we are trying to expand our family and to invite and include again some of the former participants, because they went through Summer School and are more interested in the topics and further research. Furthermore, we give them space for changes and modifications.

IUS: At the end of the interview, please tell us something about yourself and your work?

Mr. Opačin: I have been working at the IUS since March 2013. Currently, I am on unpaid leave because I am doing my Ph.D. at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Nonetheless, the Summer School is something I really enjoy doing and is always worth coming from Australia to the IUS, for the participants’ and for the sake of Bosnia and Herzegovina.