There aren’t many 17 year olds who would volunteer to spend three weeks of their summer holidays in a country still very much recovering from major conflict.
But Foyle College sixth former Rory Gilliland did just that - choosing to start his summer break with three weeks at the United World College in Mostar, Bosnia learning about international relations and post conflict societies.
The A Level student, who has just returned to school to finish his A Levels in Maths, French, History and Politics, was the only non Bosnian national to secure a place at the prestigious summer school, which allows younger people the chance to look at world issues.
“When I put in my application, I stressed how I was from Derry, and had grown up in a post conflict era here and I think that tipped the balance in my favour.”
While he researched the region before he left, he admits he learned a lot more on the ground and saw first hand the lasting effects of the bloody conflict in Bosnia in the 90s.
“It is still very much a segregated society,” Rory said. “They are not as far down the path to reconciliation as we are - and the conflict there was on a different scale.
“Here in Northern Ireland we have no so many people working to solve the issues of the past. In Bosnia, in many ways it is still too raw. There is a lot that is still not known about what happened.
“Sections of society feel left behind - war veterans feel they have been forgotten about. And there is a problem with alcohol abuse, many veterans use it as a coping mechanism. Many people still live in poverty, although the physical structures in the country have been rebuilt.
“But the biggest problem is definitely the segregation - there are three main groups, the Bosniacs, Serbs and Croats. Other groups are forgotten about - such as the Roma people.
“Even within the three main groups, there are issues.”
Rory told of how he had befriended a girl on his course who he assumed was Croat - she later confided in him she was a Serb, but she told no one about that as it had led to her being bullied in the past.
“The groups do not mix. There is no integration. The West side of the city of Mostar is Croat. the East is Bosniac. Other people just try and fit in.”
While in Mostar, Rory studied International Relations, Anthropology, Economics and Post Conflict Relations.
Outside of the classroom he was made to feel hugely welcome by his classmates. “They thought it was pretty cool that I had come over from Ireland to learn about their country,” he said. “So I would spend a lot of time hanging out with them - and I have made some very firm friends.”
He also used the opportunity to travel to Sarajevo and visit the National Museum. “It allowed me to see how the city has been rebuilt, but some scars remain.
“Even in every day conversation you have to be sensitive to the past - always cautious when you ask people about their lives.”
Rory has not ruled out the possibility of returning to Bosnia, or other areas of the Balkans. First of all, it’s head down to finish his final year at Foyle College.
“Yes, I would love to go back and see some of the friends I made this summer.”