Amy Gilley: Teaching in a Divided City

Amy Gilley: Teaching in a Divided City

Amy Gilley: Teaching in a Divided City
Dr. Amy Gilley giving a lecture on African-American music at the American Corner in Mostar.

“One of the most challenging teaching experiences of my life,” said Dr. Amy Gilley, associate professor of film and theatre studies at Annandale.

Gilley has been living in Mostar, in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) since September 2013, while teaching at the University of Mostar and conducting research on landscape and public spaces as a Fulbright Scholar. The Fulbright program, a competitive international education exchange program sponsored by the State Department, appoints scholars based on academic merit and leadership abilities. The purpose of the program is to broker mutual understanding between the United States and its partner countries.

Amy Gilley: Teaching in a Divided City
Dr. Amy Gilley with Dr. Selma Raljevic at University Džemal Bijedić.

Mostar is one of the more challenging placements due to its status as a divided city. The destroyed bridges over the Neverta River have been repaired, but the tension continues. Not only are there two soccer teams, two stadiums and two bus lines, there are two universities, the University of Mostar, the Croatian language university on the western side, and University Džemal Bijedić, the Bosnian language university on the eastern side.

At the University of Mostar, Gilley teaches courses on American Westerns, film noir, gangster and African-American films. In each course, she focuses on the foundations of American culture, stressing the common goals of individualism,  the love of public debate and civic engagement. The American style of teaching, with its emphasis on classroom engagement, is new to many of these students who are used to lectures, not discussion-based courses. They are quite interested, she says, in both the fine details of American history and how Americans actually live. Their primary exposure to America is via television shows and films.

Amy Gilley: Teaching in a Divided City
Football (soccer) stadium in West Mostar.

Gilley has also given lectures at the University Džemal Bijedić. Džemal Bijedić, or General Bijedić, was president of BiH during the Yugoslavian period and the school facilities are converted from army barracks. There is some dialogue between the faculties of both universities, but otherwise little is shared.

The University of Mostar subscribes to the Bologna model: three years of undergraduate studies and an extra two years of graduate studies. Many students do double subjects such as English and Croatian literature, and class time is far less than at NOVA. Many students commute to the university because residential costs are too expensive for many students. At the University of Mostar, the classrooms are new, neat and brightly lit, but technology is sparse. Professors bring their own laptops and audio speakers.

If you would like to know more about Gilley’s Fulbright experience, read her blog, or contact her at

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