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NU in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina

Comparative Public Health: Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina

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Final Week in Sarajevo

As we approach the final week of the comparative public health program, I am truly beginning to realize how much distance we have covered in terms of history, culture, trauma, and public health. This last week, we were able to study in depth the Bosnian health care system for the first time. There is a quote (I can’t recall the source) that I feel has underscored many of our studies related to the Bosnian political and healthcare structures, that states “the Bosnian political system was designed at the end of the century to prevent war and related atrocities from happening in the future, but has simultaneously created a system that prevents progress.” This is certainly illustrated in the cantonal political system upon which the Bosnian government is based –in this decentralized government, it almost seems as if each of the 10 cantons must fend for themselves. When it comes to resources and funding for the healthcare system, this reality is especially relevant. The Canton of Sarajevo is easily the best funded and has the most cutting-edge healthcare relative to the rest of the country largely due to its revenue from tourism. On the other hand, provinces that are characterized by more rural populations lack the funding they need to modernize healthcare systems, and it seems that there is no equitable process in place to distribute funds throughout the country. Furthermore, it seems that corruption plays a large role in the inability to translate the significant taxes raised from employers and employees into development of infrastructure. This has also contributed significantly to the brain-drain phenomenon throughout the country, as many of the skilled and educated are migrating to urban areas or simply leaving the country for more developed countries in Europe and the Middle East.

I think one of the most lasting impressions from this week was our opportunity to meet with an anthropologist actively involved in the nation-wide project in identifying remains from primary, secondary, and even tertiary mass-graves using archaeological methods. Though I found it quite fascinating to actually be able to handle bones that date back to the 1500s, it was more interesting to me to see how important this project was to a native Bosnian who had survived the war. While other archaeologists may be quite distanced from the artifacts and bones they collect and document, this man was literally returning the remains of family members back to their surviving family or relatives. When asked about how long the project of identifying Bosnian victims would last, his answer was “probably 50 or 100 years.” If you consider this length of time to be accurate to any degree, this is also the length of time that the war atrocities committed during the 1990s will be on the minds of future generations of Bosnians. Though this on-going project is meant to help with reconciliation, I still wonder about how healthy it may or may not be to continually have the horrific acts committed during the war. It is a constant struggle of ideology between the memorialization of those who perished to prevent something similar from happening again, and the potential mobilization of nationalistic fear and anger regarding these events to accomplish a political agenda.

On another note, I thought that the opportunity to meet with a family medicine specialist was incredibly enlightening. I have had the opportunity to shadow a family physician in the past, and what continues to stick with me is the incredible wisdom and benevolence exuded by those primary care givers. These physicians must be able to treat the whole body, which certainly includes all the emotional and psychological baggage of war and its traumas. I am aiming to finish the program strong, and absorb as much as possible in the few days I have left.

Also, we happen to be in Sarajevo during the Sarajevo Film Festival, which initially began in defiance to the Siege in the last year of the war, where directors from all over the world helped kick-start this gathering with some even smuggling their films into Bosnia themselves. Should be a great time at the premiere!

View from Kod Bibana restaurant!

 

Premiere film at Sarajevo Film Festival!

 

Transitioning from Belgrade to Sarajevo

The unique aspect of the NU in Serbia and BiH program is in fact that students get to live and study abroad in two different countries in the Balkan region and directly experience the vast differences and similarities in the respective country’s conduction of education, public health and mental health programs.

Although only a week has passed, I have begun to feel more at home in Sarajevo in such a short span of time. Perhaps the weather, the people or the smaller size of the city have contributed to this increase of comfort and ease in a city that was previously unknown to me. Sarajevo is vastly different from Belgrade— it’s easier to explore and the various ethnicities that manifest differences in architecture, food and neighborhoods create a sense of an exoticness, which I feel wasn’t as visible in Belgrade.

Me in front of the bridge in Mostar, a different city located in Herzegovina. Here, there are ethnically divided neighborhoods and the city holds importance to the formation of the Bosnian identity.

From the experience of this week, I gathered that people here are more willing to strike a conversation, while people in Belgrade seemed reluctant to speak to a crowd of American college students. I enjoyed all of the conversations I had with locals in Belgrade, but for most if not all, I had to start the conversation. However in Sarajevo, I’ve had the same amount of people talk to me in one week here than the month I spent in Belgrade. Taxi drivers seem to play an important role in this type of attitude. They’re playful, always joking around with their fellow taxi driver friends, and drive insanely. When I asked one driver whether he likes having foreigners visit his city, he replied saying how he appreciates tourists not only because they provide him a steady job and boost the economy, but also that he likes how people are spending the time to learn about his culture and home. Another driver shared that he thinks his job is important because taxi drivers are integral in connecting the city’s people and culture with the tourists. Being rude or embezzling extra money from tourists (which unfortunately is more common in Belgrade) is frowned upon because then foreigners will develop bad impressions of Sarajevo and formulate a negative image of their home. I also asked the students from the University of Sarajevo, who are here for their summer to guide us around, whether they appreciated the influx of tourists, and they spoke of it in a positive light. Overall, it surprises me how open people are about initiating a conversation with a foreigner about a whole host of topics considering how much trauma and horror locals have witnessed a little more than twenty years ago. (In the 1990s, the region was immersed in a bloody war, now termed the Bosnian war, which involved three main quarreling parties: the Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats supported by Croatia who are Catholic, and Bosnian Serbs supported by Serbia or former Yugoslavia and are Greek Orthodox).

Statue in the park of the children’s memorial. It is of a man calling out for his son, who fled to the hills during the war. The story, which is true, goes that the Serb forces told the father they would not kill his son if he called him to come back, and so the father did. However, tragically the Serb forces did kill both the father and his young son.

There is artwork all over BiH like this that shows the sentiment of not forgetting the terrible war that occurred.

    

Something I’ve grappled with this week is religion. From my coursework taught in Belgrade, I already knew that religion is what mainly divides the three ethnicities of Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, but this fact was finally noticeable when traveling from a more homogenous city to one that has multiple groups of people living in the same vicinity. From the people I’ve met, it appears that most don’t practice religion as a doctrine of beliefs they live by, rather religion forms the basis of their culture. For instance, I culturally practice Hinduism because it is a way for me to be connected to my roots and my family when I celebrate holidays with food and song. Similarly, though the majority of Sarajevo’s people are Muslim, most don’t pray five times a day; rather being Muslim forms their cultural identity and I relate to them in this aspect. Not only did I see this here but I also saw this in Belgrade, because Serbians don’t really adhere to conservative Orthodox religious beliefs. However, what confuses me is how religion as a cultural identity can cause so much tension between these three groups of people. And how is it that this cultural identity is so strong that even those who are born or brought up in Bosnia-Herzegovina (but not Muslim) consider themselves not Bosnian. Last month, we learned that people in Serbia don’t really think Bosnian Serbs as their own, and the likelihood of accepting the Republic of Srpska (if it were to secede) would be highly unlikely. So what has to happen in order to form a Bosnian, not necessarily Bosnian-Muslim, identity?  Do non-Muslims who are born and brought up in Sarajevo or other parts of BiH consider this city or nation their home?

Sarajevo is surrounded by mountains, and I captured the sun as it set behind one from my hotel room.

These are the kinds of questions that are important to consider when exploring a region so unfamiliar to me. It is sometimes easier to look at a group of people living in a region from an outsider’s perspective, but the benefit of living in the region for a longer period of time allows one to actually see the insider perspective, the viewpoints of the locals. Hopefully, in the last remaining weeks, as we tackle learning about the public health systems and the mental health care, I’ll better understand the way people in Sarajevo live and approach life.

 

View of Sarajevo from my hotel room

 

Final Week in Belgrade

In our final week in Belgrade, I certainly have a wide range of topics to reflect upon. This last week has been focused on mental health care in Serbia. It has been incredibly fascinating, as I have not been able to study psychiatric care in any particular depth until this program. The additional attention to challenges most prevalent and pressing in Serbia has been of particular interest. Ranging from mental health challenges during social transition, to addiction and abuse, to suicide and youth violence, it has all been incredibly enlightening.

The experiences that have been most meaningful to me involve our opportunity to meet actual patients at the Mental Health Institute. The first woman we met was struggling with borderline personality disorder and depression, exacerbated by the recent miscarriage of her child. This was the first time that I had actually interacted with someone openly about a psychiatric condition. It was her highly lucid self-awareness of her conditions that most struck me. This woman had been coping with various manifestations of her mental condition, including self-harm habits, compulsive eating, and mild dissociation with reality for most of her life. Overall, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to meet someone who was willing to speak candidly about their struggles with a disorder. We are all very human.

There was another very interesting point raised that day regarding the social and historical coding of psychiatry. The characterization and diagnoses of mental disorders has universally reflected the vested interests and fears of a given population, and it is a continuous struggle to separate science and sociology in psychiatry. At one point, homosexuality was a disorder. Nazi eugenicists had a plethora of mental disorders to fit their agenda. Runaway slaves in U.S. were seen to have a disorder. I would definitely be interested to learn more about how political biases manifest in psychiatry, and examine the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement further.

Reflecting on my time in Belgrade, I have simply been immersed in the region, absorbing all of its history, conflicts, language, and public health challenges. It would have truly been impossible to understand the health challenges faced in the Balkans without an understanding of the inter-ethnic conflict and Western intervention that has occurred in the past 50 years. Having now studied the power of language and its capability to support divisive nationalism, I am feeling hyper-aware of my own feelings of patriotism. Especially after having celebrated the fourth of July abroad, I am forced to think about the reasons I have for being patriotic, and whether these feelings are dangerous. I, like many of my fellow peers who have been raised in America, have been engrained a sense of pride in our country and its freedoms. This has caused a certain cognitive dissonance that has underscored my time here in Belgrade. I have found many reasons to be skeptical of the American mission to spread freedom and democracy to the world while ensuring these same freedoms back home, which is emphasized by my study of the history of the Former Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia. This being said, I am certainly afforded many privileges as an American citizen, and I will not let these go to waste.

EXIT Music Festival 2018 in Novi Sad!

One of the most important takeaways from this experience so far is that one must be extremely careful before buying into any narrative, as every story has a bias. Rather than subscribe to one story, it is important to use a variety of perspectives to inform my own world view. I am so looking forward the comparative study of history and public health when we begin in Sarajevo next week!

Protruding Pieces of Concrete can be Beautiful

Belgrade is an odd city— while walking the streets, you can find historical sites nestled next to new, more modern structures. From when I whiz by in a local taxi or when I take my time strolling the city’s sidewalks under the hot sun, I can tell that Belgrade has an in-between identity that can be intimidating or frustrating at first, but from knowing the historical and cultural roots of the “white city”, everything makes sense.

Church of St. Sava, a Serbian Greek Orthodox church built in the early 1900s.

It is an understatement to say Belgrade has witnessed a lot— the region has endured through period after period of social and political turmoil. The social influences that have shaped Belgrade’s character over time include the changes in name of the city, the number of wars its people have witnessed, the dialects spoken in the region, the existence of several ethnic groups and the consistent struggle to reach a uniform national identity or coexistence of multiple identities. Historical influences that simultaneously affected Belgrade’s path include the different governing authorities, the clash between Turkish and Roman cultures, the West’s stereotype of Eastern Europe as “Europe’s Other”, and the NATO bombing in 1999. Furthermore, political forces such as strict socialist regimes and the current campaign to accede into the European Union also contribute Belgrade’s liminal personality.

“La Santa de Belgrade” painted by Guillaume Alby depicts a saint with multiple arms that appears to protect and destroy the city, symbolizing the many times Belgrade has been razed to the ground throughout its tumultuous history.

These sociopolitical and historical factors contribute to the culture of Belgrade today. For instance, when walking to class, I pass by buildings built to mimic European “Romantic” architecture, old churches and temples, and tall Brutalist apartment structures built during Tito’s socialist period to provide satisfactory and equal housing. The Brutalist style of architecture that inspired many of the edifices in Belgrade remind me of Northwestern’s Main Library, which is also an example of this architectural style. Overall, there is no one identity that can fully describe Belgrade, because it has it all, and the lack of uniformity or organization is odd at first, but understandable once you get to know the city and the people who live there.

Picture taken from Kalemegdan Fortress, where locals often go to see the sunset. The building in the background is a popular Brutalist piece, Genez Tower.

The locals I’ve met while living in Belgrade are what make my experience memorable. To be honest, it is difficult to strike a conversation with a local person if you’re with a bunch of other foreigners, especially Americans. And the people here, from taxi drivers to restaurant waiters to store clerks, generally don’t initiate small talk like many of us are used to in America. However, the times when I go out of my way to make conversation are times that I appreciate living in Belgrade. During my last week, I had a store clerk at a grocery store telling me how exciting it was that we were studying in Belgrade, that we had chosen to come to Serbia. She, along with many of the medical school and mental health institute faculty, had a sense of pride that their city, despite its outward appearance, was found fascinating enough. Although at first this sentiment felt surprising to me, I found it quite common amongst locals, and later found it humbling that I could have this experience because I probably would never have considered visiting Belgrade otherwise.

Sunset as seen from the Kalemegdan Fortress, possibly the oldest structure in Belgrade.

From the architecture to its people, Belgrade is a city worth remembering and revisiting.

 

 

Beauty in Every Corner

Belgrade is a unique and vibrant city, filled with beauty on every corner. For a city that has been completely demolished and rebuilt over 40 times, it’s amazing that it still has so much charm. In particular, I found it interesting to learn about the blend of influences on the architecture, from Ottoman to Austro-Hungarian, that has created the foundation for Belgrade’s historical and architectural richness.

When I first began exploring the city, I was quite frustrated in that I couldn’t pinpoint the exact ‘culture’ of the people, or feel out the vibe of the architecture. However, after learning about Belgrade’s tumultuous historical and cultural experiences, it became more evident that, especially after so many conflicts, the architecture is truly representative of the various ethnic and religious identities that resided in the region.

I found it interesting to learn about the internal conflict that Belgrade (and most of the Balkans) faced in terms of national identity and what themes of nesting orientalism. With influences from the East and the West, the city struggled with different ethnicities and the idea of ‘othering’ on the basis of oriental/Eastern religious and cultural practices. This city has gone through so much in the past – even as recently as the past couple decades – to determine what shapes and defines the national identity, which is still evolving to this day.

Overall, this city has many beautiful sites and is incredible to explore. There’s so much to learn about the history and culture of the people — including the fact that it was one of the oldest cities in all of Europe (and the birthplace of numerous Roman emperors!) Taking the time to soak in the views on the top of a fortress or trek through underground caves — to name just a few of my adventures — just comes to show that Belgrade is such an amazing and culturally/historically rich place.

A Reflection on the Serbian Worldview

It is truly amazing what you can learn about a people or culture by simply living among them. In the past week, we have learned about the basic philological principles that underlie the Serbian language, as well as the historical developments that have formed the current social and political states of the country itself. In this immersive program format, I can immediately step outside the classroom, and begin to experience how our learning may actually apply to the narrative of those who live in Belgrade. There are some fascinating topics that have been covered in our first week, ranging from how to flirt with a local, to public health issues related to the Roma minority, to the architectural ideologies that underlie the construction of New Belgrade.

There was one situation in particular that has certainly framed my thinking about the Serbian world-view. During a lecture regarding the architecture of New Belgrade, we came across a building that had been built so solidly with reinforced concrete that it had withstood 78 days of intensive bombing by NATO in 1999. To paraphrase, the lecturer made a comment about how this building had been able to survive three Tomahawk missiles, while our towers had not survived a plane. A certain chill could be felt within the room, and students shot clandestine glances at each other, trying to figure out if we had heard him correctly.

Though we may have left class that day slightly offended, I think that this moment provided an incredibly important glimpse into the collective psyche of the Serbian people. For them, the 78 days of NATO bombing that decimated cities throughout the former Yugoslavia and killed thousands of civilians would seem the equivalent of our experience with the terrorist attacks on 9/11. In making an off-hand jab at the structural integrity of the World Trade buildings, it was a subtle attempt to poke at the American ego, telling us that the Serbians have been through much worse, but also that they empathize with our experiences as well. While I knew that there was some residual resentment of Serbians toward the West, this certainly placed my perspective in context and will certainly inform my further interactions with native Serbians.

Another fascinating topic that we covered this past week was the Roma people, a historically persecuted ethnic minority found throughout Europe. Though this minority is extremely heterogenous, comprising a diversity of languages and religions, their phenotypic appearance has largely prevented their assimilation into society. Having been socially marginalized for centuries, our lecturer Dr. Ivan Đorđеvić stated that the Romani were “essentially living in a parallel universe,” which included a separate underground economy, intermarriage, and an extreme lack of access to public resources. Like many public health experts, Ivan believes issues such as the high prevalence of child marriages (> 50% for girls under 18) are largely due to the social marginalization of this minority. Rather than an ineffective, ethnocentric approach by simply banning child-marriages, he proposes alternative modes must be considered to bring sustainable improvements in health, leading to increased integration of this minority.

In studying the Romani, there were many connections that could have been made between the their collective experience and the ethnic minorities we have in the United States, particularly considering the recent developments regarding in the influx of Mexican migrants. Our policies have historically been ineffective in addressing the undeniable rise in illegal immigration, while also failing to acknowledge the major public health issues that are preventing those who are already living within the US from economic and social assimilation.

All in all, this first week has been a flurry experiences, showing us both the joys and sorrows of Belgrade. I’m looking forward to enjoying all Belgrade has to offer, while also keeping in mind the reasons why we have decided to study public health in this region in the first place!

Though Serbia lost to Brazil, it was a blast watching Serbian football with the home crowd.

Zdravo Beograd

Prior to my arrival in Belgrade, I was honestly confused on how I would feel once I reached. I personally did not know much about Eastern Europe in general, and I had only heard of Serbia a few times. Honestly, I was a little scared – hundreds of questions were pouring through my mind. What would the people be like?  Would I like the food? Would I be happy there? Another thing that I was concerned about was how I would be treated. One of the things I knew about Serbia was that there are not many people of color in this region. With all the hateful rhetoric surging in the United States right now, I was worried that I may be subject to hateful interactions in Belgrade. I spoke to a few people who went on the program in the previous year, and they assured me that I would be fine, but this fear lingered on my mind up until I came to Belgrade. Since I did not know what to expect, and I didn’t want to worry myself too much, I had decided that I wouldn’t do too much research and that I would just go in ‘blindly,’ which would allow me to soak up all the new experiences. 

The moment I reached Belgrade with about 13 other Northwestern students trotting around the airport, I wasn’t scared anymore. I was excited! So far, Belgrade has been beautiful, and I have been treating everyday like an adventure. I’ve been exploring new places, embracing the culture and having an amazing time with new friends. I have realized that I had nothing to worry about, because, in fact, people here are incredibly nice and are actually excited to hear you speak broken Serbian! I am glad that I decided to step out of my comfort zone and go to a place I didn’t know much about. I’m finding it so rewarding to immerse myself in the culture and beauty of Belgrade now. I am currently exploring the beautiful parks and museums, and enjoying the delicious gelato (seriously, it’s the best gelato I’ve ever had). I’m so thankful to share this experience with all my new friends, and that even after just one week here, I know I will make memories here that I will cherish forever. Zdravo Beograd!!

Before Belgrade, Serbia

Although very delayed in posting this pre-departure blog post, I still remember much of my thoughts prior to arriving in Belgrade, Serbia. For the most part, I was very excited and had been counting down to the day that I would leave the U.S for Serbia since the beginning of Spring quarter 2018. I had lived in 3 other countries prior to moving to the States, so I should have been a pro at traveling and being in different cultures and surroundings. This, unfortunately was not the case.

When I had moved from country to country, I had always done so with my family right beside me. My parents would always be by my side and they had all the necessary documents, they were the ones that would be speaking to airport officials and taking care of the major traveling procedures. All I had to do was stay close to them and try not to get lost. This time, however, it was just going to be me. I also hadn’t booked the recommended flight and so I was going to be traveling alone. I had to make sure that I had my passport, my bags were secured, I checked in on time and most importantly that I did not miss my flight. I worried about traveling alone, about how to navigate airports that I had never been in before. I constantly stressed about how I was going to make sure that I did not miss my connecting flight in Zurich. I also incessantly worried about packing the right things. What was the weather going to be like? I was told that Belgrade at this time is usually in the high 90s. But, what if it got cold one day, I should probably pack one cardigan or one sweater at least? If there’s one thing that living in Evanston has taught me, is that weather is not consistent and a single day can go through multiple fluctuations in temperature. But I also had to make sure that everything I was packing would fit into one suitcase and if necessary into my carry-on. This led me to opening multiple tabs on how to pack a lot in a small space. You would be surprised at the amount of things that people can carry in one suitcase, if they just packed well.

Besides the above logistical worries, I had more serious worries brewing under the surface. Belgrade, Serbia is for the most part a rather homogenous part of the world. What I mean by this is that, Belgrade does not have a lot of people that are of African descent, and look like me. I’m an introverted person by nature and as a result, I have a tendency to steer clear of situations where I may be the center of attention. So, my worry was mostly focused on how do I make myself invisible in a city where not many people look like me and that as a result I would stick out like a sore thumb. I also couldn’t stop myself from wondering about what the people I would encounter in Belgrade would think of me. Questions like, do they like black people?, have they encountered black people? and how do they treat black people? constantly swam around in my head and at one point, I thought I had made a mistake in choosing this program. What helped to calm my worries was the orientation that was held for the program. There I was reassured that for the most part, people here are not hateful. What I may find offensive about an interaction is likely to be due to ignorance as opposed to outright hatefulness.

Ultimately, the excitement of experiencing a culture that was vastly different from those that I have been around my entire life trumped the various worries that I had about traveling abroad. So, I packed my bags, completed my to-do list and boarded the plane and now I am here.

I’ve been told that life is an adventure worth taking. I would like to think that this study abroad program in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina was one adventure I would not dare to miss out on and so I am beyond excited for what more is to come.

Belgrade, Serbia as seen from above <3

 

Pre-departure reflection

I am currently writing in the plane en route to Zurich, from which I will then proceed to Belgrade. The reason I have waited until the last moment to post about this upcoming trip is that the year has screamed to a close as my class, now rising seniors, has completed finals, bid farewell to the graduating class, and is now perhaps pondering our own futures beyond college. Now that overhead lights all around me are switching off and flight attendants are passing out eye-masks and blankets, I finally have had a chance to catch my breath and consider the magnitude of the experience I am embarking on. Whenever I have had the opportunity to go abroad previously, I feel that I have grown incredibly in my understanding of the world. When I traveled to South Africa last summer to study health systems in Cape Town and the surrounding regions, it was the first time I had ever been to the African continent. I learned about the extraordinary discrepancies in access to health care, depending both regionally and racially, largely a by-product of the apartheid regime and systematic suppression of blacks. I left South Africa feeling both burdened and enlightened, with new knowledge of sociopolitical challenges, but also having learned new methods and strategies to approach them. When I touch down in Belgrade, it will be a new series of lessons and experiences related to the social and political challenges faced by these countries, with appropriate attention directed toward the lingering effects of conflict during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. I’ll end with something that I have taken away from each place I have visited prior, and will certainly apply to this experience –wherever I have been, I have found amazing sources of inspiration unique to each place to improve the world around me, helping me to sculpt my own passions and understand how they may lead to the betterment of others.

Arrival to Belgrade, Serbia

About twenty-four hours ago, I was on a plane traveling to Belgrade, Serbia through a layover in Zurich, Switzerland. Now having arrived in Belgrade this afternoon and spending only a few hours, I still feel like I haven’t fully “arrived”. I was anxious about how much I was bringing, whether I had forgotten anything, and whether I will be okay with living abroad this summer. This is my first time in a Europe, let alone an Eastern European country, but one emotion surpassed (and still surpasses) the combination of nervousness, confusion and fascination— excitement.

That’s honestly probably what has been keeping me going throughout the day today, despite the lack of proper sleep. I’m excited to learn about a set of countries who have had political and cultural conflict for years and to try to put myself in an another person’s shoes in order to see how a post-war country reestablishes itself. I’m excited to travel around Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), and see the landmarks and nature that these places have to offer. I’m excited to learn more about the politics and languages of the Balkan region, and dig deeper into how even one letter can cause divide. Lastly, I’m excited to be in a program where I can not only learn about healthcare systems, humanitarianism and mental health in a different country, but also be able to explore Europe, a continent I’ve never been to before and have been dying to visit.

Overall, within the first few hours of being here, I’ve noticed several things that contributed to a case of culture shock and appreciation. For one, the facilities are smaller in size than those in America (I’m assuming this is the norm for almost every European country). There’s nothing wrong with them or anything; in fact, they’re quite clean, but they’re way smaller. Belgrade is a city, but not one with soaring skyscrapers, rather it has a vast area with smaller buildings and structures, and so far everything has been pretty easy to get around to. There appears to be a trolley or tram system, which locals frequent, but there’s also your common bikers and pedestrians. Belgrade has a large variety of cuisine to offer its people. On a twenty minute walk around the area where our dorm is, I’ve discovered multiple Greek, Japanese, Italian and Serbian restaurants. There are cafes and bakeries everywhere, along with pharmacies and Moj kiosks, where little knick-knacks like sim cards can be found. The locals here seem pleasant; they’re friendly if you approach them first, but they seem unlikely to approach you. Also much appreciated are the number of pets one can pass by on the streets.

I have a small regret in that I wish I had researched a bit more about how to understand the Serbian language, such as learning the Cyrillic alphabet. Apparently, with the Serbian language, once you know the letters, each word is pronounced using the letters, like much of English. In the days forthcoming, I plan to learn a few key phrases, so I can maneuver my way around a bit better. One struggle I personally had today was obtaining a vegetarian-friendly meal, since Serbian food is very meat-heavy. It smelt delicious though, and that’s coming from a non-meat eater. After having no luck in two initial places, I ended up getting a huge, enjoyable falafel sandwich, which was only $3. One of the perks here is that food is relatively cheap, and a nice filling meal costs only about five bucks.

Belgrade From Above

Although thoughts like, “where can I get vegetarian food?”, “should I get a sim?” or “how can I get…” currently occupy my restless mind, there’s also part of me who’s calm and ready to be immersed as best I can for the next four weeks in Belgrade. The image of leaving Chicago and feeling the pressure changes as the plane speeds to take off remains fresh in my mind, which makes it more unbelievable that I’ve arrived safe and sound to Belgrade. I just hope that the energy I have now will keep up as I officially begin class tomorrow.