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.
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.