Meet host families and recharge your batteries – lilas academia

September 9 — September 11

This weekend was very relaxing – I feel like it was the first time since I’ve been here I started to understand that I live in Belgrade! To be honest, it still doesn’t feel real typing that. It’s such a beautiful city and I feel so lucky to study here.

I really needed these two days to recharge and decompress after a busy and challenging orientation week. Every day was exciting (and exhausting, as indicated by the 10+ hours of sleep I got every night this weekend). This week is our first class – I’m super excited to start learning even more than what we already have!

friday september 9

Friday was an important day for all of us on the program, as it was the day our host families were assigned to us! We had the morning to explore the city. It was warm today; the time was in the 80s, and Isabel and I went in search of the Belgrade City Library. It was a lovely antique building first built in the 1800s. The building has a very small collection of books and doesn’t have a lot of study spaces with tables so it looks like we’ll have to continue to look for another place to do the work.

Then we had lunch in a park across from our school before heading to the final day of orientation. We had a presentation on health and safety, a meeting with the school psychologist and an orientation on living with a host family. Aleks (the host family coordinator) handed us envelopes with a letter describing our families, which we all opened at the same time.

The big reveal! My family is a foster mom and dad, named Ceca and Šare. They have an adult son who no longer lives with them, but he lives nearby in Belgrade, so I expect we’ll see him a bit. They also have an Akita named Hana, and she’s adorable! Šare is away at the family’s summer house for the weekend, so I will meet him in person on Monday, but Ceca took me home to show me around. The couple live in a new neighborhood that I haven’t explored yet, further inland from the river. I have about a 15 minute ride to campus.

Evening view from apartment balcony

Ceca prepared me a delicious soup made with broccoli, cauliflower, onions and carrots, as well as a traditional pastry made with egg and cheese. My bedroom is perfect – I have a large window looking out to other apartments, my own little bed and desk, and closet space. I also have my own bathroom (!!!) which was not a guarantee, so I’m delighted. The apartment seems homey and comfortable, and Ceca has been so kind to me making sure I feel welcome. I feel very lucky to have been placed as I was.

I’m feeling a little out of sorts right now, so Friday was an early night for me.

Saturday September 10

On Saturday, I really slept. When I finally woke up, to sunlight streaming in through my open window, I had a moment of “I can’t believe I’m really here!” It seems so magical and unreal to live in this city, to wake up in the room that I will call home for the next three and a half months.

Once I finally emerged, Ceca immediately offered me a traditional “European” breakfast, as she calls it. The menu included toast, tomatoes and cucumbers, salami, cheese and eggs. I also drank green tea.

My European Saturday morning breakfast

Then Ceca and I went shopping. We visited the “green market”, which looks a lot like a farmers market, with outdoor stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables. We bought apples, peaches and blueberries. Then Ceca and I went to Lilly (the Serbian CVS) to get some cold medicine, and we stopped for juice and coffee at a local store. As we walked through the streets of the neighborhood, Ceca said hello to several people walking the streets. I learned that she had lived in the same apartment for over 30 years and had raised her son here.

Family customs here seem to be that people live very close to their families and the houses are often multi-generational. Šare’s mother lives in the apartment next door, and Ceca’s son and nephew both live a few blocks from her apartment. The families are united, and Ceca and Šare both grew up and lived in Belgrade all their lives.

When we got back from our shopping, I unpacked and FaceTimed Jono before heading out to dinner. Ceca took me to the restaurant with the “best ćevapi in Belgrade”. Ćevapi is a minced meat dish, usually served with onion and pita bread. It was delicious and filling. Then we drove past the school Ceca grew up in, through part of a shopping district, and past the Novi Dvor (“New Palace”), where the President of Serbia works.

View of some of Ceca’s embassies and I walk

I spent the evening planning some of our “independent travel” weekends. We are allowed four weekends to travel outside the country while we are here, but we must submit our plans in advance. Two of the weekends are this coming weekend and the next, so we need to submit our travel plans this Tuesday. I’m hoping to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia – a place that’s been on my bucket list since I was probably around 13 – at least one of these weekends before it gets too hot cold. It would also be wonderful to visit the Adriatic Sea again before winter sets in; but we will see what materializes.

Sunday September 11

Sunday, I slept quite late again, and when I woke up, I ate pancakes with Serbian “cream” (basically milk and white chocolate paste) and fruit. After that, I had a slow morning – getting ready for the day, cleaning up my room a bit more, and doing some reading for class the next day. Then the girls decided to meet to plan our independent study weekends. We decided to plan to go to Crete to visit the Adriatic Sea before the weather changes. It’s also supposed to rain here and in Croatia this weekend, so escaping the 88 degrees and the sun will be amazing! Plus, a weekend getaway to unwind after our first week of classes sounds delightful.

We ended up in a speakeasy style cafe/bar called the World Traveller’s Club. Most cafes here become bars at night, so they serve a variety of juices, coffees and alcoholic beverages. This club felt like a speakeasy – to get in you had to push open a giant door, descend underground stairs to get to a dark green room with red velvet sofas. While we were there this afternoon there was a man writing in a thick notebook and smoking a cigarette – exactly the person you would expect to find in this atmosphere.

Inside the World Traveler’s Club

Getting to the World Traveler’s Club also meant I was able to use public transport for the first time, which went really well (thanks Google Maps!). I took the bus about ten minutes to Republic Square, where I saw a dance group perform near the famous horse statue before heading to the speakeasy.

Then I went home to a delicious dinner prepared by Ceca: moussaka with minced meat and potatoes, toast with goat cheese, cucumber and tomatoes, and cherry juice. We chatted about my adventures in Belgrade this afternoon before working on more homework and FaceTimed with my sister and boyfriend.

All in all it was a very relaxing weekend, which I needed after being sick and in preparation for next weekend. I can’t wait to start classes tomorrow!

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