This week was the week the academics really got started. I appreciated being a little busier, because this week was also one of the most homesick I’ve felt. At the start of the semester we had a group therapy session where the therapist explained to us how when people study abroad there is usually an initial high – everything is new and exciting and feels like things are going very well. Usually after this initial peak there is a trough, where the excitement fades and the daily challenges of acclimating to a new place come into focus. I really feel like I’m going in that direction.
I will say that even when I feel homesick, I’m still so happy to be here. For example, today (Thursday) was a very nice day – the weather warmed up after lots of rain and cold, and I was driving home after seeing my friends for lunch, listening to my music, and realizing that I recognized the streets to get back home. I felt so peaceful and happy at the time – just grateful to be here and for the nice weather and to walk home. Although this week has been more difficult, I know that I am where I need to be right now.
monday september 26
On Monday, during Serbian class, we went to a farmer’s market, which was really fun! The markets here are daily, so they have a more permanent design than the national markets in the United States. Each stall offers fresh (and usually local) produce at really reasonable prices. My host mother goes to what she calls the “green market” almost every day to buy fresh food for dinner.
For our Peace and Conflict Studies class, we visited Human Rights House, an organization that partners with SIT to do internships sometimes at the end of the semester. The presentation we had was enlightening about the work done after the Milošević regime to change the narratives of the past. Memory studies is definitely a theme in our many courses, as we interact daily with people who lived through and have different accounts of the wars of the 1990s and who is to blame. Memory studies are very fascinating to me, and how they shape cultural narratives is fascinating to study and better understand. I also think they apply directly to some of the current debates in the United States.
After school, the group went to open our local bank accounts (it’s a long story, but basically to get a student visa here, we have to open bank accounts to prove that we have enough money to survive here for a certain time). As we are here for more than three months, the student visa is necessary. This process went very well, fortunately, so we are all ready! After the bank, I felt very tired, so I went home and did some work before talking with friends and going to sleep.
tuesday september 27
On Tuesday we had a class in the morning, and after that I really needed to sit down and work, because we have a midterm on Friday this week in Serbian, and a three-page essay and a five-page essay to be delivered early next week before we go to Kosovo on Wednesday. The whole band knew we had work to do, so we all went our separate ways.
I wanted to go to a cat cafe/bookstore, which was unfortunately closed, so I ended up wandering around and found the the coolest cafe where I think I’ve been before. It’s a three-story building, with huge glass front windows and at least 100 tables scattered throughout. The food and drink selection also reminded me of home – healthy salads, avocado toast and chia bowls. I ended up eating the most delicious bowl of chia for an afternoon snack and getting an ice cold matcha before working for four hours on my essay and readings for class. I did a draft of my essay for the Breakup of Yugoslavia course, so that was really good! It was also thunder, which added to the atmosphere.
Then I had about two hours to kill before meeting the girls for a drink that evening, so I wandered down the main shopping street and stopped at two bookshops, where I bought two books , and a candy store to try Serbian sweets. I ended up buying The silence of the girls and magic lessonsthe prequel to Practical magic. I look forward to reading for fun this weekend, since we won’t be traveling. Then I went to sit by a fountain and watched some breakdancers perform some really awesome moves (like spinning on their heads) before meeting the girls for a drink.
After the drink, I went home to jump on FaceTime with June, which was great fun considering we hadn’t had a chance to catch up since I got here. I felt very relaxed and proud of the super productive day I had!
Wednesday, September 28
On Wednesday, we resumed classes before returning to work. Wednesdays are very long because we also have our group therapy session, so we are not out of school until about 3 p.m. I took the girls to the cafe I went to on Tuesday, where we all worked for a few hours before heading home to make my FaceTime appointments. Every night I get to talk to someone different from back home, which is really nice! Wednesday was Mom and Dad ❤ It was a good evening although exhausting.
Thursday, September 29
Today was a great day, because our class was pushed back to 1 p.m. so that we could go and visit a cultural center, and I was able sleep in. I needed sleep so badly, and waking up gently and not feeling the need to rush to get ready was so nice. Today was also suddenly really hot – it’s been around 50 degrees all week, but today was 70 degrees – and that put me in a good mood! I was also able to walk to the Cultural Decontamination Center and enjoyed walking instead of taking the bus.
The Center has been a space used for left-wing theater and artistic performances since the 1990s. Our host told us that she was a professor at the University of Belgrade when the Milošević regime began to replace the faculty with its partisans, effectively controlling many of the narratives taught to young people about wars. When our host, among other teachers, refused to sign the new dean’s terms, the police came and beat them in the streets, leading some of them to flee to the Cultural Decontamination Center. Our host’s stories painted a vivid picture of what life was like in the 90s as a political dissident. It’s a scary thought to think about all the fear and active government oppression that was happening here not too long ago.
Every time I forget how recent the wars were, something reminds me. It’s crazy to see how the country exists now, knowing that three decades ago it was under an authoritarian regime.
After our tour, the group went to Sushirrito (a restaurant where they roll sushi like a burrito) and studied a bit for our Serbian midterm tomorrow before parting ways. I came home and did my weekly FaceTime with Veronica before hopping on another Zoom call with Professor Christianakis about my full senior project. We had a great hour-long meeting about my senior global project and how I might start thinking about putting him in a strong enough position to apply to do undergraduate research this summer (which is the dream).
Tomorrow I have my midterm in Serbian, so wish me luck!