First Impressions

The three weeks I have spent so far here in Serbia have been incredible. As the plane neared Nikola Tesla airport, the vast green fields I could see out the window took my breath away. After being introduced to my host parents, Aca and Vesna Aleksic, and given a short tour of the apartment I would be staying in, the nine-hour time zone jump forced me to become well acquainted with my bed. The next night, after I had recharged, Aca took me on a walking tour of Ulica Knez Mihailova, which is the main commercial avenue of Belgrade and can only be accessed on foot, and Kalamegdan, a historic park in the midst of an old fortress. Later on, we met up with some family friends for a bite and a drink. Communication was understandably slow at the beginning, but my hosts were very patient and understanding with me. The day after that, the other students and I went to a tour of the Museum of Yugoslavia and walked around Ada Cigalija, a “river island” in the middle of the Sava River where many of Belgrade’s water activities are located. Classes began on the following Wednesday. My teacher’s name is Marija, and she is also taking English classes as she is teaching me Serbian so we often learn from each other simultaneously. Like communicating at home, the first couple classes were hard as well, but soon my ability to understand speech rapidly improved. On the first weekend after classes, a few of us rented a van to tour outside the city. First we went to Sremski Karlovci, a small town outside of Novi Sad which is home to the former residence of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate. As we moved out of town, we visited four monasteries in the surrounding hills: Velika Remeta, Krusedol, Grgeteg, and Novo Hopovo. Finally, we stopped at a memorial for the Partisan movement which resisted Nazi occupation during World War II. That Sunday was the first day I met with Zorana, my conversation partner in the program. She is a student from Montenegro studying finance and economics. We met at a cafe and spent a couple hours getting to know each other. Classes the next week started slowly, but as the week progressed I started remembering more words and was able to understand a bit quicker. Partway through the  week, I was lucky enough to have both my uncle and his family and a family we are close with from church arrive for vacation, and I got to spend some time with both of them. I had a traditional Serbian family dinner with the friend and his family, comprised of cheese and salami appetizers, a green salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, oil, and vinegar, grilled vegetables, pork filets and sausages, and a desert of coffee, tea, and pastries. With my cousins, I walked down Skadarska Ulica, another historic walking street also know as Skadarlija. Skadarlija is filled with very old restaurants, cafes, and bars with traditional tambura music being played in almost all of them. That weekend, I went out again with my host parents and their friends, and they briefly had the chance to meet my uncle and his family before they left. There was a Disney concert I was planning to attend with Zorana that was scheduled on Sunday, but the flash rains that have persisted this summer forced it to be rescheduled. This past week, classes went even better; Marija and I started having more drawn out and complex conversations during instruction, and I am comprehending more in conversation. The Disney concert was rescheduled to the next weekend (this past weekend), but it was canceled and moved yet again, so instead, Zorana and I went paddle boarding on the Danube off the coast of Zemun, a strip of riverside shops and restaurants in Novi Beograd, the part of the city on the western side of the Sava River. This program has been a blessing, and I am so grateful to have the freedom to explore the city while also facing the rigors of an intensive, personally tailored class. I can’t believe almost half of my time here has already elapsed, and I’m excited to see what adventures the next 5 weeks will hold for me!

By: Andrew Kosanovich

Program: Balkan Language Initiative, Belgrade, Serbia

Term: Summer 2019

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