During my first three weeks in Belgrade, I have been constantly amazed at the warmth and hospitality of my host family. Due to flight delays, I didn’t arrive in Serbia until well after midnight on a weekday, but my host family was eagerly awaiting me when I finally made it to their home. They had school supplies, gifts, and a power adapter waiting for me in my bedroom — a truly kind and welcoming gesture. In the time since then, each day I am taken aback by their hospitality. I often joke to my family back home that the first question my host mother, Mirjana, asks me when she sees me is “Are you hungry?” It doesn’t matter the time of day or what she is doing; she is always looking to make sure that I am comfortable and taken care of.
As a graduate student studying the Balkans, I have learned so much from my host family. After dinner on many days, my host father, Boban, will sit at the table with me for hours and teach me about Serbian history, which has been both fascinating and great language practice. My host parents have recommended books, movies, exhibitions, and concerts to me, and their guidance has allowed me to engage with the culture of Serbia and Belgrade much more easily and accessibly. In my short time here, Mirjana has already taken me to two concerts, and I have had ample opportunities to practice Serbian with my host parents and their friends, who come around for coffee or dinner many nights a week.
Prior to coming to Serbia, I was aware of the characterization of Serbian people as hospitable, but I was not expecting this degree of generosity. I traveled to Zagreb, Croatia, for a conference during my first weekend here, and, when I returned to my house, I found that Mirjana had changed my sheets, done my laundry, and cleaned my bedroom. In all honesty, this aspect of host family life required a bit of adjustment for me, as I am used to performing all those tasks for myself in America, but I have come to learn that Mirjana and Boban’s hospitality is part and parcel of my cultural education while in Serbia.
Beyond my daily language classes, I have grown more confident and proficient in my Serbian as a result of the patience of my host family. As we sit around the table for a meal or coffee, my host family and I talk about a range of topics, and they give me ample time and support to formulate my opinion in Serbian. When I inevitably make a grammatical mistake or can’t find the correct word, they have been so helpful in telling me how it should be while still allowing me to continue my thought.
Despite living in her own apartment in Belgrade, my host sister, Ana, has also been active in helping me acquaint myself with life in Belgrade. She has offered recommendations for places to see and things to do, and she even invited me to her friend’s birthday party, where I had the opportunity to practice Serbian with many people and learn about Serbian cultural traditions through first-hand experience. Neither Ana nor my host parents were required to provide such enriching activities and opportunities, linguistic or cultural, for me during my stay in Serbia, but they have time and again proven true the trope of Serbian hospitality, while making my summer in Belgrade all the more comfortable and pleasant.
By: Brett Donohoe
Program: Balkan Language Initiative
Term: Summer 2019