Contributed by Susie Xu. Check out more of her posts from this summer here.
Ciao from Belgrade, Serbia! (Not Siberia and definitely not Syria. No ISIS here, yet.)
I’ve been here for a little over a week and it’s been quite an adventure already. I’m pretty sure I gained a pound a day for each day I’ve been here, I’m living with a hilarious family, I love the food here, and like everywhere else, I went through some struggles being a female minority. (Seriously, minority is taken to the next level here. Where my people at?)
My host family is amazing in every sense of the word. They’re hilarious, unique, and so kind to me. The family consists of a mom and a dad, and three kids—all younger than me. They also have two cats. I get along with the family pretty well and one cat. The other one has a strong distaste for me, but you know–life goes on. Every day the mom (Biljana) makes me breakfast and dinner. Afterwards I hang out with the kids. Their names are Bodin, Ogie, and Marija. (Ogie is the boy in the back, Bodin and Marija are in front.) It’s a pretty swell life and I really love them.
My work is interesting. I think it’s a little slow since I just got here, but I’m looking forward to what I can do. I work for a LGBT NGO called Labris at the moment. They’re one of the oldest LGBT organization around so that’s so fascinating. They do a lot of great work but more to come on that.
As for first impressions of Serbia, the first thing I noticed when I got out was that the cars weren’t modern. (As someone that likes cars, it’s one of the first things I notice.) Later I find out that most cars are actually manual cars. It’s so fascinating. The second thing was that everyone smokes. No kidding and no exaggeration. Everyone smokes. But the biggest event that probably happened to me was Belgrade nightlife. People here seriously know what it means to party. It’s so amazing. People are out until daybreak. There’s so much that I have experienced I really don’t think one blog post will do it any justice, so I’ll just hit a big story and leave the rest for later.
The streets are quite safe—Belgrade is one of the safest ranked cities in the world. But as my friends know, if there’s bad luck, it’s definitely my bad luck. On one night that I was walking back from Republic Square (a popular food/club/drinks location) back to my homestay home, which was only about a 0.8 mile walk, this one guy began to follow me by car. It was absolutely crazy thinking back on it. He started following me when I was still at the square, with a bunch of other women—the only catch was that they were all Serbian, while I was clearly not. He even got out of his car to try to get me into the passenger seat. In the moment, I was furious, but later I realized how wild the situation was. Long story short, I’m safe, still so happy to be in this city and culture, and now aware of what it means to be a minority here. We stand out. It definitely scared me so that the next few days I really didn’t feel like going anywhere after dark without someone, but I realize that this truly was a one in a million case. But either way, it was an experience. Men here, I’ve found, are quite forward in what they want. At first I was pretty taken aback but then I realized being aggressive was a great way to get out of these situations. I’m really boosting my glaring skills tbh. (Should I start taking pictures of these men? That’d be a hilarious blog post.)
Yet, please, don’t get me wrong. People here are kind and helpful. They smile at me, they’re kind when they realized I don’t understand Serbian, and though some are crazy drivers, I’ve found at least they let pedestrians cross the street sometimes. Serbia just doesn’t have a lot of diversity. Therefore, seeing people of different races, people will give side eyes, stop and stare, or even point. But it’s all done with genuine curiosity and not maliciousness! If anything, I just learned that even if it’s a safe city, it might be better to walk home with someone so that this can be prevented.
Stay tuned for more #culturedSusie, crazy adventures, fun encounters, and Serbian culture shocks.