Contributed by Nick Younger. Check out more of his posts from this summer here.
Before arriving in Serbia, I heard some of the following: “Be careful, watch out for dangerous people,” “Is that near Latvia?” and “Remember to stay warm!” People did not really seem to know exactly where I was going, but then again, neither did I. I was not sure what I was going to, and I did not know much about the country I would be living in for the next two months. However, I was not quite “skeptical,” but more eager and unsure of what to expect in Serbia. The last thing people would always say was, “You’re going to learn so much, and have the best time!” For some reason, I was skeptical about that.
I was skeptical about the experience I would have, as I have traveled around (as a tourist) before so I was worried if I would gain anything meaningful from a trip abroad. Nevertheless, I came with an open mind and a willing attitude (something my mom stressed constantly), and after 12 hours in the Istanbul airport, I made it to Belgrade.
One of my first interactions was when I tried to buy a bottle of water at a local store, I was woefully unprepared in the arts of the Serbian language, and when the cashier asked a simple question; I froze. My years of high school Spanish surprisingly surfaced while I mumbled my way farther into an embarrassing hole, until Dejana, who spoke Serbian, saved me from crumbling onto the floor in a shameful pile of awkwardness. It dawned on me that I was not in America, and I couldn’t expect to go to a foreign country and expect them to speak English. After some time, I became adept at communicating non-verbally; reverting to Neo-lithic grunts while pointing at pictures of food I wanted. However, it worked. People understood that there was a clear language barrier, and it was actually easy to overcome it. After some Serbian lessons, I probably know enough now to at least not cry for thirty minutes after a waiter asks me if I want more water.
I had even more lessons in Serbian from a group of children the other day at work. While we peeled strawberries, and then consumed said jagode, the kids attempted to teach me Serbian. After dragging me into the arts-and-crafts room, they proceeded to write down various phrases in half Cyrillic half Latin script and made me pronounce the sentences. Now I was quite impressed with my Serbian accent, and mastery of the new language, however the kids were not, and laughed at my weak attempts to learn Serbian. When we were making paper butterflies during arts-and-crafts time, I learned and taught the days of the week. The children were exceedingly eager to learn English, and loved learning anything they could. Their energy, ambition, and curiosity reminded me of my time as a camp counselor. These kids were no different. Despite being miles apart, the similarities were there. We continued to exchange as much of our language as we could, while laughing, playing, eating strawberries; and I had a absolute ball hanging out with a bunch of kids.
I’m not as skeptical as I was earlier in my trip, and I’m not sure if I learned anything so far, but yesterday I ate strawberries and made arts-and-crafts.
Nicholas “Enrique Iglesias 2.0” Younger