Contributed by Michelle Khalid. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.
“What are your expectations for this summer?”
It was always posed as such a simple question. A question that I heard, what seems like now, an innumerable amount of times, in my first week in Serbia. Though the question was simple, the answer never came as easily as it should have. In all honesty my expectations for Serbia were never very grandiose—I really did not have a great plan for how I envisioned my summer turning out, and so far, not having a plan was probably one of the best decisions I have made.
Belgrade is a beautiful city, a city with a long history and an inviting atmosphere. Just walking through the city, the buildings themselves paint the history of a city that has been occupied, liberated and fought over for thousands of years in vivid detail. Belgrade is a city that does not shy away from its past. It is a city that invites you to explore and experience not only the centuries of history it has to offer, but also its modern open air restaurants and delicious bakeries and cafés.
Nonetheless, the city is only one aspect of this trip that has made my first week in Belgrade such an interesting and engaging start to my summer. The organization that I have the opportunity to work with in Serbia is called Asylum Protection Center (ASP). ASP provides psychosocial and legal support to refugees who are in Serbia. Though I have been working for less than a week, I have already learned so much about asylum seekers within Serbia and more largely about the migration paths many refugees take on their way into the EU. Within my organization, I have had the privilege to work with wonderful colleagues who are extremely knowledge and always ready to help. Though I was nervous entering my organization—fearing I would not be able to contribute due to my lack of Serbian language skills and my inexperience working with an NGO—everyone within the office was very welcoming and put my fears to rest very quickly.
My first week in Serbia has shown me that there was no way that I could have even accurately articulated what I had expected from this summer a couple of weeks ago. Going in without a plan gave me the ability to be a lot more open to experiences and has already made my time in Serbia that much more meaningful. My first week has been filled with experiences that I could not have expected while I was in America. I got to visit one of six Asylum Centers in Serbia and I got to bond with my host grandmother as we took a walk, turned impromptu history tour, down Republic Square as she explained the history of Belgrade better than any textbook I have read so far.
Thus the answer to the rather simple question, “What are your expectations for this summer?” has turned out to be quite simple after all. My expectation for this summer is simply to not have a plan, to allow myself the chance to be open to new experiences and opportunities and to see where they may take me. And I have a feeling by the end of the summer, my time in Serbia with my organization and with my homestay family, will have exceeded any expectations I could have come up with.