Contributed by Dejana Saric. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.
In my third week here, I’ve found that the city has started to feel like home. My homestay family feels like a part of my real family, the family dog has become “my” dog, and when I refer to home what I picture is not my house in California or my dorm room in Durham but an apartment in Novi Beograd.
The organization I am working at this summer, called NEOSTART, or the Center for Criminal Prevention and Post-Penal Assistance, is the first and only organization in Serbia trying to assist ex-convicts assimilate back into society, something which by law the parole offices of Serbia should undertake, but simply do not have the capacity to do. The organization helps individuals who do not have prior housing arrangements find somewhere to live, accumulate necessary documents (such as IDs), find stable employment, and also offers them psychological counseling so that they can become full-fledged members of society once more. I really enjoy working with NEOSTART because of the extremely important and often underappreciated work that they undertake, and i am lucky to be at an organization that treats me as a co-worker rather than merely a volunteer/coffee and office assistant.
However, what I have most enjoyed in the last couple of weeks has been the greater understanding of Serbian culture that I gradually been accumulating. Although my parents more or less raised me in accordance with their culture, my immediate family were the only Serbian people I have ever really interacted with for most of my life, and I think that it was difficult for me to differentiate what aspects of the way I was raised were Serbian, American, or simply attributable to my family–and I do not think I ever even thought about it very much. But now that I have been in Serbia for three weeks I have been able to notice from my conversations with people, especially with my homestay family, broader aspects of Serbian culture and values which I may have known on some level before but am now able to truly mentally connect in a broader picture of the culture I come from. Even typing these sentences sounds a little convoluted and strange, but I feel that after living and functioning here for three weeks I have a greater understanding of what it means to say that I am from Serbia, whereas before it was something I said but didn’t really “own” the right to say. Needless to say, this has been truly wonderful for me.