Contributed by Brian Englar. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.

I may have done myself a disservice.

Among Serbian locals, I might be recognized as Brandon from London or Ben from Melbourne; only among young Belgraders whom I knew I’d likely befriend longterm was I Brian from the States.

After the first couple weeks, I was tired of being asked about America’s bombing of Belgrade in the 90’s. I was tired of being asked why I’d ever support ‘Killary’ Clinton. I was tired of responding to conspiracy theories like “the US invented HIV/AIDS,” “the US arms and funds ISIS,” and “the US orchestrated 9/11 to justify war.” I was tired of defending a futile argument. Even when conversation was civil, I was tired of having these conversations when they would never come to a resolution.

So I took an easy out. I knew my American citizenship and other aspects of my identity would prompt conversations I was tired of having or knew would likely provoke disagreement, so I avoided those associations. While out for an evening or two, I became British or Australian, if only for the sake of not being bothered during a meal to be asked about US foreign policy or the current election cycle.

And while it’s always fun to be someone else, by doing this, I narrowed my horizons and ability to learn more from my surroundings than I could have otherwise. I wish I (as well as the other Engagers who used this technique) would have realized sooner that this behavior, although fun in a social setting, limited the possibility for genuine interaction with our host environment.

I could have learned more from my experience – more than just how to manipulate my accent – in Serbia if I chose to be who I really am at all times.


2 thoughts on “Alter-Ego

  1. What an insightful comment — on your own tolerance for abrasive encounters and on Serbians’ resistance to your defense of US policy. Let’s talk this fall about what Serbian critics objected to most — were they angry? argumentative? Had they met many Americans before they talked with you? Trying on the identities of other, less powerful, nations you must have felt relief. As a journalist you may pose as someone you’re not, so this was good practice. Did you feel disloyal when you denied your nationality? (Although you didn’t sport a maple leaf!) Did talking with Ambassador Scott help you sort this out? Sounds like the foreign service is not a career option for you.


  2. I’ll second Claudia’s comment–this is a great piece of self-reflection. Sometimes the situations that make us uncomfortable are the ones which teach us the most; worth keeping in mind for future visits to Serbia and many other countries as well.


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