Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Thank You: Co-op, Belgrade

Serbian parliament, my favorite building in Belgrade
The past six months of my life have been some of the best.

While I began my co-op journey with many anxieties, I am ending it immensely grateful for all that I have been able to accomplish through this experience.

 Within my first two months in Belgrade I was given additional responsibilities at my co-op, learned enough Serbian to get around on  my own, applied and was accepted to a fall study abroad program, and traveled to two new countries.

Fast forward to the end of my co-op and I've traveled to eight new countries, continued to expand my capacity in my co-op position, received an excellent exit evaluation, and returned home to start an incredible summer job.

I read a tourist guide a few months ago that described the city as "lived in" and
couldn't help but feel that it perfectly encapsulated that
particular brand of comfort the city exudes. 
I miss Belgrade and the home I made there immensely and will forever be grateful for how much this experience has helped me to grow personally, professionally, and academically: my co-op allowed me to further explore my field of study, advance my professional and research skills, and to become acquainted with an area of the world that has enchanted me since I first visited almost one whole year ago.
Often described as "communist monstrosities" by my boss, even the
bloks of Novi Beograd bring a smile to my face. 

To say that this experience will be the cornerstone of my Northeastern career would be the understatement of the year so instead I will sign off, for the last time, with a piece of advice given to me before beginning my co-op application process: don't choose the easy job. Don't choose the position that's just like your last internship or in your hometown. Don't shy away from an opportunity because it makes you nervous- if it doesn't make you nervous it probably isn't worth it.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Week One at Home

I never thought I could experience culture shock in my own country.

When I arrived at JFK at 11 pm a little less than a week ago, though, there's no other word for what it felt like. Even though I strategically engineered a handful of post- co-op trips in progressively larger cities, it did nothing to prepare me for New York or for returning to life in America.

Still, most of the shocks were pleasant merely pleasant surprises.

For one thing, it's been nice to be living in a large-scale city again. Take JFK, for instance: you could fit about ten of the Belgrade airport inside it. I could understand all of the conversations going around me-- an unwelcome intrusion after months of little to no background noise. But more than anything I noticed how crowded it was because, after all, New York is a place that almost everyone wants to see.

Chelsea, New York
After a weekend of sleeping off some serious jet-lag I began my summer internship based in Manhattan which includes a commute not unlike the one I made in Belgrade- except for the underground set of the train, the ever present subway rats, and the undeniableevery-man-for-themself mentality.

In Belgrade, I rode a trolley car to work each day that cost 90 dinar (about 75 cents). People generally left one another alone, except when a senior citizen would board and half the train rose to offer a seat. The first morning I rode the 5 downtown in New York, it was a free-for-all, with pregnant women having to walk the train asking for a seat and elbows being thrown left and right.

I've followed nearly all of my morning subway rides this week with an iced coffee of varying kinds, a scarce commodity in Serbia where iced coffee is actually a latte with ice cream in it. While not unpleasant, like Serbia's need to put ketchup and mayonnaise on pizza, it gets disheartening after a while. Needless to say, I was overjoyed to be reunited with bagels, real pizza, and tons of other foods I didn't know I had missed.

As this week comes to a close I'm almost entirely reacquainted with my hometown, though you can still catch me saying hvala (thank you) or izvinite (excuse me) by accident at least once a day. I also miss Belgrade dearly, much more than I thought I could after such a short separation, but the nostalgia is a wonderful reminder of how much I enjoyed my time there.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Weekend in Croatia & Montenegro

This past weekend I ventured to Dubrovnik, Croatia and Kotor, Montenegro, two of the most famous vacation destinations in the Balkans. Both cities were absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed seeing the consistency of the Balkan identity while also exploring each country's unique characteristics.

Having visited almost all the countries included in the region noting the little differences between places was immensely interesting. One of the most notable differences between Kotor, Dubrovnik, and the other Balkan cities I've visited is the existence of a true "old city"- a medieval, walled layout. While Belgrade and Sarajevo do have areas known as "old town" their histories are difficult to distinguish from other parts of the city.

In Dubrovnik, you can best view the old city from the panoramic center (accessed by trolley car) that rests on top of a nearby mountain.

You can also walk the walls surrounding the old city, leaving you standing just between Dubrovnik and the sea, with little in between.

In Kotor, there are similar views, but since the city is so small I decided to wander the mazes of medieval streets instead.

Aside from the difference in structure, each city, while relatively similar to other places in the Balkans, maintained its own individual personality and reminded me, once again, why I fell in love with this part of the world.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Goodbye to Belgrade

It’s difficult for me to comprehend the fact that my time as a resident of Belgrade is slowly coming to an end.
Sunset blocked by the 11 tram on Zemunski put
Despite having marked my departure date on my calendar several weeks ago, it hardly feels real-- the thought of moving out of my Belgrade apartment feels much the same as moving out of dorms in high school (I attended boarding school) and college, though this doesn’t add up to any rhyme or reason given that a) my name is on the lease here b) I’m in a foreign country and c) I’m not going directly home.
Perhaps it doesn’t feel final because I won’t be leaving by plane, or maybe it’s the fact that I have two weeks of travel before returning home. Either way, I’m struggling to find a feeling of finality as my last day approaches; I will likely not be returning to Belgrade in the foreseeable future, but know that it is a place I have loved, and will continue to love even when far away. 

Locals broke out in traditional dance as the man above began playing the accordion.
 Families of all sizes joined in for a song or two on their way through the park. 
As I try to find the words to begin a goodbye, I am reminded of a quote from Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier which reads, “we leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”

While I will most certainly leave something of myself to this city, it has given some of itself to me as well.  
I arrived in Belgrade at the age of 19, completely terrified of the adventure I was about to embark on and with little to no concept of what the next few months of my life would look like.
Now, as I prepare to leave Belgrade at the age of 20, having rented my first apartment, completed an incredible co-op, seen four new countries and returned to two more, and been entirely responsible for myself for the first time in my life, I am not at all afraid to move forward.
While I may leave many laughs and memories in Belgrade, I’ve gained the same and more from this enigma of a city: not only have I grown immensely as an individual over the course of the last few months, but I’ve also become more confident in myself and my decisions both personally and professionally. 
In Belgrade, I am an individual valued for who I am in all contexts, regardless of my age-- I attribute this partly to cultural differences and partly to the lack of grade structure given that I have not been enrolled in classes. While this may not be unique to Belgrade, the quirks, traditions, and ridiculousness I spent the last several months immersed in certainly are.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to articulate Belgrade’s particular idiosyncrasies before I leave the city, so instead, for now, I’ll leave you with a quote that sums up this city better than I ever could. Writer and artist Momo Kapor, who called Sarajevo, Belgrade, and New York home, as I do, wrote:
“The spirit of Belgrade is that feeling that you are at home, that you cannot be ruined because you are among your kind [...]
Photographed from the air, this city will never attract a curious beauty collector, no matter how good the picture is. Because it is not photogenic! But it can do something totally different – it will give you almost physical pain from nostalgia, even to those who spent only a few days walking its streets." 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Požega Round Two

This past weekend I once again traveled to Požega, Serbia, this time to celebrate the cities saint day and attend the consecration of a Serbian friend's newly renovated church.

We arrived alongside a Serbian friend of ours and several of his classmates and were immediately taken to our friends home for a family style dinner. In Serbia this typically consists of a
Serbian salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheese), a platter of grilled meat, and home made bread. Our dinner table was located on the front porch, with an enchanting view of the surrounding mountains.

The next morning we attended the consecration of the Church of Saving, a small village outside of Požega. The celebration, attended by about 1,000 people, consisted of a three hour church service followed by a feast of Serbian cuisine- namely roasted meet and fresh vegetables. As strangers to most of these people we expected to primarily stay on the sidelines, an afterthought to the locals who we had traveled there with. However, this was not the case: we were treated as family at every turn.

This hospitality is not unique to Požega- I have found Serbia to be among the most welcoming countries I have visited. For example, if you are visiting as someone's guest, you won't pay for a single thing. It is considered rude to let guests pay for their dinner or transportation- of course with the expectation that you return the favor if given the opportunity.

On this particular trip I felt incredibly at home, especially during our last few hours in the city. With only a few hours left until our bus back to Belgrade, we assembled at our friend's grandmother's apartment for coffee. As we said our goodbyes we were each gifted a wool hat and slippers, handmade by the grandmother- a gift I will always hold dear.

Like last time, I had arrived in Požega no idea what to expect. And, also like last time, I was pleasantly surprised by what the city had to offer: Serbian artist and writer Momo Kapur described the spirit of Serbia as "that feeling that you are at home, that you cannot be ruined because you are among your kind" and this description remains the singular string of words I've found that can encapsulate the exact nuances that make this place so unique.

Now, this feeling is not the same in Požega as it is in Belgrade: in Belgrade it is the simple notion that everyone has each other's backs, that you are never without a friend even if you are a stranger in a strange city. In Požega, this feeling stems more from a deliberate warmth- while I and my roommates may have been the only Americans present, we were far from the only outsiders present and were ecstatic to see everyone welcomed so unquestioningly.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Not yet fluent, but one day!

It seems somewhat ridiculous to me that after only a few months away from the US, American accents startle me in public.

Bucharest, Romania
While I have picked up some important Serbian phrases I am by no means fluent which is why I was incredibly surprised when "hvala", Serbian for "thank you" slipped out of my mouth so easily while I was in Romania (where the correct word would have been "multumesc" anyway). I was visiting the country with an American friend who had joined me in Europe for her spring break and it seemed everywhere we went, my brain decided to try my Serbian phrases before my native language.

At the time, I attributed this to having simply gotten into the routine of asking questions and giving greetings in Serbian- I had been in Serbia for about three whole months. In retrospect, I think the feeling of being abroad also played a role, given that while in Romania I was intensely aware that I was a foreigner.

London, United Kingdom
Shortly after that trip, which was full of many a Serbian-slip, much to my dismay and my friend's enjoyment, I headed to London to visit a friend who was on co-op there.

Now, London is quite similar to New York in many ways, so I didn't feel quite so out of place here. However, I had been in Serbia longer by this point so despite the fact that I speak ONLY english and was in an english-speaking country, my Serbian-slips continued. "Thank you" became "hvala", many of my questions began with "kako" instead of how, and while on the tube my brain reached for "izvinite" before "excuse me." I felt ridiculous. And then I realized that this simply meant I had become comfortable navigating a foreign language so much so that it became my natural reaction- I dream of the day I become fluent in another language, and while I'm nowhere near close, it's nice  to know that I can get there.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Favorite Belgrade Photos

Over my time in Belgrade I've worked to cultivate a collection of photos that describe the city without words. These are some of my favorites.

The National Assembly of Serbia may be my favorite building in the city- no matter what time of day it always looks pristine. Fun fact: I attended a lecture inside the building while here on a Dialogue of Civilizations last year 

This is the view from Start Savski Most, the bridge I cross on my way to and from work each day. On the weekends I like to sit by the water and watch the light change at sunset over the city. 

Kalemegdan Park, located within the Belgrade Fortress, is full of surprises. This view can be found by walking through three sets of walls within the structure and looks directly over the roof a church that is decorated entirely with mosaic tiles on the inside. 

I took this shot on a walk to my bus stop. It shows only a fraction of Trg Slavia, or Slavia Square, known amongst the co-op students as the "roundabout of death" because of its size. 

Believe it or not, this photo was taken on February 5th, just weeks after I arrived to a frozen tundra of a city. 

This is one of the first photos I took when I returned to Belgrade, showing the communist architecture that is prominent in Novi Beograd. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sunrise over Sarajevo

Last July I traveled around the Balkans on a Dialogue of Civilizations program entitled "The Balkan Wars, State Collapse, and Strengthening the European Union" which focused on the breakup of Yugoslavia and the impact of regional issues on the EU and continental Europe. This program has without a doubt shaped my plan for the rest of my time at Northeastern as it introduced me to a history I had not yet studied and allowed me to become acquainted with a part of the world I would likely never visit otherwise.

Sebilij Brunnen in Baščaršija, Sarajevo's  "old town"
When offered a co-op position in Belgrade, I jumped at the change to return to the region, knowing how much I could still learn from it. And, after living here for several months I can say with certainty that I have achieved significant personal growth while on this co-op.

The place that truly stole my heart last summer, though, was Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Sarajevo is a masterpiece of a city that has such a rich, heartbreaking history that even the most cynical of people couldn't help but be inspired by it. Bosnians have an untouchable spirit, full of resilience and warmth, welcoming any and all strangers into their culture.

I took advantage of the May Day holiday this past weekend to spend a few days wandering Sarajevo, with no obligations and endless time to soak it all in.

Streets in Baščaršija are lined with shops filled
with handmade goods, mainly the Bosnian coffee sets
It was strange to experience it for the second time, especially having lived in Belgrade: everything seemed so much less foreign. Plus, the difference between Bosnian and Serbian is akin to the difference between American English and British English so though my Serbian isn't great, I was able to get by with my usual phrases.

After two days filled with many Bosnian coffees, good conversation, and an ever growing love for Sarajevo, I realized that this time, when I leave, I had absolutely no idea when I may have the chance to return. 

So, on Monday morning I rose before dawn and made the hike to the Žuta Tabija (Yellow Fortress) to watch the light change over the city at sunrise- a tradition I picked up in high school where graduating seniors watch the sunrise together on the morning of their graduation. I've kept this ritual close to my heart, dragging myself out of bed to say goodbye to places I've called home for some time or another, and while I haven't lived in Sarajevo the city certainly claims a place in my heart.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Learning to slow down...

New York, New York. July 2016.

 Last week I stumbled upon an article, recommended to me by Facebook, that rendered me speechless for a few moments as I processed the startlingly simple first line which stated bluntly something that I’ve been struggling to communicate for several months: “No city makes you feel more like a New Yorker than Belgrade.”

While this stunning introduction has little to do with the rest of the piece, a travel guide of sorts, it is my single favorite thing I have read about the city if only because it lends words to what I’ve been feeling since I moved here.

To say the least, the Belgrade lifestyle has been an enormous adjustment. As the aforementioned article states, “in Belgrade, people don’t walk, they amble; lunch spans the course of 3 or 4 hours; and drinks are sipped, never knocked back,” a sharp pivot from the undercurrent of urgency that runs beneath nearly everything one does in New York City.

Street Art in Belgrade, Serbia. March 2017.

Northeastern prepares students well for culture shocks and ensures that students do their research before moving to a foreign country. I was ready for being surrounded by the Cyrillic alphabet and not being able to speak the language and while most would think those the most difficult adjustments, what I've found most significant is the difference in lifestyle. 

I grew up just outside manhattan and was raised in a very competitive, fast-paced environment. Once I began interning in NYC while home over breaks this effect was only heightened. 

Everything in New York is done with a sense of urgency whereas in Belgrade, even urgent matters rarely receive that kind of attention. 

Even walking is different: unless I’m paying attention I walk everywhere as though I’m schlepping across town late for a meeting, though I never noticed this difference in Boston (admittedly this might have something to do with my barrage of tall, long legged friends who manage to keep up with me effortlessly). In Belgrade, though, the average height seems to be at least 6’0 and yet I’m constantly stopping short to avoid running into backs on the sidewalk. Serbs like to amble, savoring everything around them- a trait that echoes through everything they do.
A stroll through Vračar March 2017.

Over the past few months here I've come to enjoy ambling through the cities on my days off; Belgrade is by no means a conventional form of beautiful, but has its charms nonetheless and a sense of character that I will miss dearly.
The Belgrade waterfront by night. April 2017. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Serbian Cuisine

Given my love of cooking, one of my favorite parts of living in a new culture is learning about the local cuisine. In Serbia, it mostly boils down to meat and cheese, though it's not quite that simple.

Kaymack, a cornerstone of most Serbian meals, is a cream cheese-esque spread that melts like butter and adds the perfect flavor to just about everything. From meats, to bread, or even crepes, everything tastes better with kaymack.

My roommates and I have been on something of a culinary tour while here since eating out is genuinely affordable. Some of our favorites have included Zavičaj, which is home to my favorite plijescavica and breakfast bowl, and Sesir Moj (This Hat of Mine) which we discovered today.

Sesir Moj  is located in Skadarlija, one of Belgrade's oldest neighborhoods. With its cobblestone streets, charmingly-odd street signs, and abundance of flowers, it is also one of the most charming.

Note: vertical sign reads "moon"

The food was unbelievable- while the menu gave away little regarding what we were actually ordering, we were not disappointed (though to be fair we rarely are here). 

I ordered a roast pork knuckle that came with "domestic cream cheese" which is how kaymack is often translated. The dish was relatively simple, a pork knuckle roasted atop potatoes seasoned with paprika and topped with kaymack, but in this case, simple was exactly what it needed to be- it is the single most flavorful pork dish I have ever eaten. 

My two roommates ordered a dish that they were warned would be spicy, though we've come to learn that Serbs find bell peppers spicy so we take that warning with a grain of salt nowadays. Surprise, surprise, their dish featured sautéed bell peppers and onions, mixed with roast pork and a light sauce, topped with- you guessed it- kaymack. 

We also split a Serbian salad- tomatoes (paradajz, pronounced "paradise" in Serbian), cucumbers, sweet onions, and usually topped with cheese. Admittedly this is fairly ambiguous to the region, but it brings me a certain sense of comfort as it reminds me of all the various "tomato and ______" salads I ate growing up in an Italian family. 
For dessert we did our usual, choosing an item at random to see what we ended up with as english translations of desserts are rarely accurate- the Serbian names are no more helpful: in Serbian crepes are called palachinke, or pancakes, because they chose the wrong word to translate (fun fact this was one of the first pieces of food advice I received in Belgrade). 

We ended up with an "apple pie" which was more akin to baklava, but delicious nonetheless. 
Exploring Serbian food has been one of my favorite weekend pastimes these past few months, but I've also enjoyed experiencing food from other cultures- Spain, Italy, and so on- in Belgrade. The mostly-joking rule of thumb in this city is that everything is about 85% what you expect it to be- the rain is mostly on time, though may be an hour late one day, or you order an iced coffee and get served three scoops of ice cream in a latte. I was recommended a "diner" by a coworker and as a New Yorker am desperate to try it and see what Serbia thinks a diner should be like. Updates to come! 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Consistency of the "Serbian Personality"

One of my favorite things about Serbia is the consistency of personality amongst Serbs; despite each being unique individuals with distinct backgrounds there remains a set of characteristics that I’ve noticed in almost every Serb I’ve come to know.

First is their sense of humor: Somehow dark and goofy at the same time, Serbian humor is nothing short of a gift and I continue to be caught off guard by it. Nothing is off limits and jokes are often made at Serbia’s expense, which can make for a surprise when your boss slips in some crude irony as you’re saying goodbye for the day. Regardless, its blunt nature only makes it all the more endearing. You can read a longer description here.

Next, I’ve noticed that Serbs love to laugh. They do so unabashedly and with gusto, unafraid to disrupt a restaurant or phone conversation, mostly because a cacophony of chuckles and roars rarely turns heads here. Much like Italians, Serbs seem to cherish their laughter, and endeavor to enjoy laughing with friends as a pastime; the european lifestyle of three-hour coffee dates is alive and well.

Along with the laughter, naturally, comes an overwhelming friendliness. There isn’t one concrete stereotype regarding Serbs (something I believe comes from a general ignorance of Serbian culture in the rest of the world- if you asked I’m not certain any of my friends could point to it on a map), but they are often assumed to be reserved or even cold in demeanor. In my experience, most Serbs are almost the complete opposite: the second you crack a smile they will too.

As a young woman living in a strange place I am endlessly grateful for Serbian hospitality; just about everybody gets greeted with three kisses to the cheeks, a wide smile, and an Italian-grandmother-esque offer of food (as I was in Požega last weekend).

The last trait I will attempt to describe, though there are many more, is the hierarchy of respect and natural chivalry exhibited by Serbian men. Another favorite “Serbianism”, if you will, is the unwavering, automatic instinct to offer assistance if it appears that someone needs it. On the trolley cars at least four or five people jump up from their seats if an older woman steps on; in New York everyone attempts to avoid standing by examining the floor as soon as someone who needs a seet steps on the train. A seat is only ever given up by the poor soul who failed to keep his eyes downcast long enough to be overlooked.

This kindness extends even further: A Serbian friend told me he often helps people carry their bags when he passes by the bus station, but since the station still uses bus tokens to get into the loading area he has had to pay the token fee on several occasions just to help people load their bags.

As someone born and raised in New York, with its special breed of manners, this is particularly strange and also incredibly refreshing.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Day in Požega, Serbia

When I decided to accept a co-op in Serbia, one of the biggest comforts was that I had been there before, though that provided me little tangible knowledge of how to live there. My saving grace in this respect came in the form of lunch on Columbus Avenue in Boston last November; a member of Northeastern's development team who I have built a relationship with after crossing paths at several university events introduced me to a friend of hers who had family in Serbia, a connection that would prove invaluable in finding an apartment and navigating public transportation for the first few days. 

It is this same connection that also led me to perhaps the most strange/wondrous/enthralling experiences I have ever had. 

This past Friday I, and the other two co-ops, traveled to the city of Požega in western Serbia to visit my Northeastern connection's nephew who has become our friend over various dinners and tour guide sessions. 

To preface: our friend is a theology student and was spending the weekend at home to attend services with his hometown priest, whom would be joining us along with a friend of his from university. 

We arrived without issue and were herded to a traditional Serbian breakfast where we all got acquainted. While I and the other co-ops were served a traditional plate of meet, cheese, and bread, the Serbs were given gargantuan salads topped with fillets of fish; Orthodox easter is approaching and Serbs fast (refuse to eat meat) for the duration of lent. 

As we ate, we learned that over the course of the day we would be visiting churches, seeing monasteries, eating lots of Serbian specialities, and even attending a baptism (with the family's permission, of course). 

After scrambling around town in something of a clown car, popping in to various historical monuments in the city, we eventually found ourselves at Temple Sveta Tri Jerarha, the city's largest church. The church's pristine exterior was immaculate in the warm weather, but failed to inform that the church is still under construction- and likely will be for decades to come. 

A few hours later we found ourselves at a mountainside monastery where we would be attending a baptism inside a church that was centuries old. I refrained from taking photos in deference to the ceremony, but the church itself was in exceptional condition. While small and seemingly run down from the outside, its interior still boasts the original vibrant colors of its iconostasis, which is placed behind the altar and contains paintings of various region-specific saints.

Upon conclusion of the ceremony we were introduced to a woman who was born in Serbia but now lives in Dallas, TX. As was her family, she was ecstatic to see us experiencing Serbia- each time I get asked if I like it here my answer of "yes, I love it!" seems to be a complete surprise. 

After a few more adventures including a minuscule, wooden, nail-free church that was moved several times to keep it hidden from the Ottomans and a visit to the highest cave opening in the region, we ended our visit with a traditional meal in Požega: grilled trout. 

Another co-op, who stands at 5'4

Now, as someone who actively avoids seafood I was skeptical, but found it quite enjoyable. The dish itself was very simple- a fish, cleaned, seasoned, and then grilled, served with roasted potatoes and a fresh Serbian salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, and loads of shredded cheese). The restaurant, one of three that sit below the opening to the cave, has several in-floor windows where you can view the fish swimming through the river than runs beneath the building. It was surreal. 

What really made the trip, though, was our company. The priest who so kindly volunteered his time to welcome us to the city is perhaps the most eclectic man I have ever met. And I was delighted to see that the distinctly Serbian character traits I have observed in Belgrade were echoed consistently in those we met in Požega. 

With Serbian Orthodox easter approaching quickly I am excited to see what else I can learn about their traditions. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

30 Hours (Or Less) in London

I was reminded, again, how lucky I am to be living and traveling abroad when I went to London this past weekend to visit a fellow Northeastern co-op student for a night. I booked the trip in January after finding out that a favorite band would be playing a Saturday night show and realizing I could attend without missing work or paying for a hotel; the trip also turned out to be the perfect introduction to the city I will be calling home this coming fall while participating in the Hansard Society Scholars Program at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Having never visited London, or anywhere in the UK for that matter, I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of cultural differences. I'm sure there are many more than I observed during my short time there, but after living in Serbia for several months being in London felt very much like being in a quieter, cleaner version of New York.

This is not to say that London doesn’t have its own unique personality to offer- it undeniably does, and I absolutely cannot wait to experience it come September. But due to the nature of the trip, filled with so much familiarity and the knowledge that I would be returning in a few short months, I focused on what I had come to London to do- visit a good friend and see my favorite band play- rather than embarking on a whirlwind tour of all things British.

After traveling to Austria, Hungary, and Romania these past few months, it was refreshing to arrive in a place where I spoke the language. However, much to my enjoyment, airport staff seemed to have trouble placing me and, even after I deplaned and entered Heathrow, was seldom addressed in English. While the Serbian makes sense (I did fly on Air Serbia from Belgrade after all), I was surprised to learn that I appear French- three different airport personnel addressed me in the language. Needless to say, this conundrum made for a highly entertaining welcome to the country.

Regardless, I felt very much like I was in the United States- which makes sense given that it was the first English speaking place I’ve visited in several months- and I was at home instantly, comforted by the knowledge that I was in a place that understood my language and would have things such as iced coffee or bagels, both commodities that don’t really exist in my current place of residence (fun fact: in Serbia and most other Balkan countries if you order an iced coffee you will receive a latte with vanilla ice cream in it which, while not an unpleasant surprise, is disheartening after a certain point).

After spending some time with my host for the weekend, a friend I met while on a dialogue of civilizations in Bosnia & Herzegovina last year, and attending a show for a band I’ve called myself a fan of for more than nine years, the feeling of belonging only grew.

The next morning was spent cherishing the return of iced coffee to my diet while trading life updates traipsing through the charming streets of soho.

I did manage to squeeze in a handful of tourist sights, though I kept my distance, not yet able to shake the feeling that normal tourist behavior would be disrespectful in the wake of last week's events and knowing I would have several months in the future to capture London's icons.

In all, my visit to London was exactly what I didn't know I needed- a quick, quiet getaway and some quality time with familiar faces. Having seen all that the city has to offer, I am now only more excited to be studying there in the fall!