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.