Five days home, and I still haven’t quite kicked the jet lag — by 10 pm every night I’m ready to knock out, and I’m wide awake by 7 am. Looks like my body is still holding out for me to head back to the Balkans!
This was such an amazing trip, and even though it feels like summer is basically over now that I’m back, it really did fly by. I’m finding myself missing a lot of little things: the pekaras (bakeries) that we’d stop by for lunch, the little cafés that I’d do my reading in, the riverside nightlife in Belgrade, the small winding streets of Sarajevo. I loved being in a part of the world that I’d never set foot in before and stepping out the front door only to follow wherever my feet would take me.
While it was incredibly interesting to go to the Balkans and learn about the history, my experience absolutely would not have been the same had it not been for the group that I got to travel with. In my group of friends at home, I’m one of the only international affairs majors (the other one being Nick, who was on the trip with me), and so it’s rare for political and international conversations to be sparked and for anyone to have near the same amount of interest in those topics as I do. Here, it was incredible being in a group of more than twenty people my age who were always — and I quite literally mean always — prepared to get into a debate about one topic or another. It was also an incredible advantage having several non-Americans in our group there, as they were great at challenging my standard views on anything we might discuss (or, in the case of gun control in the U.S., supporting them).
It was also a novel experience actually traveling in such a large group. Generally I find myself much preferring solitude, or if not that then at least small groups instead of large ones. There were times that it was frustrating being with so many people (being the obnoxious group at the hotel check in desk was one example, and on the rare occasions we all had dinner together, we were always that horrible huge group that didn’t speak the native language), but in general, it went far more smoothly than I might have expected.
While it’s been nice to return home, where the restaurant water is free and the temperature rests comfortably in the 70’s, I’m already itching to head abroad again. As soon as you start traveling, being at home suddenly feels so small — there’s so much of the world left for me to see, and I want to take all the time I can to see as much of it as possible. I feel like I’m looking at everything and comparing it to what I experienced in the Balkans; I have a new lens for looking at the world. As for now, I’m just counting down until the next time I get to start a new adventure.
Although I’m still just as unsure about my future career choice as I always have been, I’m now completely convinced that I want to do a co-op abroad — whether it’s in a governmental capacity or for an NGO, I think that there are real benefits to living abroad, even temporarily, and it might help me clarify what I’d like to further pursue.
One piece of advice I would give to anyone studying abroad is to be bold. There’s no way to take on your fears other than head on — go do everything you’re thinking of holding back from, try every food that looks a little weird, talk to anyone that you have the chance to. You’re only there for a short time, so why waste any of it? If you have the choice between an extra excursion and more time back at home, always go on the extra excursion — there will always be more time at home.
The opportunity to live in a new culture is invaluable. The best thing that study abroad does for you is remind you of how many ways there are to do the simplest things. We get so used to our own routines — meals, classes, transport, hanging out with friends — that it’s an amazing thing to go to a new place and suddenly do everything in a different way. It’s as small as how different cultures count on their fingers to as big as a country’s attitude towards its political offices. You can read about how cultures are different, but it’s impossible to understand unless you see it in action. While I love Europe, I hope that my next study abroad (because there will be one!) can be somewhere entirely new to me — potentially somewhere like South America, where I’ve had no experience with.
I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the Balkans, but I’d like to think that I might. So many of its cities captured my attention and so much of its history is now embedded in my mind that it’s sad to think that I may never walk down the streets there again. But for now, it’s time for me to spend a few weeks relaxing at home before beginning my next semester in the city I love — the adventure’s over for now, but I have no doubt a new one will start soon!