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The Balkans – Ending

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!

 

The Balkans – Culture Shock

As strange as it is to say, I haven’t really felt too much of a culture shock while being here. I don’t know if it’s thanks to my (rather limited) prior experience traveling, the limited length of this trip and our continuous travel throughout the region during it, or simply that I find myself to be so curious about any difference around me, but I haven’t felt anything I would really describe as culture shock — nothing that I feel like I’ve been jolted into and need serious adaptation to.

Of course, there are differences — as I’ve already explained, the differences in how mealtimes work is a major one, and the language is another — but I haven’t felt much shock. However, I did have a burst of homesickness, when I desperately wanted nothing more than my own kitchen where I could prepare my own foods and live in more than just a hotel room. It was short-lived, though, and my excitement for my surroundings and my trip returned within a day.

If I were to choose the biggest difference between Belgrade and Boston (or even Sarajevo and Boston, though the two Balkan cities are very different, in my opinion) it would be the lack of diversity that you see on the streets. In Boston, I’m used to walking past people on any and every race down one city block; here, the few non-white students in our group definitely stick out amongst the crowd. It’s honestly a bit unnerving, though I can’t imagine what it must be like for them.

Another major visual difference is the stark contrast in architecture — there are examples of beautiful, elaborate window boxes and carvings remaining from the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and wedges right between them are cold, ugly blocks of buildings that remain from the Communist era. There’s not much to them to describe besides they’re grey, they’re square, and they’re nondescript — every window looks just like the one next to it. Seeing these two completely different ideologies physically represented in the city is bizarre.

One final difference is how elaborate the cemeteries are. I’m not saying I’ve never seen some overdone graveyards in the U.S. (overdone is what we do best, right?) but it seems like every grave in every cemetery here is somehow adorned — a picture on the headstone, bouquets of flowers, small candles, huge statues, symbols carved onto the stones. It honestly surprised me to see just how much people here seem to revere their dead, and I actually wandered the graveyards feeling a bit conflicted on my thoughts and opinions when it came to such adornment.

 

The Balkans – Travel and Safety Secrets

There is one cardinal rule of wandering Europe: never, ever leave your bag unattended.

I picked up the habit of keeping my hand on my bag at all times while I was in France, and I still feel automatically wary of any stranger who brushes a bit too close when we’re in public — and for good reason! One of my classmates nearly had her wallet snatched out of her bag; it was lucky that another classmate spotted a little kid with his hand in a pocket of her backpack that he’d unzipped, fishing for anything of value. It’s a habit I’ve carried with me to Boston and I don’t think I’ll be losing it anytime soon!

Another good rule of thumb is to stick with a partner. I’m all for adventuring on your own; I love running off around the city by myself to explore. But at night, particularly on weekends, it’s generally a good idea to stick with someone — just to make sure that you both get back to the hotel and no one ends up lost. Not having GPS can be a killer!

In all honesty, safety here is the same as safety in the U.S. Use your common sense — if you see some sketchy looking guys down an alleyway, then don’t go down that alleyway. Use sidewalks and (though it pains the Bostonian jaywalker in me to say this) follow the lights.

One tip I did pick up, however, was to always watch how much money to request from the ATM — people here don’t like having to dole out change; I once had to pay for a 230 dinar lunch with a 2,000 dinar bill (the equivalent of paying for a $2 lunch with a $20) and got some dirty looks and huffing thrown my way. From then on, I always went to the ATM requesting anything that would be doled out in 1,000 bills or less — if you can find a way to break your money on your own, and not rely on cashiers to do it for you, you’ll have far fewer people frustrated with your business!

The Balkans – Typical Day

Here’s the real beauty of study abroad, especially one as short as a Dialogue: there is no such thing as a typical day. We haven’t spent more than two weeks in any of the cities we’ve visited thus far; our classes are so rarely spent in classrooms that I almost feel strange calling them classes; and most of all, we’re in a foreign country. One of the most amazing things about traveling is that it allows you to do everyday things for the first time again — there’s nothing quite as exciting as your first day in a brand new place, everything new and untouched to your eyes.

But if I have to give a rundown of what a so-called “typical” day might look like, here’s how I’d break it down:

First: wake up and head down to breakfast, which has been steadily growing at every hotel we’ve stayed at. We’re now at Hotel Prag in Belgrade, where breakfast now includes not only fruit, yogurt, cereal, and pastries, but now also crepes, eggs, sausage, bacon, omelets, French toast, fish sticks (for breakfast!), polenta, mini chocolate pastries, and fried eggplant. The meetings we have generally begin around 10, so our leisurely breakfasts begin around 9, and we linger (European-style — everyone’s starting to get used to it!) over coffee and pastries before running up to our rooms and grabbing anything we need to start the day.

In Belgrade, we’ve typically been taking cabs to meetings, because the city is so much bigger and the public transport much more crowded (not to mention — bringing 23 people on an already-crowded bus? That just makes you the worst). We’ll split up into groups of four and pile in, group by group, while our TA Mladen tells our non-English speaking drivers where we’re headed — in yesterday’s case, our morning meeting was at the U.S. embassy in Belgrade.

Once we arrive at our destination, we’re led to the space where our lecture or discussion is taking place (or rather, in the case of the embassy, we’re led to the entrance, and then through security, and then escorted into the room where we were to meet the ambassador). This is where the coolest parts of this trip have been — speaking to diplomats and government officials, hearing them talk about their positions and what the challenges they face are, and what they see as the issues the country and region as a whole face as they develop in a fast-moving world. Of course, each talk we have is tailored according to who’s giving it, but most tend to hit the same topics at some point in their talks — far from being boring, it’s been fascinating to hear so many different perspectives on the same issues.

Our meetings are always followed up with plenty of time for questions. This, too, has been an enriching part of the program — though most of the students on the trip are international affairs or political science majors, there are some who are business, other social sciences; even one who’s an electrical engineer. Everyone has a different background or lens through which they absorb the information, and it’s been great to hear questions from completely varied spheres of knowledge and getting to hear answers to questions I would have never thought to ask.

Once our first meeting is done, we typically have time to head back to the hotel and grab lunch before running off to the second (and possibly third and fourth) events of the day. My standard in Belgrade has been to run to the pekara (bakery) just across the street — I get two fresh breadsticks covered with some kind of salted cheese, and I’m out sixty cents for lunch.

The second meeting we have of the day follows the same pattern as the first — cabs (unless the people we’re meeting with have offered to come to the hotel, in which case we gather in a conference room), arrive, lecture, discussion/questions. Yesterday’s second meeting with the EU delegation for Serbia, a committee that works on the process of Serbia’s hopeful eventual accession into the EU.

Following our second meeting, if we don’t have any more, there’s generally some time left before anyone’s hungry enough for dinner. Were we still in Sarajevo, this would be the time everyone would congregate in the lobby; in Belgrade, there is no such universal hangout spot. Instead, this becomes the time to do homework, catch up on reading, take a nap, or do some more wandering. I’ve taken to walking down the length of the pedestrian walkway to the old for that overlooks the meeting of the Danube and Sava rivers when I have the free time.

We’re generally split off into groups of five or six for dinner (at this point, everyone has their group of people that they tend to spend the most time with) — usually somewhere within close walking distance, but sometimes we’ll just wander and see where we end up and what looks good. Dinners are long — if they begin at 7 (a bit early for my taste), we’ll be wrapping up by 9, and then deciding whether to turn in for the night if we have an early morning, or to head out to the local music scenes to keep the night going. Usually, the choice is to head out — after all, how long are we in Belgrade for? From there, it’s easy to let the night slip away, since unlike Boston, nothing here closes at 2. Sometimes the choice is dancing, sometimes it’s a more relaxed setting listening to live music; no matter what, it’s always a satisfying end to a long day.

 

The Balkans – Local Living

The first thing to do, when you’re trying to meet local people in Belgrade, is to weed out the Americans. Generally they’re pretty easy to spot due to two reasons: one, they’ll be speaking English, very loud and clear (guilty), and two, they’re generally dressed far less chic. Though I wouldn’t compare the style of the Balkans to that of, say, Paris, there are still some general rules that are widely followed here that aren’t by Americans: there’s a difference between sandals and flip-flops; one is acceptable to wear in public, and the other isn’t; and gym clothes are not for wearing outside. If I see a guy wearing athletic shorts out and about in the city, I immediately discount him as a local.

In my experience, the best way to meet the locals has been to simply explore. It’s easy to stick to the main pedestrian walkways here (not to mention tempting, seeing as not having cellular data means no GPS to save you if you get lost), but the places and people you find by straying off of those streets are far more interesting. In Sarajevo, we met plenty of local students through the AUBiH (some of whom I’m still in contact with); they took us around to their favorite places and introduced us to their friends, giving us some great opportunities to talk to locals. We haven’t had that luxury here, and so it’s been far more on us to strike up conversations. This is always a bit dicey, again considering the language barrier, but in general people are receptive to our efforts to talk to them and are curious as to why we as Americans are here in Belgrade visiting their part of the world.

While that’s all well and good, I have felt the need to watch how outgoing we are, as not everyone in this region takes kindly to Americans (considering how recently the U.S.-led NATO bombing here was, I really can’t blame them). I’ve never felt anywhere near unsafe, but just knowing the history and having been taught (warned?) about the sentiment here, I do find myself being wary of what I say and how I act, though part of that is just my usual not wanting to come off as the “typical” obnoxious American tourist. All that being said, we’ve had the most luck meeting people when we’re out at night in restaurants, cafés, or clubs — places populated general with people our own age.

Adjusting to the currency difference here was something of a thrill. I’m still in disbelief at times over how cheap things are here; I’d been told that I wouldn’t have to worry about spending a lot of money on meals, I just didn’t realize the extent to which that was true. For example: on our first night in Belgrade, a group of six of us went out to dinner together. We got two appetizers, dinner, and dessert each, at a beautiful restaurant with live music for which we felt very underdressed. The total bill? A whopping $10 per person. Sticking within a budget here hasn’t been too hard — the real shock is going to be returning to the U.S., where my burrito will cost $9 instead of $3 (yes, we got burritos here — and they’re actually quite good!).

The one thing I’ve bought that I can’t wait to take home and use is a small Turkish coffeepot. I’ve begun drinking coffee more — a lot more — since arriving in Sarajevo, and Turkish coffee is unlike anything I’ve had in the U.S. It’s intensely strong, and the boiling water is poured into the pot directly on the grounds. I’m not entirely confident that I’ll be able to make a decent replication of it once I’m back home, but I’m hoping that I’ve had enough here that I’ll be able to adjust it to taste when I try to make it and get it as close to the real thing as possible!

The Balkans – Language

I’m honestly a little embarrassed writing this post, because I feel horrible about how little of the language I’ve been picking up while I’m here. Though I tried to pick up the basics before leaving the U.S., I was supremely unsuccessful, and have been extremely unconfident in my ability to properly communicate with the people here.

Part of what’s so challenging about the language here is that it has no basis in anything I know — I feel like I’m faring about as well here as I would in China, whereas if you dropped me in Italy (or even Germany), I would be able to do a far better job of picking up context clues in the language and being able to communicate the basics. Having absolutely no practice with Slavic languages before, I’ve been tripping over my tongue a lot — we went to get ice cream the other day, and the lady working the stand patiently coached me through pronouncing the word for hazelnut (ljesnjak). It’s definitely been a challenge!

One of the strangest things I find myself doing is nearly blurting out words in French (or, if I’m really not thinking, actually blurting out words in French). I feel so out of my element that I get this weird urge to speak anything but English. It’s happened more than once that I’ve ordered my coffee with a French accent (luckily, the words are similar enough that what I’ve said is understood, even if I get some weird looks), and then automatically responded with “merci” instead of “hvala”.

In fact, I’ve learned so little of the language in my time here thus far (some of which, I’m sure, being owed to the fact that I am always surrounded by English speakers, and none of us have enough knowledge of the language to coach each other enough to practice) that my favorite word to practice tripping over has become ljesnjak. We’re currently on our second night in Banja Luka (our last night in Bosnia!), and so I haven’t been out getting ice cream in the past couple of days — but as soon as we get to Belgrade (where I hear they speak a lot less English) I’ll be ready to order with my fingers and very rough pronunciation!

The Balkans – Field Trips, Museums, and Landmarks

We’ve now left Sarajevo and reached Mostar, a smaller city in Hezergovina — absolutely beautiful, and absolutely chock full of tourist traps.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we’ve been having very few “traditional” classes; most of our class time is spent out of the university paying visits to politicians and religious figures, or visiting important sites. Beyond visiting Srebrenica and the Tunnel, we’ve now paid visits to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the American Embassy, a couple of the many cemeteries around the city, the Springs of Bosnia, the Cardinal of Bosnia, and the Office of the High Representative, to name a few. Therefore, picking just one favorite is too hard, so I’ll pick two.

The first one has to be Srebrenica. We first went into the warehouse that had been used as the UN “safe area”; thousands of people had been brought in seeking refuge; thousands were subsequently expelled from the building into the hands of the Serbian forces; thousands more were denied even initial entry. Documentary photos showed the items that victims had on their person, laid out on a steel table like evidence. There were biographies of victims — some whose remains had been found, some who are still missing. In one account of a survivor, he said that as they were lined up, they were denied food and water as they sat there waiting to be executed. “I was led out and saw that they were lining up all the men. I needed water and asked the soldiers for some. I was sad at the thought that I would die thirsty.”

We then visited the graveyard of the victims. Most tombstones were white and made of marble; some had flowers laid on them. Some were green temporary plaques, for the newly found remains that were just buried, awaiting their proper stone. There was a wall of names and years of birth, similar to the Vietnam War memorial in DC; it was hard to fathom the thousands of names listed on it. Some names had the year 1980 listed next to them — they were only 15 when they were rounded up and massacred.

That was an extremely sobering visit, especially since we visited the day after the 20th anniversary was remembered. There’s just something about visiting the site of a tragedy like that that can’t be put into words; you can feel its intensity so much more than simply by reading about it.

My second favorite visit (nowhere near as somber as Srebrenica) was Tito’s Bunker, which we stopped at on the drive from Sarajevo to Mostar. It was a project that was kept completely hidden from the public; even the people who worked on it were blindfolded when they were taken there so that they couldn’t see where it was they were working. While it was cool to see the bunker itself, the best part of it for me was the series of art installations that now fill the space. I loved how much variety there was; there were film pieces, photographs, mixed media collages, paintings, drawings, sculptures; you name it, there was an example of it there. Most of them were so strange I had a hard time understanding the message the artist was trying to convey (like a room that had a small couch at one end and a rotating wardrobe at the other), but I enjoyed trying to imagine why the artist chose to make what they did for display there in the bunker. I feel like I could go back there for days on end, puzzling over the strange galleries and trying not to lose myself in the carefully sectioned off areas of the bunker.

The Balkans – Food

One thing that I’ve been absolutely loving about being here is the later meal times! I rarely eat my dinner before 9 PM when I’m at home — in the U.S., plenty of people think I’m weird; here, it’s the norm!

But besides simply the timing, meals are significantly different here than the standard in the U.S. (at least from what I’ve seen — though, considering that all of our meals are at restaurants, I’m sure that what I’ve experienced isn’t exactly how people dine in their everyday lives).

Some notable differences: portion sizes are (generally) far smaller. When you have a plate served to you at a restaurant here, it’s generally enough food to feed one person for one meal — and that’s it! Taking home your leftovers is not a common practice here.

Another one that I found strange is that water isn’t free — rather than everyone getting tap water, waiters will bring out liter-sized bottles of water for the table to share. This has been an adjustment for me, as I’m used to having consistent tap water with my meals and could probably finish an entire bottle on my own!

One more difference (another one that I personally love) is the length of meals. Two hours is a standard amount of time to spend in a restaurant for dinner here. Waiters are in no rush to clear your plates or bring you your check; in fact, in the U.S., it would be considered bad service. Here, however, your servers don’t check in on you every few minutes; they ask what you want, give it to you, and leave you alone, leaving the space at the table open for conversation. It’s a much more relaxed feeling going out to dinner here; there never feels like there’s a rush. This, too, was something I was used to from my experience in France, and some of my friends on the trip who haven’t experienced the long, leisurely dinners before are thrown off by them (and some are irritated — which I don’t understand at all!).

We have had the opportunity to try some great local food here. I’ll admit it; I’ve been to the McDonald’s here. Reaction: the food is pretty much the same, but McFlurries in Bosnia are far superior to the ones in America. In terms of real Bosnian food, however, the clear winner is cevapci, which can be found on any street corner in the city. Cevapci is small sausages made out of minced meat (I’m guessing beef, since so may of the people in the country are Muslims), which are generally served with chopped raw onion and a bread that’s similar to pita bread. You stuff the bread with the sausages and onion, and then do your best to not make an utter mess of the meal (but good luck with that). I don’t see a way you could come to this country and not try cevapci — unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case, good luck! The few vegetarians on our trip have been struggling to find restaurants that can offer them food choices more exciting than rice and grilled vegetables.

The Balkans – Transportation

“Class” is a loose term on this Dialogue. We’ve had a couple of lectures at the AUBiH, but primarily we’ve been doing a lot of site visits, which I find extraordinarily beneficial.

Some of the classes we’ve had at the AUBiH include a talk from the president of the university, introducing us to the school, philosophy, and his general take on the state of Sarajevo and Bosnia (particularly when it comes to the young people of the country); a talk from a member of the ICMP, or International Commission for Missing Persons; a group discussion following our visit to Srenbrenica, and a talk from a survivor of that genocide.

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The site visits we’ve had include going to see Srebrenica (the site of the worst massacre in Europe since the Holocaust), the procession of remains from Srebrenica that went past the government building in Sarajevo (a procession that happens every year, just before the anniversary), and the Tunnel of Hope, a tunnel through which soldiers transported supplies and people during the war in the 90’s.

When we go to AUBiH, we always walk — it’s only about twenty minutes on foot, and very easy to get to. The site visits (with the exception of the procession) are farther away, and so we take a private bus to get to them. So far, I’ve had no reason to try the public transportation system in the city, though it passes right by our hotel. I find Sarajevo small enough that I can comfortably walk wherever I want to go, and the best way to explore is by continuing to wander.

I can certainly imagine, however, that people who live on the outskirts of the city rely far more on the public transport than I do. Though the city center is relatively small, it’s (literally) a hike to get into the more residential areas, and it can easily take a half hour or more if you’re heading uphill. That being said, I’ve never seen a train really full (nowhere near like the green line at rush hour!), and plenty of people seem to use their cars to get around if they’re not walking.

The Balkans — Orientation and First Observations

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I made it through my first full day in Sarajevo, feeling much more lively than I did yesterday (running off barely an hour of sleep on the plane). For the start of the trip, we’ve had a lot of unstructured time, and so we’ve been able to explore the city freely for a good portion of the past couple of days.
This city definitely feels different from others that I’ve visited. The geographical setting reminds me very much of Belize. The city we were in there had a huge volcano overlooking the city, and Sarajevo is surrounded with mountains — we’re situated in a valley, and the farther up the mountains around us you go, the more residential it gets. However, the open air cafés and restaurants, as well as the young children being out and about late into the night with their families, reminds me very much of France.
It’s also very small; we took a talking tour today that was only two hours long, and yet we saw a good portion of the city, including the bridge in front of which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in 1914. The streets are narrow — in many of the areas we walked through that were heavy with restaurants and cafés and shops, the only traffic was pedestrian. It contributes to the less modern feel of the city. There are very few modern looking buildings, and many streets are cobblestone or uneven.
Another thing that stands out is the evidence of the war that’s all around the city. So many buildings have chunks ripped out of them from shelling or bullet holes peppering their walls. In a square we visited on our tour, there were scars from shells filled in with red paint. Those marks are called a Sarajevo rose, and it’s there to serve as a reminder of the grenades that would be dropped in the city, killing civilians. As we took the bus into the heart of the city from the airport, the surroundings slowly got nicer, but many of the more decrepit buildings farther out were far more scarred.
One thing our guide from the walking tour this morning emphasized repeatedly was the multicultural nature of the city; it’s known as the “Jerusalem of Europe”, because it’s home to four major religions: Serb Orthodox, Croatian Catholic, Bozniak Muslim, and Judaism. In our short tour, we walked past worship spaces for each of the four, but there are literally dozens throughout the city. It’s evident in the architecture as well — there’s a line through one of the marketplaces dividing the side of the Ottoman Empire from the side of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A difference of fifty feet on either side gives a very different view; the Ottoman side is crammed with market stalls, and the architecture on the Austro-Hungarian side looks much more like Western Europe. However, it’s impossible to differentiate religions and ethnic groups by looking at people. The only identifying factor I’ve seen so far is the headscarves that some women choose to wear.
It seems that on every street you turn to, there’s a new hostel and money exchange stall. It’s telling of the growing tourism industry here (rising by 10-20% each year, according to our tour guide) — there are countless places to stay, and it’s very cheap, ideal for young people backpacking through Europe. We went out to lunch today, and between the seven of us, our coffees, lunches, and shared appetizers came out to 91 km, which is barely $50.
We didn’t have much of an orientation per se; our walking tour introduced us to the city, and soon we’ll be going to the American University of Bosnia and Herzegovina (AUBiH) to visit and begin our lectures there. The things that struck me most on our tour were the spot where the Archduke was assassinated (it felt like you were standing on history — which you were!), the abundance of houses of worship, and the marks of war that still pepper the buildings and streets. It’s the subtle things that make this feel so different from home.

In addition, we’ve been having meals with our professor, TA, and student advisor to introduce us to the city and language and see how we’re adjusting. My group has only had one thus far, but it’s been a great way to avoid tourist trap restaurants and get a feel for where the best places to go are!