(Disclaimer: I’m well aware that one is a country and one is a state but the USA compared to Europe is basically 50 different countries, so it works for comparison)
I never want to live somewhere that is exactly like what I’m used to. That being said, I’m not sure if I ever want to move back to Northern California. It’s hard because even if I moved back to the Sacramento area it wouldn’t be the same, because I’m not the same. I found that it works like that when I moved back the first time after my time spent in Spain. The city hadn’t changed, my family and friends hadn’t changed, my university hadn’t changed, yet somehow, I felt like a stranger living in my own life.
A lot of things will change you when you go abroad, if you let them. Nothing can be forced upon you and I think that’s why people have such different experiences. They have different amounts of resistance to change, even though it’s inevitable. Being willing to leave your comfort zone versus fighting the feeling will most definitely give you two separate adventures.
I, personally, have found myself to be a person that embraces the change. If you’ve read my previous blogs, I went to Spain seeking change, so I wasn’t thrown off balance by how different my life had become (minus the period of homesickness). With all that being said, Serbia is a far larger change than Spain was for me. My adjustment was definitely easier, because I have Nenad, but I notice that I make far more comparisons to home living here than I did in Spain.
One of the largest differences is the economy. Serbia has an unemployment rate of roughly 20 percent. I feel incredibly humbled to have gotten a well-paying job in the exact field of work that I wanted. The average income per month here is roughly $450, and to really put that into perspective, that’s $2.80 per hour. Around 30 years ago Serbia left a Socialist era, leaving their economy depressed. It’s struggled to recover since, something that has devastated the middle and lower class.
With such a drastic difference in salary, you could expect a difference in prices. Although there are multiple things sold here that are the exact same price as in California (PS4, Sephora makeup, clothes from brand stores, etc), the prices of food are drastically cheaper. The milk that Nenad and I buy is one liter for roughly 89 cents. Depending on the brand of apples we buy, we get about four of them for $1.20. A large loaf of bread, fresh baked in the bakery, costs us about 50 cents. The food pictures as the cover of this blog, that meal cost roughly $3.50. Although difficult to fathom when you come from such a different economy, this is a lot of country’s realities.
Let’s talk about driving. I always hear people talk about how crazy they drive over in Europe and how they were scared for their life when they were in the taxi, blah blah blah. It’s funny because I actually have only seen one car crash since I’ve arrived. One. That was on the way home from the airport when I arrived. It was heavily snowing and a car skid off the highway, it didn’t even involve a second party. Besides that, I am on my fifth week here and I haven’t seen any other problems except people out of gas pushing their cars down the road, also normal. Serbia drives like California, with one of the only differences being that almost everyone here drives stick shift, similar to a lot of Europe. The only people driving automatics are those flaunting their wealth, or though it seems, and that’s not many.
Speaking of people, that’s something that I love about living here. The culture is so friendly and warm. My experience has been that majority of people living in Novi Sad speak fluent English, which has made it nice to get around. A lot of countries in Europe have citizens who are trilingual, not just bilingual, depending on their surrounding countries and Serbia is no different. A lot of people I’ve met speak three languages: Serbian, English and one where their parents are from. It’s very impressive and they’re so kind to tourists. California can have a much colder attitude towards those not from our country. Of course, every country has their own disputes, and I’m not arguing that, I’m just discussing what I’ve noticed from my time spent here both over summer and now.
Although I could go on forever, I’ll cover one more thing. The. Food. I cannot tell you how delicious the food is, but I can tell you that I gain weight every time I’m abroad… so far I’m doing okay but I’m consciously watching what I eat and usually I don’t. My friends here are shocked when I say that we don’t really use fresh bakeries in California. It’s not really a thing where I’m from. People go to the local supermarket to pick up everything from meat to fruit to pastries. Here everything is specialized. You have stores strictly for meat, you have bakeries on every corner with fresh baked goods made every day, you have the fresh food market open every day with all sorts of producers bringing their goods to sell. Although I eat more when I’m abroad, the food isn’t processed, so it’s healthier for me and I feel less guilty about the amount I consume. Nenad’s mother makes me chocolate donuts for Sunday brunch every weekend… it’s been blessing and a curse. I really want to learn recipes and cultural dishes before I go home so I can continue that for Nenad and for our, hopefully, future family. Where you come from is important, it should never be forgotten.
Life has presented me with many opportunities these past few years and I have been brave enough to take them. Just this past week I’ve been reflecting at how all my hard work the last 10 months especially has truly paid off. I love where I am in my life and where I’m heading. I couldn’t imagine doing anything different then what I’m doing. I couldn’t imagine having chosen different paths and missing out on any of the amazing things that Serbia has to offer. I love this country and although it’s my third home, it too will have a special place in my heart.