On the morning of the flight to Serbia, I was more excited than nervous since it was the first trip I’ve taken both overseas and without my family. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but from what I’d seen from research, it looked totally different than the U.S. which made me excited because I really enjoyed learning about other cultures and seeing the differences and/or similarities.
Serbia was very different from the U.S., but in a great way. Upon arrival, I was concerned that the language barrier might be an issue. Surprisingly, the majority of people we were with spoke English very well and when challenges arose, we worked together and were able to communicate effectively. Students from the University in Belgrade and Novi Sad, as well as staff from the children’s school took time out of their schedules to show us around their city. It was a kind of hospitality that I had never experienced before, being able to meet someone one day and from that day forward spending time with them and their friends and have them cook dinner for you.
A major difference between Serbia and the U.S. was the walking. There were very few people who owned cars, so most people got around by either walking or taking the bus, I really enjoyed walking since it allowed me to see and experience more of the culture. The food and what we considered traditional eating times, were anything but. During each meal, the amount of meat eaten would not be considered normal for us in the U.S. Experiencing restaurant dining was not rushed and usually lasted two or more hours after finishing the meal. It was more like an opportunity to socialize. They architecture was absolutely beautiful, both historical buildings, museums, and parks, making it a great place for visitors.
Working with the school for children with disabilities was some of the best times during the trip. We met several wonderful people who worked for the school and were able to experience the work they do. The school was so far ahead in their education and treatment of children with disabilities than some programs I’ve seen stateside. Many of the programs they have in place for their students were quite successful and they continued to be innovative. Working with some of the students was great, getting to see them have fun and experience how they perform therapies both differently and similarly to the recreational therapists did in the states. It was great for all of us to be able to sit down and exchange ideas for the future. We all became so close to all the staff from the school that we had a farewell barbeque at their farmhouse, where we stayed, which served as a goodbye to all the great people we had met over those two weeks.
Returning to the states was a struggle with flight cancellations, missed flights and lost luggage, but it was all worth it. It was so fun to be able to show the Serbian students who came back with us the IU campus and Bloomington. Working at Camp Hi-Lite, a camp for people with Down Syndrome at Bradford Woods, alongside the Serbian students was another unforgettable experience. Spending all day at camp working with the staff and campers and getting to see our campers achieve their goals while having fun with friends was wonderful. Then we would get together as a group and talk about the experiences we’d had through the day. Being able to see the Serbian students immerse themselves into our culture, just as we had done while in Serbia, helped the trip come full circle.
Overall, this has been one of the best experiences I have ever had. Being able to immerse myself into a different culture has been an eye-opening experience. I had so many unforgettable experiences that there were too many to mention, and others that I can’t put into words. I will never forget this experience and am grateful to the OVPDEMA study abroad scholarship for helping me fund this unforgettable experience. I hope the opportunity arises one day where I can return.