There and Back Again: Magija Beograda

It’s summer in Belgrade, and this is a very good thing.

I’ve always felt summer improves everything: moods, physiques, food. But perhaps a place has never been improved by sunshine and rising temperatures more than my beloved Belgrade. And trust me, I liked it well enough before—even in the deep doldrums of dreary February when I first arrived.

It’s in the winter you can really digest the landscape; it’s a hodgepodge of eras and architectures. For some reason I really took a liking to the newer, Communist style side of the city across the river from the old city center called Novi Beograd (New Belgrade).

MARCH - Fog and slumbering tree limbs overlooking the Danube and Sava rivers converge at Kalemegdan fortress.

MARCH – Fog and slumbering tree limbs overlooking the Danube and Sava rivers converge at Kalemegdan fortress.

It’s not that I’m yugo-nostalgic, but it could be my natural predilection for utilitarian type organization and predictable gridded street systems (no winding European-style streets here, although yes those are charming). Maybe my attraction to such (what some would say) characterless blocks of apartment buildings and monuments is perverse. Either way I’m quite attached to my tastes, thank you.

Then again, wherever you are in the world, everything looks a little more Communist in the winter. The season slows our pace for an interim, things look a little lifeless….but sometimes it’s still beautiful.

MARCH - Hints of green at Kalemegdan fortress—Belgrade’s city origin that sits at an important convergence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

MARCH – Hints of green at Kalemegdan fortress—Belgrade’s city origin that sits at an important convergence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

About the only thing the cold didn’t stop in Belgrade was the lovers (who insisted on walking about or sitting in frigid parks and the old city fortress despite the plummeting temperature) and the nightlife. And the pijacas (open air markets). Serbians have to love, they have to party, and they have to eat.

But it’s in the summer (and spring) when the kids come out to play in the parks, when the rose bushes bloom and the windowsills are full of flowers, when the moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas tootle around hand in hand, when the river splavs (floating clubs and cafes) open for business and shake the river banks all night with the DJ’s beat.

MAY - Dawn over Belgrade and the Sava river from the Novi Beograd side (Usce).

MAY – Dawn over Belgrade and the Sava river from the Novi Beograd side (Usce).

Everything just has a little bit more character in Belgrade; This is the place they call magija (magic)….magija beograda. I would attribute the magic to the river, which both divides and unites the city and its people.

It’s funny…this is my second time back in Belgrade, and I miss home much more this time, despite the magic. But this trip was a little more independent, a little more potent. I happened to pass through the city over the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide (some contest the use of the “G-word”, especially in Serbia. Is it genocide or just a grave crime?).

But Srebrenica is beside the point. What I mean to illustrate is how I so often find myself in such precarious situations as a guest in this region. I’m an American after all, a Westerner; my affiliations of nationality prove to be controversial one way or another wherever I go. And as I analyze and contemplate my daily experiences, like in those surrounding the days around this particular anniversary, it’s hard not to quantify everything based on what I know from back home and exclude the viewpoints right here around me.

JUNE: Charming red roofs in Zemun from Gardos tower—once the Austro-Hungarian outpost that eyes Belgrade proper from the other side of the river.

JUNE: Charming red roofs in Zemun from Gardos tower—once the Austro-Hungarian outpost that eyes Belgrade proper from the other side of the river.

Can it be helped? I remember what a colleague from the Balkanist spoke about once, she called it “helicoptering in.” You know, going some place and pointing out all the problems and issues, drumming up attention, etc. Especially in my chosen study program and possible career, journalism, I often think about it.

It’s one of the easiest tourist traps of all, I think, to be tempted to go around in an egocentric manner; a culture war. But I was never inclined to be just a tourist. So what am I doing here anyway; why did I come in the first place? It’s food for thought, I suppose.

And it’s so nice out I think I’ll take a break from all of this thinking and just go enjoy the sweet Balkan sun for a bit.

Summer has never looked better.

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You’ve Got A Friend In Me

Yes you do :)

Yes you do :)

I would now like to take this opportunity to answer the most pressing question on my Mama’s mind other than safety: Are you making any friends? (*For the record, my Mama would like to state that she thinks I’m cool and no, she does not actually worry about this for me—BUT IT MAKES A GREAT SEGWAY!) I will answer this made-up question in three parts.

Part One: Friends from Gringolandia (Forty points if you knew there was such a phrase as Gringolandia.)

I’ve made some great friends from my program. I’m attending the University of Arizona’s first ever IDEAS-AVANSCO program in Antigua where we study a variety of different topics depending on our interests, all with a social and political focus. These lovely ladies and gentleman have been such a reassuring rock. We struggle together with plenty of things, whether it’s trying to speak in grammatically correct Spanish sentences, finding our way to new cafés, understanding the social and political climate of Guatemala while living in effectively a tourist town (a wonderful one though), or trying to get all of our work done on time. In a phrase, we’re all figuring out how to walk and talk like real adults. And like any true strangers-turned-friends, it’s amazing how much we’ve come to trust one another with the stories of our lives.

Part Two: Friends from Antigua

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about four special people from Guatemala who have been my friends when they really didn’t have to be. Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you the first friend: Claudia Alonzo!!

Claudia

Claudia is our supervisor, La Jefa, and the General Manager of this non-baseball team we like to call AVANSCO. She arranges everything for us even when she doesn’t have to, politely corrects our mangled Spanish, and floods us with kindness. Last weekend at Semuc Champey would not have been possible if Claudia hadn’t arranged it for us, despite the fact that it was our independent trip and she had no obligation to us. From that same strain of kindness comes Stephany Montenegro!!

Stephany

Stephany is right alongside Claudia, working at our school trying to make sure we get the best experience. She has maturity and grace that well surpasses her age, which is the same as mine—meaning she is oodles cooler than me. What struck me the most about Stephany, besides her general friendliness, was how genuine her kindness and concern for our well-being is. She must have called or texted me more than a pollster during election season to make sure that I was feeling better after my first-week-sickness. And I hope that metaphor doesn’t make it seem like she bothered me; to the contrary, she warmed my heart, extending me the same amount of care I’d expect from an old friend. The final double duo of friendship comes in the form of my host parents, Lucky and José Morales!!

Jose y Lucky

The second they opened their door to me nearly two weeks ago, they greeted me with shouts of joy and hugs like they were another long-lost set of cool aunt and uncle (to clarify uncles and aunts in my readership, I said another—you’re cool too). They hug me, pack me food, tease me, and remain patient with me when I stumble with my words. That last part, their willingness to talk to me, is something I treasure to an incalculable extent. We don’t think about it, but with our families we have the ease and comfort of knowing that we can relax and talk as much as we want. We know for certain that they care about us. We also know that fear with people outside of our comfort zone that we’re talking too much, that we could be disappointing or boring them. Every time I’ve had that fear, Lucky and José have dashed it. Their boundless care for others exhibited in even the smallest gesture like motioning for me to sit down and tell them about my day makes, as my friend Alessondra says, my heart full. For all of these wonderful friends who make my heart full, know that it’s my goal to return the favor.

Part Three: The Friend I Want To Have 

Juan Pablo

This week I met the coolest person that I’ve ever met. His name is Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes. Juan Pablo is from Jocotengango (just outside of Antigua) and runs a school called Los Patojos, which means The Little Ones, that he started out of his house for kids in a community rampant with indescribable and inequitable tragedies. His school has had thousands of students, and now stands in a new facility that looks like it came straight out of a children’s book or a dream. I get the privilege to intern there, and I had to stop myself from physically bouncing in excitement during the car ride over. On my first day at Los Patojos on Wednesday, the depth of care and intelligence with which Los Patojos approaches education floored me. They take care of nutritional, health, clothing, and emotional problems that face these kids so that it’s possible to clear those hurdles and actually learn. In addition to regular school subjects, Los Patojos kids can learn dancing, sports, music, art, cooking, and whatever else they can dream of learning. To learn more about the school and Juan Pablo, watch this video.  In person, Juan Pablo is even more hilarious and insightful than he seems in the video. His hospitality and openness to me and my fellow gringo interns made me feel like I belonged, which is an incredibly generous gesture to extend to a foreigner to the program, not to mention to the country. But that’s who Juan Pablo is. I hope that I get to call him my friend in the same way my sister hopes to someday call Taylor Swift her friend. It would be an honor.

Maybe you noticed a trend of effusive kindness and willingness to welcome amongst all my friends. (Twenty points if you did—I know it’s generous, but so are they. Much like my imaginary point system, their kindness is free and limitless, so their mindset is ‘why not give a lot?’) In the spirit of friendship, I am trying hard every day to treat everyone I meet with the same level of respect and humanity I’ve received. Let’s be honest: it’s easy to ignore every street vendor with indifference, to suspect and fear the guys standing on the corner, or talk without thoughtfulness to the people in restaurants or museums. But we have to remember that each person we meet is actually a person—a person with family, friends, inside jokes, a first grade teacher, and passions. Empathy is to indifference as smiling is to frowning: easier (here’s looking at you, SATs). It may take some effort, but it takes more effort to stifle humanity than it does to let it flourish.

Thanks for listening, friends. Hug someone you love today.

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My Introduction to Europe via Prague

Hello, Readers!

My name is Lissette Hall, and I am very excited to be writing from Prague in the Czech Republic.  Thanks to the Gilman Scholarship I have been able to fulfill my dream of studying abroad and travelling to Europe.  As a non-traditional student who has used accommodations throughout my college matriculation, I was not sure if my goal of studying abroad was within my grasp.  Because of the support of Gilman and Columbia College Chicago, I am able to graduate with Honors and achieve my goal of international travel.

I am proud to be a member of the graduating Class of 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Comedy Writing and Performance with a minor in Arts in Healthcare.  During my senior year, I was lucky enough to work at The Second City Training Center serving as their Wellness Programs Assistant.  My work focused on administrative duties for the Improv for Anxiety, Improv and Autism, and Improv and Aging Programs.  I was elated to be working in my field leading up to graduation before beginning a new challenge in marketing in a culture different than that of my home country.

I am currently serving as a Marketing Consultant for DraftFCB as part of Columbia College Chicago’s Global Marketing Program in Prague.  Our client is Hudebni Divadlo Karlin, which translates to Musical Theatre in Karlin.  Already we have had the opportunity to attend performances of The Addams Family and Aida.  I really appreciated that the theatre has subtitles in English that scroll throughout the performance above the stage.  Although the music truly brought me into the experience of the actors, it was helpful to be able to read the text to keep up with the story.  I felt lucky that I had already seen the original Broadway version of Aida, so I was able to pay more attention to the costumes and dancing throughout the show.

It was a small difference to be able to read English subtitles above the stage as opposed to reading subtitles on a foreign movie at the bottom of the screen.  This small contrast opens the door to sharing what other, larger cultural differences I have encountered in my travels thus far.  The language barrier and differences in urban planning have required the most adaptation for me thus far.

Growing up in the United States, it is so easy to assume that everyone values the English language as a necessity.  In the Czech Republic, there are quite a lot of English speakers, many of whom also speak at least one or two other languages.  It is refreshing to be in a culture where being multilingual is not an anomaly.  It is clear that having such direct access to other European cultures allows for greater opportunities to learn other languages.  I really appreciate this because I want to be a truly global citizen, and I aspire to learn as many languages as I can.

Besides the language barrier, I find navigating the streets of Prague to be difficult for me.  Living in Chicago, the grid of the city is extremely easy to follow. Not to mention it is in English thus easy for me to understand!  Here, everything is written in the Czech language and the beautiful streets are arranged in curves and roundabouts that are not entirely clear to me.  I get a little nervous to go exploring on my own.

Although navigation is difficult for me, I find a similar safe feeling in Prague like the safety I feel at home in my neighborhood.  I don’t fear walking to and from locations during the day at all.  At night, I am usually with a friend or in a group, and I have felt safe for the entirety of my stay so far.  It is such a relief to have safety be a similarity although it is much cleaner here than in Chicago.  I have had the opportunity a few times to see the nightly street sweepers.  What a beautiful city!

See you again soon,

Lissette

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To Istanbul and Beyond

When I first arrived in Turkey, everything was very new and strange. However, all of that was expected because I was in a place I had never been. When I got back to the U.S., everything was strange, but since I have lived here my whole life I never expected it to be. I thought I would come back and I wouldn’t even think about it.

Obviously that was not the case. Of course I heard English everywhere, but I also heard English quite often in Turkey. The thing was all the American accents. The first day I was back I went to the mall in town and I heard American accents everywhere. I think I did a double take every time an American accent was in listening distance. I think my mind still thought I was walking around one of the massive malls in Istanbul.

Another thing that took me a while to get used to when I got back to the states were the flushes on toilets. The first time I had to flush a toilet it took me about thirty seconds because I could not locate the lever to actually flush it. Don’t worry, I am managing just fine now.

One of my favorite things about Turkey is the many different lifestyles you can experience. There are cities like Istanbul and Izmir that are busy, modern metropolises, and then there are very small, nearly self-sufficient villages. It is extremely interesting to visit both of these in the same day because then you can really see the contrast. On the other hand. the U.S. is completely modernized in that sense.

Something else that is different between the States and Turkey is the traffic. Turkish drivers are the best drivers and the worst drivers all at the same time. Their precision is near perfect, but that is only because they refuse to use the painted lines and end up coming centimeters close to the next car. When I was driving home from the airport in the U.S., the first thing I noticed was the amount of space there was between cars. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is exhilarating riding in a Turkish cab and it is going to be kind of boring not having to worry about my well-being. However, it is also nice not having to worry about my well being.

Since I have been back I have been asked, “What will/do you miss the most?” about fifteen times. That question is almost impossible to tackle. The first and foremost will be the amazing people I met while abroad. I met people that I hope to never grow apart from, which will be a challenge being that almost none of us share a home country. Another obvious thing I am going to miss is all the amazing Turkish food, especially breakfast food. Turkish people know how to do breakfast better than most. There was never any bacon, but they more than make up for it.

One of the things I am glad to have back now that I am in the U.S. are usable sidewalks everywhere. There were definitely sidewalks in Istanbul, but they didn’t always reach my apartment. There are extremely narrow streets in Istanbul that not only cars, but garbage trucks have to share with people. I have had many run-ins with different vehicles while walking home.

Like I said in one of my previous posts, I have become quite confused about my future, but in a good way. I want to seek out all the goals I had when I left, I just might want to push those goals back a couple of years to pursue other goals that came up this past year. I got the experience to teach English as a second language while I was abroad, and I may want to experience that. To be honest, I have no idea what I want to do right after graduation, and I am okay with that as long as it involves some kind of world experience.

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Aerial Amalgam: Departure & First Impressions

Since this is my first time posting a blog for the Gilman Global Experience Blog, let me give you all you need to know about me: my name’s Garrett Schuman (or in Chinese, 许可儒); I’m an avid lover of all things edible, readable, and creatable; and I’m more than ecstatic to share my experience with you! At the moment I’m studying abroad in Kunming, China, through CET’s Kunming Summer Intensive Language Program where I’ll be learning the equivalent of one year’s worth of Chinese in only eight weeks. I’ve been in Kunming for close to two weeks now, however my experience has been full of firsts.

Like climbing my first mountain, 西山

Like climbing my first mountain, 西山

And finding the best wicker Spongebob ever while going down the mountain.

And finding the best wicker Spongebob ever while going down the mountain.

In order to get here I rode a plane for the first time in my life, and let me just say that the thing I was most worried about was riding the airplane. I’d already taken a year’s worth of Chinese classes, so I already knew the language semi-well, and back home I’d gotten a small glimpse into Chinese culture through my international friends, so I wasn’t extremely concerned about my studies, just my ride there. Going to the airport was kind of like stepping into the Twilight Zone: nothing was familiar, and albeit, really strange. There was all this commotion (I’m from a small farm town so the only ruckus I seem to hear at home are crickets) and I had an inkling of where to go, but of course I was like a lost child. Even though I was three hours early, I still managed to almost miss my flight. Once aboard the plane, I watched the tarmac like someone watches a final shot in a basketball game, waiting to see what exactly would happen next. In less than a millisecond, my anxiety mixed with this indescribable feeling of amazement.

It’s hard to let your anxiety get the best of you when you’ve got this kind of view.

It’s hard to let your anxiety get the best of you when you’ve got this kind of view.

One airplane tip that can’t be said enough: bring gum (and lots of it)! Takeoff for me was the easiest part, but when we were landing (I’m assuming it was the pressure difference) my head felt like it was being squeezed. After the first time though, it was perfectly fine and I slept all the way through my last flight. So to all you with wanderlust out there: don’t be afraid to fly! It’s a rewarding experience, plus you get a view of the world that you can’t get anywhere else!

Fast forward a couple days, and I’ve been in Kunming a couple days. This really doesn’t do the cultural differences justice but I think the biggest shock I’ve had so far is that the Chinese view on modesty is flip-flopped from the States. Here (from what I’ve gathered), if you’re complimented, it’s totally normal to deny it and insist that you’re not good at all. This exists somewhat back home, but it’s more common to thank the person for their kind words. American culture is very extroverted and focused on individual ability, while Chinese society values things like seniority and in general is introverted and strives for group harmony. I’m going to be extremely frank when I say this, but the thing I miss the most from the United States is our openness to the LGBTQIA community. I’m only mentioning this because I’m gay and for the two weeks I’ve been here, I kind of feel like I’m back in the closet. More than anything I want all of my Chinese friends to know me as intimately as possible, but there is a slight air of unacceptance that I’ve detected. This isn’t to say they’re homophobic; their attitude is gradually shifting as more and more Chinese people within the LGBT community tell their stories.

The thing that I’d insert into my life without hesitation is their tea. China’s culture is centered on tea, and one of my biggest goals is to be able to make Chinese tea (It doesn’t come in tea bags like tea in the US. They use loose ingredients.). All in all, the biggest challenge and benefit of studying abroad is realizing that every country (and even every person within that country) has their own way of life, tradition, and beliefs, whether or not they are amazing or terrible within our own cultural lens. For example, the following foods look kind of strange at first, but they were amazing once I got over my first impressions.

菠萝饭 (bō luó fàn), or simply “Pineapple Rice”

菠萝饭 (bō luó fàn), or simply “Pineapple Rice”

These are粽子 (Zòng zi), which are eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, which took place last weekend.

These are粽子 (Zòng zi), which are eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, which took place last weekend.

Once we cross our borders, we have the opportunity to learn what the rest of the world is like, all the while passing along our own torch as we become an ambassador for our home.

Until next time! 下次见!

Garrett Schuman 许可儒

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Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock is a phenomenon I hardly believed was real when I set off for my study abroad. I could understand the waves of shock I felt as I studied in Thailand and half expected them before the plane even landed. After months I could feel the culture shock lessening and eventually it was relatively absent in my day-to-day life abroad. Two weeks have passed since I’ve returned home and I can say with absolute certainty: Reverse culture shock is real.

Not only is this strange type of culture shock real, it’s far worse than anything I experienced during my 10 months in Thailand. In the few weeks I’ve been home, I’ve found myself thrown into a sea of confusion, anxiety, and frustration.

My lifestyle in Asia was so scarily different from the average American lifestyle that for the first week I was actually anxious about a lot of things. Thailand is notable as a land of laid back attitudes and ‘Thai Time’ is a very real thing that I’ve gotten used to—patiently waiting an hour for a friend or even a teacher is commonplace in Thailand. America, in contrast, is so avidly impatient that I found myself anxious and confused at how quickly people raise their voice or get angry at the slightest inconvenience. This—paired with the general lack of politeness in the workplace—has made my first week back to work one of constant anxiety.

Of course, there are a mountain of things I missed while abroad that I’m happy to have back. Among other things, the wealth of creature comforts like reliable internet access, the ability to converse with anyone at ease, and more dependable transportation have been on my list of missed things. But of them all, my friends and family are definitively what I’m most happy about now that I’m home.

Looking forward, my time abroad has given me opportunities I want to expand upon in the future. I hope to be able to spread awareness of the positive aspects of studying, even for a short time, in another country and the educational advantages it serves. After college I wish to work internationally in Asia and continue my education beyond my home country. In a way, I believe studying abroad has opened my eyes to how integral an international outlook is in the modern era and I hope to be able to bring this to the table in my future work experiences. Ultimately, studying abroad has driven my need to grow as an individual and to help people internationally.

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Farewell, England

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

It is unbelievable to me that my adventures while studying abroad in England have come to an end. It is a strange feeling. The feeling of coming back to the same place being a different person. My time studying abroad in England almost feels like a dream because it happened so fast. As I looked out the window of the plane coming back to Florida it felt like it was yesterday that I was leaving. I definitely have noticed myself experiencing the reverse culture shock and it is a more clear realization on how different Americans are culturally from the British. Although the differences may be small, the small differences are what make up the big difference. Yes, we are definitely friendlier. The British have mannerisms that we don’t. In America, I have the privilege of going to a grocery store and not having to bag my own groceries. The British and Americans may speak the same language, but we really don’t in terms of context.

While I do miss England, I definitely do not miss the food. I am so glad to be reunited with American food! Yes, I said it. Food in the United States is so much better. Hands down. On a serious note, I am appreciative to have the privileges of being an American. Part of the reverse culture shock that I had was just realizing how many privileges I have as an American and the opportunities the United States has to offer to its citizens.

I was sad to leave on a flight to go back to Florida, because frankly, I didn’t want to leave. I embarked on a journey and adventure of personal, educational, and professional growth when I decided to study abroad in England. I look back and I absolutely achieved my goals. However, as I grew in every aspect I realized that there is no limit to growth. True discovery means the understanding of always having more discoveries to uncover. By being abroad, I gained the understanding and knowledge of the world and myself. For me, my perspective on what I thought the world was and the people in it expanded and evolved. I advocate for everyone to go abroad and see the world, because to see only a small part of it is such a shame. There is a bigger picture to discover. Once you see the bigger picture you realize that you can impact it to make a change.

I miss England and hopefully I will be back one day. I created amazing memories with new experiences and great people. When I was in England I was able to make it my home. I think there are both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to living in the United States, United Kingdom, or any other country. I miss the small differences in England, but I miss the people I left behind more. I love traveling and I love going on flights, but I never wanted to go on a flight more until I had to get on a flight back to Florida. As I landed in Florida and looked out the window I saw a plane take off. Once again I found myself looking at a plane taking off and wishing I was on it back to England. Without realizing it, I made England my home. Coming back it didn’t feel like I was coming home. It felt like was leaving it. Farewell to England, but I promise, I’ll be back.

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