November 5, 2013, by Guest blog
Belgrade already feels like home
Belgrade life, or Beogradski život, is certainly not as I expected. In all honesty, this may be because I’m not really sure what I had expected before arrival. I had been to Belgrade previously, and I had studied in Belgrade previously, however only for two weeks, and perhaps I had treated this more like a holiday than study: Just getting to know the city, exploring the sights, sampling rakija! Now, from September 2013, I can say “I am a student at the University of Belgrade”. It is such a strange concept, yet Belgrade already feels like home.
The first two weeks here I spent in a flat I rented with friends from England, and from the end of September I was able to move into student halls. Studentski Dom „Rifat“ is so far dissociated from halls in England, and yet similar all at the same time. This actually sums up the general feel of Belgrade. East meets west. All students share room with one or two other students, some even share beds! Yet this is the norm here. Some lucky students, myself included, have a bathroom attached to their room, yet others have to share one small bathroom with a whole corridor! At first I was a little surprised, but this has become rather mundane fairly quickly.
The attempts to gain a residency permit have been a hassle to say the least, and after seven or eight trips to the police station for foreigners, I finally have a rather lovely residency permit stuck securely in my passport. If this was not enough to make me feel like a true Beograđanka, the bank account I had to open in Dinars to receive a tax refund for the permit certainly did the job! Now I have a permit, an address and a bank account – all in Serbia!
Settling in and getting set up as a resident at first seemed a very long and unorganised process. After a little time to reflect on the experience, however, I started to feel that actually it is simply that in England everything is too organised. Having to have all documents ready a million years before they’re needed simply in not necessary! If anything, the relaxed nature of the Serbian people is rather contagious, and all-in-all, more practical than it first appears!
Of course, first impressions cannot possibly be discussed without mention of the people. Quirky, honest, open and strong, the Serbian people are some of the greatest company I have ever had. When people hear you speaking English they approach and want to know “What do you think of Belgrade”, (with such pride in their faces), “Wow, you learn Serbian?! Why?” What appears at first as hard-faced and cold becomes the norm, and I have started to notice how overly polite and reserved the British people are. In Belgrade I can walk into an old kafana, decorated head to toe in old memorabilia with a band of old men playing traditional music, and over a few shots of rakija where you hold each other’s eye-contact and say “Živeli!“, a tost to one another’s lives, people will openly tell you anything you ask: “What was it like to live in Yugoslavia”, “How do you feel about Belgrade today”, “What do you love most about this country”. The last question is easy for me to answer. What do I love most about Serbia? The people.
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