New Year

I am a homebody.

Gladly, I will regularly choose to stay home, in comfy clothes, chilling in my personal space rather than going out to experience night life and socializing. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy socializing and getting to spend time with other people. It just takes a lot of energy on my behalf to participate in those activities, so it is not hard to make the choice to stay home and save my energy.

No matter how much my heart wanted to celebrate the arrival of 2019 by being in my jammies and hopefully asleep by the strike of midnight, I knew my brain wouldn’t forgive me if I did not seize the opportunity to partake in the city-wide celebration with over a million people.

So I layered my clothing, washed my hair, and put on my red lipstick. Then I ventured out to brave the city of Belgrade on New Year’s Eve. Ultimately, I did not go to any major party locations in the clubs, but I enjoyed a drink at Café 16, the coffee-bar owned by the non-profit I volunteer for. Then I meandered around, eventually making it to Trg Republike, the city center. I grabbed a cup of mulled wine, took some pictures with the light displays, and noticed a huge crowd movement to an unknown location– so I followed!

I found myself in front of the National Assembly where there was a huge stage set up,  live music playing for all to hear, and then at the stroke of midnight, six minutes of non-stop fireworks began all around me.

I was in the midst of this massive crowd, the sky was lit up with all sorts of beautiful lights and my ears were filled with music, laughter and conversation, and the percussion of fireworks.

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The National Assembly and the large stage that held live music for the new year celebration, featuring me siting on top of a cold cement wall. 

It was such an awesome moment, getting to celebrate the same big event amongst so many Serbians and other visitors to the city.

(And much more memorable than sleeping through it.)

But, I wasn’t done celebrating the arrival of 2019.

January 1st, New Years Day, also held a really awesome event I was able to participate in. Pastor Anna and her husband Dragan invited me to join them in attending an annual event that has happened for the last 50 years in Belgrade– Open Heart Street. 

Belgrade begins every new year with an event that works to support a humanitarian effort; this year Open Heart Street was dedicated to the Doctor Clown project— an organized group of people who daily visit children in hospitals to bring cheer and fun to their hospital stay. To support this cause you could purchase a red clown nose to wear, and the money would be given to support Doktor Klovn.

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Pastor Anna, Dragan and I sporting our red clown noses at the end of Svetogorska Street, the Street of Open Hearts. 

The street is also filled with vendors of all kinds selling roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, traditional candies, cotton candy, clothing items, collectables, toys, balloons, hats and mittens, and so much more. As you move along the street you encounter multiple stages featuring live music performances and fun holiday decorations.

It was an amazing experience to see everyone gathered together to begin the new year by supporting a charitable cause.

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Pastor Anna and Dragan treated me to some delicious mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, which I had never tried before. 

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One of the stages along Svetogorska Street. This was placed in front of Radio Belgrade 202 building, one of the initiators of Open Heart Street. Performing on the stage is Ljuba Ninković, a member of S veemena na vreme, one of the pioneer groups of the Yugoslav rock music scene! (Info provided by Pr. Anna and Wiki.)

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One of the many traditional sweets vendors along the Open Heart Street. There are so many options and it is all so colorful! 

Read a little more about Open Heart Street here! (In English of course.)

And that was how my 2019 began– fun events and celebrations aplenty. Me stepping out of my homebody self to find adventure and energy in this bustling city of Beograd.

Plus, I know clowns can be a little scary, but I think I rocked the look pretty well. Maybe 2019 will start a trend of wearing bright red noses.

Srećna Nova Godina! Happy New Year!

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Christmas

Outside of traveling around from home to home in order to see family and friends, Christmas has typically been a time of rest and rejuvenation, in addition to being a time of celebration.

Christmas was a break from school work and the stress of finals. I got to see family, eat lots of delicious Christmas treats, give and receive gifts, and just take a really big deep breath in before letting it out along with stress. Commence sitting at home with dad, reading some new books, and watching Home Alone (my dad’s favorite Christmas must-watch).

This year, I was not struggling with the stress of school finals (college grad, woo-hoo). I did not get to spend time with family, outside of a few stolen moments on FaceTime. And I did not get to take a load off and relax my holidays away. I had a fantastic Christmas Eve (read about it here!) but it was crazy busy, as was my Christmas Day.

December 25, 2018 began with my guitar playing debut. I had played a bit for my Central Europe volunteer cohort, but they’re basically family so that doesn’t count. Christmas morning I played Silent Night, Joy to the World, and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen for my church congregation while Ivana, Jessie and I sang along.

I wasn’t awesome, but I wasn’t terrible either. Nervousness caused me to almost drop my guitar pick twice in the middle of Joy to the World, but who really noticed, right? (That’s what I am telling myself at least.)

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Jessie, Ivana and myself singing Christmas carols following the Christmas Day worship service.

Following each piece we were applauded by the congregation, which Pastor Anna shared as a huge surprise to her because clapping is not a regular occurrence in church (preaching to the small town congregations of my home). Pr. Anna said they all really loved it if they felt moved to clap, which was a huge motivation booster to make sure we share special music again soon.

Following church, Pastor Anna issued a surprise invite for a Christmas lunch, which consisted of chicken noodle soup, a sausage, pork, and potato cooked dish that tasted so much like a slow cooker pot roast, I almost cried in mid-west joy.

And then Pastor Anna brought out these beautifully made and decorated Christmas cookies. I was so beyond full (if I am honest, I was still trying to digest my Christmas Eve meal) that I only managed to try one of the cookies, but seeing a Christmas cookie platter when I had assumed that excess Christmas baking wasn’t a tradition in this part of the world was a true cherry on top of my day.

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I have no idea what this dish was called, but it was a flat baking sheet layered with pieces of pork and sausages, covered in potatoes. It baked in the oven while covered in tinfoil and you open it up right before it is time to eat. Like a nice Christmas meal surprise!

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Pastor Anna made a variety of cookie and Christmas treats to share with us. She even hand decorated those beautiful gingerbread cookies– so amazing! 

Lunch had to be cut short because today also featured a massive gift giving event for all the children at the drop-in centers (DICs). Centar za Integraciju Mladih (CIM) or in English, the Center for Youth Integration (CYI), hosts a children’s Christmas play at the children’s center and gives a gift to all the kids as they walk across the stage to meet Santa Clause.

This event takes lots of preparation from reserving and scheduling the venue, shuttling all the kids to and from the two DICs, having volunteers and workers to make sure they all arrive safely, gathering donations and gifts, and then packaging said gifts (done largely in part by yours truly).

It is crazy and amazing what this organization is able to do to bring some Christmas celebration to all the kids they work with. It takes tremendous amounts of time and dedication from everyone involved, and I was so humbled to get to be a small piece in the process.

It allowed me to celebrate my Christmas Day with nearly 200 kids. How cool is that?

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Some of the children in their seats, waiting for the show to begin! 

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While entirely in Serbian, I managed to pick up that the play was a re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood but it featured a Santa Clause that came in and saved the day by helping the Hunter in the woods save Red and Granny from the Wolf that consumed them. Or something like that.

After talking with my fellow coworkers at the DICs, hanging out with some of the awesome kids I get to work with, watching them all get presents and then load the buses to head home, I  managed to find my way to my comfy little flat where I talked with both sides of my family over FaceTime, and opened some Christmas cards and gifts I had received from both home and my Belgrade community.

Oh, and I forgot to mention. I got in some serious cuddle time with Teo the cat before lunch. He hadn’t gotten any attention all morning, so I was more than willing to offer my love.

All in all, I had a great Christmas.

Blessings to you and yours!

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Teo the cat is kind of the embodiment of my soul. He may come across as grumpy and a loner, but he truly just wants some love and attention. 

Christmas Eve

Being away from home and the familiar can be a really trying experience during the Christmas season.

For me, Christmas is one of the few times of traditions in my life. I always go to Grandma Linda’s for a celebration with the Geistfeld family and we always have the same main dinner options. I always celebrate Christmas Day with my Sangren family. I get to see people I rarely see and eat foods I love but only consume twice a year.

But these constants in my life aren’t happening this year. And I think without that planning and anticipation, the excitement and joy of this Christmas season hasn’t really been with me.

It didn’t feel like Christmas.

The night of the 23rd there was an advent concert at my church, and it think it was there that I thought to myself for the first time, “It’s Christmas!”.

It was beautiful.

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The Merry Gospel choir performed all types of gospel Christmas music from classic hymns with a twist to fun new pieces. The majority of their performance was in English, which prompted a member of my congregation to ask me if it felt like a piece of home, to which I responded, “Da!” (“Yes!”)

The Merry Gospel choir performed and the majority of the music was in English and I got to bask in my love of Christmas music and choral performances. I got to hear one of my favorite pieces, Mary Did You Know, as well as getting to sing along to Silent Night in both English and Serbian.

But Christmas Eve was truly the moment where I got to celebrate Christmas this year.

In the end of October, Pastor Anna had extended an invitation to join her and her family of five (six if you include Teo the cat) for Christmas Eve dinner, and so following a worship service in Šid we journeyed to her apartment and celebrated together.

Traditionally, Christmas Eve dinner is the big celebration for Christmas. The advent season used to be marked by a fasting period that was broken on Christmas Day. At every step along the way of the meal, Pastor Anna explained the history and the reasoning of why we were eating each part of the meal.

Before we joined at the table and began the meal, like good Serbians we enjoyed a bit of liquor to kick off the evening. Typically this is done with rakija, a plum (fruit) brandy that is well loved across the land, but I toasted the evening with a strawberry liquor that was amazingly sweet and delicious that may or may not have been a type of rakija.

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The true meal around the table begins with a fresh apple. One apple is cut in half horizontally and then shared among everyone. When cut horizontally, the core of the Apple creates a star shape, reminiscent of the Star of David.

Apples were typically the fresh fruit available at Christmas time, but following the sharing of a single apple, you begin the meal with something sweet. There are dried fruits such as apricots, dates, figs and plums. Walnuts are always served as well as honey, a classic piece of the Christmas Eve meal.

Our first course included an item called oplatki, a sweet and crunchy treat reminiscent of a waffle with a thin layer of caramel inside (think stroop waffle). You can eat it as is, or drizzle some honey on top to make it sweeter.

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Oplatki is delicious, and is featured here along with dried fruits, walnuts, and honey which served as our opening course.

The second course was a sauerkraut soup made with dried mushrooms and dried plums called kapustnica, and following the tradition of this meal occurring during a time of fasting, it is a relatively simple soup with no meat. Paired with this was a cooked bread called knedlik that Pastor Anna’s eldest daughter made for the first time this year! It was delicious and doughy soft and went well with the slightly sour and salty soup. I was nervous about the soup, sauerkraut is not on the top of my food choices and neither are plums or mushrooms, but it was delicious! And I definitely had two helpings which was a bad choice seeing as this was only the second course.

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Kapustnica is sauerkraut soup made with dried plums and dried mushrooms. If that does not sound like your cup of tea, at least give it a try. It was delicious and filling!

 

The third course was battered and fried fish and a chilled potato salad. I squeezed fresh lemon juice over the hot fish and the potato salad was simply cooked potatoes, salt, chopped onions and lemon juice mixed and served cold.

Honestly, it was not all that different from a meal I would have back home. Easily this could have been something I ate at the cabin lakeside, Uncle John having caught and fried some fresh fish for everyone, a classic potato salad on the side. This thought train hit me really powerfully right after I took my first bite and the weirdest sense of happiness settled over me and my already very full stomach.

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This was captured after almost consuming my entire plate, but the fish and potato salad were both lemon-y and reminiscent of meals from home. At the top of my plate is a piece of the knedlik cooked bread that I carried over to this course because it was too good to not continue eating.

The final course was a dessert called opakance. This was a bread that was baked until it was very hard but was re-softened with water and covered in poppy seeds. Because of this process of hardened and softened, not every piece is the same consistency. Some were really firm and others were as soft as fresh baked bread. You can also drizzle honey on top of the bread pieces to make the dish even sweeter (of course I added more honey).

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Bite sized pieces of poppy seed opakance, drizzled with honey! After an entire meal of delicious foods, this final course did not disappoint.

Alternatively, for poorer families, this opakance bread could also serve as the main course dish, but it would then be topped with cheese, rather than poppy seeds.

And that concluded my Christmas eve meal! I was full to the brim and could not even think about eating or drinking another morsel. I was full up on food and new cultural learnings and getting to spend time with this fun and centered family. We spent the rest of the night (and into Christmas morning) listening to various types of Christmas and Serbian music, talking, cuddling with Teo the cat (who was not really in the mood to be cuddled) and celebrating together.

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A Christmas tree, various bottles of rakija and Teo the cat. Srećan Božić! Happy Christmas (Eve)!

Bonus information! Outside of the traditions behind what we were consuming at the dinner table, there are other habitual traditions I learned about.

  • It used to be practiced that the grains to feed your livestock were brought inside during the Christmas Eve meal and kept underneath the table so as to bless the foods for your animals that they too will have a prosperous year and will bless the family.
  • Two weeks before Christmas, green grains were planted and grown up until the holiday. I can’t confirm for sure what this tradition was for, but I believe it was to reflect on the prosperity the new year will bring you and your family. Pastor Anna did follow this and had the table set with a cup of green grain growing!IMG_1732.jpg

Srećan Božić! Happy Christmas Eve everyone!

 

Pošta

Going to the post office is a semi-horrifying task for me to complete. Mainly due to me feeling intimidated by the entire process.

In the U.S., my encounters with the post office system have increased with age (big shocker; I feel like my first solo trip to the post office was a defining moment in my big girl life) but they’re always met with dread, every time. I know it is 100% due to me being wholly intimidated by the post office workers that I need to converse with.

TSA workers have a bad rap for being less than pleasant to work with, but in my experience post office workers are just as difficult to work with, if not more frustratingly so.

I don’t deal well with curt behaviors. I will admit that when it comes to me needing to mail off a small surprise to my bestie in North Dakota, or sending back a college textbook, I don’t know the ins and outs of cost and shipping and paying for tracking labels. So I have to ask questions. And when people treat those questions as ridiculous and not worth their time, commence my immediate shut down and panic.

This situation has happened to me many times, more than I am happy to admit to, the worst time happening during my time in Chugiak, AK when I literally was given grunts in response to my questions. LITERALLY non-verbal communication where the woman didn’t even open her mouth. I was a puddle of embarrassment and shame on the floor. And truly, I had no reason to feel either of those emotions.

After hearing this, I’m sure it is easy to imagine that moving me to a foreign country where I am barely competent at the local tongue makes those post office visits a grand ole time for me.

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This beautiful scrap of paper is what I find in my apartment mailbox when I receive a package from home. It never fails to be a huge highlight to my week that someone back home was thinking of me and wanted to send some physical care my way.

I have had 3 solo trips to the post office thus far during my time in Belgrade, and I am not going to lie, I have yet to encounter a post office worker who speaks more than passing English. But I have endeavored, and managed, and even though it began with me needing to walk to three different post office buildings before finding the one my package was actually at, I think I now have it figured it (please bask in the warmth of my triumph with me).

I think the truly amazing part of this story share is that I actually have packages to pick up. Getting a package notification in the mail is such a heartwarming occurrence. I figured I would get one from my mom at Christmas and maybe a second one around my birthday, but already this year I have gotten more than the expected from both friends and family afar.

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This is my post office! Waiting in line (where this photo was snapped) is to be expected upon every visit. 

In addition to boxes that carry a little more weight than the normal postage, I have gotten cards and letters supporting me, wishing me well, and cheering for me to have good experiences while living abroad.

How amazing is my sending community? I’ll fill you in.

They’re beyond amazing.

Truly, this post is all about giving a shout out to those who are thinking of me, and then go so far as to send a little something from an ocean away.

P.S.- the title of this post, “pošta”, is the Serbian word for “the post office”. It is pronounced like “post-ah” but instead of an “s” sound, make an “sh” sound, like you’re gently shushing someone– “posht-ah”. In the picture of people standing in line at the pošta, in the upper left corner you can see the sign depicting “пошта”, which is the Cyrillic spelling of the word pošta. Hope you enjoyed today’s lesson of Serbian!

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This was my first package, and I picked it up on Halloween night. It brought me some granola bars, my on-the-go snack of choice. So much love!

Thanksgiving

Today was the most productive day of my entire life. (That is probably not true, but it feels good to think it anyway.)

I have never had to spend so much of Thanksgiving day alone, but it was still really excellent despite being half a world away from my family.

I did not have any plans for how to spend today. The idea of inviting Serbians over to my flat for a meal toyed with my mind, but it never came to fruition. I think this is where I admit that I forgot this was Thanksgiving week until yesterday afternoon. Plus, I think the idea of inviting others over scared me in a way of knowing that I was not equipped or prepared to host others in the way I would have liked to.

So today arrived amid little fanfare and no plans. It was some how decided that today was the exactly right day to clean, sweep and mop the entire flat, venture out to buy fresh pomegranates and oranges at the open air market, buy dinner rolls and fruit pastries at a pekara (bakery), withdraw the dinars needed to pay my utilities, and pick up the drying rack I’ve been needing since it is now too cold to dry my clothes outside on the line.

I meal prepped everything I would need to create my very own thanksgiving meal, practiced guitar, watched too many episodes of Avatar the Last Airbender, filed my nails, drafted this blog post and one other, and by this time it was only 3:00 pm– just in time to start making my thanksgiving feast.

If I had been home, by this time of day I would have been at my grandmother’s house already filled to the brim with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, green bean casserole, monkey bread, and my aunt’s amazing deviled eggs.

It’s weird for me to think on where I could have been, especially since I can imagine it with such clarity. I know where I would have been sitting, who I would be seeing, and what I would be eating. But a year ago, I never could have imagined what I would be doing today.

Despite the weirdness of being gone for this family holiday, I reached a cool milestone today– for the first time, I entirely prepared and made my thanksgiving meal. I made mashed potatoes, candies carrots, and homemade baked lemon pepper chicken strips. I purchased soft dinner rolls and two peach turnovers that sufficed as a pie replacement. I poured a glass of milk and turned on A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. And enjoyed my thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving Meal 2018

The meal I prepared all by myself with a little help from a pekara (bakery) for a couple of things.

I had some dinner conversation with my roommate and then FaceTimed some family back home, filling them in on my time here and how I have been adjusting.

I never could have imagined where I would have been today, but it was a good day, and I am forever thankful and grateful for all the things that led me to this point.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

 

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Here was location of my thanksgiving triumph! This beautiful little kitchen was absolutely perfect for what I needed to accomplish today.

Smile

It’s not common in Belgrade to have people smile at you as you make eye contact.

For me, it’s a reflex.

I make eye contact with the woman entering the bus or with the older gentleman passing me on the street or the parent and child holding hands on the tram and I smile without a thought. It’s ingrained in me (Minnesota nice?) to smile or show some facial expression to the stranger that passes for the brief seconds that our paths have crossed.

I often get a lingering look in response, the other human being trying to place me or decide for themselves why I’m smiling at them.

More often than that I get nothing in return except the severing of eye contact and a down turned face.

On a rare occasion I get a reflexive smile back.

My favorite response is one I got for the first time yesterday.

Not my reflexive smile, but my real smile. Seeing this, I can imagine for myself that you’ll smile back at me when reading this.

A woman with a navy blue jacket and a faux leather brown purse entered the bus. She was wearing peach lipstick that had faded off in places with the passing of the day and had a beautifully lined face with crows feet and smile lines along her cheeks. She had shoulder length hair that was a very light brown with cork screw curls. She was slight in frame and didn’t stand any higher than my shoulder.

I was facing the doors of bus 65, riding home from volunteering in Novi Beograd as she boarded. We made eye contact as she headed in my direction to stand next to me against the wall and I smiled. She was in the process of looking away as my mouth turned up, but once she processed I was smiling, she did a quick double-take to keep my eye contact and smiled back at me so brilliantly.

It was beautiful to have my reflexive smile returned so genuinely.

Shock

It has been 45 days since I arrived in Belgrade.

It has been 33 days since I last wrote a blog post.

My long hiatus from this platform has bothered me, on an almost daily basis, for weeks now, but no matter how many times I pulled up the webpage or drafted a post or even made a mental outline, I always failed in producing a finished product.

The past 6 weeks have been some of the weirdest and hardest; my inability to write about my experiences stems from a lack of being able to articulate what I’ve been going through. People ask, “How is it going?” “How is Serbia?” “Do you like it in Belgrade?” and I have no idea how to explain what I’ve experienced and how I feel about it.

I was trying to share this with a close friend– I was trying to explain how I don’t feel like myself, how I have no energy to do anything outside of volunteering, how I can’t seem to process my surroundings. And she gave me the gift of being able to put a name on my experience, even from an ocean away.

“Tina, have you looked into culture shock? Because it sounds a lot like what you’re going through.”

Culture shock. Something you hear about, something you know is a thing that happens, but you can’t really describe what experiencing it looks and feels like.

Let me attest, that putting a name to what I have been going through and knowing that I am not alone in my plight is the most empowering thing I have done for myself in the last 45 days.

My friend sent me a link. I did some googling and skimmed probably 15 different webpages. And I agree, yep, I think I’ve been struggling with culture shock.

Previous to this past week, I would not have been able to describe how culture shock presents itself. And I would have been fairly confident that I would not experience it while in Belgrade– a city that looks fairly Westernized (at least to me). But I had the realization that because the city looks so similar to what I understand a city to be that the cultural differences I encountered on a daily basis continued to beat down on me in a really significant way, without my realizing it.

I educated myself on culture shock and I felt the need to share how it presented in me and my experience with living in a foreign country.

I was fatigued, all the time. I would get dressed to leave the flat and I would be ready to change my mind and stay in before I even left my bedroom.

I had a piss-poor mood, with no desire to talk to anyone, cook food for myself, or leave my oasis.

I had no appetite whatsoever, intermixed with intense moments of nausea when I would try and force myself to eat ANYTHING.

I couldn’t focus– not on reading, not on journaling, not on social media, not even on sitting through a movie. So I resorted to (and am still slightly stuck on) having F.R.I.E.N.D.S. playing on Netflix between napping bouts, and doing almost nothing else.

There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.

– George Santayana, ‘The Philosophy of Travel’

But 45 days later and I am feeling better. I feel like myself, at least more like myself.

I still get exhausted from being surrounded by a language I do not know, from constantly attempting to translate, read, and understand what is happening around me. It’s been shocking to discover the limits that comes with basic language lessons.

A lot of advice to help move through culture shock to a more accepting stage says to stay connected to home, which is so easy to do with all the social media and messaging platforms, while trying to embrace new experiences in your new city. This reminded me of a George Santayana quote– I need to embrace a degree of the unfamiliar while keeping a few toes planted in the familiar.

I’ve been trying to cook more, to find a way to get myself out of bed to make something more complex than cereal.

I’ve been messaging friends from home in addition to messaging people here in the city.

I went to a modern art gallery exhibit at the Belgrade City Museum.

I took myself for a cinnamon latte at a coffee bar after walking around shops in the city center.

I finally found my way to an art store and picked up some watercolors.

I attended a children’s theater production with some of the kiddos from the Drop-in Center.

And it has been good.

I think I’m finding myself again.

Thanks for checking in friends. I promise to start sharing more, and not waiting another 45 days before you hear from me again.

 

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Here is a picture of the aforementioned Cinnamon Latte, just because this post sat really heavy on me for a long time, and I needed to put something happier in it. Also, this drink was very, very delicious and I could have easily drank 4 in a row. 

A couple of my more helpful sources, in regards to culture shock:

Worship

 

What does it look like to worship in a foreign country in a foreign language? I can attest that it feels weird, odd. Imagine having never attended a church service, perhaps you haven’t, but one random Sunday you find yourself at a Catholic mass. People are standing, singing, kneeling, talking and responding at seemingly random times that make no logical sense to anyone who is unused to the intricacies of that style of worship in that space.

Stepping into a foreign Lutheran service, I did not think it would be so very different from what I was used to; I didn’t think it would feel weird or odd being there, other than not knowing what was being said aloud.

I imagined an old worn church with dark wooden pews, stain glass windows scattered about, and an altar made up in the front of the worship space. I expected people to be milling around chatting in a different language, maybe throwing some curious glances my way for being a new face. I imagined I would hum along to the hymn tunes and do some personal devotions during the sermon.

YAGM tells you to throw all expectations out the window, to come into your year with as few expectations as possible. After all, everything is subject to change.

I should have listened better.

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The outside of the church building as seen from the corner across the street on 9/16/18.

The church and worship space was a perfectly circular room. Sound bounced and carried around like a leaf caught in the wind, making English hard to understand so forget trying to catch the Serbian/Slovak being spoken. There were no pews to speak of or stained glass. In fact there were no seating or windows in the room at all! Only two standing mirrors tucked between the 4 doorways spread out along the circular walls. As Jessie and I entered the space, a couple older individuals were setting up folding chairs on the outer rim of the room with a wooden bench in front of them to set their hymnals on. Right in the center of the room is a well loved wooden podium and a rickety folding table was assembled next to it by an older gentleman.

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Preparing and setting up the altar for worship.

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Pr. Anna before worship with the fully assembled worship space.

This room has an old history, one I will share at another time, but it currently functions as more than a Lutheran space for worship, hence the need to completely dismantle the seating and altar after every service.

Pr. Anna, one of my assigned mentors for Belgrade, was beyond kind and thoughtful and had provided English bulletins for Jessie and me to use in order to follow along and make the service “feel more like home”. Pr. Anna would continue to make it feel more comfortable for us by saying prayers in English and sharing some of the announcements and introductions in English, and generally went out of her way to make this small, atypical (at least for me) worship a place that I feel happy to be in.

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The final hymn of worship was the Slovak version of a Mighty Fortress is our God (Hymn 263), and Pr. Anna had printed out the English words for us to follow along.

It felt odd, sitting in a half semi circle with only 12ish other individuals in the room. It did not meet my expectations for a Sunday morning worship, but I think I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Having your expectations tossed out a window can be terrifying, but part of this year is about teaching myself to adapt to unexpected situations, and to find a personal strength is learning to go with the flow. It will be a fun mental challenge for myself and for my faith to find God in this room, in these people, and in this worship as my time in Belgrade moves forward.

“Filled with the Holy Spirit, we join with the church in every place, praying for the world that God so loves. God our strength, coax your church away from the busyness of the world and give us holy rest, so that, refreshed, we will give vibrant witness to your world-healing love. Amen. “

— a piece of the Prayers of Intercession from Pr. Anna’s service.

 

Time

The last two weeks have felt like a month. A month ago feels like last year.

My concept of time has been warped, as my days have been long and filled to the brim. Geographically, my cohort and I are actively in Budapest having traveled by train (my first across land train ride!) from Bodrogkeresztúr, Hungary where we spent the last 2ish weeks being in fellowship, preparing mentally for what this year of service will be like, as well as undergoing 30+ hours of language training, playing board games when we need a mental break (I am always ‘game’ for a round of Settlers of the Catan), and eating lots and lots of delicious soup.

My mental state has been interesting. A week in Chicago for training, 2 weeks in a smaller Hungarian village for training, now 5 days in Budapest for the last bit. For so long my cohort and I have been talking about, planning, preparing, unpacking and repacking, all to get ready for this monolith that has been looming in the distance, waiting for us to arrive.

Anticipation has been my greatest companion through this period. Have you ever prepped so much for something, that you reach a point where you feel as if you’re as prepared as you could ever be, yet you know that it will never be enough to make the next step easy?

If so, you can understand where I am.

In 5 days I will be in Belgrade, Serbia, a place I have never been to, yet is expected to be my new home. Belgrade will be the platform where I explore what it means to communicate with someone without a shared language and what it means to intentionally live a life dedicated to serving others.

The next 10 months will feel like a lifetime. Yet once it’s over, it will feel like a blink.

Featured Photo (top of page): Check out my fellow Central Europe cohort of 10 volunteers including our two country coordinators, Rachel and Zach, and our amazing language teachers, Teri (Hungarian) and Eva (Serbian)! We are gathered in front of the dining hall of the Betlehem Lutheran Retreat Center in Bodrogkeresztúr, Hungary where we stayed the past two weeks for In-Country Orientation.

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(L to R) Jon, Jessie, Taylor and me on our train ride from Tokaj to Budapest (9/8/18). This was my first (I think) train ride that traveled across land! It took about 2 1/2 hours of traveling so we all found various ways to pass the time. 

 

 

 

My Sojourn Begins

Thanks for joining me!

This is the space that I present for everyone to follow my steps as I move to Belgrade, Serbia to serve as a volunteer with Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) [for those like my mother who struggle pronouncing the acronym, it’s basically said “Yeah-gum”].

Two short days is all that separates me from flying to Chicago to join all the other 2018-2019 volunteers for an orientation before we scatter around the globe to serve communities outside our own.

For those of you chiming in and following this blog for the next year, “sojourn” may be a new word for you. It means a temporary stay, which is what this year will be for me– a temporary stay in place far from home hoping to learn from and grow within a new community.

My stay in Belgrade has a finite period of time to it, but I know the effects it will have on me, the good and the bad, will be infinite. I was matched to work at a non-profit organization called Center for Youth Integration (CYI) that provides drop-in centers for street-involved children and youth from the Roma settlements. Their mission is to bring a safe space for elementary children to do homework, participate in various activities ranging from art, music, drama, and more, as well as providing healthy meals. I could also be assisting with Café 16– a project to give work experience to individuals from disadvantaged communities.

My stay in Belgrade is also being hosted by the Lutheran Church in Belgrade, working with Pr. Anna Petrović who will welcome and help me transition into their congregational life and community. How exciting! I know I will welcomed wholly into this place and I will get to find my place within it.

Living in Belgrade will be an experience I can attempt to imagine, but in reality it will exceed all expectations. I’ve found the best way to handle all the unknowns in the next few weeks is to form as few expectations as possible, and to go with the flow. I will soon be immersed in orientation with my fellow volunteers and the people who organize continuously to make YAGM possible, and being present and intentional in the moment is all that is needed from me at this time.

I  like adventures and I’m going to find some. — Louisa May Alcott

This is going to be an amazing, crazy adventure to spread the love of the Lord, and I cannot believe the time has finally come to begin this next chapter. I have been humbled by all the support and I cannot wait to share the next steps with you all.

Please feel free to follow this blog by clicking the link on the homepage to get email updates as I post, and if you feel called, you can still make a monetary donation to support this year at the link below.

Blessings!

http://support.elca.org/goto/tinageistfeld