Why do I feel so comfortable here?
Standing on the tram during my daily morning commute, I watched the familiar sights pass by. The open market I occasionally stop by to buy cherries and peaches to share at the office. The apoteka (pharmacy) I watch out for as a reminder that the next stop is mine. The supermarket and two corner pekaras (bakeries) where I often go for lunch.
By week three, or maybe even two, I already felt like a local.
Everything quickly fell into place and felt so familiar, but not because of any similarities to home. In fact, Belgrade does not look anything like New Jersey. Surprisingly or not, my hometown is not made of an amusing – or as many have said, chaotic – combination of old traditionally decorated buildings and new glass structures. Belgrade also does not sound like New Jersey. While most Serbians can speak pretty good English, it would be a near-to-impossible challenge to hear Serbian spoken in my hometown.
Belgrade at every angle is so unfamiliar, yet the complete unfamiliarity became so natural. I still saw the differences and heard the sounds, but somehow, I became comfortable with not being able to understand 90% of what is being said around me. I was always aware that I am a foreigner who looks different and speaks a different language, but I also always felt like a complete local, commuting to work, navigating the busy streets, and meeting friends and colleagues at one of the many many local cafes.
Feeling at home does not come from the physical building or the length of stay. Rather it’s the challenges and subsequent growth, widening of perspectives and learning, willingness to accept it as home, and a community no matter big or small that will accompany you through it. Belgrade, and the people in it, have provided all of that for me and more. Already making plans to come back to Belgrade, I am thankful that I have one more place in the world I can call home.