Every Sunday night growing up, my brother and I raced to the living room to claim the elusive left corner couch spot, because on Sunday nights, everyone in my family stopped frantically trying to finish what should have been done much earlier in the weekend, and watched the Amazing Race together. It was one of my mom’s when-pigs-fly kind of dreams to be on one of the eleven teams racing around the world. She wasn’t as interested in the chance to win a million dollars as she was in the chance to travel the world. However, she quickly informed me I couldn’t be her partner in this adventure, as I was hopeless with directions. I did my best to appear super offended, but deep down I understood—I used google maps for an entire year to drive fifteen minutes to a friend’s house. So when Eric Mlyn boldly challenged us to “find our weaknesses,” I should have already known that figuring out the Serbian trolley bus schedule was going to be the first, and so far, the only, experience to reduce me to tears.
After being teased relentlessly by my group for constantly arriving to events in a taxi, and sacrificing too much of my stipend to a ticking meter, I decided it was time to grow up and walk the block and a half from home stay to the trolley station. Ironically, that morning my Serbian phone had caught a rather nasty bug and instead of turning on, my poor android just repeatedly showed a dead robot on the screen. I therefore, had absolutely no way to contact anyone while outside of a wifi hotspot. I also had no access to any app to track the trolley. Regardless, I had already made up my mind to take the trolley to my first day of work, and gosh darn it I was go-ing to take the trolley. I confidently marched to the station and I waited for the number seven. Just a few minutes later it arrived. I had budgeted thirty minutes to travel the three stops it took to get to my office, so I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point. Not only was I taking the tram, but I was going to be early.
After traveling my three stops however, I realized something was wrong. Not realizing one track led towards the Sava River and the other away, I had boarded the wrong tram and was lost in the middle of Belgrade. After a moment of panic I realized I was close to the SIT office so I ran to the building and bounded up the stairs. Instead of finding my program coordinators how-ever, I found a locked door. I felt my chest constrict as I frantically looked around for someone or something to help me. My chest got tighter. I needed to be on the other side of the city in five minutes—I had no map, no phone, no internet connection, and no Serbian language skills. I couldn’t breathe and the room was beginning to spin. I did the only thing I could do, I hailed a cab.
After arriving to work fifteen minutes late, dripping with sweat, I realized I needed some help. I downloaded the miracle app “Moovit” on my iPhone and planned out my routes before leaving the safety of my wifi equipped home-stay. For the next two weeks navigated the tram lines like a local. Nevertheless, on my way to meet some friends at a café off the beaten track, I realized calling a cab was the only way to get there. As I slid into the back seat of the cab and apologized for my broken Serbian, I heard the words I had been trying so hard to avoid, “Ah yes,” my cab driver said, “I know you don’t speak Serbian, I recognize you!”