I had never been to Croatia, but when I decided to take a weekend trip to Makarsca, I expected the atmosphere to be extremely similar to Sarajevo, to Bosnia. All part of the former Yugoslavia, right? So how different could they really be? Needless to say, I didn’t expect Croatia to feel so foreign, and I certainly didn’t expect to miss Sarajevo the entire time.
Only by being thrown into a completely new environment did I realize how comfortable I was beginning to feel in Sarajevo. Even though I am still a foreigner, do not speak the language and still do not understand many parts of Bosnian culture, being in Croatia gave me a new perspective on my life in Sarajevo and highlighted how all the small things make such a big difference. In Croatia I knew nothing about my environment, but in Sarajevo the pieces were slowly, slowly coming together. I know which is my favorite Pekara (bakery), which gelato stand will overcharge you just for the hell of it, where the shopkeeper will break a hundred dollar bill without rolling his eyes and swearing under his breath; I had finally figured out the tram system, had learned how to blend in with the locals so I won’t get busted without a tram ticket. I was just getting to know the women I work with at the Centar, finally had motivation to learn Bosnian words and phrases to practice with the elderly at work. Heck, I was even close to mastering the Sarajevo stroll! (quite an accomplishment). Point being, its amazing how all the small, simple parts of our lives make up a comfortable environment, make up what we consider home. I never, ever thought I would miss hearing the pounding bass from Cheers every night.
Laying around on the beach all day was nice for awhile, but I found myself itching to get up and do something, to walk down to Baščaršija (old town) and of course forget an umbrella the one time it starts pouring rain. And strangely enough, every day I spent in Croatia I would always feel strange at around 1pm. I had the sense that something was missing, like I was waiting for something that was supposed to happen but never did. When I got back to Sarajevo I noticed what I had been missing was the call to prayer from the minarets every afternoon, that comforting, yet eerie wailing song.
This is my first time truly living abroad, and what I couldn’t grasp until now is that living abroad is hard. You don’t realize how American you are until you leave, until all your daily comforts and your routine has been turned upside down. Living abroad, at first, is uncomfortable, for a while it can even be a bit frightening. For me, I was petrified the first two weeks in Sarajevo, too scared to go out on my own outside of the hostel, too frightened to try and do things on my own. I kept asking myself, what in the world am I doing here? 19 years old and working in the Balkans for a summer, why? Although it took some adjustment and lots of patience, I am beginning to discover how amazing this experience can be, how change can offer brand new perspectives, and how worthwhile it is to live in such a foreign culture. To be able to communicate with people despite the huge language barrier, that’s what warms my day every time.