Almost one year ago I decided to study abroad in Serbia, which is a smallish country in Eastern Europe. The program (Peace and Conflict Studies in the Balkans) is based in the capital city of Belgrade where I will live from February to May 2015. Why Serbia?
I have always been interested in Eastern Europe, particularly the often clashing ideologies, cultures, and religions at this meeting point of East and West. Serbia, due to the fascinating geographic and historical roles of the Balkan peninsula, is basically in the middle of this colossal exchange of civilizational values that has been ripping our world apart for the greater part of the last millennium.
So I really could have chosen from a plethora of other locations for this reason, but what really motivated the specific choice of Serbia was my modern history class last fall. At my professor’s suggestion, I read a book by a journalist who was in Bosnia during the war in the 90s and—especially with my journalism background—it stirred me to investigate.
After taking a deeper look into the Balkans I, as a typical western American, realized how incredibly little I and my peers had been taught regarding the significance of this region. Indeed, as Vjekoslav Perica wrote in “Balkan Idols”:
- This is the land over which Rome and Byzantium and later Ottoman Turkey and Habsburg Austria “challenged each other and vied for souls and loyalties of the local peoples”; imagine how different our world would be if the Balkans had not stood in the way of the conquests of the Ottomans, for example;
- Where the notorious “Eastern Question” originated;
- Where “the first large heresy within the Communist block was born”;
- where “the first large-scale post-Cold War conflict took place”;
As a three-way gateway between Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East, you can imagine the incredibly rich nation Serbia is as an epicenter of living history whose ripples continue to impact the world.
So, aside from the exciting prospect of living in another culture and learning a language (and did I mention the program includes trips to Bosnia and Kosovo?), I want to go to Serbia to begin to better grasp the East-West dialectic and—someday—use that knowledge to foster a global discussion and exchange of ideas that doesn’t just benefit my own country or justify my own worldview but challenges us all in a very constructive way.
Understanding the conflict along this volatile fault line of civilization is my main objective in studying in the Balkans. This region is a microcosm – a reflection of the world in miniature – and I have so much to learn from the people, traditions, and landscape of this gloriously beautiful and culturally vivid region.
I will be leaving for Serbia in January, but please continue to follow my adventures on this blog and my social media as I share images and insights into my experiences!
Živeli! (that’s the Serbian equivalent of ‘cheers’).
Cover photo by Aponia.