Serbia has been an absolute dream for me recently. I currently live in a small town close to Bulgaria called Зајечар (pronounced Zayechar). It is extremely different from New Zealand, with the average wage being less than $7000 NZD per year. The language has been relatively easy. I have been picking it up from speaking with friends and listening to conversation, although nearly all kids in Serbia speak English.
Host families in Serbia can tend to be very conservative, especially compared to New Zealand, but they are extremely loving and will welcome you into their home. I am living with quite an unusual host family – my host mother is a single mother and I have one host brother. Money is tight, and it has really changed my world view. This is an experience you can expect if you come to Serbia. For many New Zealand students if they come to Serbia in February they will go on summer holidays with their host family. My host family this year have all chipped in to help me come on their holiday to Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia.
Schooling in Serbia can be unfortunately be very disappointing. The teachers care even less about their work than the students, but student-teacher relationships are incredible, and absolutely makes it worth it. I made friends relatively quickly in Serbia. It may take you a while to find people who aren’t involved so much in ‘turbofolk’ and the stereotypical Serbian youth culture, but you’ll find them and it will be absolutely worth it.
My town is quite unique in Serbia. We have two music festivals every year, one called Гитаријада (Gitariyada) which is the longest running rock festival in Europe, and Оутхиде (Outhide) which is known for its alternative rock and hip hop performances. Serbia is a land of a series of occupiers, and when you travel within the country you will begin to see this. In Belgrade and, Central Southern, and Western Southern Serbia they have moved away from this and tried to make their culture distinctly Serbian with some success. In Eastern Serbia the influence is very strongly Turkish, and North of the Danube you will see very strongly the Austro-Hungarian influence.
I have so many wonderful things to say about my town and the valley that we sit in, but I will keep it short. We have many of our own varieties of fruits and vegetables, for example, growing our own yellow watermelons (same flavour as normal watermelons, just a yellow flesh), and the quality of all vegetables from this region is amazing.
For anyone who considers coming to Serbia from New Zealand, I highly recommend it, it is a wonderful country filled with wonderful people. The things you should know if you come (apart from the obvious ones): Have fun, travel all you can and see all that interests you. That’s all I can say!