I’m black, and I have never felt more black than I did when I stepped foot off the plane in Terminal A3 at the Belgrade/Yugoslavia International Airport. I was no longer in my home. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, or how to even communicate. I was a fish out of water gasping for those lifelines, things that back home I had taken for granted. But all I could breath was the thick, heavy air of the Serbian language, the Serbian culture, the Serbian way of life. But in that fleeting moment of instantaneous maturation, I felt all those things…and I picked up my big boy britches and strolled to the kiosk.
I had experienced my fair share of inadvertent discrimination at home in America but enduring everything from racial slurs to random people snapping my picture on the bus to the city, Serbia taught me a lot about how strong I am and how in the face of adversity, I still move on. I still succeed. I became extremely close with my host family during my temporary residence. They attempted to make me feel like I was at home by making me hot dogs and “mac-and cheese” for breakfast with a cup of Turkish coffee to top it all off! I was amazed by the hospitality of these practical strangers. In the beginning I often questioned if it had anything to do with the fact that they probably were housing the only “negro” north of Macedonia. But not only was I wrong, I realized that while I kept pondering about why people were judging me, I was actually judging them as well. So, as I started Day 3 of my trip, I made up mind to go at this thing with a clear mind and to try and break the barriers between us and build bridges.
I was automatically forced into everything Serbian. Within the first 36 hours, I learned to forget everything American, from the greasy food to my central time zone. I was in Serbia now and I had to adjust. I picked up on the language from the intense immersion and I quickly learned how to say simple things such as “Excuse Me” and “I speak little Serbian.” The experience as a whole can be compared to infant to adult- human development. I was new, like a baby. I had to learn the language to function. The more I knew, the more I grew. By the end of the experience, in theory, I had grey hair and saggy skin. I must say, it sure was worth it. You see, it sure is easy to remain constant in life. To stay in your comfort zone, and be content. But its when you realize that life is a continuing lesson and you step out of that comfort zone and let yourself “grow” that you begin to realize things about yourself that you would have never known otherwise. That’s what Serbia did for me.
Don’t be confused. I was scared as hell my entire two weeks. I wasn’t aloud to be alone. I stayed in contact with the American Embassy. I faced racial tension everywhere I went. But somewhere on that journey a switch flipped on in my brain. “Don’t let what people say define you”…and thanks to Serbia, I sure don’t.
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