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It has been just over two months since I arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I'm still starstruck. I would say that I've come down from the high of the "honeymoon phase", but the country itself still leaves me speechless. I'm living in Banja Luka, a small city with just under 200,000 residents. The biggest positive to living in such a small city is that everyone pretty much knows each other, and that makes my stay all the more welcoming. It feels more like a community than a city.
Let's start from the beginning:
My flight was a challenge. I flew from Atlanta to Paris, and from Paris to Zagreb, where I was picked up by my host mom and brother. I had a 2 hour layover at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, but we were held on the plane for about an hour. Once we were let into the airport, me, being the directionally challenged individual that I am (thanks, mom), got lost. I managed to get onto the plane to Zagreb less than 10 minutes before our departure. It was an unnecessary adrenaline rush that I hope to never experience again. After getting lost in the airport in Zagreb as well, I found my 19 year old host brother, Nikola, and my host mom, Gordana, waiting for me. Nikola was a Rotary youth exchange student in Florida 2015-2016, so he is fluent in English and has gone through what I was and currently am going through mentally. The first thing i noticed when the plane landed, was the air. It tasted crisp and fresh. It was very hot in Zagreb, hotter than in Georgia, but thankfully less humid. I credit the clean air to all the greenery and low usage of cars (because of public transportation). It was about a 3 hour drive from the airport to Banja Luka, of which I mostly spent sleeping. While I was awake, I got to see the beautiful nature that Croatia has to offer. I'm looking forward to a trip I'll be taking to Zagreb next month.
The biggest positive change for me in living in Europe (I know it seems minimal), is probably the public transportation. As I mentioned earlier, it's so convenient and effective, and has improved my options for social interaction tenfold. It really is so convenient and I'm baffled as to why it isn't used everywhere in the U.S. Also, freedom of speech is highly respected here, unlike how it is from my experience in the U.S. People aren't easily offended and all opinions are heard and respected, and I find that to be a beautiful thing. Another BEAUTIFUL thing about this country is the food. It's absolutely amazing. In the U.S., I would NEVER eat vegetables. It was a huge problem to the point where my mom would have to sit with me, a 16 year old, at the table and watch me finish them. Insane, I know. But here the produce and agricultural goods are not only bearable, I sometimes enjoy them. Everything tastes fresher and cleaner. Sadly, it's impossible for any amount of healthy food here to cancel out my sweet intake. Every day after school, I walk to Manja, a cafe in the center, and order some gelato. One of my favorite things about Europe is the sweets, and it's becoming a problem. Not one I'm willing to fix, of course. I don't have that kind of self control. It's more of one of those issues that I complain about with no drive to change my ways. The cake is just too rich and I'm not strong enough. I'm currently embracing the weight, if I'll be honest. I should be starting training at the dance academy where my host sister, Kristina (22), trained.
the biggest "negative" change in living here? It's hard to say. There is somewhat of a bias against Americans due to the conflict between our countries in the past, but nothing major at all. I still feel welcome and cared for, so there really is no threat. I guess for me the cultural quirk that I dislike the most is the lemonade. They drink it lukewarm... That's new for me. I'm sure I'll get used to it. Eventually...
So much has happened, It's hard to put it all into words. I'll span out my ventures in these journal entries over the next few journal entries. Hopefully I'll the time to write monthly, but life is super busy between school, social life, dance starting, and bonding with my host family.