An Adventure in the Balkans: one amazing semester abroad Past Review

By (Political Science, Economics, Brandeis University) - abroad from 02/06/2012 to 05/20/2012 with

SIT Study Abroad: Belgrade, Budapest, and Vienna - Comparative European Perspectives on Conflict and Democracy

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I fell in love with an amazing part of the world, that is extremely misunderstood in the United States. I got to meet amazing people, and make contacts that I can rely on forever. I came away so confident in what I could do academically and my ability to join this world after I graduate. I've made a lot of decisions about what I'm interested in and where I want to go, and I don't think that would have happened if I hadn't gone.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

It is not academically rigorous the way Brandeis is, but the program is thought provoking and the topics covered are challenging. The ISP seemed difficult at first, but ended up being one of my favorite parts of the program.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Most of the time things were very well run, and usually when it wasn't it was due to the weather or just the way things run in the Balkans. No big deal. Orli and Nenad are fantastic and have a lot of great connections in the region.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I stayed with a family of 4 right behind the Parliament building in Belgrade. My host mom was probably in her early to mid-60's and i had a brother and 2 sisters, 18,19, and 21. During excursions we stayed in hotels since we were never in one place longer than 4 days. We stayed in hotels in Prishtine, Banja Luka, Sanski Most, Sarajevo, and Palic. During my ISP period I lived in an apartment in a neighborhood called Bistrik with three other people from my program.

* Food:

Because this program doesn't involve living in a dorm, the food you eat depends a lot on the family you end up with. A lot of traditional food, which was great and when we traveled we tried things unique to whatever city we were in.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

A lot of people joined gyms (I joined a kickbox studio, some people joined a rock climbing gym and someone else joined a rugby team). The program also arranges meetings with local youth organizations and faculties in each city we go to which was a great way to meet people.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Pharmacies are located all over in major cities and there is usually a pharmacist that speaks English.

* Safety:

Yes! I felt safe everywhere I was, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. I felt safe at all times of the day, no matter who I was with. This region has such a bad reputation because of the violence of the 90's but everyone I interacted with was friendly and very very helpful. They wanted to talk to us tell us their stories and make sure we knew where we were going. The US Embassy always sent out these blasts around the elections in Belgrade and there really wasn't a problem at all. People do protest, but they're political not violent and I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe at all.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

The program gives you a stipend for transportation and food, plus a great stipend for the ISP to cover transportation, food, housing, and other expenses. Most of the money I spent that was mine was on alcohol and gifts and that was really minimal. Don't worry about money here, food and drinks are really inexpensive and the program covers a lot. The cost of living in the Balkans is also really low compared to Boston or Western Europe.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? < $50
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? A burger costs $1.20, coke is $.90 and a fancy dinner out is about $15. Clothes and electronics are really expensive because everything is imported from the EU so don't plan on shopping a lot and bring an extra set of headphones.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

One of the reasons for having a homestay is to use the language on a daily basis. There was constant encouragement to interact with locals and to speak in the local language, and they also gave us a lot of opportunity to do it.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Talk to as many people as possible in the local language and don't be afraid to make mistakes.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
  • Apartment
  • Hostel
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • the ISP
  • getting to meet with with and learn from different people all over the region
  • the "playdates" or meeting we had with local youth groups in each city
* What could be improved?
  • the program starts off a little slow with a review of the history of the region
  • Occassionally the structure is a little weird and there is not quite enough guidance from the staff
  • for us, the group dynamic was a little rough
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I had taken a look at cyrillic or a Serbian phrasebook before I left just so the language wouldn't have seemed quite so new and strange when I arrived. Also, everybody smokes, everywhere. It wasn't a problem, but coming from Boston where smoking isn't really allowed anywhere it was a bit of a shock.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!