Great Location, Disappointing Program Past Review

By (University of Michigan - Ann Arbor) - abroad from 02/02/2020 to 04/14/2020 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?
Overall, I had mixed feelings about the semester. As parts of the overall experience ranged from amazing, insightful, and inspiring, to stifling, irrelevant, and narrow minded, it's safe to say it was a real roller-coaster ride. The Balkans are an incredible place full of every kind of person imaginable, awe-inspiring sights, and interesting topics that make a student want to go back for more. Given this, it's a shame that the program itself so abysmally failed in creating a program to foster learning and exploration in favor of mindless busywork and stifled opportunities to ask questions and openly think about issues. As a brief disclaimer, in fairness to the program, I was only able to experience about half of it as the program was cancelled due to the emergence of COVID-19, through no fault of the program. However, I do not think that the problems with the program were likely to disappear over the remaining weeks, but I will clearly identify which parts I cannot review from personal experience. First let me address the good parts. The Balkans are such an amazing place with such a rich culture and history that there is no way to get a complete understanding in just 3 months or even 3 years. Belgrade is a beautiful city with a turbulent political atmosphere, plenty of places to see, and more interesting people to talk to than you'll have time for. Prishtina was the most unexpectedly amazing part of the trip, with some of the most friendly and optimistic people I've ever met, but also a political environment that changes almost by the week. The countryside was gorgeous, and the drives through the mountains were amazing. The independent research was invigorating an I had a good advisor, despite having to be conducted remotely due to COVID-19. I cannot comment on Sarajevo, as that part of the trip was cancelled. However, overall I cannot recommend the region enough. It surpassed all expectations. However, I cannot recommend visiting there with this program. For that sake of simplicity, I will break down my criticisms into a list. 1. Too narrow of a course topic. This was a extremely complicated place, yet the only thing that it seemed every class focused on was 'Memory Studies," or how the past is commemorated. The entire course was a single lesson on ethical commemoration and social activism. While this will appeal to some, there is nothing in this course for people interested in political science, power dynamics, reconstruction, or the title of the course:... Peace and Conflict in the Balkans. In class questions were discouraged or rebuked upon asking because I "wouldn't understand" given my status as a westerner. 2. Course Load and Class Construction Homework assignments consist almost exclusively of busywork. They are graded not on the quality of the writing, but on how specifically the constricting instructions were followed. (Providing no opportunity to think outside the box.) Not a brag, but I'm a serious student at a prestigious university, and I received the lowest GPA I've ever had. If you are a serious student doing all of the readings and assignments, you will simply not have time to explore the Balkans yourself. There is so much busywork and mindless reading, that you end up going to eastern Europe to read about American mishaps out of a book. 3. Condescending Faculty Be aware that there are cultural differences in how college aged students are perceived in the Balkans. Although I understand this is a cultural phenomenon, it's reflected by the teachers who should know better. You will not be treated like a responsible adult. "Spoon-feeding" and "helicoptering" are terms that come to mind. Overall, I recommend the region but not the program. I've tried to be fair in my analysis, but it is safe to say that about half of the students held similar views to mine. I only hope that this review will help inform prospective students considering this program.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? None

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

It was a great place. I became so interested in the culture and history. Disappointingly, the program more frequently served to stifle rather than foster this interest.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Most of the administration was problematic. Special exceptions given to a couple of staff members who were total rock stars. (I will not name them as the rest of this review isn't exactly "glowing." They know who they are.)

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The home stay was fine. No difficulties, but by nature it spreads the students out geographically, which makes it hard to coordinate with the rest of the students to go anywhere.

* Food:

There was SO MUCH food. Need I say more?

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Well integrated when integration occurred, but like I said it was difficult to find free time to do it.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

No problems for most people that do not fit minority groups. However, certain specific minorities may face quite severe and experience ruining discrimination, especially Asian-Americans and members of the LGBT+ community.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No

Would not recommend to a friend. Maybe would recommend to an enemy.


* 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)

Very affordable.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? <$100
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? No, but a word about how SIT handled money: they refused to return housing expenses after the program was cut short, saying it was already spent. But according to my host family, they never received their full payment either, and the program made us remove the money held in our bank accounts for the independent living months before they would send us back. They also tried to force everyone to sign a document that gave them total exemption from being sued in the chaos of the evacuation.


* 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

You could use the language if you wanted, but the course didn't really teach very much.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Just predeparture studying
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? Don't be afraid to say things wrong. It's how you learn.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Region
  • People
  • Prishtina
* What could be improved?
  • Expanded Topicality
  • Less Busywork
  • More Independence
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Always ask for additional program details before studying abroad, and beware the programs that refuse to provide this information.