When I think about my Serbian experience, the first word that pops into my mind is: unexpected. Unexpected in the best way. I have done so many things here that I never would have imagined that I would do. I did not expect to have a bad experience here, but I also did not expect to have as cool of an experience as I’ve had.
When I found out a team from Serbia was interested in me, I didn’t know how to react because I didn’t know a single thing about Serbia! I couldn’t even tell you where its general location is on a map. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. It was such a sudden decision to play here that I didn’t have much time to research Serbia or even have time to process what was happening. Despite my lack of knowledge of Serbia, I was on a plane two weeks later to start my adventure. And holy smokes am I happy I decided to come to Serbia because it has totally surprised me.
Like my experience in Spain, my time in Serbia has been so much more than just playing fútbol. I have created incredible friends, experienced a very different culture and language, and have really built a second life out here.
In this blog post, I will be sharing some of my favorite memories and activities I’ve done in the past 4 months in Serbia! It has been an absolute blast and I can’t wait to share more that comes along the way.
Niš is the city in Serbia that has quickly become my home. It is the third-largest city in Serbia but it is still quite small. This is perfect because everything is walking/bike riding distance away. Even though Niš is a city, there is still a lot of nature in the city and surrounding it. There is a river called the Nišava that runs through the city which is very beautiful to walk by during the summer months. There’s also a ton of trees and big parks that add a pop of green against the tan and brick apartment buildings. On the outskirts of Niš, there are pretty blue mountains that make for a great city background and old villages with lots of farmland and vineyards. Niš has the perfect ratio of city and nature.
My life here is so simple and peaceful. My days include going on long walks and bike rides along the Nišava river and Niš Fortress, meeting up with friends for coffee, writing and reading at different cozy cafes, exploring the outdoor markets to buy fresh produce, doing photoshoots, watching fútbol games on tv, and of course… playing a lot of fútbol!
This is my first time living in a place that does not have an ocean or sea near. I was worried I was going to be depressed living here because I love the beach so much. I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself when I had free time if I couldn’t go to the beach. Thankfully this has not been the case! I have started appreciating different things, finding new hobbies, and learning that I can make my own happiness wherever I go. I don’t need specific settings or activities to ensure my well-being. Although I do miss the ocean, I can absolutely say that I am very content living in Niš.
Serbians are the friendliest and most welcoming people I have ever met. They are full of life and passionate. They love to sing, dance, talk, and celebrate any and every occasion. They love to share their culture and traditions with people who are not from their country. They are also impeccable hosts and know how to make visitors feel taken care of.
One of the unexpected things to happen was making so many friends outside of my fútbol team. Typically when you are on a team, especially when you’re so far away from home, your teammates are your only friends. This definitely has not been the case in Serbia. I am so grateful that I have a good relationship with my teammates, but have also branched out and made so many friendships outside of my team.
I can’t even trace back to exactly how I have met all these people whom I have become close with. But typically this is how it works: I meet someone for the first time–> very soon after I am getting coffee with them–> the friendship blossoms–> I’m introduced to their friends–> then the same cycle continues!
I have always been good at getting along with everyone, but I wouldn’t describe myself as someone who is extremely outgoing or extroverted to be able to make new friends immediately. However, making friends in Serbia has been so easy because the people here are so damn nice. Being in Serbia and meeting all these new people has really changed my mindset and has made me become more outgoing and comfortable engaging with new people.
Forming these friendships has been so important to me since Leslie, Kim, and Jazz (the other Americans on the team) did not return to Serbia after Christmas break. I am now the only American and live alone which has made this experience so much different. I miss having them here, but my Serbian friends have kept me from being homesick and lonely. I have had such a fun time with my new friends going out for coffee, drinks, and dancing at our favorite club called “Feedback”. It’s really been them that have made this experience so incredible.
I’m the type of person that doesn’t care too much about their birthday. I never plan anything big for myself and don’t particularly like being the center of attention. I just like to hang around good company and eat delicious food.
Despite my lackluster enthusiasm for birthdays, my birthdays spent abroad have been absolutely over the top. I had an epic birthday in Spain and I thought nothing could ever come close to that. However, my Serbian birthday definitely reached the Spain level of awesomeness.
My birthday festivities started after we got home from practice on a Wednesday night. Leslie, Kim, Anja, and Jazz took me out to eat at this amazing restaurant called Cafe Bravado. We ate so much food and drank good wine. I was perfectly content with ending my birthday celebrations there, but they had way more in store for me. After the restaurant, we walked back to our apartment and I opened the door to a massive surprise party. My teammates, non-fútbol friends, and a group of friends that I had only met briefly the weekend before all surprised me (about 25 people!). Some of the people who I had only met the weekend before, I couldn’t even remember their names, and yet they were there at my birthday party (now they are some of my closest friends here)! I was so freaking surprised. We played music, danced, drank, and sang the rest of the night. It was a night I will not forget; I felt so incredibly loved. It was definitely an unexpectedly-amazing memory in Serbia.
Next up on the list of unexpected things: Jazz, Kim, Leslie, and I became cat moms for about 2 months! This little journey began one day when I was rushing out of the house because our ride for practice was outside when I almost stepped on this tiny gray creature. I screamed because I thought it was a rat, but with a closer look, I realized that it was a baby stray kitten. Because Leslie and I were already late, we quickly decided to leave an old shoebox with a pair of gross shorts in it outside our apartment for the kitten to shelter in. We felt bad for the poor thing since it was freezing cold outside! 4 hours later when we returned after training, the kitten was in our makeshift box. After about an hour of back and forth thinking, we decided to keep the kitten because we just didn’t have the heart to leave it in the cold to die. We knew we were leaving for the U.S. in 2 months but decided we would cross that bridge when we got there. So we gave it a bath, named it Benji, watched a couple youtube videos on how the hell to take care of a kitten, bought it food and a kitty litter, and took it to the vet the next day.
We loved having Benji as a kitten. He was such a love bug and the perfect companion to snuggle with while watching tv. As Benji grew a little older, he started becoming a little problem with a mind of his own. There was no training him, he ran the house. So we decided that because we were leaving for the U.S. and our lack of ability to discipline him, it was best if we gave him up for adoption. We found a couple through Instagram that wanted him and so we said our last goodbyes to him right before we left for the holidays. It was a fun run with him but I don’t think I’ll be a kitten mom anytime soon.
Becoming a “Model”
Probably the most unexpected thing to happen while being in Serbia is becoming a stock model for Getty Images. It started because my friend Dek who is a stock model invited me to do a shoot with him. I was so thrown off by this offer because I am someone who has never loved being in front of the camera. I take selfies as a joke and have always made fun of the “influencer” type. So this was totally out of my comfort zone. However, I decided to take him up on his offer because f**k it why not?! I am so happy I did because now I am doing shoots at least twice a week which has been a great source of extra side cash and has actually been really fun. Each shoot is a different theme but they all encompass “a day in the life”. When Leslie was here, we had so much fun modeling with each other. We did a shoot where we pretended to be a couple moving into a home together and another where we made and ate blueberry pancakes. I have also become friends with the photographers Stefan and Slava, so most of the shoots also involve us joking around and them laughing at me as they try to talk to me in Serbian. Let me tell ya, this is the most fun and easiest side hustle I’ve ever had.
Every year in August, Niš hosts a festival in the Niš Fortress called the Jazz Festival. The festival is three days long and is relatively big. People come from all over come to see Jazz musicians and musicians of different backgrounds perform. Leslie, Kim, Jazz, and I went to the festival with our Serbian friends Anja, Kika, and Irene. It was one of my favorite memories ever. We saw Goran Bregović perform and it was incredible. We danced crazily the entire night, jumping up on our seats and screaming the lyrics to his famous song “Bella Ciao”. The energy there was contagious and the vibe around the whole city is something different during the Jazz Festival. Everyone who lives in Niš says this is their favorite time of the year. Going to the Jazz festival was the perfect start to my Serbian adventure and something I won’t forget.
One weekend Leslie, Jazz, Kim, and I took the bus to Belgrade where we stayed at the 360 Hostel, located in the heart of the city. Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia where you’re engulfed in the big European city feel. We had so much fun there, visiting the Belgrade fortress and Kalemegdan park, tanning at the Ada Caganlija river island, shopping around Skadarska street, eating incredible food, visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art, and riding bikes along the Sava riverfront. Leslie and I also made friends with other travelers living in the hostel, so we went to a party with them on Saturday night. It was such a fun weekend exploring and meeting new people. It definitely made me crave adventure and the desire to explore Serbia more.
I went on my first solo trip to Novi Sad which is the second-largest city. Novi Sad is incredibly beautiful with pastel buildings, tall point churches, monuments, and impressive graffiti wall drawings. I toured the Petrovaradin fortress and had lunch there with a breathtaking view of the river and city; visited a tapestry museum called Atelje 61 where women hand make these amazing tapestries by hand; walked to all the monuments, churches, and monasteries; and spent some quality time with myself lol. It was such a different experience traveling alone. I definitely wish someone was there with me, but I am happy I went anyway. It was a great learning experience and I know how to better prepare for future solo trips.
After I returned from the United States, I went snowboarding at Kapoanik mountain in Serbia. It’s the biggest ski resort in Serbia (about 2 hours away from Niš) and the mountain was huge! I went with my coach, her friend, and her niece. I have become good friends with my coach’s niece, Anja, and she has been incredible with introducing me to new people and taking me to do fun activities. We stayed 2 nights in an apartment right on the mountain and snowboarded/skied one day. It was a blast and I’m so happy I was able to check out the Serbian slopes!
My team traveled to Strumica, Macedonia to play in a friendly game against a team called Tiverija. Strumica is a pretty city with wide streets and lush green mountains hugging the city background. It was a short trip as we spent 1 night and a day and a half there. Before our game, we were able to walk around the city, see the monuments in the city square, and take pictures. Although Strumica was very similar to Serbia, it was still nice to check out the new city and stretch our legs. Overall it was a really good trip and we ended up tying Tiverija 1 to 1.
The first half of my Serbian adventure has been so much fun. I hope the next 5 months bring more unexpected surprises, new experiences, traveling, and personal growth. Can’t wait to update y’all about my future endeavors. Until next time… Ciao!