It has taken a little while to get used to the fact that I am home now. This experience abroad has been better than I could have ever imagined and I’m still in awe of how incredible it was.
This post has taken a few days to write. I don’t quite know where to start or how to accurately describe everything that we did, all the amazing places we visited, and all the wonderful people we met.
Before we left for Serbia our professor told us that even though he could show us pictures and tell us all about what we would be doing, we wouldn’t fully grasp it until we were there. When we were leaving he said that we wouldn’t be able to fully explain all that we did – we could talk about it all we wanted, but no one could fully grasp all that we saw and did. It was unique to us and our group and that was something special that we would have between us.
I think everyone in my life was so surprised to hear how sad I was to leave. Everyone we had met in Serbia; staff, users, students, friends, were all so friendly and welcoming from the start. At work we connected with the users but also got to get to know the teachers in the room and about how they came to work in these facilities and their history. At the dorms we made friends from day 1 that we hung out with until our taxi came to get us for the airport.
We worked at 3 different facilities while we were in Serbia and all of them were incredible. It was nice to be able to talk to the staff about how they do things and support their users. It was also just interesting to see the differences between facilities and programs in the US versus Serbia. Originally, I had thought that these facilities would be lacking in resources and supports but learned that they are actually very good and some of them are doing some things better than we do in America (in my opinion).
I definitely learned a lot while working in these facilities and hope to take these things with me as a future Recreational Therapist. One thing I noticed was how the staff in these facilities improvised. Not all these facilities can afford new technology or brand new items for their rooms. It was interesting to see how they would take what they had/could get their hands on and create something new that was beneficial to their users. I also learned how to not be so shy! I have noticed in past volunteering experiences that I am quite shy and quiet when first spending time with a group I have never met before – usually just nervous that I might not understand a client/user. After this experience however, I feel much more comfortable. With a language barrier, I had to learn how to communicate in different ways since I had only learned a few words and phrases in Serbian. It has definitely helped me come out of my shell.
One thing that I think made this experience so wonderful were the people we met while we stayed in the dorms. I don’t think we would have had the same feelings about this experience if we were staying somewhere else. Everyone in the dorms made us feel so welcomed and we spent most (almost all) of our free time with them. I made some really close friends that I have been talking to since we left.
My time in Serbia was not quite what I was expecting, but it was better than I could have ever imagined. I think this experience has definitely opened me up as a person and encouraged me to be more outgoing. I also think this experience helped me see a whole different side to working with individuals with disabilities and I will definitely be taking this experience along with me as I prepare to go into the field. I had the most amazing time and will absolutely be going back!