Editor’s note: Jess Collins ’14 currently is serving as a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Niš, Serbia. She wrote this article for us about a recent experience with Clemson students studying abroad in Serbia.
January of 2016 marked the first semester-long Clemson study abroad trip to Belgrade, Serbia. Seven students from Clemson spent three and a half months studying at the University of Belgrade. As an alumna of the summer 2012 Balkan study abroad program and a current Fulbright ETA in Niš, Serbia (about three hours south of Belgrade), I was thrilled for the opportunity to initiate an academic exchange between my alma mater and students at the University of Niš. A grant from the U.S. Embassy in Serbia funded the exchange.
The first meeting between the students took place in Belgrade, and the task was for each Serbian student to write on the American perspective and vice versa, with the papers to be presented a few weeks later in Niš. The students were eager to meet, and together they chose topics of LGBT rights, women’s rights, sex education, millennial mentality, cultural-specific traditions, religion and nationalism/racism.
Serbian student Petar Milenkovic´ enjoyed both the interchange of ideas and the experience of sharing his own culture: “I found out how different problems that are existent in Serbia, in a greater degree, are tackled in America,” he said. “I also had the joy of being a teacher. I believe I brought my American partner some insight into our society and its problems, and that I gave her something to think about during her stay here.”
A few weeks later the Clemson students went to visit the Niš students. We were joined by U.S. Embassy staff and professors from the faculty. Students gave their presentations, which were followed by lively discussions on the presented topics. The Clemson students then had the opportunity to share coffee and kafana, a traditional Serbian dinner, with the Niš students, deepening their relationships through discussions about the two cultures.
“It was an amazing experience getting to meet such a smart group of like-minded individuals and building friendships that I am confident will last long into the future,” said Clemson student Ryan Bartley. “We were able to use each other as sounding boards to create a mutual understanding of each other’s perspectives and paradigms.”
Serbian student Milan Krstic´ offered a similar response: “The experience with the Clemson students was refreshing, both intellectually and when spending some free time we had together. The students were very keen to participate in the project and strove to learn about Serbian culture, and even the language. I’ve enjoyed hearing their comments about the politics in Serbia, given the fact they are ‘outside observers’ and political science majors.”
“For the students, both ours and Serbian, it was a great experience to try to understand each other’s culture,” said Vladimir Matic, one of the Clemson professors in charge of the program. “It is something that helped them open up their minds, and it will influence the rest of their lives. Our students came back enriched. Study Abroad exposes students to new experiences and different cultures. They understand better the world, but maybe more importantly themselves and what they want to do in their lives.”
Clemson’s political science department has an ongoing study abroad program in Serbia and the Balkans.
For more information, contact Jeff Peake at firstname.lastname@example.org.