When I decided to study abroad, I knew and at same time didn’t know what was awaiting. I mean, I moved to the United States from Russia already; what may I not know about cultural adaptation and living in a new environment? As it turns out, I never fully paid attention to how much my values and living habits have changed in this year and a half spent in Philadelphia. Now that I am in Zagreb, this shift has happened once again – to help me realize how the place and the society we live in shapes and restructures us, to match itself. We might assume we foster the change, as if we are in power to choose – to adapt or not to adapt. But in reality, a change in the mindset is inevitable.
It starts with little things – like eating habits, for me at least – how can we not talk about food now?!
- I go grocery shopping nearly 3 times a week (not only because our European fridge is tiny, I swear) – but also because that’s how a lot of people do it here. Stocking up on foods for weeks is not a common practice in Croatia, and all over the continent here. I go to markets for fresh fruits and vegetables, and honey, and meat – because there is just so many of them all around. I have also started to cook at home a lot more. For Croats (for Russians as well, and for many Europeans!) time spent cooking is never wasted. To help my reader understand how important it is – during my Croatian language class, we were learning the names of different eating places (cafe, restaurant, bistro etc.), and she said – I am going to quote her here – “Well what is the first thing that comes to mind? Kod kuće (Croatian – at home) of course!” It is difficult to find takeout food, so I have also developed a habit of taking a prepared lunch with me. Food trucks don’t exist, and looking for a bite may take hours, if you are not in the touristy area.
- I learned to enjoy walking again, walking to everywhere, just like I did some years ago in Saint Petersburg. Back in the States, it felt a bit weird to do that – because it is inconvenient to get to some parts of Philly if you’re on your own two feet, instead of your own four wheels. In Zagreb, the streets are created ideally for both cars and pedestrians to get through. Some even don’t allow car entry at all – especially in the city center. So if you want to go to a little bookstore down on Gajeva street, for example (the main pedestrian area) – forget about even trying to drive and park there. Some of my European exchange friends even walk to school every day – even if it takes them 30-40 minutes.
- The amount of poems, novels I read greatly outweighs my business readings – and my visits to museums have outnumbered the business conferences and talks I’ve visited. I have mentioned already that Croats take time out to simply enjoy life, to do the things they truly like doing – even if it requires trading in some work time. I have always loved reading, but never had time to read and truly appreciate Tolstoy, V. Hugo, Nabokov, and other wonderful writers since I have started college. I have always felt myself under pressure, hearing this little voice in my head, “Read about economics, read about marketing and don’t forget the daily newspapers, or you’re not getting a job after!” Maybe it is European cultural charm that’s affecting me, the concentration of wisdom, history and culture that hides in every other building, statue, and rock in the pavement is indescribable.
- I have learned to live in the moment. Of course thinking about the future (at least a week ahead) is still important for me, as I like to keep my schedule organized. But instead of sticking to a very tight one and writing out my plans for every minute of a day, I now choose to leave out some “breathing” space. For a spontaneous visit to the movies, a weekend trip somewhere, or a simple walk around a park. As someone very dear to my heart told me once,“Life is what happens to you, while you’re planning.” The best things always come when you least expect them, and being available and open for them is the key.
- I don’t stress anymore, and I’ve never been on a deeper level of harmony with myself, and the world. This is something I’ve acquired not due to living in Croatia, a country of people who simply don’t worry. It is probably because I have changed my surroundings this many times – people who have studied abroad twice will understand. After a certain point, a sequence of difficulties you have been put through, smaller problems stop eating up your nerves as much. I know that if I didn’t get a job, or an opportunity to travel somewhere I really wanted to, a better opportunity is waiting for me right around the corner. This overall state, this understanding that the life doesn’t end after one failure, has helped a lot throughout my semester in Croatia; when you’re new to a place, things don’t usually go just like you want them to – and accepting it is the best, the healthiest way.