“But you’re already studying abroad, aren’t you?! And why Croatia?” – exclaimed each and every one of my friends, as I was getting the course approvals ready for Zagreb. Just a short note on my bio here: I was born and raised in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where all of my family resides up to the present day. Last year was the first for me to actually live in the United States – I’m a happy sophomore now. Adjustment has been difficult, both emotionally and physically (imagine not being with family around Thanksgiving time, or carrying all those boxes on your own on the move-in day… exactly). However, I have no words to explain how lucky I am to have an opportunity to live and study here; the opportunity that all of my former classmates didn’t have.
I was introduced to Croatia two years ago, and immediately felt this thrust and urge to know more. Being a person very curious about the world and its people in general, the thought of a whole new country completely alien and undiscovered to me was uncomforting. I picked up a few words of Croatian here and there, while researching on the country’s present and past. And this is where it all began.
Back to the initial question: Yes, I am technically abroad now. As much as I admire the U.S., it didn’t hold me back from falling in love with yet another culture, so ethnically close to my native. Croatia is a small, not very well-known country especially among non-Europeans, yet very culturally enhanced, with the most beautiful coast I’ve ever known. It is located in Eastern Europe, right across the Adriatic sea from Italy, in an area called the Balkans. Croatian nationals are descendants of the ancient Slavic tribes, that moved from central Europe to southeastern as far back as in the 6th century; we, Russians, share Slavic ancestors with Croats, however our tribes decided to resettle in the far north. As a result of the many centuries worth of separation, once the same nation grew into two different ones. Still, our languages and traditions resemble each other to an incredible extent; I shudder a bit and smile every time a new similarity between the two opens before my eyes. We both take our shoes upon entering a house, say “da” (”yes”) when we agree on something, and have grandmas who can’t help but grow veggies in their very own gardens. As I keep on learning more about our mutual past, I feel as if reuniting with a long lost family that has always been around, only I was too blind to notice. Those who’ve ever researched their antecedents would understand.
If I only could put down in words the myriad of feelings that overwhelm me at this moment. The moment when everything is signed, approved, stamped and sent, and the next step is waiting. Waiting until the greatest adventure, which I have been awaiting for about a year, begins. “Are people going to understand me when I try to speak? What do they think of Russians and the similarity between us? How do young people prefer to spend their spare time? Please, I so hope they would like me.” These and many other questions and thoughts roll over in my head as I write this blog post in my secret magical spot – our house’s attic in the nearest suburb of Petersburg. I am nervous and excited, trembling like a little child before his first day of school. I know it’s going to be okay, but for some reason there is still a bit of nervousness that just has to be present before any important life event. Breathing in and out. It’s going to be okay. Besides, I am starting far later than the Temple students this semester – my program beginning date is scheduled on February 2nd, which gives me more days to spend with family and dear friends in Russia, before heading out on a new adventure. An entire semester of learning, understanding and readjusting again – I have hardly settled down in Philadelphia, and it’s already time to start anew. But what could be more thrilling than that? See you soon, beautiful Zagreb. Vidimo se uskoro, lijepi.