I have now been in Montenegro for one week. So, it seems like I should do some reflection. It seems crazy that, just one week ago, I was having brunch at my parents’ house, cuddling with my dog, and having a Simon & Garfunkel dance party in the kitchen with my sisters (Hopefully, some of you caught the reference in the title of this post).
I’ll be honest, I don’t feel quite ready to put my thoughts into words. I’m still processing. But I will give it a try.
I’m feeling exhausted. Excited. Welcomed. Anxious. Homesick. Curious. Eager. And grateful.
Jetlag is a funny thing and I feel like mine has not completely subsided yet. I flew out of Detroit last Monday evening and arrived in Podgorica on Tuesday afternoon. I arrived at my hotel around 3pm and, despite being determined to stay awake, I promptly passed out in bed until about 8:30pm. Ever since, my sleep has been something of a rollercoaster. Those who know me well, know that erratic sleep patterns aren’t entirely new to me, but I am hopeful I will get on track this week. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately?), I learned on my first night that Podgorica caters to my night owl tendencies- cafes are packed well into the evening. You can find people of all ages are out on the town virtually any night of the week. It is awesome.
My exhaustion is compounded by a schedule packed with activity- I have been on the go since I arrived. Meeting new colleagues and friends, taking day trips to other areas of Montenegro (Budva, Nikšić), and trying to adapt to a new way of life. Many people in Podgorica speak English, but things that are simple back home- like going to the market- can become a huge challenge when there are communication barriers. It is empowering when you overcome these daily challenges, but it can also get frustrating when you expect something to be easier than it is.
Excited and Welcomed
Moving to a new country is EXCITING. There is so much newness to experience with every sense. Podgorica is surrounded by beautiful mountains (which I am eager to explore) and buzzing with activity. I am able to walk virtually everywhere and there seem to be endless amounts of cafes and restaurants to explore. Food has also been a major component of my cultural exploration and I have been extremely satisfied with the meals I have enjoyed here. I am looking forward to many more adventures while I am in Montengro- scenic, culinary, and otherwise.
The most exciting part of Montenegro for me so far has been the people! Montenegrins are extremely warm and friendly. I am in awe of how helpful and kind everyone has been. From helping me navigate the city, to taking me out for coffee and conversation, to setting me up with an apartment- folks have truly gone out of their way to help me acclimate to my new surroundings. I cannot articulate how much I have appreciated this.
Anxious and Homesick
Home is the ultimate comfort. And sometimes we all need a bit of comfort. I was so wrapped up in the excitement of everything for the first few days I was here that I didn’t have a chance to really feel the discomfort of having a totally new home. Then, on Sunday, when I finally had some downtime, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I miss my family. And my friends. And my dog. And my gym/bed/grocery store/hugs/bar/café/office/cuddles/life. Did I really sign up to be away from everything I know and love for nine months?
I also feel a lot of anxiety around daily life. I am concerned I will do or say something and unintentionally anger or offend someone. I also struggle with my language skills- or lack thereof. Montenegrin is new to me and I find it difficult to even say “hello” correctly. No, seriously- no matter how many times I hear it, I know that “zdravo” doesn’t come out of my mouth quite right. It’s embarrassing. I’m working on it, but it is yet another reason I appreciate the kindness Montenegrins have shown me- and their great English skills!
Curious and Eager
I have not yet started work, but I am so curious to find out more about what I will really be doing, what my students will be like, and how institutions of higher education here differ from those in the U.S. I am also eager to get started and begin feeling like I am making a contribution! The slower, Mediterranean way of life is a huge adjustment as I am used to being busy- especially during the beginning of the school year. I am trying to sit back (with a Turkish Coffee) and enjoy it.
The most salient emotion I have been feeling throughout my time here is gratitude. There are many layers to this gratitude and I am not prepared to dig into them right now. It is an enormous privilege to be here and, the fact is, a number of privileges in my life have allowed me to get to this point and this place. I am doing my best to acknowledge this privilege and make the most of the opportunity I have been given.