365 days in Belgrade – my expat experience

My family and me have been in Belgrade for one whole year now. I thought this would be a nice opportunity to sum up our experience of living abroad and give an insight about our life in Belgrade.

Even before landing in Belgrade, my wife and I were aware that our decision to move would be a big adventure. But… If we’d known all the details before we relocated, I’m not sure how our decision would have turned out.

But we’re still in Belgrade and we love it. :)

Our family came to Belgrade on July, 5 2017. With nothing in our apartment (we had to wait three weeks for our stuff to arrive) and being too hot to do anything outside the apartment it wasn’t easy to organise our first days. FYI before you question my “too hot” impression: July is officially the hottest month in Belgrade and average temperature in July 2017 was 29,5 degrees. We had at least three weeks with temperatures constantly over 40 degrees without any rain. Pretty unusual for a family from Switzerland.

A warm welcome

In addition to some kind of heatstroke for my family, I also survived the professional shock in the office. Before I even started in Belgrade, I got the information that one of my most important future associates wouldn’t be available for work because of her maternity leave. Great news for her, but rather a surprise for me.

I can’t imagine how I would do without my supportive colleagues in our Belgrade office. They really made me feel welcome from the first day and I am more than happy to have such a great team.

However, despite the fact I had support, my start in Belgrade was still hard. I tried to adapt as fast as possible, but it was very challenging. The combination of the new job, new country, new responsibilities and new city completely overwhelmed me. After only six months I just needed a break. Therefore, my family and I went to Switzerland to celebrate our Xmas and to skiing vacation in Austria.

To shorten: the second part of my personal first year was better. I guess, I’ve adapted to the circumstances and learned a lot.

Family life challenges

As you can read in an Harvard Business Review article, “the most cited reason for giving up a foreign posting is “family concerns”, including adjustment difficulties, partner career issues, children’s education challenges, quality of life, and lack of practical support.”

After one year in Belgrade, we can completely understand this conclusion. We experienced several of these reasons. Compared to my situation, this Serbian adventure has been even more difficult for my family. Everyone is going through their own challenges.

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I guess it’s the easiest for the younger of my two girls (she turned two in June 2018). After all, baby language is the same all around the world. She truly likes the emotional manner how the teachers treat the kids. The older one (she will turn five in August) needed time to adapt and still needs more time. She couldn’t realize what happened and why nobody understood her anymore, which is quite a hard lesson to learn. She’s a very open minded girl but still has a lot to catch up regarding the languages. She’s not only learning Serbian. Since she is part of an international Kindergarten, she learns English and Serbian at the same time. She’s doing great, but it’s still a confusing situation for her.

This whole experience isn’t easy to my wife either. She quit a good job in Switzerland to make my work in Belgrade possible. Suddenly, she was in the new city, surrounded by unfamiliar faces and new responsibilities. She doesn’t have a work permit and can’t work here in Serbia which is quite difficult for her. Nevertheless, she found a way to fill her days in a meaningful way and started with her own creative business. And she is our family anchor here in Belgrade.

However, my wife and I truly hope this will be a great experience for us as a family. We want our kids to understand the life outside of the bubble called Switzerland and to learn that excluding anyone based on their origin or language should never be an option.

Also, we’re enjoying the big city life although (or because) it’s probably the opposite of our life before relocation. We lived in the most beautiful Swiss city St. Gallen. Our home city is small, always clean, calm and peaceful. Now we’re in this loud, busy, exciting and fast-developing city of Belgrade.

Now, we feel at home in Belgrade. But we’re wondering if we can ever be integrated. My wife and I started our Serbian classes, but except for some “Ćao” and “Šta radiš” we don’t speak Serbian at the moment. Trust me, it’s a strange feeling when you’re without any knowledge of the national language. Luckily for us the level of English in Belgrade is very high, and we’ve never had a situation in which we couldn’t communicate to our opposite.

Belgrade for beginners

If you are from Switzerland or probably any other Western part of Europe, you know there are many prejudices about the Eastern part of Europe and about the Balkan. Quite soon after arriving in Belgrade, my family and me realized that most of them aren’t true. Belgrade is an international metropolitan area. Yes, it looks different than Hamburg, Barcelona or Rome, but in general, life isn’t unalike. It’s a huge European city.

You can find interesting sports everywhere. Or you can enjoy many cool restaurants, bars and coffee shops – a very important part of life here in Belgrade. However, the best piece of the city are its people.

Wherever we went, we met very hospitable, nice and interesting people. The population is young, and you can feel their vibes in the city – it is vivid and constantly changing. We also met a very family friendly population which is important for our family and I must say we’ve never experienced it in Switzerland in such a manner.

And sure, there are many differences between Switzerland and Serbia or Belgrade and St. Gallen. We experienced several funny situations which show some differences: From collapsing cabs (on the highway and the try of the driver to repair the cab with a hammer), contract negotiations meetings which were mainly in Serbian (without any Serbian skills) to the most important thing in the office: a stamp to stamp everything, most of the times twice. Maybe Belgrade isn’t the most beautiful city in the world, but it surely has its very own charm.

I learned from my own experience: it would be great for everyone from Switzerland to live here in Belgrade. In my home country, people from the Southern part of Europe are famous for the more relaxed lifestyle. Not everything is that serious as in Switzerland and perfection isn’t that important, but most of times it works – somehow. Maybe a mix of Swiss and Serbian lifestyle would be perfect. Take reliability, punctuality and cleanliness from Switzerland and joy of life, family-friendliness and hospitality from Serbia. And for a lot of Swiss people it would be a good experience to get to know the feeling what it means to be a foreigner. I’m sure our discussion about immigration and integration would be different. Things like the restriction of the immigration („Masseneinwanderungsinitiative“) wouldn’t happen.

I truly would like to use this blog post to say thank you. First of all, my thanks belong to my family. Without the support of Elena, Malea and Noa, I couldn’t live and work here in Belgrade. It would be much easier for all of us in our home turf in Switzerland.

Then, Namics. Thanks to Namics, and especially Mika – my coach – for trusting in me. It’s unusual to get such a job without previous experience. But it shows how Namics works and the values we live. If you would like to read more about our values, Julia wrote a very nice blog post (sorry, in German).

And I’d like to thank all my great colleagues here in our Belgrade office. Thank you for support, hospitality and cooperation.

You can find a lot of pics of our Serbian adventure on my wife’s instagram profile.

I’m looking forward to the next year in Belgrade and I’ll keep you posted,

Jan

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5 Gedanken zu “365 days in Belgrade – my expat experience

  1. Really cool article, and great adventure spirit! I love the pic on the Kalemegdan – what a positive and forward looking perspective on the world!

  2. Pingback: Hvala lepo, Belgrade! – about:Namics

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