Being Stared At is an Issue for Expat Women in the Balkans (Story Series Continued)

August 3, 2020 5:15 PM

Kathrin, one of the seven expat women interviewed in this story series, in Sarajevo. Photograph: @kathi.daniela/Instagram

From navigating a culture that preserves traditional gender roles, to being professionally and interpersonally hindered by language barriers, to facing overwhelming scrutiny for having an ‘exotic’ look, seven women originating from across the globe tell the Sarajevo Times what it’s really like being a female foreigner living in the Balkans.

 *All stories are unedited to maintain the interviewee’s authentic voice. Some women have been asked specifically about their experiences as a female foreigner of colour.

Zoe, 24 year-old Medical Student from Zimbabwe in Novi Sad, Serbia

 

 

‘An old lady (my neighbour), came and gave me a hug and a kiss and said you are very welcome here.’

 

  1. What are the best aspects/most meaningful perks about living in Serbia for you, particularly compared to your home country of Zimbabwe?

 

  1. I’m a transfer student from Ukraine. I moved to Serbia because it was genuinely easy to transfer as the medical curriculum is slightly similar. Most meaningful aspect of staying here is the feeling of community and love regardless where you are from.

 

  1. What do you find most challenging about living in Serbia as a female foreigner of colour and why?

 

  1. (Omg! Ouff where do I start!?!) I think the hardest thing is when someone genuinely wants to communicate with you but you fail because of language barrier so the conversation weirdly ends. Also I think if you are not an outgoing person it’s hard to make friends, you really have to step out of your shell and let me be honest sometimes it’s hard. When people stare, sometimes it’s hard because maybe you just had a long day and someone stares your soul out and all you want to do is just go to your house and not be bothered lol.

 

  1. Can you describe your average day in a sentence or two to provide a snapshot of what your everyday normal life is like?

 

  1. I genuinely just wake up, prepare for school, attend school, and come back. If a friend wants to go for coffee then we go, but I generally stay indoors a lot.

 

  1. Can you share a specific instance where you thought to yourself: ‘I am so happy I am living here’, or perhaps, a time where you thought: ‘I wish I wasn’t living here’?

 

  1. I have had many moments where I just told myself I really loved this place.The one that stands out the most was when an old lady, my neighbour came and gave me a hug and a kiss and said you are very welcome here.

 

Precious, 28 year-old Housewife from Zambia in Dužica, Croatia

 

 

‘So far I am still home sick because what I did easily back home is so hard to do here.’

 

  1. What are the best aspects/most meaningful perks about living in Croatia for you, particularly compared to your home country of Zambia?

 

  1. Frankly speaking I am still adjusting my move to Croatia, I moved here 8 months ago to join my husband who is Croatian and lives here. So far what I love is the nature and the beauty of Croatia, but the bureaucracy is such a turn off and time consuming.

 

  1. What do you find most challenging about living in Croatia as a female foreigner of colour and why?

 

  1.  As a black woman in Croatia what is most challenging is the language for me, I have learned some basics but not enough for a proper conversation, so this has been a challenge for me, especially when I am looking for a job….it is hard to find a job if you do not speak Croatian yet. For the other side, I get lots of stares, curious people, but no one approaches me, some do come along to say hi. I understand them because even back home white people are a minority and also get a stare, especially in rural areas of the country.

 

  1. Can you describe your average day in a sentence or two to provide a snapshot of what your everyday normal life is like?

 

  1. So far as a housewife, if I am not out for coffee or a drink or at the river, then I am home cooking, eating, working out, cleaning and sleeping. But thanks to social media and expat groups I have met some nice expats and Croatians so far.

 

  1. Can you share a specific instance where you thought to yourself: ‘I am so happy I am living here’, or perhaps, a time where you thought: ‘I wish I wasn’t living here’?

 

  1.  So far I am still home sick because what I did easily back home is so hard to do here, for example with my college qualifications I easily worked good jobs back home, but here because of the language barrier, only cafés want to hire me without knowledge of Croatian language.

 

Kaylee, 27 year-old Project Manager from America in Novi Sad, Serbia

 

‘The only time I have had a negative experience was when a man had screamed at me on the street to go back to my country.’

 

  1. What are the best aspects/most meaningful perks about living in Serbia for you, particularly compared to your home country of America?

 

  1. The best aspect of living in Serbia is definitely the people. I’ve never had so many strangers help me without wanting anything in return. From my landlord negotiating free tetanus shots for me at a hospital or neighbors driving me to the airport, the people have been incredibly kind. Though it took some time to get used to, I love that getting coffee or a meal with someone is an all day affair. Back home grabbing lunch or a coffee is usually an hour tops and isn’t nearly as laid back.

 

  1. What do you find most challenging about living in Serbia as a female foreigner and why?

 

  1. As a foreigner I find the language the hardest part – I’m still mixing up all of the cases (I’ll get there eventually!) However when I first arrived I was not used to the staring. Back home it is considered rude to stare at people so for the first month or so I felt like I was breaking some unknown dress code. Eventually I learned that everyone stares at everyone and isn’t indicative of doing something wrong. As a female specifically I honestly find I feel much safer in Novi Sad than I did in the USA. I know some of my expat counterparts in Belgrade have had a tougher time with dating or being a female but I can’t say I’ve had the same experience.

 

  1. Can you describe your average day in a sentence or two to provide a snapshot of what your everyday normal life is like?

 

  1. Before COVID my daily routine would change a bit from day to day but overall it went like this: go to the gym for a couple hours, after that a few days a week I would teach English classes at a tech company, then I would go to Serbian classes for a couple hours (private and university classes). I would then come home and make lunch and then go to work from 3-11pm (working as a project manager for a Tech company). On weekends I would see friends, go hiking in Fruška Gora and I would have started taking more weekend trips to new cities before Corona hit.

 

  1. Can you share a specific instance where you thought to yourself: ‘I am so happy I am living here’, or perhaps, a time where you thought: ‘I wish I wasn’t living here’?

 

  1. After about a month, when I could communicate a bit more in Serbian and I finally was able to walk everywhere I needed to go without looking at a map, I remember feeling so incredibly happy and grateful that I made the decision to come to Serbia. I didn’t feel like a fish out of water as much as I did in the beginning.—The only time I have had a negative experience was when a man had screamed at me on the street to go back to my country. Unfortunately it was the only time I actually fully understood what someone was saying in Serbian. Rather than dwell on him though, I think of the three Serbian strangers who immediately came to my defense.

 

 

Read part one of the three-part story series here.

 

 

Interviews by Miya Yamanouchi for the Sarajevo Times

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