This experience has been an incredible exploration of myself, cross-cultural communication, history, and global connection. I did not come into the trip with many expectations about what was to come, but I can honestly say that the last thing I figured I would encounter was such a deep and profound friendship like the one I developed with my host, Angela. My time with Angela and the other Serbian hosts and students absolutely shaped this experience into a few weeks filled with laughter, love, and friendship.

Within our first few hours together, Angela and I knew we were a match made in heaven. We spent our first night in Niš talking about everything under the sun. We found an abundance of commonalities and laughed until we cried multiple times throughout the week. Angela and I spent our days together from sunrise until well past sunset and never tired of one another, engaging in both serious and silly conversations that allowed us to truly get to know one another. I feel like I have known her for years, and after only one week, my heart aches to be leaving her. This strange mix of pain and joy and love embodies the crux of this trip and its purpose: relationships that nourish the soul, facilitate growth, and encourage the embrace of those who might seem different than us.

It is in this relationship that I see the most growth throughout this process. I learned so much about the true power of cross-cultural exchange, mutual understanding, and shared language. The fulfillment I found in fostering these connections only further fuels my fire for international relations and interpersonal communication, and I feel more convicted than ever about my pursuit of global cooperation and collaboration for equity. I learned more than I ever expected about Serbian culture and history, and was truly surprised by the region’s tumultuous past and interesting present. Glossed over by the majority of American history books, hearing from a variety of sources about the history of the Balkan region was profoundly insightful and unexpected. The immersion allowed for a heightened appreciation of this beautiful part of Europe and its resilient people.