If you’re afraid to study abroad in a certain country because of a language barrier, read this student’s story. Some things shouldn’t stop your plans…
For the past few months, my impending study abroad experience was a favored topic of discussion. When someone says they’re going abroad for a semester, you wonder where. Popular destinations such as Spain, Italy, and Australia most likely come to mind. Not this time. Not for me. Not even close—I went to Serbia.
The look on people’s faces when I told them where I’m studying abroad isn’t easy to describe. Friends and family looked at me like I had two heads. Some common responses included: “What? Serbia? Is that near Russia? Isn’t it freezing? Is it safe?” I quickly provided a history and geography lesson. And I reassured them that I would indeed be safe during my stay in the capital city of Belgrade.
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This was always followed by, “What language do they speak? Can you speak the language?” In Serbia they speak…well, Serbian. No, I cannot speak Serbian. Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned (and have been told numerous times) that it is one of the most difficult languages to learn. Neither I nor any of the students I came here with speak Serbian. But this barrier didn’t discourage me. In fact, it almost made the trip more alluring. I wanted a unique study abroad experience in a capital city rich with history. Where better to be than Belgrade?
Language barriers often serve as a deterrent for study abroad. It prevents many people from traveling to places where they otherwise would love to visit. That’s no reason not to travel somewhere! At first, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the people in Serbia. Though I’ve only been here for a few weeks, it’s already clear this isn’t the case. Many locals speak English, which is incredibly helpful. Moving away from that, it still isn’t difficult to thrive in a city in which you don’t speak the language. Even if you don’t speak the county’s official language, body language can often get the point across. Locals want you to enjoy their city and would love for you to speak highly of it. Because of this, they’re always willing to help out.
Though it’s impossible to pick up a new language in a few days, it’s helpful to learn some common phrases before heading out on a new adventure. Learning to say “hello” is crucial. When you walk into a restaurant or store or are meeting someone new, you don’t want to be perceived as rude. Of course, learning how to say “thank you” is also necessary. In addition, it’s important to be able to ask for the check at a restaurant. Knowing how to ask where the restroom will more than likely come in handy too. Finally, being able to ask how long something is or how far away it is will prove to be important. Of course, there are plenty of other phrases that will be helpful; these are just the most basic.
Belgrade is a city that will always have a place in my heart. So far, the people here have been superb, the food has been delectable, and I know that my experience here will be one I never forget.
Pictures from a day in Belgrade by Georgia Krendel
I hope that a language barrier won’t stop you from traveling to a unique city or country. I know it can be intimidating at first (trust me), but once that initial fear dissipates, you’ll be more than grateful that you chose to travel to a new place.
Learn more about studying abroad in our Student Life section.