Friday, June 20, 2014

Internship Blog - Allie Reefer, Post #3

View from my apartment window of the Sava River, Ada Bridge, and Old Belgrade; Belgrade, Serbia

No summer internship blog is complete without a post about the place you’re living in. And given the fact that most people don’t even know where Serbia is, I’m guessing most people also don’t really know a whole lot about Belgrade.

Belgrade, or Beograd, is the capital city of Serbia and an up-and-coming cultural center in Southeast Europe. The history of the city is too extensive to explain in a blog, but the city has been occupied and invaded by several empires and countries. Around the city and in the architecture, you can see Turkish, Central European, Communist/brutalism, and modernism influences.

Belgrade is particularly known for its clubs, bars, and splavs (floating clubs) and has actually been listed as one of the best cities in Europe for nightlife. For the most part, the nightlife is active Monday through Sunday, with many places staying open until dawn. While a lot of people spend their nights dancing in splavs, many people simply sit in cafes drinking with friends late into the night.

Cafes and coffee shops are everywhere here. Sometimes you can order food in these places, but more often than not, they only serve drinks—coffee and alcohol in all varieties and sometimes mixed together. Bakeries are also prevalent here. Sometimes they just serve sweets, and sometimes, they have sandwiches and pizza as well. All throughout the city are ice cream stands and kiosks. Ice cream is a favorite snack here, whether its hand made or packaged. The kiosks have drinks, chips, magazines, newspapers, bus passes, phone SIM cards, cigarettes, and much more. You can find a kiosk or corner store (which sell the same things) on almost every block.

People like to eat pizza, pastries, and ice cream, as well as basically any type of meat. I had some amazing kobasica at a local Serbia restaurant, which is basically homemade kielbasa-esque sausage. I already mentioned the bakeries that line every street—there, you can get lots of pastries made with flaky dough (think croissant over cupcake). And many of them also have palačinke, which are something like crepes. These and many other desserts are served with Nutella or Eurocream, both of which are delicious and full of sugar. People drink a lot of coffee here—at all times of the day. Sometimes I think that my office would shut down without coffee to keep it going. People especially like espresso and Serbian (or Turkish) coffee. And no one ever believes that an American would want to drink their coffee black.

There are a lot of stereotypes about Eastern Europe and alcohol, and while some people do enjoy a beer with their breakfast, it’s really just a way of life here. No one criticizes you for not drinking, but chances are most people around you will have something alcoholic to drink. Rakia is the specialty drink of this region—it’s a really strong brandy made from fruit, usually plums, which is called šljivovica. People drink a lot of beer and wine mostly, although their cocktail menus are usually extensive. Between coffee, alcohol, and water, I sometimes wonder if people here live off of drinks rather than food.

People dress pretty casually here: lots of jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts. In general I think people pretty much just wear what they want, but there are some definite trends, which you can read about in my personal blog ( The malls and shopping streets have a lot of high-end brands, most of which are from Western Europe. There are also “concept stores” here, which sell everything from clothing to furniture to food.

The people of Belgrade are what really make the city. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful they are. My first week was intimidating; I was in a strange city with no friends and no knowledge of the language. But I’ve learned how helpful and friendly people can be, so now it’s not nearly as intimidating to be lost or not know the language or not know people—and plus, I’ve made some friends since that first week!

Belgrade isn’t really a city that people are taking vacations to or going on historical tours through, but it definitely has a culture of its own and great people that make it a really unique and amazing place to be.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Internship Blog - Alyssa Cypher, Post #1

Hello everyone! I’m excited to be blogging for GSPIA Career Services this summer, since it will be a great way to document and share my adventures and experiences. First, I should start off with a little (or a lot) about myself. My name is Alyssa Cypher, and I’m originally from the Pittsburgh area. I graduated with a BS in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh last spring, and now I am pursuing the MPA in Policy Research and Analysis with a certificate in Eastern European Studies. Last year I was on a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship through the US Department of Education to study Advanced Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. Some fun facts about me unrelated to school: I am a yoga instructor. I also love rock climbing and fencing. I have a pit bull named Esra. I am a homeowner in the neighborhood of Lower Lawrenceville. I love growing, cooking, and consuming food. In my spare time, when I’m not working out in some form, I enjoy going to dive bars, dancing in my house alone to music, and binge watching TV series and terrible horror movies on Netflix.

My summer will be three-fourths Pittsburgh, one-fourth Podgorica. For most of the summer I will be interning for Amizade Global Service-Learning at The Global Switchboard (I will tell you more about this exciting project later in this post). Then mid-July I will hop on a plane and travel to Podgorica, Montenegro to study at the University of Montenegro’s Institute of Foreign Languages. There I will take four weeks of intensive advanced Serbian. (Also, I’m super excited that both myself and Allie will be blogging about/from the Balkans this summer!)

Now, what exactly is The Global Switchboard, and what have I been doing there? The Global Switchboard is a co-working space for globally minded organizations that recently opened in May of this year. Amizade Global Service-Learning powers The Global Switchboard, while Global Solutions Pittsburgh acts as the anchor. Besides these two organizations there are currently seven other members - a mix of nonprofits, for-profits, NGOs, and individual consultants. The Global Switchboard acts as a bridge between Pittsburgh and the globe; it also acts as a catalyst for engagement among our members, taking the input of every group and amplifying the collective output, to increase and strengthen what the members can accomplish both locally and globally. (If you’re still confused, there’s more information on our website - or watch our Youtube video - As for my job specifically, my daily projects can range from operations to event planning to research to social media management to advertising to orchid care and landscaping to member programming development and implementation. As we say in the office, everyone wears “many hats,” so it can be hard to describe what we do in a single job title. Overall, I love working here. Being a part of The Global Switchboard, complete with dealing with the growing pains and endless trials of a new nonprofit project, is an amazing learning experience, and I cannot wait to see what we will accomplish this summer. Until next time!
Amizade Global Service-Learning and Global Solutions Pittsburgh (GSP) staff exploring Lawrenceville (L to R - Daniel Giovannelli (GSP), Laura Amster (GSP), myself, and Nathan Darity (Amizade)).
The entrance to the Global Switchboard

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Internship Blog - Allie Reefer, Post #2

What Americans Can Learn from Serbians

While every society and country has its problems, I also think that we can learn a lot from other cultures and people groups. Americans sometimes take this for granted—we get into the mindset of American exceptionalism, even if we don’t mean to. So the idea that someone else’s culture could positively contribute to our own isn’t one that’s often talked about.

I think that part of the reason for this is that we have and hold to a lot of stereotypes about other countries. For instance, when a lot of Americans think of Serbia and Serbs, they immediately think of Communist Yugoslavia, the Bosnian war, and ruthless nationalistic fighters. The souvenir stands throughout Belgrade emphasize this. While older parts of the city have crafts, pottery, paintings, and even traditional wine and rakia, the more commercial parts of the city have kiosks with Yugoslav soldier hats, Serbian flags, t-shirts with crude sayings, and other items that really play on this stereotype of the country.

These stereotypes, however, tend to not recognize the redeeming qualities of other cultures or the individuals that make up the country. Serbians live a lot like Americans, but some parts of life are a lot different here—parts of life that I think Americans could stand to reevaluate and begin to change.

So, here are some things I think Americans could learn from Serbians:

1. Life is not all about your career.

Too often, we define ourselves by what we’re doing, where we’re working, what we’re studying. When I was living in Washington, DC, I probably told at least one person a day that I was a Writing major from Geneva College interning at the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Office. In DC, who you are is defined by what career you have or what office you work for. In my experience, this doesn’t change much in the rest of the US.

Here, people ask me what I’m studying or where I’m working, but these aren’t the first questions out of their mouths. Mostly they want to know why in the world I’m in Serbia. Eventually they ask me what I study and where I’m interning, but no one really “oohs” and “aahs” over what I’m doing with my career. They care more about who I am as a person and not just what my resume says I’m worth.

2. Scheduling your day away doesn’t really leave a lot of room for adventures or relationships.

I’m definitely someone who’s guilty of needing to have a schedule running through my head for the whole day. This is partly because I get sidetracked if I don’t, but I also think it’s just because that’s what American culture has taught us to do. But this isn’t really that natural or that exciting of a way to live, which is probably why people are always late and often depressed.

Here, they create space in their day to enjoy time with friends, to allow for flexibility. People meet for coffee or drinks and sit for 2-3 hours at a time. No phones, no rushing out—just talking over coffee. People, of course, do have schedules and meetings and appointments, but it doesn’t seem like they let a schedule rule their lives.

3. Life is meant to be done in community with others.

Everyone here is so willing to help with anything, even if they can’t understand a word I’m saying. People look out for each other, whether its their coworkers, family, or friends. This isn’t to say that individualism and discrimination aren’t present. But what I’ve experienced is that people don’t offer to help me because I’m American, a woman, or a good resource for them. They just help me because I’m a human being.

How different would things be if we stopped helping people or being friends with people because of what they could offer us? What if we were just willing to give what we have to offer them? Even the anti-trafficking efforts here center around community-based initiatives and involvement because the reality is that no one person is going to fight human trafficking in Serbia, the US, or anywhere else in the world. We’re meant to be part of a community, to be working together to help each other.

 4. You don’t need a smart phone or a car, for that matter.

A lot of people have both smart phones and cars here, but there are also a lot of people who have dinky Nokias and rely on public transportation to get around. One reason for this is that a lot of people just don’t have the money to spend on smart phones or new cars—there are a lot of beaters driving around, including some old Yugos! But regardless of that, people here love to talk in person and they love to walk. Talking on the phone is definitely preferred to texting, but talking in person at a café is the best option for conversation. People aren’t constantly taking photos of food or friends or themselves—social media is used, but definitely not to the degree that we use it. And not being able to be constantly connected has been a good experience. Life shouldn’t revolve around my iPhone.

And walking. Walking is probably the preferred method of transportation; one coworker even tried to convince me that it would be easy for me to walk home from work—over a 3 mile walk! But seriously, if you take the bus over walking a mile, don’t tell people because most of them will just wonder why you didn’t walk because “it’s so close!”

Americans tend to really love their individuality and their careers. Being here in Belgrade has been a good reminder that I am not my career, a reminder that keeps me in focus of why I’m doing what I’m doing in the first place: a passion to help people fight against human trafficking. And hopefully I can bring some Serbian culture home to Pittsburgh to show others the importance of community, the need for a flexible schedule, the innate worth of people regardless of their career, and the value of a good cup of coffee.

“The Victor” overlooking the rivers at the Belgrade fortress, Belgrade, Serbia

Great War Island and the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, Belgrade, Serbia

My own homemade Serbian kafa

“The Victor” statue, Belgrade, Serbia