Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ready to go

I repacked until my checked bag was down from 57.8 lbs to 49.6 lbs, barely making the cutoff. I've loaded up my kindle and prepared an episode of Doctor Who for the plane ride. I had my last vaccination, the flu shot, yesterday. I've already seen the Peru group off at seven this morning.

I'm ready to go.

I thought I was ready on Saturday when I got here, but instead I got to spend four days meeting all the other fantastic and fascinating Bridge Year students. A lot of the orientation felt drawn out, but it gave us plenty of time to get to know each other. I'll be keeping in touch with them through their blogs, Facebook, Skype, etc. I didn't realize just how different all of the programs are-- the kids going to India hardly took any clothes, since they need to buy local outfits later. We're the only site with 100% safe water.

I found out that I'll be going to more countries than I originally thought. I'll be flying through Zurich on the way there and Frankfurt on the way back, and on my trip I'll visit Serbia (obviously), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. All I'm missing is Slovenia and Kosovo and I'd have a former-Yugoslavia bingo.

My Serbian is still pretty weak so far. I know how to say "good morning," "apple," "rabies," "friend," and the numbers from zero to ten (you know, all the important things). Former Bridge Year participants came back with a pretty strong grasp of Serbian, so I'm not too worried about it (yet).

A few people back home have still been confusing Serbia and Siberia (and Syria, somehow) but they're quite different. When I land in Belgrade tomorrow afternoon, the high will be 91°F (33°C). Its climate seems pretty similar to Princeton's, just colder in the winter. We'll get all four seasons.

All throughout orientation, I felt anxious. Not worried, just ready. And now that the time's come, I still feel ready.

In about half an hour, I'll be on a bus to JFK. I won't be back in the States for nine months, and I'm sure I can fill that time with all sorts of adventures.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

New Jersey, day one

We safely made it to Princeton. I said goodbye to my parents and hello to my fellow BYP participants, all of whom seem like wonderful people. Our coordinator for Serbia has lived an especially exciting life, tied into the recent history of the former Yugoslavia.

I'm staying in Whitman College until Wednesday, when we board the plane to Belgrade. Since Hurricane Irene's got everybody scared, we're locked into the building (figuratively) until further notice. Fortunately, everything we need to do is in this building, if you can figure out the convoluted path to the dining hall.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

New Jersey, day zero

Made it up to New Jersey today. Nice long drive- I spent most of it reading The Fall of Milosevic: The October 5th Revolution, which does a great job compiling dozens of accounts of the events of that day into one cohesive narrative. Reading about so many people peacefully rising up against oppression- and winning- was inspiring.

Tomorrow: first day of Bridge Year orientation

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

T minus eight days

This Friday I head up to New Jersey, where I'll spend a few days getting to know my fellow volunteers and preparing for my trip.

Perhaps it'll feel real when I'm in the air over the Atlantic, or maybe not until I step off the plane in Belgrade. But it still hasn't sunk in that I'll be spending the next nine months in Serbia: half in Novi Sad, a city north of Belgrade sitting on the Danube, and half in Niš, in the south.

It's been fun to see people's reactions when they hear about my journey. My dad's been having the most fun with it: "Tucker decided to live with gypsies in Eastern Europe instead of going to college." It's true, but not quite like that.

Through Princeton's Bridge Year Program, four other would-be incoming freshmen and I have opted to defer enrollment to instead take a year abroad volunteering. I'll be volunteering with CZOR, a youth empowerment organization, for the first half of my stay, and a yet to be determined NGO working with the Roma for the second half.

I don't think any of us really know what to expect. I certainly don't. And I can hardly wait.