US Expat In Serbia - Expat Interview With Laura Dennis

Published: 4 Nov at 11 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Serbia
Laura Dennis was born in New Jersey and raised in Maryland, but she learned how to be a (sane) person in California, where she lost her mind and found it again in 2001. A professionally trained dancer, Laura gave up aches and pains and bloody feet in 2004 to become a stylish, sales director for a biotech startup. Then with two children under the age of three, in 2010 she and her husband sought to simplify their lifestyle and escaped to his hometown, Belgrade. While the children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool, Laura recovered from sleep deprivation and wrote Adopted Reality, A Memoir (see conclusion for link). Laura's expat blog is called Expat Mommy (see listing here)

Expat Mommy

Here's the interview with Laura...

Where are you originally from?
I grew up in New Jersey and Maryland.

In which country and city are you living now?
I live in New Belgrade, a suburb of Serbia's capital city, Belgrade.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
Two years already, planning another six months.

Why did you move and what do you do?
My husband and I escaped to his hometown, Belgrade, with our two small children in tow. We came to simplify our life, and to be closer to his parents. Currently, I’m a writer.

Did you bring family with you?
Yes, at the time my chatty ballerina was two, and my little munchkin was six months old.

Expat MommyHow did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Well, I expected to duplicate my stay-at-home mommy lifestyle in Belgrade--you know, play-dates, mommy-and-me activities, that sort of thing. Life did not turn out that way, and so the transition was pretty difficult! As in: I didn't speak Serbian, I was sleep-deprived and cranky. I'm a vegetarian in a meat-based food culture, and I even developed food allergies when I first arrived!

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
When I first arrived, did I mention that I was sleep-deprived? After putting my kids to bed, all I wanted to do was sleep, myself! It took some time, but I have made some great friends here.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
If you're young, single, you can really have a great time socializing, going to bars, and enjoying the nightlife at little expense. People here are very warm and welcoming. For future expats, I would say, even though more and more people speak English, be sure to learn as much Serbian as you can.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
Honestly, my kids' "vrtic," or preschool. This was an unexpected benefit, but my children attend a local private preschool, where they learned to speak Serbian. The teacher is amazing, and my kids have some really great friends.

Expat MommyHow does the cost of living compare to home?
Serbia is what I would call a developing country, and so services (cobbler, hair dresser, even dance instruction) are sometimes 1/5 to 1/10 the cost in the U.S. Buying domestic food and goods, one can live very frugally. Fresh fruits and vegetables from the local farmer's market are very inexpensive (and it's a great place to practice your Serbian!). For Western brands, prices are pretty much the same as the U.S.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Definitely, the smoking. It's not so apparent in the spring and summer when you can sit outside at cafés, but as soon as the weather turns cold, it's very difficult to find somewhere to a meal without sitting within arm's reach of a chain-smoker.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Adjusting to old-school cultural differences. On the one hand, people genuinely care about and enjoy children, but they also have no qualms giving moms energetic advice about their children's attire, eating habits, etc.
I say “old school,” because there are a lot of long-held notions that aren’t really true, scientifically, that is. For example, children here are generally forbidden from drinking cold juice because it's thought that this causes a sore throat and sickness. Even at restaurants, waiters try to bring my kids room-temperature juice, and I smile and explain that I’m American, so my kids drink cold juice. Have you ever tried warm juice? It’s kind of gross.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
It will definitely be an adjustment. Here, I have absolutely everything I need within walking distance--my kids' school, their activities, and their friends. Back in LA, I'll be back into the car-and-traffic culture.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
1. Learn the language.
2. Take your time making friends. Don't stress, it will happen naturally.
3. Find other interests you hadn't considered in your home country. You may be able to learn a new dance form, take up a new sport, that type of thing.
4. Don't feel the need to completely "fit in" in your new environment. You're unique, and that's cool, too!
5. Maintain friendships from home. If you must bitch, it’s better to complain to people who don’t live here!

Expat MommyTell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Expat Mommy is a blog about navigating life as an anxious expat American. I also discuss memoir writing and my family life growing up in a closed adoption. One of the coolest things I was actually able to do because I'm living here was to write a memoir, Adopted Reality. With my kids in preschool, I had the time and emotional energy to get down on paper a story about my reunion with my birth mother and subsequent descent into insanity. I'm better now, not to worry!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I'd love to hear from other expats, whether or not they plan to visit Eastern Europe! Email me at laura{at}adoptedrealitymemoir-dot-com, or follow me on Twitter.

Laura has her expat blog called Expat Mommy which is very worthy of a visit. She can be found on Twitter @LauraDennisCA. Laura's book, "A memoir, Adopted Reality", can be found here. Expat Mommy has an listing here which would love a nice review if you can spare a quick moment! If you liked this interview with Laura, please also drop her a quick note below.
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Comments » There are 2 comments

Bex wrote 11 years ago:

I had the privilage of interviewing Laura for my blog. She has summerized here perfectly what being an expat is like. It must be hard going from a developed country like the US to a developing one like Serbia! I admire Laura's energy and her advice. Bex

Laura Dennis wrote 11 years ago:

Hey Bex, Thanks for the support! It's great to "see" you over here. Yes, you know, so much about the infrastructure of the country was destroyed or disabled as a result of sanctions, the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and of course the bombing. It's been 13 years, but the economy has not had the boost it needs! What's so funny is how adaptable we humans are. I used to see graffiti and litter, and now I see a chance to teach my kids their letters (taggers like to write in block uppercase letters which is great for little kids learning to read) and encourage them to help clean up their neighborhood! It's so great to have met a fellow expat writer, thanks again, Bex! Laura

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