Top Reasons Graduate Students who are white, middle class, have no family links to the former Yugoslavia region like to Study It and where they go and what they do while there on research grants. A list in progress. With apologies to JDCW.
1. Feeling of coming from a superior political culture that comes from hearing in a conversation with someone you thought was a local intellectual say things like, "He is a Serb, but he is alright." By the way, they say the same about your coming from America.
2. Taking a bus from Zagreb to Vukovar to see the bullet holes. You finally see real violence (you could have gone to Detroit for this, but that is less exotic, and there are no research grants for that, and then there is the whole race issue and you are, it goes without saying, not a racist. That is why the conflict here is so ... inexplicable ... unnecessary).
3. This is a society with complex problems that will never be worked out (not like the USA). You have come here to help them work out their problems, because the US has worked them out (ie the Civil Rights movement, which obviously has achieved equality). This will last until someone talks about the Iraq war, and even if you say "I didn't vote for George Bush," (you voted for the Democrats, whom you explain would never have gone to war, just or unjust). Your credibility is gone, you feel exposed, but you don't know why.
4. Gender relations. Regardless of your gender, you are a feminist. You live your life to help change gender roles. You work on the relationship. You talk about feelings. You work on your "issues." You talk about your "issues." You use condoms and the pill. You do it during "that time of the month."
But from Ljubljana to Belgrade to Kosovo, you will not hear a word pass between a man and a woman about "where" the relationship "is going." This is where it is going: he demands, through manipulation that usually seeks to make her jealous, that she makes him the center of her emotional life, so she pretends he is, then does what she wants. She expects a marriage, so he gives it, then does what he wants in public. Men pull out (usually), women put the sheets in the washing machine.
You use this to your advantage. If you are a woman, men will pay the bill at every meal, coffee, etc. You have to adapt to local culture and not offend your local colleagues, so you let them pay. Women in this part of the world dress in a more feminine way, so you can, too. Not like in the USA. Anyway, they think you are a slut because you are from the US (I have to call out the hypocritical perspective here).
For men, you can release your alter ego as a player. Or, you can release your inner feminist and women will attend to a man who is not a misogynist. Alternatively, simply sit back and enjoy looking at the women in the summer (white pants or dress/black thong).
5. You are a vegetarian, and here you can receive attention for this. In fact, you are missing out on heaven, and everyone knows this so they assume you are atoning (even the atheists here know about Lent), but you don't look like someone with a past. Hmmm. They are right, by the way: you are from the suburbs of Columbus.
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The problem with self-improvement is knowing when to quit. - David Lee Roth