- Katka Lapelosová moved to Serbia in October 2020 after her divorce.
- Lapelosová has no plans to stay and would have liked to be more patient before moving.
- She says she’ll probably have to move out if she wants to have a healthy relationship again.
I’m a born and raised New Yorker with Slavic roots, but living abroad has been a dream of mine since 2008, when I studied abroad in Prague. After returning to the United States, I earned a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, preparing me to make my dream a reality. Then I fell in love with my best friend from high school, who had never left Long Island, and everything changed.
Our relationship of almost 10 years was fantastic and filled with many wonderful memories, including a few trips to Europe. Every time we came back to the United States, I asked about going abroad together. But my then-husband wasn’t a big fan of this idea because of his resistance to change.
As we got older, it became clear that our values and what we wanted to experience together were very different. Ultimately, we decided to divorce in January 2020, a painful but necessary decision that allowed us to create our ideal lives separately.
I felt like I had a second chance to live my dreams, and later that year I moved to Serbia permanently. Even though I don’t want to stay here anymore, I am grateful for these experiences.
Serbia really surprised me and moving here was interesting
Initially, in March 2020, I booked a one-way ticket to Prague, but canceled it when the The coronavirus pandemic has completely closed access to EU countries. I was devastated when my trip was canceled, but Serbia — a neighboring country in the Balkans – still allowed foreign travelers to go there.
I had never been to Serbia before and was pretty ignorant about the history and culture. I didn’t speak Serbian at all and I only knew that a “very bad war” had performed there in the 1990s. I also knew they had a lot of great basketball and tennis players. In October 2020, I booked 3 weeks of vacation to find out.
Once I arrived, I spent some time driving around the country and saw that the Serbian countryside was so beautiful, but it was Belgrade, the capital, that surprised me the most. I wasn’t sure if it would be very run down because of the war or if the locals would be irritated at being American, but everyone I spoke to was incredibly kind, generous, and curious.
Since I really liked Belgrade and it was a short distance from the rest of the EU, I bought a 250 square foot apartment in one of the more popular neighborhoods for around $50,000. I renovated everything and that’s where I’ve lived ever since.
So far, moving to Europe after my divorce has been very interesting. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my life is more how I envisioned it before I got married, but there are definitely some things I would have changed if I could do it all over again.
I wish I had researched the Serbian dating scene
I have dated people in the UK, Italy, Spain, Greece, Slovakia and elsewhere, and have never found this to be a problem. But I never had a relationship while living in Serbia – not even close. Dating in Serbia is SO different and I really took for granted the impact it would have on my life.
Serbians are much more traditional when it comes to romantic relationships. They are very focused on defined gender roles, in which the man is the primary earner and the women don’t really work. Women can work, but the idea seems to be that when you get married, the wife doesn’t need to work.
Elsewhere in the world, men are generally fascinated by my academic and professional achievements, by my numerous travels and by my ambitions in general. In Serbia, men speak has me and when I try to start a conversation they either ignore me or say I talk too much. As a New Yorker, I’m not used to this.
There is also more emphasis on appearance, especially weight. Women put a lot of effort into maintaining an extremely slim physique and dressing for everything, even going to the grocery store. Men are also very well-groomed and fashionable.
Locals tend to date within their close circles, and many are established through family members, as family approval is extremely important.
I spent many tear-filled nights talking to my Serbian friends about what was wrong with me. They adore and support me, but they can also see that I stand above most of their superficial cultural norms, which makes dating much more difficult.
Despite all this, I have been approached by many married men, some of whom are even the husbands of women in my social circle. I’m coming to terms with the realization that this isn’t a good cultural fit and that I’ll probably have to move if I want to have a healthy relationship again.
I should have considered my family and friends when deciding where to move
As much as I love living abroad, I can definitely get lonely and I always get homesick. I was really looking forward to welcoming family and friends as soon as the pandemic restrictions were lifted. While my relatives are doing their best to support my life abroad after the divorce, almost no one has come to visit me. No one has ever given me a valid reason not to come here, and that’s really disappointing, considering I’ve lived here for over three years.
Belgrade has a direct flight from New York, where most of them live, but the destination doesn’t seem as attractive to friends and family members as Paris or Barcelona. Many of them still associate Serbia with negative stereotypes:like gangsters or criminals — and some even think I live in Siberia or Syria. I discovered that most people are really bad at geography.
So far, only one of my close friends has made the trip. He had a great time, but even he admitted he wouldn’t come to Belgrade if I wasn’t based here
I should have rented an apartment before deciding to buy
I was so determined to finally realize my dream of homeownership that I thought I was ready to bypass the rental experience, but after three years in Serbia, I’m feeling a little “stuck.” I don’t want to stay here anymore, but I also don’t have a home base in the United States. For now, I have to stay until I can come up with a more solid moving plan, and even then I have to figure out what I’ll do with my apartment.
Rent and other expenses in Belgrade are much lower than in the rest of Europe. If I had taken a break from buying an apartment, I could have rented a really nice place at the time for around $400-600 a month and still saved money for my dream house . I pay around $32 per month for electricity, water, building maintenance and my Internet and telephone bill.
I got a really good deal on my apartment in Belgrade, but I know renting would have allowed me more freedom to explore other neighborhoods and maybe even other countries before choosing where to stay. ‘install.
I should have been more patient and done more research
As a digital nomad, I’ve considered moving elsewhere since progress toward my life goals, like being part of a healthy relationship, starting a family, and advancing in my career, plateaued in Belgrade. I’m even looking into a work visa to take me back to Prague, which I qualify for, but I still have to take my Serbian property into account.
Serbia grants residency visas based on land ownership, but most countries in Europe do not have the same policy. Without a legal reason to stay, I can only live in the EU for a maximum of 90 days, based on Schengen laws.
Truly, the biggest change I wish I had made was to have more patience. Croatia opened its one-year program digital nomad visa program in January 2021, so if I had waited a few more months, I could have taken advantage of it. Other EU countries, such as Malta and Greece, quickly followed. I am much more connected to these regions than to Serbia, because these cultures seem more open to modern women.
I know I will one day achieve my post-divorce goals and my European dream life. Even though things in Belgrade didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned, I believe that everything happens for a reason and moving there after my divorce is exactly what I was meant to do.
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