He decided to move to Serbia in order to be with a girl he met on the Internet, while commenting the videos on YouTube. Very soon he became well-known in Serbia for organizing many cultural events , various activities for young people, and promoting Serbian tourism. Last year he even showed up in famous Serbian movie “Montevideo”. We were curious to hear how Thiago decided to take the first step and move so far away, how he managed to learn the language in such a short time, what is his organization Serbia4Youth doing, and many more.
When you decided to move to Serbia, did you have a plan how long would you stay and what would you do there? What were your expectations?
When I moved to Serbia I knew I was going to stay for at least 2 years, until I finished my studies, but I always planned to stay longer and hopefully make a living out of tourism, I just didn’t quite know how I would do that, considering how hard it is for a young person to find a job in Serbia. I worked in Brazil and saved enough money to survive for a while without a job in Serbia, but I knew if I couldn’t find a job in tourism, I would still be able to make some money giving private Portuguese classes – and that’s exactly what I did in the beginning.
What were reactions in your family when you said that you wanted to move so far away? Did they know about the situation in Serbia?
Since I had been in Serbia twice before moving, they knew the country wasn’t as dangerous as many people think, but they also knew the country wasn’t even close to being as economically developed as Brazil. They thought I was crazy for moving away from there, especially because I work with tourism and this is basically the best decade ever for tourism in the country – Brazil hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, not to mention other mega events… However, I felt like I had a special mission in Serbia, the chance to make a difference instead of being just one more tourism worker in a place where there’s already plenty, so I moved anyway. In the end, my family realized I’m happy here and I’m doing a good job, so they support me.
What is the thing that surprised you the most when you arrived? Is there something that you think you will never get used to?
Definitely the warmth and hospitality of the people blew me away! I was expecting a big culture shock upon arriving here, but it was amazing that there was almost no culture shock at all! That’s because Serbians and Brazilians have a very relaxed, easy-going, open mentality. I always say that Serbia is Brazil in Europe. There’s not really much I’d say I’ll never get used to… After all, I love cold winters and even managed to learn Serbian! (laugh) Maybe one small thing I’ll never get used to is using hairdryers to dry my hair… In fact, I never use them, because we don’t do that in Brazil. But it’s still weird seeing all men – even bald ones – doing that in Serbia.
What was your best moment in Serbia?
Phew, there are lots of them! On top of the list is definitely the day when I came out of the airport and hugged my girlfriend for the first time… It was magical! But there are lots of amazing moments all the time, lots of them associated with food. For instance, it’s a weird and yet great feeling going to somebody’s slava (fest, celebration of family’s patron saint )and eating just enough before you realize that what you ate was just the entrance and you have 5 more dishes to go… (laugh) I experience great moments everywhere I go, whether it’s in a village where people host me in the best possible way, whether it’s on a mountain with the most amazing nature, whether it’s in some kafana (traditional Serbian bar)with my friends or wherever…It’s great just being in Serbia!
Have you ever visited the traditional Serbian wedding? If you have, can you compare it with a wedding in Brazil? Can you imagine your big day? What traditions would you and your girlfriend follow?
I’ve been to only one Serbian wedding so far and all I can say is it’s great! The wedding in Brazil is just a regular wedding like anywhere else in the world, while in Serbia it’s full of tradition and much more cheerful! I really like it how the bride and the groom wear crowns in the ceremony and how everyone dances kolo (traditional dance) in the party later. Not to mention the whole tradition before the ceremony, when the groom goes to the bride’s house to negotiate with her father, then he has to shoot the apple that’s on top of the tree… That’s all very interesting to me! On my wedding I’ll definitely mix some Serbian and Brazilian aspects. So there would definitely be kolo and Serbian folk music, but also so Brazilian music and dances as well, why not?
You speak Serbian perfectly! How long did you need to learn the language which is well known for being extremely hard and totally different that Portuguese?What was your learning technique?
Yeah, it was not easy at all… When I first saw something in Serbian, I thought there was no way I would ever learn that. It looked as hard as Chinese at first! When I came to Serbia for the first time, I had to learn some basic words and sentences to be able to communicate with my girlfriend’s parents and some other people who spoke little to no English. Some glasses of rakija (traditional drink) helped me a little bit, but that wasn’t enough… I decided to really start studying the language when I came here for the second time, which was when I realized there was a possibility of moving to Serbia sometime soon.So, I bought a book of Serbian for foreigners and studied a few hours a day, almost every day, for some 6 months. Besides, I listened to a lot of Serbian songs and talked and exchanged messages with some Serbs I had met. All of that together is what made me learn the language… But I only mastered all the seven declinations after moving here. In total, I studied Serbian for some 3 years until I mastered it.
How is it like to be a foreigner in Serbia? Could you get an impression of how are foreigners acceptedthere in general?
I don’t know about other foreigners, but Brazilians are very well accepted here! In general, people love Brazil, especially my city, Rio de Janeiro, so it’s not hard to start a conversation and make friends. It’s just funny because nobody seems to understand why I left Brazil… First, people in Brazil think I’m crazy for coming to such a far away, unknown country. But then I get here and Serbs also think I’m crazy for leaving Brazil, which a synonym to paradise for them! (laugh) I have a better live than most of my compatriots though, because I speak Serbian fluently, while most of them don’t, so their lives are more limited.
You are promoting friendly relations between Brazil and Serbia. Are there many Brazilians who are coming to Serbia and vice versa?
Yeah, I was so amazed by everything I discovered in Serbia that I felt bad that not many Brazilians knew about this country, so I decided to change that by creating a blog called “Bem-vindo à Sérvia”, in which I promote Serbia as a tourism destination. I started from nothing and made this blog the number one website for Brazilians to inform themselves about Serbia. I get more and more messages every day from people asking me all kinds of questions about the country and even thanking me for convincing them to add Serbia to their travel itinerary, which makes me very proud, because I can see I have the power to actually contribute for people to change their perception about this amazing country. On the other hand, since I attracted a lot of media attention here for being a Brazilian that promotes Serbia, many Serbs contact me asking for information about Brazil as well, so I’m some kind of two-way ambassador.
You are working for Serbia4Youth, an organization which is created to promote Serbian tourism. Could you tell us more about the Organization? How did you start to work, and what is your job there?
Serbia4Youth is an organization made by young people to young people with the goal to make Serbia a globally recognized youth tourism destination. It’s 3 years old and has over 1,000 members all around Serbia. On one hand, we work to attract foreigners, on the other hand we promote Serbia internally, among Serbs themselves, to show that it has many interesting destinations to be visited and that it’s not boring travelling around their own country. There are always new things to see and do, new people to meet, new adventures to live… Besides the trips and tours, we also work with event management, organizing parties, conferences and other educational events always related to tourism. Our biggest event is Belgrade4Youth, which takes place in the end of February every year during the Belgrade Tourism Fair, when we bring together around 400 young people from all over the world to get to know Belgrade, have fun at international parties and take part in the Belgrade International Tourism Conference (BITC). I started working there after the director of the Tourism Organization of Serbia (which was a partner of my blog) introduced me to the Serbia4Youth team and suggested we would be great working together. So we gave it a try and she was right! Today, not only I’m very proud of working for this organization, but I also made very good friends there who are like brothers to me. I’m the manager of international cooperation.
How is it like to promote a country which is not your own? And how do the people react when you travel abroad to work on Serbian stand on Tourism fair, and they realise that you are coming from Brazil? What are the usual questions you get from them?
To me, it’s not weird at all, because I do consider Serbia my country, my second home, and it has a place in my heart almost as big as Brazil’s. It’s always an honor to travel and promote Serbia even abroad! Though, Serbs who meet me for the first time think it’s funny, because they certainly don’t see Brazilians promoting Serbia out there often… Especially not one who speaks Serbian and has traveled around the country more than most Serbs! (laugh) I often have to prove to people I’m really from Brazil…
What is the feedback from tourists? They are coming not from abroad, but from Serbia as well. What they find the most interesting?
Tourists from Brazil always send me a message saying “Thiago, now I understand why you love Serbia! This place is fantastic!” but they can’t usually tell why they like it so much, it’s like magic, there’s something in the air here…(laugh) The Serbian people get a lot of compliments for their kindness, warmth and good sense of humor. The Serbs who travel with us find the fact that it can be fun travelling around Serbia the most surprising. Wherever we go, we always try to make it as interesting as possible for everyone by organising more than just regular tours. After all, we do more than just travel, we connect people. From the beginning many new friendships were born, new couples, new adventures, new memories… We have a big group of loyal travelers who over time became very good friends of each other and of us as well – which is just amazing!
What is your favorite destination in Serbia? You have probably visited more places in Serbia then many Serbs. What would you recommend to our readers to visit?
I’ve been to so many places in Serbia that it’s hard to pick one favorite destination!Let’s put it this way, if you’re looking for city breaks, my favorite cities besides Belgrade are Novi Sad, Niš and Subotica. If you’re looking for untouched nature, go to some mountain in western Serbia – Tara is my favorite! Zlatar and Zlatibor are great options too, and Kamena Gora is probably the most beautiful mountain out there. In central Serbia you have the most beautiful church I’ve seen (in Topola) the most beautiful monastery (Manasija, in Despotovac), the most beautiful cave (Resava cave)… Go to the east for ancient history and archeological sites such as Viminacium and LepenskiVir – it’s worth it! Finally, head north to taste some of the best wines on Fruška Gora with the sound of typical Serbian “tamburaši“.