By Laurie Lee, YES Abroad PY2017-2018, Macedonia
Ever since I arrived in Macedonia, every local has been asking me, “Have you been to Ohrid?” Locals love heading to Lake Ohrid for a holiday, and it is the local destination for in country travel. The city is located on and around Macedonia’s biggest lake, and is filled with beautiful historic sites and cozy cafes. So upon meeting a YES inbound alumni from Ohrid, Vlado, I asked him to host me and Molly for a quick day trip. He quickly agreed, and we planned our bus tickets, itinerary, and our travel forms, excited for a peaceful and sunny day sightseeing in Ohrid.
But waking up the morning of our trip, we looked outside the window and saw grey skies, heavy rain, and wind tearing down tree branches. We were disappointed by the bad weather, but headed to Ohrid anyway, undeterred by the bad luck. The winding bus ride brought us to a small bus station in Ohrid where there the rain pounded even harder. Holding up my 200 denar ($4) umbrella, we greeted Vlado and he took us to a small Italian restaurant near the lakefront. Although the day was windy and cloudy, the lake still looked beautiful, and the rustic streets were even more inviting. Excited to finally eat and sightsee, we quickly eat our spaghetti and head to the lakefront where a beautiful 13th century church was perched overlooking the enormous lake. Quickly taking photos and struggling to fight the wind, my umbrella breaks and I’m left defenseless under the rain, soaking my jeans and knotted hair. But unwilling to dampen our spirits, we hike on and travel through the cobblestone streets to a small (and very warm) cafe. Like a true Macedonian, we finished our day sipping cappuccinos and Turkish coffee.
The whole day, although unexpected, felt excitedly uncomfortable. Both Molly and I were excited to finally see this beautiful, sunny city, but were surprised by the turning weather. But exchange has always been like this. Never has any part of Macedonia truly followed any sort of preconceived expectations I placed upon it. Whether it was the wonderfully delicious combination of ketchup on pizza, or the endearingly mismatched architecture of Skopje, exchange in Macedonia has surprised me since I stepped foot outside of the Alexander the Great Airport. But with these surprises, I’ve learned to accept, adapt, and embrace the unexpected challenges. Exchange has bred within me the ability to laugh at my embarrassments, to embrace feeling uncomfortable, and, of course, to hike on when my umbrella breaks in the rain.