Belgrade has long been known for its friendly people, pastry shops, varied architecture, and nightlife. In the nineties, its reputation suffered; but during the last century, the city has reinvented itself, casting away its status as a failing, former communist capital and becoming one of the region’s most significant cultural and economic hubs.
Belgrade is a city that takes you by surprise. When night falls, old and seemingly abandoned buildings turn into hip cafes as people hit the streets for a drink and chat that often lasts until the morning.
The number of visitors from abroad has ballooned in recent years. People of all ages come here each year for a week or two of Serbian flavor. Cevapi, kafanas, traditional pastries, nightclubs, and splavs, the architecture, hidden streets, and tucked away bookshops make for a fun city to explore.
Due to Belgrade’s booming tech scene, more and more visitors decide to stay here permanently. A few years ago, it would have been nearly impossible to have coworkers from several different countries brainstorming at the same table in a Belgrade office. These days, it’s becoming the norm.
Love, Work, Culture, and Freedom
We sat down with some of our expat team members from various departments at FishingBooker to hear their stories. We talked to people from the UK, the Netherlands, the USA, Russia, and even Australia. We wanted to know how someone ends up in Belgrade and decides to start a new chapter right here.
Jacqueline, one of our Partner Content Specialists, moved from California almost two years ago and has spent the past year at FishingBooker. She came to Serbia on a Fulbright grant and spent nine months working as an English teaching assistant. “Before that, I visited Serbia (and Bosnia) multiple times for school and personal reasons. I already loved the region and knew I wanted to spend more time here. When I left home on my Fulbright grant, I had every intention of finding a way to stay here long term.”
Tijana, another member of the Content Team, came to Belgrade from London for a three-month language course. “Fast forward 10 months, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Love, work, culture, and freedom all combined to make this the perfect city for me at this point in my life.”
SEO Team Lead, Joris, had been to Serbia a couple of times before he finally decided to stay here. He studied the recent history of Eastern Europe at university, mostly focusing on Yugoslavia, and came here to learn Serbo-Croatian four years ago. “I really liked the city so I came back, and I’ve been spending most of my time in Belgrade since April 2015. Initially, I didn’t move here to move here. Then, I met my current wife and a short stay turned into living here. So I would say that my expectations were that I wouldn’t move here, but then I did. It’s not just because of my wife though, I’m also fascinated by Belgrade as a city and the mentality of the Serbian people.”
One of our Customer Happiness agents, Marijana, came to Serbia all the way from Australia and fell in love with the country right away. “I decided to move here the same year. People here are generous with their time and hospitality. They may not have much but they will be prepared to give you the shirt off their back. Plus, Belgrade is the city that never sleeps. You can always find somewhere to grab a bite to eat, a place to drink and even in the streets there is hustle and bustle no matter what time of the day.”
Silicon Valley in the Balkans
In the last couple of years, Belgrade has gone through a tech revival. While national universities have been producing world-class engineers and tech experts for a long time, recent years have seen Serbian companies open up to global markets. And with a lot of success. These days, Belgrade is home to major players which specialize in web app development, video gaming, smart technology, medicine – and booking fishing trips online.
The growing startup scene has made it easier for expats to land a job in Belgrade. Young companies need skilled people who can communicate in English and who know US and European markets well. This has been a real benefit to the development of local companies – a greater diversity of experiences to draw from allows teams to bring better ideas to the table.
So, the idea of coming to Belgrade and joining a startup that lets people book fishing trips online doesn’t seem that strange anymore, does it?
Hallam has come here from the UK. He says he’s lucky to have found a job like this. As a Customer Happiness agent, he helps people go on a fishing trip anywhere in the world. “The job description ticked all the boxes of the job that I was both looking for and suited to. I believe the company to be very forward thinking and to have its customers and staff at the forefront of all decisions made.”
Lisa is one of our writers in the Content Team. She moved to Serbia from Moscow, expecting to find a different version of the Slavic people. “I got hooked on the idea to write for a website about something I had no idea about. My first interview was with the CEO himself, so I sort of got the idea where I was going to be working. The atmosphere was alluring, too. Now, after nearly two years at the company, I can say I was right. You can work the way that suits you. If you want to do research listening to music, you can. If you need some time alone to focus, you can find a quiet spot and write from there. The freedom to do your job the way it works the best for you helps you give your best. We’re different from each other, and yet we manage to work together. That’s what I love about this place.”
Lisa’s fellow writer, Katie, who came to Serbia from the UK, wanted to have a job where she could develop her skills and do something that she felt she was already good at. “I wanted to support myself and be happy. My last job was cash in hand and they laughed whenever I asked them about a visa and just told me to border hop. I really hated that. FishingBooker’s Content Team Lead told me about this job and the fact that other expats work here, and how things like a visa, etc. are offered. It was a huge pull for me.”
Serbia’s tech revival has also helped people work in fields they never saw themselves working in. Before starting his job here, Joris found the idea a little silly. “Who can imagine a world leader in online booking to be based in Serbia. Also, fishing was so far from my bed that it was funny for me to imagine working with fishing in any way. However, I liked the idea of working in a local company with big ambitions, and that seemed to be free from the apathy that pervades many working places, here and everywhere.”
Although she came here from the opposite end of the world, Jacqueline found something that’s quite San Franciscan. “The ironic part is that I come from the San Francisco Bay Area but never pictured myself in Silicon Valley at a startup. So I moved halfway around the world and what do ‘ya know, I landed a job in a startup – one that won an award from TechCrunch no less.”
A Day in Our Office
Being an expat in Serbia can come as a culture shock to many people. The red tape is troublesome even for the locals, let alone someone who came here from another country. Add to that the pressure of starting a new career and the ever-changing atmosphere of a startup, and adjusting to life in a foreign country can be exponentially more complicated. Of course, it’s nothing a local pita or glass of rakija can’t cure after work.
After a long period of adjustment, Jacqueline has come to love the dynamic nature of her role at the company. “I like the fact that I get to talk to people all over the world, that’s something not everyone can say about their job. How many people get up and casually claim, ‘I have a call to make to Dubai?’ We’re constantly developing new features and new content, and this gives people a chance to grow in different ways depending on their interests. I’ve been here a solid year and have held the same position the entire time, but what I do today is nothing like what I did a year ago.”
As with any job, teamwork is really important to make sure you get to the results. It’s even more important when your results involve thousands of customers around the world who live on different continents and in different time zones. Hallam finds team support to be crucial. “I like the fact that my team works together as a unit and we all bounce off each other. There are lots of varied personalities, each bringing something unique to the table. Also, I like being able to measure the progress of our goals through data metrics (we do love our data analysis here) and always be thinking how best we can achieve targets and reach goals.”
For Joris, it’s the autonomy and recognition he likes the most about his job. “I am free to tackle my job any way I like, as long as I get good results. I am free to suggest alternatives to the way the company is being managed or the direction in which it is going, and I feel like I’m really being listened to. At the end of the day, I feel appreciated and truly valuable for the company and my colleagues.”
At first glance, Belgrade may sound like an unlikely place to start a career, especially for young people who grew up far away from it. But in recent years, its charm has attracted bright people who have come to embrace the Serbian capital for the opportunities and lifestyle it offers.
Katie sums it up perfectly. “It’s weird but because I first moved here only planning to stay for a month or so, I feel like I initially got a completely different impression of the city than how it exists for me now. Actually, it keeps changing, depending on who I’m with and what I’m doing. I feel like Belgrade is actually a lot more diverse than I – and maybe other people – expected.”