”When asked what Serbia is like, I always answer – Serbia is simple, but it has everything one needs to lead a decent life. It’s all sort of organized, the rules are clear. When it’s time to work, they work with dedication. But there’s also time for pleasure. Although the paychecks aren’t as large as those in the Western European countries, the people are kind and beautiful on the inside. That may well be what I love the most about Serbia”, says the twenty seven-year-old Luna, a young doctor from the Middle East, who has been living in Belgrade for the past eleven years.

As a daughter of a business man, Luna packed her hopes and dreams eleven years ago and brought them to Belgrade all the way from the Middle East. The then-sixteen-year-old girl courageously stepped into a new culture and a new way of life, though she never forgot the traditions of her motherland and has honored man her roots, faith and ancestors. Her life philosophy is altruism, so it is no accident that Luna is now a doctor, devoted to selflessly helping others.

Although no one in my family was a doctor, I’ve dreamed of the wearing the white coat and helping others since I’ve been a child. I always used to play doctor. I remember being around ten, saving up the money I got from my family. My mother once asked my what I was going to spend all of it on, and I said – I’m going to build a hospital!”, Luna begins.

She was born in a capital city in the Middle East, but she moved to the golf in early childhood due to her father’s career. She recalls the golf as a comfortable place to grow up in, where she first encountered modern technology, went to a cinema, strolled around shopping malls, but also the place where she started her education at a prestigious school. She had always been an exceptional student, never lacking in ambition, with her parents having taught her the core life values.

I truly made an effort to be a diligent student and I always god praised for it. It was important for me to get a good education. My mother is a psychologist and she’s my role model. I’m grateful to her for teaching me what matters in life – to be a good person, to be humane, but also that knowledge is the only just weapon”, Luna points out.

The now-young and ambitious doctor remembers her return to home country by her cousins – primarily her grandmother, who has been endless source of insights into the past.

Sometimes my cousins wondered why I didn’t find such stories boring, but I enjoyed discovering the past through the lives of the people I love. My grandma got me hooked to mint tea and I haven’t had a tastier tea to this day. Besides, she’s an amazing cook… I miss the tastes and smells of her cuisine“, Luna says wistfully and adds that while the golf countries provided her with more opportunities to use modern technology, more available activities, while back home had the most important thing – a family united.

However, her family decided to move to Serbia so that her father could resume his business. Luna remembers 15th April 2010, the day she first came to this country, the country she didn’t yet dream would be where she would first put on the white coat and get her work license.

Belgrade was an encounter with a different culture, but I’ve always believed that people were people, and that the true difference is only whether or not one is a good person. I enthusiastically graduated from Arabic High School and enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine in Belgrade. I remember the excitement when I first came for an interview at the Faculty of Medicine, with my father. I had researched the differences in curriculums of the subjects for the entry exam. I realized that Serbian schools taught chemistry more in-depth, particularly biochemistry, so I started taking private lessons“, Luna recalls, adding that she passed the entry exam in English, as she didn’t yet speak Serbian at the time.

She admits that her first year at the Faculty was the most difficult period of her life. New environment, new people, too many obligations…

Only then did I realize that reaching lofty goals takes much, much work, and even more sacrifices and compromise. I was particularly afraid of failure, or just not passing an exam. It was unthinkable for me to spend time with friends during exam weeks. Mother and father always believed in me and supported me”, Luna points out and confidently adds that she graduated with a high GPA and got her work license.

Sadly, despite having been an exceptional student and the hefty experience she’d gained volunteering at a private clinic, Luna still hasn’t gotten the chance to do a residency in Gynecology and fully realize her dream. Still, she says, she will never give up on the residency she wants.

I volunteered for a year and I was dedicated to my work, oftentimes working for 12 hours a day, to gain as much and experience and knowledge as possible. Now I must think of my future and getting a work contract. My greatest achievements so far have been the praise of my patients and colleagues. Perhaps I still haven’t gotten a real chance to work full-time because I’m a foreigner, but on the other hand, I understand that my Serbian colleagues have precedence in employment in their own country. I believe that every country, now more than ever, needs doctors and that there will be a place for every one of us who wants to help people and work hard. I have the right to try and I won’t give up because I love medicine, especially Gynecology”, the young doctor says optimistically.

Luna says Serbia is a simple country, but that it has everything one needs for a good life. She points out that Serbia is highly organized, as opposed to back home. She gracefully accepts even the famous “you’re missing one document“ as fair, as one will be directly told they cannot finish their business without that document.

In my country, if you’re missing a document, they won’t tell you clearly that you can’t complete the desired procedure. Instead, they’ll say – ok, it doesn’t matter, we’ll see, we’ll try, if all goes well, it will happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, next week, next year, and it often ends up being never”, jokes Luna and adds that everything is clear in Serbia – either it flies or it doesn’t, and she prefers such clear rules.

She also adds that Serbs are a good people – beautiful on the inside, respectful towards others like doctors, police officers, pregnant women and elders, whom they always give their seats on the public transport… She points out that she has hardly ever felt discriminated against, although people in public often stare at her for wearing a hijab.

I think the world has become one great village and that people know more about each other, about different cultures and they travel more… I’m surrounded by people without prejudice. Still, sometimes I can sense people in the street staring at me, and some women even ask me why I’m wearing a hijab in summer heat. I tell them I’m religious, that I like it, that it makes me feel more comfortable and that it’s a decision I made personally without being forced by anyone, not even family members. I like it when people ask, because communication prevents prejudice. Wearing a hijab is a matter of freedom. A matter of choice. You first have to accept yourself to be accepted by others”, explains Luna.

When asked about her plans for the future, Luna emphasizes that, aside from her desire to start working and enroll in a residency program, she would like to devote more time to her personal life, to start a family and have children.

Sadly, my beloved father whom I was incredibly attached to – passed away. That changed my outlook on life. Until then I was focused only on building my career, but now I want to start a family of my own, as well. I would like my mother to enjoy her grandchildren, as my grandma enjoyed hers. I want us to have these moments together because, in the end, life is short”, says Luna, repeating that she doesn’t want to wake up one day regretting what could have been.

Although she misses her family in back home, especially her grandma, and she misses the sea and the taste of tomatoes, which she claims is the tastiest in the world, and the mint tea her grandma prepares, Luna’s greatest desire is to get a chance to finish a residency and find employment in Serbia.

I still haven’t made my final decision. What I know for certain is that, wherever I might be, I will do everything in my power to be a good doctor and help people. Even if I can’t keep living here, I would still like to visit Serbia, to see my friends and colleagues or to attend some Gynecology congress… Still, I will be patient. Perhaps Serbia will soon give me the chance to fulfill my greatest dreams and stay.”

Serbia has not yet adopted a by-law regulating the form of a travel document for refugees, and all people who have been granted the right to asylum in Serbia have been prevented from enjoying their right to freedom of movement, which is guaranteed by the Refugee Convention. Thus, since 2015, Luna has not been able to leave Serbia, nor to visit relatives abroad, go on vacation or travel for any other reason like all citizens of the Republic of Serbia.

Even though she is not a refugee, Luna as a foreigner in Belgrade has a message for all the people who came to Serbia in the past six years due to war, persecution and poverty – ”This might not be the promise land financially, but here you will find the warmth, acceptance and grace that you might not get someplace else. You must understand and accept the new culture, study on work on yourself. The refugee status must not be an excuse!”.