In the winter of 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. America and other powerful Western democracies recognized the new nation’s sovereignty, causing thousands of Serbian nationalists to take to the streets in protest.
The protesters would attack the American, British, and German embassies, as well as other symbols of Western interests — i.e. McDonald’s and Nike. America temporarily evacuated its embassy, and anti-American sentiment in the region seemed at an all-time high.
A few short weeks later, my friend Julie and I were making our way across the Balkans as part of a nine-day trip during our study abroad program’s spring break. We had plans to visit Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, avoiding Serbia and its potential risks altogether. Though the region seemed safe (and the riot would prove to be the height of unrest in the country’s capital), we didn’t want to risk it, especially with a State Department travel alert (less severe than a travel warning) in effect.