First Person Singular: Lifeguard Jelena Zivkovic of Serbia

Jelena Zivkovic, of Serbia, experiences her second American summer as a lifeguard.
Jelena Zivkovic, of Serbia, experiences her second American summer as a lifeguard. (Benjamin C. Tankersley)
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

This is my second summer in America. When I first came, I was so nervous, mostly about the plane, but also about the people. Would anyone talk to me? I didn't speak a lot of English, just what I knew from TV. How would I meet people? Would people be friendly and fun like the movies? I was scared. But it was like Hollywood, with all the smiles. In Europe, it's not so kind. People don't just talk to you on the street. In the U.S., everybody has something to say. "How are you?" "Thank you." "Have a nice day." "Where are you from?"

Everything is so big, planned. The trees lined up in rows, the same meters apart. The houses the same. It's a young country, so it's like everything is still wearing a uniform. America makes it easy. There are so many signs. Turn here. Slow down. The doors tell you to "push"! The exit signs tell you where to leave. In [Serbia], everywhere is everything. We are on top of each other.

Last year, no one came to my small pool. All day and I'd see nobody anywhere, except when it was time to walk the dogs. Americans do a lot of walking the dog. In Serbia, our dogs know how to go on a walk alone. This year, everything is different. Busy pool. Kids everywhere. We have to clean the bathrooms. We work six days a week, 52 hours. We keep it clean, because this is our home; we live at the pool. Up on the chair, minutes are hours. I cannot tell you it is not hard work. It is. You are just sitting there and sitting there, not really doing anything. But the sun kills you. You have to have your attention. But the sun takes your energy. Every lifeguard from every country loves rain. Rain and thunderstorms, I love those like shopping.

Most people don't know my country. They say: "Siberia? A lifeguard from Siberia?" They think Asia or Africa. They don't know it's Europe. But I understand. It's not like you watch Serbia on TV all the time or go to Serbian movies.

The first thing I do when I go home is what every kid does when they go home: eat my mother's cooking. I am Serbian. I love life here, but I don't want my life to be in America. In Serbia, I have the parts of me that have always been there. I have my studies. I have friends, my whole life there. But I'd tell them all to come to America if they could, just once.

Interview by Amanda Long

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