Studying Abroad in Croatia

I never studied abroad when I was in college.  It scared me. I was raised in a tiny two bedroom house in the middle of my grandparent’s pear orchard.  The town of Upper Lake, CA maybe had 500 residents.  The nearest “big town” was Ukiah with a population of about 15,000.  It took us 40 minutes to get there but they had a bowling alley, a movie theater, and more than one stop light.  Yep, lots to do there!  When it was time to look at colleges, I wanted to apply to UC Berkeley so my parents and I went to visit.  I saw the polka dot man and was on a campus (not even a city) that had more people and buildings than any town I had ever lived in.  I felt anxious and overwhelmed; I didn’t even apply.  If Berkeley was overwhelming then certainly studying abroad was not going to be in my future.

The other reason, I think, is that my family didn’t really travel.  Our vacations consisted of weekly summer camping trips to the coast, which I adored.  The only trip I remember taking with my extended family was a week in Lake Tahoe for Christmas. Maybe traveling was expensive. Maybe traveling was a value my family simply didn’t hold. Or maybe, as an immigrant family, my father didn’t want to leave a country he risked his life for.  All I know is that my father was terrified to return to the former Yugoslavia even after he became a citizen of the United States.

So here I am in the country of his birth and, of all things, working on a customized study abroad experience for my students.

Nada Raic and Ivana Bajurin, API Resident Directors (left to right)

I spent a fulfilling three days at Libertas International University with the two Resident Directors of API (the study abroad organization that the University of Hartford is affiliated with)—Ivana Bajurin and Nada Raic. These two women are described as “being a resource for you” both on-site and in Croatia.  Let me just say that is exactly what they were and remain for me—without their knowledge, support, kindness, and willingness to help me understand the long process of applying for temporary residency, I don’t know where I would be.  Nada is on maternity leave and was still present for all our meetings and activities—seriously, that is above and beyond the call of duty. 

photo of me with the 15th century frescoes above

Libertas International University is a small, private institution located in Old Town (Grad) Dubrovnik located on the second floor of the Dominican Monastery that dates back to 1301.  They have several majors (e.g., International Relations and Diplomacy; International Business and Economics) and host customized study abroad programs like the one I am creating.  Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage site and as such, any changes in buildings are strictly overseen by the ministry of heritage—an extraordinary number of permits are required.  For example, in renovating the monastery for the University, some frescos from the 15th century were discovered on some of the walls and great care had to be taken with documenting and preserving them. And don’t expect these buildings to be air conditioned—definitely not approved by the ministry of heritage and culture! Although I will say that the classrooms have portable air conditioners for when it gets really hot and humid.

I was able to sit in on an International Business class co-taught by Professors Janice McCormick (Former Director of PhD at Harvard University, Graduate School of Business) and Iva Adzic.  Their interactive teaching methodology was very similar to my style and I felt right at home in their class.  It made me excited to think about my own students sitting in one of these rooms in the not too distant future. I also had a lively lunch with Ivana, Nada, and Professor Jerko Ban, a Catholic priest, who teaches a course in Comparative Religion. His community and hospital work with those who have dementia, are deaf and/or blind, or in need of palliative care, reaffirmed my growing understanding that there is little to no systems for such care in Croatian culture. Families are left alone to deal with mental and/or physical illness.

As part of my visit at Libertas, I had a wonderful tour of Dubrovnik with Vesna Barišić and met Anja Marković, executive director of Bonsai, a community-based volunteer organization.  I have much to share about what I learned from these women and will write about that in another post.  

I went on an excursion to Lokrum Island with Nada, Ivana, and the current API students studying abroad here.  The island is short boat ride from Old Town and a popular day trip for locals and visitors.  Our tour guide led us through the botanical gardens, the ruins of a Benedictine Monastery, the dead sea (a small lake) olive trees, and gorgeous views of the Adriatic Sea.  If you like peacocks and rabbits, you’ll love Lokrum—they are everywhere! The bunnies are quite peaceful and friendly, you’ll see dozens of them hanging out eating grass while people are sunbathing.  And, of course, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you may recognize the Kindom of Qarth, as seasons 2 and 3 were filmed on Lokrum. Within the walls of the monastery, a room has been converted to a small museum regarding the series.  And yes, there is a replica of the Iron Throne that visitors can sit on.  Although I am not a GOT fan, I did not pass up this opportunity. 

I did not go hungry! Nada and Ivana made sure that I was well fed (a good Croatian custom!) and that we took time to sit and have coffee (another good tradition).  In fact, I think most of my “meetings” on the first day were in outdoor restaurants eating lunch, having dessert, and drinking coffee.  While visiting Libertas, I stayed at the Orhan Rooms, just outside the city walls, convenient to everything.  If you want the experience of staying in one of these ancient buildings, then Orhan is the place for you; you will not like it if you want modern/new types of accommodations.  The owners also have a restaurant (Orhan Restaurant) where guests are served breakfast. As you can see, the view from the restaurant is one of a kind and worth navigating the small streets to find. For Game of Thrones fans, you will recognize this site filmed on Pile Bay looking up at Fort Lovrijenac (Fort Lawrence). On the second and last night of my visit, we ate at Levanat Restaurant in the Lapad section of Dubrovnik. It sits on the walking trail from Sunset Beach with a spectacular view of the Adriatic; that night I got my sunset dinner with Nada, Ivana, and Anja.

Ivana, me, and Nada (left to right)

If you are a university student scared of studying abroad and choose to come with me or spend a semester here, please know that Ivana and Nada will take care of you!  If I had guides like them when I was in college, my fears would have been allayed.  Even my father eventually overcame his fears and returned to visit his home.   

Three Tattoos and a SIM Card

On the day I left for Croatia, my best friend Heather helped me to adhere three temporary tattoos she gave me as a gift.  One was the cancer constellation (my zodiac sign) and the others said “Dance” and “Courage”.  I set an intention for each one and consciously chose where to put them.  “Dance” went onto the ankle of my left foot. I broke my left leg in three places earlier this summer—tibia, fibula, and ankle—and this accident prevented me from leaving for sabbatical until September.  It also prevents me from dancing, which I love!  I intend to dance once I am fully healed, but that can take up to a year.  I was hoping to do the Linđo and Kolo while I was here, but I will need to watch them instead. Regardless of participating or watching, dancing brings me joy.  Now that I am done with my conference, there is the process of settling into my current surroundings. I can’t walk too quickly or far but I’m incredibly lucky, for now, to be staying at my cousin’s apartment which is close to Sunset Beach on Uvala Lapad Bay.  For the past four days, I haven’t missed a sunset and it’s striking how each night, the sun and sky are different. For those of you who see my posts on Facebook, you see that I cannot help but post sunset pictures!     

“Courage” we put over my heart.  I brought two heart necklaces with me—one from my father and one from my friend Connie.  The heart she gave me opens to reveal a tiny compass inside. When I feel lost, I am reminded to look into my heart and find home.  I have already worn them both; they tie me to my past and ground me to the present. Although I love traveling, I have not done it extensively and to be away from home for nearly a year is both exciting and terrifying.  I am someone who needs connection so having access to the internet and a working phone has become a vital part of my first week and a half here. Each day I try and take on one new task that I will need for my stay.  Two days ago, that was getting a Croatian SIM card from Hrvatski Telecom (T-mobile).

The Cancer zodiac constellation tattoo we put on the inside of my arm. Here, I set the intention that the universe would guide me. As someone who likes to plan, understand, and be in as much control as possible, I knew so much would be out of hands.

I did not think guidance would come in the form of an agent from Verizon yesterday morning.  After spending nearly two days panicking over what had happened to my phone, Adrian chatted me through over an hour of resetting it (I have an eight page transcript of that interaction should I need it again).  I’m forever grateful, Adrian, as this was not about my phone per se, but my lack of connection.

Despite my best efforts to plan for cell phone service, I have learned three things:

  1. Make sure your cell phone is unlocked from your carrier! Even if the phone is paid for, not being used, or no longer under any contract, that does not mean it’s unlocked. I was encouraged by several friends who travel outside the US that I should get a T-Mobile plan as they do not charge extra for international service.  But, their current policy only allows 90 days of such service—that wasn’t going to work for me.  So, my best option was to have two phones.  Heather gave me her old iphone, but didn’t know it was locked (I kept getting an error message when the Croatian SIM card went into it). The young woman who sold me the SIM card said it was no problem to switch my Croatian and Verizon cards in my phone. Great suggestion…not! 
  2. Do NOT put a foreign SIM card into your phone thinking that you can put your old one in without problems. It doesn’t work that way.  My phone now had two numbers—a US and Croatian one. It was confused and so was I.  If you purchase a SIM card in Croatia, know that most of them ONLY work in Croatia. Here is a good resource about cell phones in Croatia.  Otherwise, get a SIM card that can be used in multiple European countries:
  3. Most importantly, have a best friend who knows how frenetic you can get when you’re anxious and can support both your emotional and practical needs.  

Although my temporary tattoos have faded, their intentions are permanent and a daily reminder of what I will continue to need during my sabbatical stay here. 

Ples, Hrabrost, i Vođenje (Dance, Courage, and Guidance).