Sunday, July 12, 2009
The Welcome Surprise of Croatia
If Italy was “amazing” for Semester at Sea students then Croatia was a breathtaking surprise.
The port city of Dubrovnik was a beautiful city of white houses, rose colored tile rooftops, a pristine Old City and hopefulness among people who endured a harrowing war nearly 20 years ago. Faculty, staff, and students were surprised and bowled over by the majestic coastline city and its lush countryside.
“Croatia wasn’t really on my radar as a place to visit, but after coming here I really look forward to returning,” said SAS professor Melvin Rogers.
Watch a short clip of photographs from the students’ time in Croatia and read some accounts of their experiences in the country as well as those of faculty and staff.
BILLY KEEFE MANHATTAN COLLEGE
The first day we arrived in Dubrovnik I went on a field program to the City Walls in the Old Town. The entire tour took around an hour and a half to walk around the walls, which are 1,940 meters long. One of the things that really astonished me was when the tour guide showed us a map of the entire region around and including the walls that was bombed during the war involving Croatia. It shocked me to see how many places in that area were actually attacked and how beautiful the area has become since the war. I really have gained a new respect and appreciation for the resilience and determination of the Croatian people.
As we made our journey around the wall my friends and I were surrounded by breathtaking views. In front of me was the bluest water of the Adriatic Sea. Behind me was an unexpectedly immense, majestic hillside. To the left were vibrant, rustic Mediterranean-style roof tiles of the Old Town houses, cafes, and churches. To my right was the distant seascape of the uninhabited and serene island of Lokrum and the port side of the New Town.
On my fourth day in Croatia, I was scheduled for a tour to Bosnia and Herzegovina, but overslept and missed the tour bus. I sprinted out of the pier and tried to find a taxi bargain a ride to Medjugore, Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet my tour bus. The taxi driver glanced at the side of my backpack and then mumbled something under his breath and sped off. I later learned that the water bottle I was carrying on the side of my backpack, which I bought in Montenegro the previous day, was named after a malicious Serbian leader who carried-out cruel acts on Croatians during the war decades earlier. Judging from the taxi driver’s reaction, I realized that 20 years may be enough time to rebuild houses and reconstruct landscape, but not enough time to heal intercultural relations and amend past atrocities. I put the water bottle in my bag, hailed another taxi and made it to Medjugore, the second largest Catholic pilgrimage, at almost the same time as the field program bus arrived. Though the beginning of the day started off a bit frenetic, the tranquil ambiance of my environment—an environment which not too long ago was literally in the midst of some of the most horrific war crimes—left me unexpectedly appreciative of the beauty and resilience of this region. I left Croatia with an undiluted sense of hope.
ERIN BEAULIEU UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
I felt like Croatia was so laid back. Nobody is in a rush to go anywhere. They are very relaxed. And they were so welcoming and so friendly. And everyone spoke English; I think that’s because Dubrovnik is really a touristy place, but it helped me learn my way about the city a lot. Everybody was so welcoming and so friendly.
I did a lot in Croatia. I went to an Osojnik Village folk show, to children’s orphanage and a children’s hospital, to the beach and kayaking and snorkeling. It was a really good experience, because I really didn’t know what to expect and it was all a pleasant surprise.
I visited the children’s orphanage for my social work class to compare and contrast orphanages in America and Croatia and the differences they have. One of the main differences is that all of the hospitals in Croatia are all governmental; nothing is private. Everyone has the same health care where in America we don’t have that. They have one social worker for the entire hospital, whereas in America there’s a social worker for different departments and they specialize in different departments for the hospital. So children or elderly can special care. But on a larger scale all the health accommodations between the two countries were very similar. They have almost all the same vaccinations and rules and safety precautions. It was really interesting.
The most exciting part about the folk show is that based on the description in the SAS handbook, I thought we were going to end up in the theater watching a show. Instead, we ended up in someone’s home eating a traditional meal with the family members serving us and the dad playing an instrument that was kind of like a violin. And then everyone started dancing and pulled us up to dance with them. It was kind of fun, because you really didn’t expect that. No one really knew what we were doing. It was really kind of fun.
If it’s possible to have a favorite port, I think I would vote for Croatia right now.
DANIEL HORNS SAS FACULTY-GEOLOGY PROFESSOR
It was five or six years ago that I first saw photos of the seaside, fairytale town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. It instantly shot to the top tier of my “Places to Visit” list. The Old Town area of Dubrovnik sits on a rocky headland and is surrounded by walls made of cut white limestone. Waves of clear blue water crash against the rocks below the walls. The walls--and the buildings inside--are capped by red clay tiles. A maze of narrow, marble-paved alleys winds through the buildings. If you took the best imaginations and animators at Disney and asked them to create a medieval/renaissance village, they would fall short of Dubrovnik.
When I finally got to visit Dubrovnik with Semester at Sea, another Disney reference came immediately to mind: Crowds. Great throngs of people bumped off each other as they wandered in groups through Old Town. Visually, Old Town surpassed my expectations. Psychologically, however, I felt like I was visiting a theme park rather than experiencing Croatia.
Our ship was docked in Graz Harbor, about 2 miles north of Old Town. In the evening after visiting Old Town, a colleague and I went out to get dinner. We reached a fork in the road – Old Town to the left, random neighborhoods to the right. I convinced my friend to head to the right to see a part of Dubrovnik beyond Old Town. After a few blocks of meandering, we came across a restaurant with a few tables out on the sidewalk. Three groups of people were eating, all of whom spoke Croatian (a language rarely heard in Old Town), and nothing on the menu looked familiar. We decided to take a chance, sat down, and ordered a few items with only a vague notion of what was coming. A long time later (this being a real European restaurant, it was assumed we planned to spend three hours eating) we were treated to a great meal of cheeses, smoked meats, soup, and potatoes.
It was my best meal in Croatia. We later learned that the restaurant is known to locals as the only place in Dubrovnik to get real Croatian food.
Our wonderful dinner reinforced the old adage that while you can learn a lot about a place by reading guide books and visiting the major attractions, great memories often come from ignoring both.
ZABRINA ANDRES LIVING LEARNING COORDINATOR
One of my special trips in Croatia was visiting a nonprofit called Desa (pronounced DESHA) that is devoted to helping unemployed women in the region. Desa first began after the war in the early 1990s to help female refugees who were left with little more than the clothes on their backs. Today, its mission is still to serve women and it does so with outreach, education, and instruction on weaving and silk embroidery. (Click on the image to go to the Desa website)
In a daring effort to resurrect the silk industry in Dubrovnik, a founding DESA member smuggled tiny silkworm eggs from France into Croatia by slipping them in her bra to keep them warm, alive, and secret. The eggs hatched into the silkworms that produced the silk that became embroidered thread for garments, table runners, bookmarks, cards, placemats, and accessories to stitch a country together. In the u.s. we have the refugees on their TVs, but in Croatia they came day after day.
After leaving the shop, we headed to a war photo exhibit that displayed prize-winning pictures from conflicts around the world: Colombia, Iraq, and Croatia. Many of the images were in black and white, but they were so powerful and poignant. I had tears in my eyes by about the 20th image, and on in particular. The exhibit made me think of the military people I know. I think I will remember that particular image and the emotion so intense on the film long after I leave Croatia.
PAUL BUTLER LOYOLA UNIVERSITY (CHICAGO)
We have already visited two other countries previous to Croatia (Spain and Italy) and it was interesting to see the difference between what is classified as "Western" Europe and "Eastern" Europe (or the Balkans). It is wonderful that among these geographically close countries there is still a sense of uniqueness and national pride that is a fiery passion within the citizens. Western Europe was filled with history of war. For Croatia, war and death was part of its immediate past and it is evident in conversations with some locals that the war is still a fresh wound for many Croatian people.
When I envisioned Croatia, I expected a country far behind the globalization movement, a place where progress was strongly needed and poverty was high. Croatia proved me wrong; this country is beautiful, filled with an amazing culture, an atypical landscape, and friendly people eager to share their culture. It is the land of the tie, a European Union hopeful, a recent victim of war and death, and the land where they say god was arrogant in his creation of the world. My experiences with Semester at Sea fulfilled my goal, for it gave me a taste of Croatian culture that will I hope to experience again to return enjoy a beautiful country and people.