When I signed up to go on this trip, I felt like I was checking off another box on my college “to-do” list. It was a two-week program, a scholarship was built-in, and I would now be able to say “yeah, I’ve done that” when asked about going abroad without making the physical, financial, and emotional investment of spending a semester overseas.
I suppose I prepared for a sightseeing trip, something that would be fun, but far from life changing. I was expecting to “do” a lot, but I don’t think I was ready to actually “experience” anything.
I am so glad to say that I was completely wrong.
Croatia is absolutely incredible. When I was researching this trip, I focused on my time in Prague, Czech Republic. The city of Zagreb, Croatia wasn’t a place that was really on my radar screen, and it was easier to just tell people that I was going to Prague rather than to explain where Zagreb was and that we were really there 8 days of the two-week trip. Lesson learned: one’s personal ignorance of a place does not correlate with that place’s worth.
Prague was one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever seen in my life, but if you asked me where I would return first, I would say Zagreb without question. Zagreb had everything and more that one could want out of a European city. The architecture, the culture, the cuisine, you name it. However, whereas Prague is a city full of tourists, Zagreb allowed us to actually interact with the Croatian people.
While I wouldn’t want to bore anyone with the details of our activities with our Croatian friends, I can offer some insight on their general qualities, interests, and opinions. As an overall rule, Croatian people are awesome. More specifically, they are remarkably intelligent, incredibly protective, and unquestionably brave. They have a strong national identity, vast knowledge and understanding of national and global events, and genuine curiosity about other cultures. Though there were vast differences between our upbringings, we found shared bonds and interests that brought us together.
As someone interested in politics, it was fascinating to be confronted with ideas that greatly contrasted with my own beliefs. Touring Croatia and the Czech Republic with College of Business faculty was enlightening, since capitalism is relatively young in both of these countries, and the imprint of communism still lingers in many aspects of life.
While it feels like a “big” statement, I would be comfortable saying that my two weeks in Europe were amongst the best in my life. I can honestly say that I’d go back tomorrow. I don’t know exactly when or how, but I will go abroad again before graduation. That’s a promise.