Over 100 University students have visited a country right across the Adriatic Sea.
Croatia, a central-European country that has housed a University three-week study abroad program since 2006, isn’t a country many students think of when they’re planning to study abroad, according to James Reap, a professor in the College of Environment and Design and the program director for the Croatia study abroad trip.
However, he was impressed with the program’s turnout this year, which included 21 students.
“That’s pretty good for a country that is not always on people’s horizons,” he said. “It’s a country that is very beautiful. It has a fascinating history that goes back to before the Roman times and a really great folk culture.”
Chase Staub, a senior from Gainesville majoring in biology and psychology, said he was stunned by Croatia’s splendor.
“Honestly, going into it, I kind of thought [Croatia] was a third-world, post-Communist country,” Staub said. “I thought it was going to be more like a barrette — that it was literally trying to pull itself together. But as soon as I got off the train at the capital, I was amazed by how developed it was.”
In Croatia, students registered for two of four offered courses: disease and injury prevention in Croatia, heritage conservation in Croatia, culture and national identity in the former Yugoslavia and Croatian politics and identity — HPRB 5160/7160, HIPR 4070/6070, SLAV 4510 and INTL 4770 respectively. Each class required that the students sit through lectures.
Although the program was academically intensive and the students didn’t have much free time, Staub said he enjoyed every lecture and group outing because all the information he heard was necessary for understanding the country.
“What I valued most from the program was that just between the four professors, it really opened my mind up to a lot of different areas,” Staub said. “There was: a public health teacher; a Slavic studies teacher who knew the language and history; a historic preservation teacher that knew about all the different monuments, the architecture and the landscape; and then we had an international affairs teacher that knew about the political history of the area. So, really, the best experience was that no matter what site we went to, we had the four different perspectives all on the same site.”
The interdisciplinary nature of the program, Reap said, played a crucial role in the amount of information each student received in Croatia.
“We try to show them as much as possible,” he said. “We visit cultural heritage sites, medical facilities, sites related to the war for independence and World War II sites in Croatia. We discuss Croatian arts and literature. It’s a pretty broad view of the country.”
Kristen Alspaugh has always had an affinity for the Balkan area and said the trip to Croatia exceeded her expectations.
“We got to see pretty much the entire country in three weeks,” said the third-year pharmacy student from Charlotte, N.C. “It was definitely a really great trip.”
In addition to exceeding expectations, the country offered a wealth of culture to the students who visit — and just by seeing and learning so much about the country in a short amount of time, Staub said he left Croatia feeling like he gained a lot of knowledge as well.
“We got to learn about the entire culture,” Staub said. “Between that and the locals, knowing the dance performances and music performances, I really feel like I left the country truly knowing everything about it and what the people are like there. Part of me feels like I know more about Croatia than the United States. It was a really great experience.”