UNFORGETABLE SEMESTER AT RIT CROATIA
By Victoria Farrell, student at Rochester campus
HOW DID I GET HERE?My name is Victoria Farrell; I am in my third year of study at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York where I study International Hospitality and Service Management, specializing in Event Management with a concentration in Communication. I've wanted to study abroad in Dubrovnik since my very first tour of RIT campus. When given an introduction to the department, the Professors talked extensively about the study abroad experience. They encourage all of their students to go to Dubrovnik and I knew that it was an experience I definitely had to have. It is practically a rite of passage for all Hospitality students. There was never any doubt that I would study abroad in college; I knew that it would push me out of my comfort zone, and that was really what I was looking for. I'd never been so far away from home for so long, and I wanted to know how I would do on my own. Croatia just felt right to me. The pictures were really convincing, but more than that, I wanted to explore a place I didn't know a lot about. The typical study abroad locations (Italy, France, Spain etc.), are all appealing, but I wanted to have an experience that was more unique. I truly believe I found what I was looking for in Dubrovnik.
ADJUSTMENT PERIODLiving in Dubrovnik was certainly a very new and exciting experience for me. I loved being so colse to the sea; being able to go and just sit out by the water on a nice day was one of my favorite activities. The people of Dubrovnik are really unique, and I learned a lot from them. One of the biggest differences I noticed almost immediately was just how fashion-savvy everyone was. Men, women and children always seemed to dress their best, no matter what the weather. I felt a little self-conscious at first, but I adjusted pretty quickly. Something else I noticed in terms of differences is just how safe the city of Dubrovnik can be, and how trusting everyone is. Children walk around unattended all the time, people leave their cars running on the curb as they run into the Konzum on Pile, and it feels perfectly safe to wander around the city at night. Never before have I lived in such a place, and it was nice to let me guard down for a little while. I always felt very comfortable in Dubrovnik, even walking around on my own. Living in such a relaxed setting has been a really nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of my lifestyle back home. I think that'll be one of the things I miss most!
OUT AND ABOUTOnce I started to get comfortable with being in Dubrovnik, I had the urge to see more of the country, and really learn about it. I was lucky enough to visit Split, Trogir, Šibenik, Peljesac, and three of the Elaphiti Islands, as well as Krka National Park. I also took a few excursions with the school to Budva and Kotor in Montenegro, and Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina. I really enjoyed the travel, and it gave me an appreciation for the region that I think few tourists have.
STUDYING AT RIT CROATIAThe best thing about studying here at RIT Croatia was getting to meet so many amazing people. Every interaction has taught me something new, I feel as though I have really grown as a person because of it. I really enjoyed learning about the culture of the region in the classroom and outside it. The experience surpassed any expectation I had coming into it. I thought the professors were really wonderful: they were engaging, well educated, and most of all, they really cared about the wellbeing of their students. They connect with them on a more personal level, which is hard to do in larger universities like what we have back home in the States. They really helped me feel welcome. The students took a little longer to warm up to me than the professors. I was nervous to meet them, and they weren't very keen to talk to me, at first. But overtime, as I got more comfortable in my new surroundings, and the students got used to having me around, I found it was very easy to make friends with them. They were very kind to me, and some I know we have a bond that will last even after I'm gone. If it wasn't for them, this experience wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable. I found that it really helped to learn some Croatian, just a few simple things to start a conversation. Quickly I found that they really appreciated my efforts, and it helped make me less of an outsider.
TO SPEAK OR NOT TO SPEAK CROATIANLearning about Croatian language was something I really made a point of doing. I think learning a new language is an integral part of any travel experience, no matter how challenging it may be. Personally, I think it is the best kind of souvenir. I can introduce myself, and say where I'm from. I can count (slowly, but I'm practicing), and I know some other simple phrases like: gladna sam, ništa and može among others. I've been working on my conversational skills as best I can, to help blend in a little better. It was not easy, but I think that learning even a limited amount of the language has been very rewarding and I hope to be able to continue to learn more in the future. Any interaction where I don't have to use my English, like in the grocery store or ordering coffee in a cafe, is a success for me.
LOOKING BACK AT MY EXPERIENCE IN DUBROVNIKNow that my time is nearing to the end, I've been thinking a lot about my experience: who I was before I came to Dubrovnik and who I am now. I believe that they are two totally different people. I have had such an incredible experience, something that will remain near and dear to me for the rest of my life. The memories that I've made and the people that I've met have taught me so much, and I really felt like I've grown a lot. I am so grateful to have had this experience, and I'm so happy that I didn't chicken out or change my mind when I found out that I would be the only one going. It turned out to be one of the best decisions that I've ever made. I think if given the choice to study in Dubrovnik again, I would be very tempted. However, now that I've gotten comfortable here, I feel need to broaden my horizons. I've really grown attached to the city and its charm, but I'm always looking to push my limits just a little further, find new ways to step outside my comfort zone. Perhaps I would try for a few classes in Zagreb, just to compare the two experiences. Though I can definitely say I plan to visit again someday, perhaps with my friends and family: to show them the place that has become so near and dear to my heart.