An Ode to Croatia
If I've talked to you in person some point during the past five years, I've probably mentioned Croatia on multiple occasions. Since it's the FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of my first visit to Hrvatska (Stanford BOSP Overseas Seminar), I'm celebrating the appropriate way during quarantine–sitting out by the pool, sipping a cold glass of white wine and pretending that I'm looking out onto the Adriatic Sea! Feel free to grab a drink for yourself and settle in for an Ode to Croatia.........živjeli🍻
Stanford BOSP Overseas Seminar: Where it all began
I just didn't wake up one day and decide that I wanted to study abroad. Ever since I started watching the Mary-Kate and Ashley direct to VHS travel movies, I knew that I wanted to make travel a priority in my life. Pretty much every university offers study abroad programs, but what made studying off campus accessible at Stanford, was the fact that my financial aid package carried over to my month long seminar in Croatia and my semester in South Africa.
If you're someone considering studying abroad during college / know of someone in your life that wants to study abroad my advice is to make a game plan ASAP! Contact the study abroad office / international students center to learn about scholarships or grants that are available to help fund your studies. Go Overseas and Go Abroad are great online resources. Cost is hands down the number 1 barrier that keeps students from studying abroad, so if you really want the experience you should plan accordingly.
ANYWAYS, there I was sitting in my freshman dorm room one night sifting through the day's emails. I'm not sure if it's just a Stanford student conundrum but I received roughly about ~50 emails a day while in college. Delete, Delete, Delete to all the useless ones about engineering events until I saw one titled "BOSP Study Abroad Seminars - Open to all years". This message immediately caught my eye because up until that moment I thought I'd have to wait until my junior year to study abroad. A deeper search through the study abroad office's website revealed that every year, faculty lead 3-4 week seminars in locations ALL OVER THE WORLD. The coolest part of the program model is that seminars never repeat. Each summer they offer completely different trips, in different locations, with new course material.
I quickly scanned through the online brochure and came to a dead stop when I read the words History, Arts, and Culture of Southeastern Europe - Based in Croatia. That was it. That was the trip for me. I'm not sure where you stand on the topic of fate or cosmic coincidences, but I knew I was destined to apply for this seminar because I grew up in a small coastal city in Los Angeles (called San Pedro) with a HUGE Croatian immigrant population. When I say huge, I mean HUGE. We have a Croatian Hall, a Dalmatian American Club building, and the Croatian Cultural Center of Los Angeles. Not to mention every school I attended, my Girl Scout troop, and my AYSO soccer teams were filled to the brim with kids with -IC or -ICH last names. (ex. Mardesich, Vitalich, Bebich, Djordjevic, etc.)
One application, one interview, and one waitlist removal later and I was off to Croatia!!!! For 3.5 weeks my newfound friends and I called the then sleepy neighborhood of Lapad (on the Babin Kuk peninsula - Grandmother's hip in English) home. We'd attend class in the mornings in the conference center of the Adriatic Hotel, pop down to Stari Grad (Old Town) for afternoon tours/activities, and mostly have the evenings to ourselves. Somehow between classes we managed swims all along the rocky coast, local wine tastings, bizarre club outings and ate all the gelato one could ever fathom. Despite the fact that it has been 5 YEARS since this seminar, I look back on the time as one of my favorite trips of my life.
Here are a few reasons why I fell in love with Croatia
Charming Old Town - Croatia's calling card is its magically charming old towns. Paved with polished marble, built with ivory colored stones, and adorned with green shutters, every Old Town in Croatia makes you feel like you're transported to another time. Feel free to wander around and get lost in the quaint little streets. You might be like me and come across on old apartment that was converted into an art gallery. I chatted with the owner about her life, living all over the world, and taking the leap of faith to convert her late father's old apartment into her gallery. She even painted me a mini-custom piece depicting the town square and church in Makarska, Croatia.
Food - Although I'd describe myself as an island girl at heart (because of my Hawaiian ancestry) I've never been a big seafood person. The smell of seafood usually makes me nauseous but how could I explore Croatia for 3 weeks and not try their local cuisine? If you speak to anyone that's been to Croatia they'll probably tell you fish/seafood hits differently there. One meal at Lokanda Peskarija and I became a pescatarian convert! A Croatian girl once explained to me that Croatian fish is especially tasty because of the high salt levels in the Adriatic Sea. I'm not sure that's how science works, but I believe it. Besides the fresh seafood my ALL TIME FAVORITE Balkan dish is the simple meal of ćevapi. Mincemeat mini-sausages, somun bread, grilled onions, and kajmak sauce (sour cream of the Balkans) come together to create the perfect savory meal. I seriously dream about getting my hands on ćvapi.
Adriatic Sea - The entire Croatian coastline is engulfed by the salty waters of the Adriatic Sea. Since I'm from California, it's a refreshing break to swim in calm crystal turquoise waters. My curly hair also looks particularly ✨AMAZING✨ after taking a dip in the sea. If you're adding Croatia to your bucket list because of this post, don't forget to bring some sturdy Teva or Keen like sandals. The best swimming spots often take a little trekking through seaside rocks or walking down a steep flight of concrete steps.
Dubrovnik Summer Festival - The entire BOSP Seminar in Croatia was created around the annual Dubrovnik Summer Festival. In the most famous parts of Stari Grad (Stradun, Lovrjenac Fortress, Sponza Palace) artists from all across Europe come to perform in plays, ballets, symphonies, orchestras, and more! Our professor explained that every year the city holds a firework display to celebrate the start of the festival. If there's one thing you can count on about a group of American students abroad, it's that we'll seek out any type of firework situation. I suggested that we grab a few bottles of wine and posted up at Banje Beach since the fireworks had to be lit from somewhere on the water. Little did we know that the firework barges were parked ~100/150 meters directly out from our location! The fireworks boomed, sparkled, and dazzled for 25 minutes directly over our heads. This night goes down as the closest I've ever been to fireworks.
While in Dubrovnik our class also attended a hauntingly beautiful choral performance in Sponza Palace. In addition, one late-night while wandering the alleyways of Stari Grad, a group of us happened upon a private dress rehearsal of a ballet based on Dangerous Liaisons. We secretly watched from the bleachers as the dancers flew through the air and the director hurled criticism through their megaphone.
People - The pro of going to Croatia with professors whose families are from the Balkans is that you get to meet amazing locals! We were privileged to meet local artists, students, and educators that spoke so candidly and honestly about their lives or their families lives during the breakup of Yugoslavia and the subsequent war during the 1990s. Croatian culture likes to take the day slowly (polako, polako) and savor the little moments. I loved that you could always find older Croatians sitting around drinking coffee for hours or stopping in the street to embrace each other and catch up on town and family gossip.
Wine - Forget Italy, France, and Spain (maybe?) and look to Croatia as a premier wine destination. Here are some facts to get your mouth watering: Croatia is one of the 5 best wine regions in the world; Croatia is the homeland of Zinfandel; Wine production in Croatia goes way back to the 5th century BC to a well-known Croatian wine region Baranja! Croatia's beautiful wine regions make usually expensive activities like wine tasting, wine tours, and wine in restaurants very financially accessible for the budget traveller. When eating out in Croatia I recommend asking the waiters for the house wine - tasty surprises and easy on the pockets.
RECAP VIDEO OF THE 2015 STANFORD BOSP SEMINAR BASED IN DUBROVNIK, CROATIA
By now I hope you've realized that A) I'm completely obsessed with Croatia and B) that you should get there ASAP (COVID travel restrictions / public health measures pending). Since my first trip in 2015 the tourist industry blew up and Croatia quickly rose to the top of everyone's bucket list. I still plan on visiting Croatia every year for the rest of my life because there are an endless supply of charming little islands and sleepy coastal towns to explore.
In another blog post I'll have to go more into detail about my second (first solo trip ever in Split, Croatia) time to Croatia and my third time (solo volunteering at a party hostel in Hvar, Croatia) visiting Hrvatska. In the meantime I'll be day dreaming about the next time I can dive into the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic.