Editor’s note: This is a firsthand account of an ISLP trip to Croatia during the spring semester, written by Mackenzie Burke, an intern in the Office of Communications and spring 2019 graduate.
Growing up, I never thought I would get the chance to travel aboard. Mainly due to my parents being the protective types. They weren’t even keen on me going to the University of Louisville because they believed an hour away was too far from home. Despite this, I chose UofL. I knew it would offer me opportunities that no other university could provide. So when I learned the International Service Learning Program (ISLP), a program created for UofL students to travel aboard and provide services, I immediately applied to go to Croatia. I saw this as my chance to finally expand my horizons.
When I landed in Croatia, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. My professor Steve Sohn, a ISLP veteran, did tell me and my peers what to expect in Croatia. One of them being how Croatia is smoking country. From adults to teenagers, smoking cigarettes are practically allowed anywhere at any time. This was difficult for me to imagine until we arrived in the first city called Sisak. It was just as my professor said.
As someone who grew up in a nation where smoking is prohibited in many places and has an age restriction, witnessing such a cultural difference definitely threw me for a loop. However, it didn’t offend me. The point of ISLP is to learn about another culture, and smoking is a part of Croatia’s society. Seeing such a difference helped me better understand what it’s like to live in Croatia.
Along with learning about cultural differences, another part of ISLP is to provide services. My group and I were tasked with developing educational activities to teach to Croatian high school students. At first, I was fearful that it would be difficult for us to connect with the Croatian students. We grew up with different cultural backgrounds. I was scared such a boundary would prevent us from getting along. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Croatian students completely opened up to us. They asked us about our culture, and they were excited to answer our questions, too. Some of the students even invited us out to explore the town, allowing us to get to know them better. By our last day of teaching, I had become so close with my students that I got emotional when we said our goodbyes. Luckily, we became friends on social media, so the goodbye wasn’t final.
After our teaching days, my group and I left Sisak to explore the other cities of Croatia including Zadar, Zaton, Nin and Zagreb. Every place we visited was beautiful, but it was my friends who made the experiences unforgettable. It’s amazing to me how I didn’t know anyone at the start of this program, and now some of my favorite moments are goofing around with these wonderful people.
ISLP not only introduced me to another country’s culture, but it also allowed me to form friendships with individuals whom I may have never met on UofL’s big campus.