When I mention that my ancestors come from Croatia, most people say they aren’t familiar with that country. But perhaps they don’t realize how important Croatia is to popular culture. In fact, a number of characters and places in movies and television have ties to Croatia, including The Last Jedi’s Canto Bight and Game of Thrones’ Kings Landing (both filmed in the city of Dubrovnik); the upcoming “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (its setting is the Greek Kalokairi islands); an upcoming Robin Hood movie set for release in November; one, or potentially two, Bond films; and the NBC TV series “Emerald City,” just to name a few.
If you haven’t heard of Croatia from tourist blogs, it is a country that makes up Eastern Europe’s coastline, just to the east of Italy. Not all of it is coastal, as you have the inland region that surrounds the capital, Zagreb, and a section bordering Bosnia and Herzegovina known as Slavonia. The idyllic, postcard-worthy scenery lies along Croatia’s 1,777 meter-long Dalmatian coastline home to over one thousand coastal features, 718 of which are islands. Somewhere on this coastline is the city of Split (pronounced “Spleet”), where I sit writing this piece for the Lesley Public Post, and where I’ll remain until August 11th. But I am not here for a vacation, or to enjoy the sites; I am here for a unique internship opportunity.
I believe that I am the only student doing an ‘international’ internship this summer, and I am quite possibly the first Lesley University student to have done an internship in Croatia. As I mentioned in my previous article, I am a history major. And world history fascinates me. My family and I make a trip to Croatia every summer to visit relatives, but this time around, I am working at the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments (Muzej hrvatskih arheoloških spomenika) in Split. This is a good-sized museum, located just about a ten minute walk away from the coastline. It houses relics and artifacts dating back to the early medieval period.
From marble capitals to stone structures and fragments made of ceramics, glass, and forged iron, this museum was the first to self-identify as a museum for ‘Croatian’ artifacts, emerging out of a time of political and cultural reform. Today, the museum staff participates in excavations and preservation of Croatian history, while gradually attempting to solidify their own foundations to finish their permanent exhibition. I’ve done some small tasks here and there, mostly concerned with translations, but I’m definitely excited to see what’s to come with the remainder of my internship.
Thus far, working at the museum has provided me with a rich opportunity to better understand my own culture, as well as a chance to improve my ability to speak Croatian. I’ve also completed one trip to the island of Hvar (known for being a summer resort), and my next excursion is planned for this weekend in Zadar (site of a number of ancient ruins). And speaking of understanding the culture, it has been a very different experience watching the World Cup games in Croatia– unlike the United States, where “soccer” is nowhere nearly as popular as American football, here soccer (or what the rest of the world calls “football”) is a national obsession; and the fact that our team has been winning makes the experience even more exciting.
But in addition to beautiful vistas and watching football, I can tell you this is an amazing country for anyone who loves history to visit. One of the things that continually amazes me, ever since I came here for my first time, is that the city my ancestors came from is the same city that hosted the Roman emperor Diocletian’s summer palace. The city of Split is a massive tourist hub for trips out to other islands, or maybe as of now, to the Ultra Music Festival’s Europe iteration. But not a lot of tourists realize that when they walk the streets of Split (what we’d call, ‘U Grad’, which means ‘in the city’), they’re walking inside the same standing walls that made up Diocletian’s palace centuries ago.
Because both of my parents are from Croatia, it is understandable that I love spending time in this country. But working at the museum is giving me a very different perspective on this country’s long history, as well as on what is being done to preserve it for future generations.