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Lesley Student Reflects on His Unique Internship in Croatia

[Editor’s note: If you are new to Lesley, internships are a key part of the experience. One of our reporters, Tony Kecman, is a History major, and he recently came back from an internship at the Croatian Museum of Archaeological Monuments. He offers a few final thoughts about living and working in Croatia, to conclude what he wrote for us over the summer. And to make his stay even more memorable, while he was there, Croatia’s soccer team made it to the World Cup finals.]

It was July 15th, and the mood was electric. There wasn’t one person not wearing a HNS jersey or ‘bootleg’ merchandise, touting the numbers of Modric, Rakitic, and Kramaric. Dressed in blues, reds, and whites- the turnout of support for the Vatreni (Croatian for Blazers) was immense. It was a hard fought loss against France, but that didn’t spoil  the vibe.  People lit colorful smoke bombs and road flares, ran through the streets with flags and team-colored scarves, and proudly displayed the patriotism of Croatia.

It was a historic World Cup season, and not even a loss could diminish the country’s pride in having come so far.  Just a couple of days after the finals, I joined a crowd in the plaza of the city of Split to welcome back hometown players Ivan Strinic, Ante Rebic, and others who were on the team. Locals and tourists alike flooded the Riva in seas of reds and white, boats anchored off the coast of the boardwalk, lighting road flares to show their patriotism.

Croatia has treated me well, and as my trip comes to a close, I’d like to follow up with everyone who read my previous article, as this trip has done a lot more than just giving me an enjoyable summer here. If you are new to Lesley (or if you haven’t had an internship, or never participated in Study Abroad yet), I’d like to tell you how an experience like this can change a perspective on culture, and allow you to be part of the culture, rather than just a bystander taking pictures.

My work at the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments has been phenomenal. The colleagues there welcomed me with open arms and I was immersed in the culture of the museum and got to know a little bit more about the core of Croatian history– from Ancient history through the early Middle Ages. It’s a quaint environment, very busy due to the under-staffing, reminiscent of any type of gridlock we’d experience in U.S. Congress. However, the staff persists, working to complete their tasks of gathering relics and artifacts for the upcoming ‘Eastern Adriatic and Byzantium’ exhibition. This exhibit highlights the former territories of Byzantine within the Dalmatian coast, and seeks to explain and educate the visitor on the role and purpose of Byzantium’s actions in Croatia.

Trips to and from cities like Dubrovnik, Zadar, Rijeka, and Zagreb have been frequent to pick up artifacts from other museums to feature in the exhibition. I had the experience of going on one of these trips to the towns of Knin and Omiš to pick up a marble lunette, old clay flask, and some Byzantine helmets and weaponry with a total of possibly $80,000 (this stuff was genuinely priceless, no need putting a price tag in the end). My main task has been translating. I’ve done translations for the English portion of their website and restructuring the ‘ongoing research’ to include more organization and information. This was one of the hardest tasks to do– translating while keeping the meaning of the original author intact and unfettered. Many phrases and sentences couldn’t be translated easily from Croatian, and some just didn’t make sense when translated.

I’ve also done translations for the exhibition’s pamphlets and anecdotes in the exhibit itself. Outside of this, I’ve visited the museum’s sprawling basement and viewed the restoration workers diligently restoring, recreating, and cleaning artifacts for storage or upcoming exhibition. My time at the museum was insightful, and also gave me a greater insight to the history of the country of my heritage. It’s not as turbulent or eventful as American history, but Croatia’s past includes many involvements with larger nations and influences from early civilizations. I am not as familiar with the more recent history as I should be, but I will be studying it, informed by my experience in Sarajevo (will be discussed in a later article).  This pas history still has ramifications to this day in certain areas.

But what I learned is this:  the Croatian people are more than their political divisions. They are not defined by what they’ve done, or who they support, or whatever they might think or believe. These people are defined by the lives they live, and how they value the time they have to spend. In Croatia, people are not as caught up in the daily grind. They are not hyper-focused on profit or status. They live to live, and they try to enjoy their life.  Food isn’t seen as just a profit center; food is meant to provide a homey sense of comfort. Coffee isn’t seen as a necessity for energy; it’s the focal point of an entire social ritual, an exchange you have with either the atmosphere or another human. Simple things have grander meanings in Croatia.  The food isn’t totally ‘out of this world’ when it comes to eating at home or with family, but what matters is that it brings people together in one spot.

The Croatians value the time they spend with one another; social exchange is THE most valuable necessity. They’re proud of their country, from singing Oliver Dragocevic’s ‘Skalinada’ at the top of their lungs, to cheering for their soccer teams (even with the constant reminder that defeat is more than likely). They embrace their national identity and wear it proudly on their sleeve. One might be a fisherman, one might be a fashion mogul, one might be the future star for the Vatreni, and one might be just a rancher from Slavonia; but they can all get around the same table and bask in the love of their country.

If you haven’t visited Croatia before, it’s a trip that’s well worth it. The country has something to offer for each and every interest.  Studying and traveling and living there has been a worthwhile experience, and I hope you will take the many opportunities Lesley offers to study in other countries.  Now that I am back at school in Cambridge,  I want to encourage you to visit another country (including Croatia if possible!), so that you can experience another culture:  but try to take a step away from the extra-touristy stuff. Meet a local, talk, order some coffee, and above all, learn about what makes the country so lovely, as I did when I spent my summer in Croatia.

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