I developed a passion for travel at an early age and I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. When I was looking at colleges, I looked to see how many study abroad programs they had available and took this into account when I finally chose to attend the University of Pittsburgh.
I also have a love for learning, and I knew that going abroad was the best way to learn about a different culture and gain new perspectives. As a political science major considering working with immigrants or international students sometime in the future, I knew it was important for me to be an international student myself.
Ultimately, I went abroad with a desire to challenge myself to learn about a new culture and gain an understanding of what it was like to live in a different country. I had been abroad before, but never for more than a couple weeks and never alone, and I wanted to understand a culture different from my own on a level that could only be achieved from completely immersing myself within that culture. I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone, to meet new people, and to travel and challenge myself in ways I had never been challenged before.
Why did you choose Academic Programs International (API)?
By the time I went abroad during the second semester of my junior year, I had already visited ten countries, half of them in Europe. I knew how easy Europe was to navigate, and I wanted to be able to travel to multiple countries during my time abroad. That being said, I also wanted to go somewhere that was not a typical study abroad hub or tourist destination. Being from Seattle, I have always loved the water, and so I thought if I could find a study abroad location on the water, that would be even better.
When I started looking through the locations offered by my school, I came across Academic Programs International (API) Dubrovnik. When I saw a picture of the red-roofed city nestled along the sparkling Adriatic Sea, it took my breath away, and when I learned that the program focuses on diplomacy and business, that sealed the deal.
What was your favorite part about Croatia?
Aside from the breathtaking beauty of the country, my favorite part of Croatia was the people. The locals were often eager and willing to engage in conversation, and I was able to develop relationships with many locals I saw on a regular basis. Seeing familiar faces when I walked around town really made Dubrovnik feel like home.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Only twenty-two Americans chose to study in Dubrovnik at the same time as me, and only around 100 students attend Dubrovnik International University. Because of this, we quickly got to know each other and became friends, despite coming from all different parts of the U.S. and a variety of majors and backgrounds. We were also forced to step out of our comfort zones and interact with locals regularly. This was unique because we were able develop friendships with local waiters, bartenders, and store employees. This worked to our advantage financially once tourist season began, but also allowed us to learn about Croatian culture and everyday life, as we interacted with and learned from the people who lived there.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
There are two wonderful API resident directors in Dubrovnik right now, Nada and Ivana. Right away they made us feel welcome, picking us up at the airport and taking us to our accommodations. They love their jobs and are willing to answer any questions. They were essentially our mothers during our time there, giving us advice and helping us with everything, including registering for classes, travel advice, and letting us know the best places to eat and get a haircut.
I was unfortunate enough to come down with a virus during my time in Dubrovnik, and they constantly checked in on me while I was sick, and even took me to the doctor and helped me with insurance when I decided I needed to go. I cannot say enough about how helpful they were during my semester there.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I would have explored the local areas of the city a bit more at the beginning of my program. The apartments we stayed in were close to the Old Town, but are away from the main neighborhoods. There were things that I went without for much of my time there that I could have found if I had wandered out of the areas immediately surrounding the Old Town a bit sooner.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
During a typical day, I would wake up and eat breakfast on my beautiful balcony. If I had class that day I would go to class, often stopping at the bakery to pick up a sandwich for lunch. Class was usually around three hours long, with a of break for lunch or a snack. The class usually consisted of a lecture and some sort of student presentation or discussion. After class I would often stop by the Konzum (a small grocery store) on my way home and then walk up 200 stairs to my apartment, where I would cook dinner and relax with my roommates before meeting up with other students from my program later that evening. On warm days, we would meet up at the beach before and after class.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
When it was warm enough, my free time was usually spent on the beach with my friends. It seems like we were there every day during the last month or so. We also spent our time exploring the city, visiting nearby cities and countries, and taking advantage of our free student admission to the movies. We quickly found our favorite restaurants and bars and befriended the locals who worked at those establishments. There is a lot to see and do in Dubrovnik, and as it gets warmer more businesses open up, so there are always new things to do!
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
My accommodation was simply amazing. I shared a three bedroom apartment with two other girls from my program. The view from my apartment was incredible and every day I woke up and looked off of my balcony in awe. Our landlord lived in the apartment complex and provided us with everything we needed (i.e. dishes, sheets, towels, etc). We were located only a five to 10 minute walk from the university and most of the other students in the program lived in the same building, or a short 10 minute walk away.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Classes at Dubrovnik International University do not run on the same schedule that we have in the U.S. Professors are flown in from all over the world, so the classes run during the time that the professor is available. This means that classes will often run every day, three hours a day, for three to four weeks, and then you will be finished with the course. This also means that there may be days or weeks when you are not required to be in class. If you can, speak with someone who has completed the program before you. My school put me in contact with another student who had completed the Dubrovnik program in the previous spring and she was able to give me advice on my accommodations and academic life in Croatia. Because of this, I was better able to prepare for my time abroad.
Finally, coming back is hard. I knew that returning from the best semester of college would be difficult, but nothing prepared me for how difficult it actually was when I stepped back onto campus. Make sure that when you return you are taking advantage of the resources your university provides to help you readjust. It really helped me to reach out to friends from my study abroad program, because they were going through the same thing on their campuses.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
Study abroad was easily the best semester of my college experience. While I hesitate to say that I am a totally changed person because of study abroad, I do think that it challenged and pushed me in ways I had never been challenged before. Studying in Croatia certainly broadened my perspective when it comes to politics, as I learned the European histories and perspectives surrounding many major world events – perspectives I never would have been exposed to if I had not studied in a Croatian university.
Would you recommend API to others? Why?
I absolutely recommend API to other students. API was helpful and made me feel safe and prepared before and during my time in Croatia. Everything in regards to accommodations and transportation was taken care of before I arrived and I felt no stress when I arrived in Croatia. I also highly recommend studying in Dubrovnik specifically; it was a unique experience in a place that not many other students choose to go.
Originally from Seattle, Washington, Lianne is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is studying political science. She studied abroad in Dubrovnik, Croatia, during the spring of 2016. In the future, Lianne hopes to work with international students in the United States. She is an avid traveler, has visited 22 countries, and doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.