I’ve had this post written for a while, and am just publishing it now! Sorry everyone! For Spring Break this year, I was able to attend the “Best of the Balkans” study trip offered by the JFRC. This meant ten days exploring Eastern Europe, visiting countries: Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia and many cities within them including Belgrade, Novi Sad, Sarajevo, Mostar and Split. Overall it was an amazing trip and I learned more than I ever could have imagined.
In Serbia we spent most of our time in Belgrade where we visited a couple of museums and learned about the history of Yugoslavia, and we also got to visit the US Embassy. After learning about the history of conflict in the Balkan area from our tour guide, and then from the museum, it was really interesting to speak with the US Ambassador of Serbia to see where the US stands politically today. That was probably my favorite part of Serbia, it was also the first time in a US Embassy for a lot of the students on the trip. 17 JFRC students in total, we all were able to sit in a round table discussion format and discuss with the ambassador. My roommate is an intern at the US Embassy in Rome, and so this formal setting is something she has become quite accustomed to, but for a number of us in the room it was entirely new.
Serbia fulfilled our expectations as we spent most of our time in smoke filled coffee shops, trying to escape the brisk weather, and gazing at the architecture that blended the past and present. In every building that we saw in both Bosnia and Serbia, there contained so much history not only of the conflict in the 90’s but also from who controlled the area before. Seen more clearly when we got to Sarajevo, Bosnia after a long drive through the deep snow-covered mountains, was the combination of cultures blended behind the concrete walls. In Belgrade there were buildings that still hadn’t been restored from bombings, and in Sarajevo dozens of buildings were covered in bullet holes telling the story of all that happened during the conflict. Part of the reason the history of the fall of Yugoslavia fascinated me so much was because of my lack of knowledge of it before coming to the Balkans. It was surprising how much I didn’t know, and being in the places where genocide happened just twenty short years ago was unlike anything I’ve experienced. Of course there’s more than one side to the story, so when we were in Serbia and then Bosnia we heard the perspectives from the locals on the conflict. Naturally, the stories differed. Then when we visited the US Embassy we heard our country’s perception of it, which was again slightly different.
After our time in Bosnia, we traveled to Croatia and added another stamp to our passports. The weather was much nicer in Split, Croatia and we all enjoyed a relaxing weekend by the water. Since we only had a few days, no one traveled out to the other islands, but most of us went exploring. By the weekend end, I think I walked most of the entire city, including a hike up the big hill where there was a nice park and flag at the top. Croatia was a relaxing end to a long week of traveling and absorbing the immense amount of history in Serbia and Bosnia.
Because flights home from Croatia were ridiculously expensive, our group opted to take an eleven-hour overnight ferry across the Adriatic Sea. It was quite the adventure. We arrived in Ancona, Italy on Monday morning and took a three hour train from there so upon arrival finally back home to ROME, we were all mentally and physically exhausted. The day was far from over for me and for most others, because classes and my internship had started again that day, so for the rest of the week I still felt like I was trying to catch up on rest. No complaints though, because crossing the Adriatic Sea, even at night was a pretty unique experience, and not one that will likely happen again. Everything that this trip entailed was unexpectedly wonderful. Maybe that sounds a little cheesy, but overall it was a great experience and I feel very fortunate to have been able to see the places I did because I know they were cities that students our age wouldn’t prioritize if they only had a few months to see Europe. It gave me an appreciation for a new culture, one that I hadn’t seen or understood prior to this trip.