Victoria Sparrow and Ocean Jangda are the young students of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Victoria came to Dubrovnik from Rochester, New York, while Ocean comes from Alaska. Since their Dubrovnik adventure came to the end, they shared their experiences and impressions about the town, as well how it is to study in the country completely different than places that they come from, with many more interesting details.
Why did you decide to come to Dubrovnik?
Ocean: I’m passionate about travel. I was looking for opportunity to travel while taking classes. RIT bends over backwards to help their students from Rochester to come to Dubrovnik to have that experience, because it really gives you a competitive advantage when you graduate. I was able to work with my advisor to make it happen. Since I was a kid I really wanted to come to Mediterranean, the Adriatic region. I grew up in Alaska and the water there is very cold so we don’t do very much swimming, we don’t have much nautical culture. I was always into boats, so coming to Dubrovnik, the heart of boating, was amazing. Specifically I came for geography and the way the geography was included into culture and history trough here. And because we had a campus here it was like win-win.
Victoria: I really wanted to come to Dubrovnik since my first year. My department really pushes people towards here, they offer a lot of funding, a lot of help. When I first took a tour of my department, they show you around and when you walk in there are pictures of Dubrovnik all over the floor. It looks so amazing. I’ve never heard of Croatia, as sad as it is, I didn’t know Croatia was a country before I came to RIT. Seeing this place seemed magical to me, I needed to know more about it. I knew I wanted to study abroad and when I was thinking of places to go I was like ‘I could go to Spain, Italy, Germany’ but those are places that people go frequently, that is something that everyone talks about and I wanted to have more of an unique experience. This was exactly what I was looking for!
How did your family react to your decision?
Victoria: First day was so exciting to me seeing all those photos and I was talking to my mum, I was 17 at that point, and she got so nervous. I’m the oldest in my family and the idea of me being so away was kind of new. My mum said that she tried to put a brave face, but that night she had a nightmare that I got sick and something bad happened to me and nobody was there to take care of me and she told me about that years later. She said: ‘I’m trying to brave, but I am nervous, I am afraid’. My family had these notions about Croatia and they were afraid for me and I didn’t have those kind of fears. I’m lucky that they didn’t transfer that to me, so I didn’t second guess it or question it. It was easier for me than it was for them, definitely.
Ocean: My family reacted in a very different way. I grew up in Alaska and we’ve traveled a lot while I was growing up. Travel was always important to my family. After I’ve graduated high school, I’ve took a year off and I’ve traveled to Australia and that was my first adventure of traveling internationally by my own. So I did have experienced doing that before coming here. My mother traveled a lot while she was young as well, so she was very encouraging. She said: ‘If you can do it, do it!’ We’ve always had a very symbiotic relationship, in terms of encouraging each other to travel and experience new things, which is really cool.
How was your Dubrovnik experience?
Ocean: I tried to go into it with no expectations, because I think that’s a really good way to travel. As soon you have expectations you hold yourself to certain things which maybe would limit your experience here. When I came here I was like ‘Whatever works, whatever works’. When I got here it turns out that our mentor Andela Petra Cvitanovic, student of the third year of the RIT Croatia in Dubrovnik, was super cool, very knowledgeable. Our apartments are beautiful and they are so conveniently located. It was an amazing learning experience. I didn’t come here with much knowledge about Croatia, or with Dubrovnik specifically so the culture classes that we were taking with professor Domagoj Nikolic were incredibly enlightening. It’s a class with no required attendance and no homework but we come, have an interesting conversation, learn things. So enlightening to speak about culture, about the people and go out and experience it all.
Victoria: I was, again, very opposite of Ocean. I have been told a lot of stories of lot of people that have been to Dubrovnik and I’ve seen pictures, I had this notion of what it would be like. For me it was odd, because usually several people for my department come at the same time and they bond as a group and explore, they experience Dubrovnik together. And now – it was just me. Initially I was very discouraged by this but then I thought: ‘You know what? I’m not going to let other people dictate what I’m going to do with my experience’. The way that they were talking about Dubrovnik showed it as a party, four month vacation, you don’t have to do anything. I was thinking that there’s got to be more to it than just that. I came thinking that it would be like a party scene. We talked a lot about this before at culture classes, it’s not quite like that way. It took a long time for me to adjust, first few months here was like an adjustment period, letting go and relaxing and experiencing this on my own. That was the hardest part for me, being by myself. Once I’ve adjusted to that, I was able to enjoy it and now I feel much more comfortable here. It took some time, but I’ve got there.
What do you think about people here, did they accept you?
Victoria: Yes, for the most part they were really wonderful. I’ve only had maybe one or two cases where people were not very kind, but that’s definitely an exception. Our mentor was great when we met her, making it comfortable to talk with her and other Croatians, getting to know the students. The classes were great because the other students got to know you. Once you gain that kind of confidence it’s much easier to interact with other locals. It was really a network, it started with just one and built up my confidence so I could talk with anybody.
Ocean: I’ve made some really good friends. Obviously it’s a short period to get close to people, especially for me, I’m very independent. I really like my privacy and my space. As much I came here for friendships, I also came here for a lot of introspection and self development because that’s important to me. Making relationships with students here was a very unique experience from all the travel experiences I’ve had. Croatian people are very culturally introverted. They definitely prefer to stay within their national comfort zone, in terms of the culture and language. One of the most challenging things was just the language itself because it’s very challenging to learn. I’ve learnt a few words, but in terms of having a conversation in Croatian – it’s very hard.
Victoria: It took me a long time before I could even hear the sounds that people were saying. It sounded like… Nothing. I couldn’t even think what letters they are saying.
Ocean: I think that made some types of social interactions more challenging. For example, I’m that kind of person that will get to know a person when going out to the town and having some drinks with them. In a situation when you are doing that as an American student they will generally prefer to speak Croatian, rather than having entire group switch to English. In lot of situations that was a barrier to becoming more close. It really requires a lot of effort on a Croatian part to get to know me as well. More challenging than traveling to Australia, where everyone speak English. In addition, I think there is a lot of pro American propaganda in the educational system around here. We talked a lot about that. I think having that in the educational system, in the formal manner, makes the Croatians less naturally curios about American people. Unfortunately, I think that all of that propaganda doesn’t necessarily reflect reality in America, it’s definitely not a promise land, it’s very diverse. That’s an additional barrier.
I must ask you Ocean, how do people react to your name?
Ocean: It’s hard getting now somebody sometimes, because their initial enthrallment with my name is a barrier to be genuine in interacting with people. I’ve heard all the jokes, so if you come up with a new one I’ll shake your hand. My older brother’s name is River, so there is kind of a theme going around in my family. My mother is really inspired by nature and she wanted us to be connected to it. Kind of a hippie thing! (laughs)
Victoria: He looks like an Ocean.
What’s difference in lifestyle?
Victoria: To me there’s a vast difference in terms how I lived my life in New York. I was very, very, very busy person. I worked three different jobs and then I was constantly on the run. I didn’t have a moment to sit down and relax, sit by the ocean and have a coffee. The fact that people have coffee here for two, three hours stunned me. First time I went I thought it was going to be like a half an hour, but we were there for two hours and but it was a cathartic experience. It felt wonderful to sit back and relax, not being constantly rushing and I really enjoyed that. The feeling of just no having to be stressed all the time, I look at it as a bonus. And there is also a feeling of a community, everybody help each other around here. People are friendly and if somebody needs help, he is able to reach for help within the community. I was able to watch this because I look like an outsider, but over time people have mistaken me for Croatians for few times. Old people tried to talk to me, other people were very friendly and I couldn’t respond but I got a genuine, relaxed community kind of feeling.
Ocean: My original lifestyle in America was very different from Victoria’s. I did stay very busy but having learned from the experiences of my older brother with him going through college and then starting a business, running a business in Las Vegas, it was a chaotic business atmosphere. The experience that he had with stress in his life made me very decisive about where I’m reducing stress in my lifestyle. It’s a constant challenge but I think it’s definitely worthy of the attempt. Stress is no good on any level. Coming here I felt like I was home. I was chilled out. I personally can’t do the two hour coffee, I tried it when I came. I’ll sit down with you for coffee for a ten minutes or so. I’m not as social, it didn’t work with my personality.
What was your favorite thing in Dubrovnik?
Victoria: I think the thing that I enjoyed the most was being so close to water. I’ve never lived in a town like this where you can walk out and there’s the Adriatic. That was so nice for me. For once I’ve felt like I could take a break and enjoy that. I’m going to miss that when I go home because we don’t have the same kind of scenery from where I’m from so it was nice to me to see a different landscape.
Ocean: It’s similar to me. I grew up in Alaska, surrounded by mountains and living by the coast, and I loved that. I grew up hiking and camping and in Rochester there’s not much of that lifestyle. Coming here, seeing the mountains again, being on the coast again was really cool for me.
What are your future plans, is there a chance of coming back to Dubrovnik?
Victoria: I don’t think I could stay away, honestly! I don’t know if I would spend as much time in Dubrovnik. One of the questions that we were asked was ‘Would you do the same study abroad experience again?’ and I’ve enjoyed my time here but I want to see the rest of the Balkans. I definitely want to come back.
Ocean: I wouldn’t do the study abroad in Dubrovnik as well, because why do the same twice if you can have another experience? It has a very little to do with a city itself, but with the fact that I want to explore the world and see as many places as I can. I definitely want to come back to Dubrovnik for vacation. Once I can afford to rent a yacht and eat in some nice restaurants – there’s no better place for that kind of lifestyle than Croatia.