Some benefits from studying abroad…

Studying abroad in Dubrovnik, Croatia was easily the most rewarding part of my academic career. As a first generation, low-income college student, I never imagined that I would be able to live abroad for four months. This was made possible with the help of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship.

Personally, I have gained courage and independence. Without the experience of studying abroad, I would not have the courage to pick up my life and move across the country to Washington State after living my entire life in New York. This is allowing me to take advantage of a job opportunity that I would not have considered without the courage that I gained from studying abroad. This shows that studying abroad also helps my professional life. I have enhanced my communication and problem solving skills from my time in Croatia.

As a Hospitality and Tourism Management student, I was able to observe and live amidst a heavily seasonal international tourist destination. I learned more about service, tourism, and hospitality in Dubrovnik than I ever did in any of my many lectures on it. Dubrovnik is a highly seasonal destination that attracts mainly cruise and film tourists. This results in businesses and citizens of Dubrovnik working extremely long hours during the “high-season” and most businesses closing during the off season. I was able to observe times when tourism is not a good thing, something that I never would have previously thought possible.

 

My time abroad has inspired me to go abroad again. I traveled to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to learn about the hospitality and service offered in that part of the world. I plan on pursuing my Masters degree at an abroad institution in the coming years.

I know that cost was a major factor in my decision to study abroad, but with the help of the Gilman Scholarship, I was able to make studying abroad a reality. No college student should be denied the opportunity to study abroad because of cost.

 

 

Back to ‘Merica!

Hi everyone!

I have safely returned to the States after 25 hours of travel and 5 airports. I returned on the 20th My travels throughout the months of December and January are taking me quite literally around the world. I started in Dubrovnik, headed to Barcelona, Rochester, NY, and Utica NY. I then went to Las Vegas, NV for a week, then off on a cruise throughout the Western Caribbean in the beginning of January. I will be participating in another short-term study abroad trip at the end of January in Dubai UAE. It is exhausting just writing about all my trips, but I am so excited for each one! For now, I want to tell you about my trip to Barcelona (seems so long ago!) and my reactions since returning home.

We visited Barcelona during our last week of studying abroad in Europe. Barcelona was my absolute favorite city. The rich artwork and architecture was incredible and the tapas and sangria kept our bellys full. The work done by Antoni Gaudi throughout the city were simply gorgeous. Every person we encountered was so friendly. We visited Barcelona during their slower tourist season, so we were able to enjoy attractions like Parc Guell with very few other tourists. It was truly enjoyable. The city was decorated heavily with Christmas lights on every street and on many buildings, it was beautiful.

We spent our last day in Dubrovnik laying on the beach, searching for sea glass, and our last meal was the most delicious cevapi. I was certainly eager to get home, but I was sad leaving Dubrovnik on our last day. I know that the memories made in Dubrovnik will last me a life time.

Our journey home was long, but the anticipation and excitement I had made it seem to go by quite fast. Seeing my family and boyfriend after a long four months made me realize just how much I missed home.

So many people have asked me how my trip was, and it was obviously amazing, but I find it hard to explain to people in words what I have learned while abroad and what I experienced and went through. I feel like a different person than I was four months ago, but I also feel like other people don’t think that I have changed at all, so that is a little bit of a struggle.

The weirdest thing I have experienced since being back in the states is my lack of concentration. For the first few days that I have been home, I am completely unable to hold a conversation in public. I am very distracted by other people talking around me, because for the first time in a long time, I am actually able to understand what they are talking about. For the past four months I have tuned out the people talking in the background, but now that I am home, I can’t help but ease drop on everyone around me because I can actually understand what they are saying. It is a very strange feeling. This is the only “reverse culture-shock” that I have experienced.

Until next time! XOXO Sarah

10 reasons you need to visit Dubrovnik!

10 reasons you need to visit Dubrovnik!

As finals approach and projects are handed in, it is hard to believe that my time in Dubrovnik is almost over. When Kathryn, Michelle and I got our final’s schedule and realized that we were going to be done with finals on Monday the 13th, but our flights coming home aren’t until December 20th, we immediately jumped online into looking at one last destination we can visit while in Europe.

So, I have just three or four days left in Dubrovnik, because I will be spending next Tuesday- Friday in Barcelona, Spain! I am more than excited for this trip- it will be an amazing end to such a great time abroad.

But, before I leave Dubrovnik for good, I want to share with everyone 10 reasons why Dubrovnik needs to be added to your destination wish list!

I know what you’re thinking, Dubrovnik can’t possibly be the best place to visit in all of Europe, what about all the famous cities like Paris and London, Rome and Amsterdam? Well, I have visited all of those places in the past four months (plus a few more) and I can confidently say that I think Dubrovnik has the most value for tourists coming from anywhere. Now, maybe I am a bit biased because Dubrovnik has been my home base, but I think that my roommates would agree with me. So, without further adue- reasons why Dubrovnik is a must visit!

 

#1: The city is immaculately clean

I have honestly never seen a city as clean as Dubrovnik. There are city workers constantly sweeping up any cigarette butts, napkins, and any other debris that may have made its way into the streets somehow. They don’t only take care of the main touristic parts of the city- I have never seen any garbage where our apartment is, or in any of the areas we venture out to. One day we were sitting at a cafe, and someone had accidently dropped a small doughnut (almost like a munchkin) that he was eating onto the streets. It took all of seven minutes of the food lying in the street before a city worker came and swept it up. I kid you not. These men are constantly cleaning the streets at all times of the day. You couldn’t find misplaced garbage here if you wanted to.

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Stradun at night, during high tourist season

#2: The people are extremely hardworking

Please see my earlier post about this. But seriously, if you stay in Dubrovnik longer than three days and pay any sort of attention to local working people, you will notice that the same men who served you cocktails at 11pm are the ones giving you coffee the next morning at 10am in the same cafe. And it’s not just one cafe I have noticed this at. Day in and day out the same people are performing the same jobs with a smile on their face, just happy to be making a little bit of money. Their work ethic is incredible.

 

#3: The UNESCO sights and history.

If the Dubrovnik ancient city walls or Game of Thrones #KingsLanding aren’t enough to bring you in, then consider the rich history this area has to offer. Dubrovnik was the first republic in all of Europe, conquered by Napoleon’s army, the first nation to recognize the United States as a country, part of Ex-Yugoslavia, faced their own independence war just twenty years ago, and joined the EU in 2013. This area’s history is so rich it puts the rest of Europe almost to shame. The third oldest pharmacy in the world is still in working order in Dubrovnik, it has been opened at operating since 1317.

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The clock tower from the city walls

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#4: The food and wine

I have to admit I didn’t savor the food and wine here as many others did, mainly because I am not a huge seafood fan and not that into wine. But if you are, then Dubrovnik is the place for you! Their Dingač wine coming from the Pelješac region is world-renowned, the olive oil superb, and don’t get me started on the Ćevapi (a local meat, sort of like a skinless sausage) . It is a true Mediterranean diet. Their sweets include candied orange peels and almonds. One thing is for sure, you won’t go hungry in Dubrovnik.

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#5: The city is incredibly safe

The crime rate is virtually zero. I walk to class every day with my backpack on and my laptop computer and wallet inside without a single worry that it might not be there when I get to class. I couldn’t walk like this in Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, or London. I have never once felt the least bit uncomfortable in any area of the city. Night or day, it is completely safe to walk alone in any area. Local children as young as seven wander the streets every single day walking to and from school with no problems. I have walked home at 2AM alone (sorry Mom, lol) and never once was the even slightly sketched out. It seriously is so safe.

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City Walls

#6: It is relatively inexpensive

The Croatian Kuna is the currency in Dubrovnik. The dollar is strong against the Kuna, 1USD being equal to about 7 Kunas. Eating out at restaurants is about the same price as eating in the states, but buying groceries and alcohol, passes on city buses, and local souvenirs are on the cheaper end. It is not as cheap as things you would find in Mexico, but the hand made, quality pieces found in Dubrovnik are much cheaper than what you would expect.

 

#7: The sun, sand, and sea are at an arm’s length

Banje Beach was rated as one of the top ten beaches in the world. The turquoise water against the pebbled beaches and constant sun is a refresher for any visitor. Before coming to Dubrovnik I was warned of the rain storms and “Bora” that they experience- strong winds from the south. I am happy to say that since I arrived in late August, it has been sunny all but three days. The weather has been absolutely amazing here. It is December 10th and 62 degrees and sunny for the next two weeks! This makes year round tourism possible in Dubrovnik, although high season is still May-October, the city is taking great strides to encourage visitors to come throughout the winter months.

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Banje Beach 

#8: The city’s unique “homemade” charm

One thing that I love the most about Dubrovnik is the fact that there are no McDonald’s or Starbucks that have infiltrated the city. All restaurants and cafes are local, family owned and operated. Souvenirs are made by the local people who sell them at markets or on the side of the street. I have bought a few things from different women who are sewing table cloths or other decorative items on the side of the street more than once. The local charm and homemade uniqueness is something that you don’t find in many tourist destinations.

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Tradional Lindo Croatian Song and Dance

#9: To experience the notion of “Croatian Coffee”

When you go for coffee in Croatia, the first thing to know is that there is no such thing as “to-go” coffee, at least if you are having Croatian Coffee. When someone asks you to have a coffee with them, it is an invitation to socialize and get to know someone on a more personal level. Coffee easily lasts an hour, if not three or four. Cafes will not bring you a bill until you ask for it. Croatians truly value their coffee time. It is a time to gossip, divulge secrets, and talk to one another. Having the experience of going for coffee in Croatia is worth it in itself to visit Dubrovnik (or any other Croatian city).

 

#10: The excursions

There are countless options to get out of the city when you want to. Nearby islands (the favorite being Lokrum), hiking Mt. Srđ, and visiting vineyards up the coast are all within an hour or so trip. If you want to travel further, Mostar, Sarajevo, Split, Krka and other cities are close by. Although, I have been in Dubrovnik for four months and still haven’t gotten sick of the city! So many things are in close proximity to Dubrovnik.

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Well, there you have it. I hope that you have enjoyed my post. I will be traveling to Barcelona, Spain and home within the next week, so I will not be posting for a few weeks!

As always, thank you for taking this journey with me. And once again, thank you to Constellation Brands, The Statler Foundation, the RIT Hospitality Department, and the Gilman Foundation for making this experience financially feasible for me.  Ciao!

XOXO Sarah

A Croatian Thanksgiving

A Croatian Thanksgiving

I know that I haven’t posted in a while. The truth is, I just got so busy with school work and assignments and getting in some “must-dos” before my time in Dubrovnik comes to an end.

Since my last post, I have hiked Mt. Srd (pronounced Surg). The views down onto Dubrovnik were incredible. On the day we went, it was a bit foggy, so I am hoping to make the hike once more before we leave. I also went to Rome, Italy for four days. Seeing the historic landmarks that I have learned about since grade school was amazing.

Thanksgiving just passed, and it was the weirdest experience for me. We had class on Thanksgiving. So, for the first time in my 16 years in school, I had to attend on Thanksgiving Day. It didn’t feel like Thanksgiving, but everyone’s social media posts from home made it a little bit more real. I was able to Facetime with my family back home, which I am grateful for. I am so used to the weather being so much cooler back home during late November, so to me, it still feels like early October because it is still so beautiful in Dubrovnik.

Me and my roommates hosted an “American Thanksgiving” on Saturday, when we didn’t have class. Two other American students studying in Dubrovnik came to the dinner. We had a lot of fun preparing the food and appetizers, finding substitutes for the ingredients we would normally use at home.

We had a bunch of appetizers, and as we were halfway through cooking the dinner, we lost power to the stove and all the lights in the apartment. It was already dark outside. We lost the corn and gravy, but still had turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, and we sat and ate in the dark. That will definitely be a memory I will have with me forever. We all made the best of the situation, especially “head chef” Michelle. This years Croatian Thanksgiving was certainly one for the books.

After dinner, we were all in the typical food coma, but we played some cards and games and all laughed and had a great time.

I will end with what I am thankful for; it seems fitting…

I am thankful for this wonderful opportunity to travel the world and immerse myself in another culture. I am thankful for the great friends I came to Dubrovnik with, and the ones that I have made along the way. I am thankful for my family back home who supports me in everything I do. I am thankful for a life-changing year.

I come home in three weeks from today. My time in Dubrovnik has certainly flew by. I look forward to making the most of the next 21 days here. The Christmas Festival in Dubrovnik has officially started, so I  am excited to experience the holiday season here. And, I look forward to seeing all my family and loved ones back home soon.

I will post 2-3 times more in Dubrovnik, but my posts will continue (although, less frequently) after I return home. As always, thank you for reading and taking this journey with me!

XOXO Sarah

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Why don’t U.S. students Study Abroad??

Why don’t U.S. students Study Abroad??

I read a pretty shocking statistic last week. Only 1 % of all US students participate in a study abroad program. This really was surprising to me. I thought it was more of a natural thing to do while in school. It seems like everyone talks about studying abroad, so how do only 1% of students actually participate in an abroad experience?

Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, are making significant efforts to get their students to colleges that are abroad, such as American colleges. The funding that is provided to the students coming to America is incredible. This is a good thing for the American students, because if they are not getting exposure to other cultures through a study abroad, they are at least having an increased diversity in their home schools while on campus.

The U.S. doesn’t push for us to leave like these other countries do. There is very little funding dedicated solely to students studying abroad, but one program, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship through the Institute for International Education , has helped many students go abroad, including me! There are other foundations helping students go abroad, too. But these scholarships don’t come close to the efforts put in by other countries.

The good news is that while there are not many scholarships directed towards study abroad, there are countless scholarships for you to put towards your tuition, so you can save your personal funds to study abroad with. Simply doing a Google search with your interests or major could help you find these types of scholarships. I have received countless scholarships through private organizations

So the question is, why are US students not studying abroad? Is it because of costs? Do they think they can’t get credit? Or won’t graduate on time? Or is there simply not a desire to go? I think that there needs to be a bigger push to send American students abroad. The things that I have learned about myself, other cultures, and perceptions in the three months that I have been gone are immeasurable.

If you want to read more about study abroad statistics, check out http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2014/11/17/how-studying-abroad-has-changed-in-the-last-decade

In other news, we had the most gorgeous sunset in Dubrovnik this week. Just thought I would share it with you all 🙂
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Thanks!

XOXO Sarah

When tourism is bad…

When tourism is bad…

I would have never thought that tourism could ever possibly be a bad thing. Last spring semester I took a course that analyzed the dynamics of tourism from an objective view (any other tourism class I had taken was taught by the Hospitality Department) but this course was taught by a professor in the Anthropology department. She tried to convince us (mostly all hospitality students) that tourism is exploitative, bad, and could bring harm to entire areas. I did not really think this was at all possible. But now, I am beginning to think my mindset is shifting (slightly).

While I don’t ever want tourism to be a bad thing (for the sake of my job outlook!) it has become apparent that Dubrovnik is simply exhausted from the tourists. Before I came over, everyone talked about the “high-season” in Dubrovnik, the time when most of the tourists come and flock the main street of Stradun, and when the locals stay in their homes. This season used to only be from May-September (at the very latest). I came to Dubrovnik with this understanding; that most restaurants and tourists shops would either close or have limited hours come late September. I had even heard it from the locals.

But then the end of September came and went, and nothing changed. The city was as busy as ever. I thought maybe the tourists would stop coming in October. But here it is, November 4th, and there are still massive cruise ships in port and tour buses visiting the city. The city is definitely less busy than before, but there are still tourists everywhere.  On November 1st some restaurants and shops just closed their doors, but very few. 90% of the shops are still open, so I started asking shop owners and workers when they will be closing for the season, and most are staying open through mid-December.

The local people used to work so hard from May through September and make enough money to live off of the rest of the months without working, or doing minimal work. Now, these people are forced to work much longer, with virtually no break at all. This is why I think tourism has had a negative impact on the locals of Dubrovnik.

The mass tourism that Dubrovnik has seen in recent years have consistently broken records each year in a row. This year, they had a record breaking number of visitors climb the UNESCO protected walls of Dubrovnik. This means that these walls that are centuries old are being eroded at a much higher rate year after year, and more repairs and maintenance is needed in order to preserve them.

Most of the visitors in Dubrovnik are from cruise ships, and only have hours in the city. They are not contributing much to the local economy. Other visitors are only staying on average 2 and a half days, not contributing significantly to the local economy either.

While the tourists create garbage, human waste, erode the historic city faster, and exhaust the employees, they are creating a bad rep for tourism. This is why tourism can be bad. BUT, that doesn’t mean that Dubrovnik is not a beautiful and amazing place to visit. By becoming a smarter tourist, we can create ways to educate tourists and invent new sustainable tourism activities.

As always, thanks for reading!

XOXO Sarah

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The hardworking people of Dubrovnik

The hardworking people of Dubrovnik

We have returned from our trip to Montenegro which was stunning (pictures are below).The mountainous landscape coupled with the coastal cities of Kotor and Budva made for a truly great weekend. It also made me realize just how amazing Dubrovnik is. Now that I have visited multiple European cities, and several in the Adriatic and Baltic regions, I have no hesitation in saying that Dubrovnik is my favorite city with the most charm.

One of the reasons that I love Dubrovnik so much is because of how hard working their people are. Since the end of August, I have walked the same path to school Monday-Friday and sometimes on the weekends. Day and night, the same people are perched at their street locations or in their shops. They perform the same duties each day that I see them. I know that if I was in that position, I would be bored, complaining, and unhappy with my job. These people are so passionate and happy to be where they are (or at least they portray that). Every morning and evening, the same craftsmen and women are out knitting or painting, hoping to make a sale that day. There is a man that stands by the big fountain literally every day, in a costume, selling tiny little hearts with “Dubrovnik 2015” written on them, for only 7 kuna, or $1 each. The same woman stands outside the Orlando restaurant, happily waiting on her tables and encouraging passing tourists to take a seat and enjoy a coffee. I have never seen such hardworking people in my life (well, except my mothers fiancé Brian, he never stops either!) But seriously, these people are so dedicated to whatever they are doing, it is so inspiring.

On the other hand, I have noticed how lazy the students in Dubrovnik are. Maybe they have better work ethic when they are actually at work and just don’t care much about school, but it really makes me wonder- Is there something wrong with my generation that we don’t (as a whole) have the same passion and hard-working habits of these people I see on the main Stradun every day? Students and classmates in Dubrovnik are constantly asking for extensions on projects and assignments on the same day they are due, proving they have waited to the last minute to start anything. Most of them hand in poor quality work because they just don’t care. In group projects they like to try and do as little as possible. It is quite frustrating.

One of my upcoming blog posts will be a list of reasons why Dubrovnik is the best city to visit. I keep hesitating writing it because I feel like I will learn another thing great about the city, so I don’t want to write it prematurely.

I wanted to remind everyone reading my blog, students especially, one of the reasons my study abroad trip was possible was because of many generous organizations, such as Constellation Brands, the Benjamin A Gilman Foundation, the Statler Foundation, AH&LEF, among many others. I encourage all of you to look into the scholarships that these foundations offer, even if you are not looking to study abroad, they offer other general scholarships (mostly for hospitality students).

Thank you all so much for taking this journey with me! I will be back again next week!

XOXO Sarah

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