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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Around the World in 5 days….

After getting on the plane on Monday afternoon, it all started to become real that I was leaving my friends and family back home in order to start my journey abroad. I slept maybe three to four hours on the plane, I was just too anxious! When we finally landed we each had to collect our bags and figure out how to use the London tube system to get to our hotel. After asking several employees (all extremely nice), we finally found our way out of Heathrow airport and to Paddington station. Our hotel was about a 5 minute walk from Paddington (in the pouring rain, with a 50 pound suitcase, a stuffed backpack, and a carry on that fit as much as I possibly could).

London rained almost the entire time we were there, so I guess we experienced it like true Brits!! The two highlights of London were the London Eye, and the Borough Market. The Borough Market was amazing!

The Borough Market
The Borough Market
Big Ben/Parliament from the London Eye
Big Ben/Parliament from the London Eye

We didn’t really spend enough time in London. We were there for not even 2 full days, so we didn’t get to experience going inside the famous buildings, but we were just happy for the experience. At 8pm on Wednesday night, we were boarding the train for Paris! This was the part of our trip that I was most excited for.

We arrived in Paris around 11pm on Wednesday. We needed to take the metro from the train station to our hotel, and once again we had all of our bags. One thing no one warned me about was that countries in Europe do not really have to accommodate handicap people or have elevators or escalators anywhere. So in Paris, at 11pm, we were confused, trying to figure out the metro, and while we were doing it we had to lug all of our luggage around and up and down countless flights of stairs. It was awful! I highly recommend taking a taxi if you have any sort of luggage with you.

Once we got off the metro at the correct location near our hotel, we walked around aimlessly in an area that was off the beaten path, so there were very few people outside for us to ask for directions. It took us four different times of asking locals where we should go before we finally found the hotel…. and to our surprise, we had passed it at least three times!! The hotel was under renovation so it did not have any big signs or displays marking it.. just a tiny logo on a banner that we must have passed what seemed like a million times!

Paris was my absolute favorite! We did the Louvre, climbed the top of the Arc, saw Notre Dame, the Pantheon, the Pere Lachaise cemetary, sat and had lunch in the Tuileries gardens, and ate all of the baguettes, macaroons, and croissants possible! Of course we also went to the top of the Eiffel Tower! The Tower is completely stunning.  IMG_6343                    IMG_6540

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View from the Arc de Triomphe!
View from the Arc de Triomphe!

Paris would have been hard to leave if I wasn’t going to Dubrovnik. I loved Paris, but Dubrovnik was going to be the real start of my journey. Boarding the plane and preparing to head to Dubrovnik, I had been so nervous and excited at the same time that I had butterflies and felt nauseous. We had a late flight into Dubrovnik, so when we arrived we could not see the city, or our view from the apartment. There will be more to come on Dubrovnik. So that is how I made it from Rochester, NY, to London, Paris, and now Dubrovnik in just 5 days!!