By Angelo Piro III
Bok iz Republika Hrvatska. This semester I’m studying international relations and business at Dubrovnik International University (DIU), the first private university in Croatia, learning from some of the top international relations professors in the region and visiting ambassadors, lords and former ministers.
I have been living in Croatia for over two months now, immersing myself in Croatian culture and history, which is not that hard in a city named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the program at DIU is conducted in English, a majority of my classmates are Croatian or from surrounding countries. Studying abroad in an unconventional country has allowed me to get a real look at what life is like in a different countries, without all the trimmings of a more touristic locale. I’ve gleaned a lot from having coffee with Croatian classmates along Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street, or even talking to the baker on my street.
My experience of the city has been amazing so far – I get to walk through a medieval city, escape to Mediterranean beaches in the middle of winter, and even finding a Game of Thrones location. However, there is still a very real history that poses pressing questions to a student of diplomacy.
This month will mark the 24th anniversary of the Plitvice Lakes incident, which triggered a series of events that led to the Croatian War of Independence, itself only an episode in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. It’s easy to take these revolutionary events in world history for granted by simply looking at them as pages in a book or an event to be remembered. I was guilty of the same – all I knew of the war was from a few years of classes and what I could find online. It’s hard to go back to that perception once you realize the holes in the pockmarked street you walk down every day are from shelling and shrapnel. It’s hard to forget about the war and its consequences when you live in a city that still bears the scars.
This period in history marks both the country and its foreign policy. Professors and ambassadors who lived through the war now talk about how they are reminded of their experience when they see the events in Ukraine or the destruction of culture in Iraq. In classes on international security and peacekeeping, it is no longer theory or schooling. For Croatians, these discussions are their lives. My classmates grew up having been born into or hearing about the war, and they look at diplomacy almost as a way to honor what their country went through, and contribute to preventing it in the future.
Studying abroad in Dubrovnik has allowed me to appreciate a new culture and given me a new respect for my studies. No longer is diplomacy and international relations something in a book. Now I live with people who live the experience and consequences of what we study.