SMU graduate Vedrana (Vecky) Juko (’06) is returning as a national scholar to the land she fled as a 10-year-old. Juko was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study emerging democracy in Croatia. A political science, economics, and German major at SMU, Juko will spend 10 months at the University of Rijeka in Croatia, where she will analyze the country’s transition from national to local power.
Living in Croatia
In a few days I will have been in Croatia for about exactly two months. In reality it feels more like two days!
The first week has been hard. Even though I come from this region, there were some cultural differences that I needed to get used to. For example, since I am living in student housing, I was surprised that I have not received any pamphlets explaining the rules of conduct. I have not received a list of items that were allowed or prohibited for that matter either. The general approach seems to be hands-off and we-will-deal-with-the-issue-when-it-comes-up. This is definitely not the case at SMU where your RA’s and Hall directors arm you with a ton of information.
Additionally, I have noticed that my building, which has 10 floors (and I am on the 10th floor), has only one set of stairwells. Again, being at SMU with fire drills at 5 a.m. makes me a bit concerned about my safety here. However, the staff here has explained to me that there is no reason for me to worry about fire occurring. If that were to happen, they can lock down the affected floors within a couple of seconds and "take care of it". I took the given information and dared not ask what would happen if I got stuck on my floor, locked in? I am hopefully that I will not have to find that out :).
As far as my research goes I have made some progress. There are three components to my Fellowship. First, the cultural exchange between people. Second, traveling throughout the country in order to experience the culture in greater depths. And the third is researching local governance in Croatia (which is my topic).
Meet and Greet
The first component, meeting people, has proved to be much easier than I thought. I am constantly surrounded by people. I often eat at the cafeteria on the first floor of my building. I meet other students for coffee (well more like tea for me and coffee for the others). When students find out that I am from Dallas they respond in two ways: 1. That’s where Kennedy was shot and 2. Dallas is full of cowboys, horses, and guns (as the place was shown in western movies). Thus, I find myself often disappointing them by telling them that Dallas is a big city where you cannot really find any cowboys, or at least not that I have. In return I do ask them what they, as students, think about their country, the political and economic situation, possibilities for employment, etc. The most common response is that living conditions are hard (everyday products are expensive when compared to how much an average person makes), finding appropriate jobs seems impossible. However, despite all those difficulties, these students are continuing their education. I admire their determination to keep on working hard. I guess the general notion, or hopefulness that some day things will get better, makes them want to try harder.
The second component of my research, traveling, I have focused on strongly. I have been to a couple of places in Croatia. Zagreb and Daruvar are the only two places located inland that I visited. Other places include Opatija and Zadar (both which are on the coast). I have noticed that people on the coast are a bit happier, more laid back. In Zagreb most people seemed to be in a hurry, maybe because they wanted to look important, because they have a place to get to at a certain time. Even though I consider myself impartial, I do tend to view Zagreb as an unreachable destination and this is mainly to its feeling of superiority. On the coast, most people feel out of the influence because they are not in Zagreb, where things happen (more on this subject when I spend more time in Zagreb).
Now the third component, research, is a bit of a touchy subject. I have started with my research on local governance. I have met with different individuals to seek their opinions and suggestions. Most of my professional acquaintances include professors from the University and a woman who works for the City of Rijeka. It turns out that she has done some work on my research as a Croatian Fulbrighter to the U.S. Considering that she has done an extensive research on this topic by being in the States, I have decided to approach my research from a different angle. I am in the process of contacting NGOs and creating a thorough questionnaire. The details have not been completely thought out just yet, but I believe that things will become clearer soon. For example, I have already started talking to students about my topic, what their thoughts are on this subject, etc. I would like to further enquire into this and eventually broaden it by including the average population.
On a Lighter Note
I have been able to make some friends in the mean time as well. The Croats like to enjoy their free time by drinking their coffee and going out until 5 a.m. I was surprised to see the coffee shops full at 7 a.m. on working days. People seem to be relaxed and enjoying their time with friends or reading the newspaper. I am trying to take in much of this culture as it is very particular to Croatia (and its neighboring countries). This is something that I have yet to find in the States or cities in Western Europe!
My name is Vedrana Juko (most of you have known me as Vecky). Yes it is Vecky with a V. Some people continue to call me Becky or Vicky, but I have gotten used to it.
Three days before May graduation I have received a call that has changed my life drastically. I have been notified that I have received a Fellowship to conduct research in Rijeka, Croatia where I will be staying until July of 2007.
Prior to Departure
I had about four months to pack a year worth of clothes. To my disadvantage, Rijeka has four seasons and the airline companies allow only 50pds per each bag (two being a limit). However, I have managed to pack all the essentials.
The last few days in Dallas have been bitter sweet. I was very excited to embark on a new adventure, but at the same time I was reluctant to leave the Big D, a place that has become my second home.
Home Sweet Home
After three flights and a car-ride to Rijeka, I finally arrived to my new home. I have a room in a student dorm. Turns out that I will have a roommate, but she doesn't get in until the first of October.
The first few days have been interesting. I did a lot of sightseeing and I like this place a lot. Since Rijeka means river - water is a huge theme throughout the city. There is a tremendous number of water fountains, a huge river called Rijecina that passes through the city, and of course the Sea - all in one place. Pretty cool, huh?
Since it has been only three days since my arrival, I am still in the process of meeting new people. Once school starts (October 10) I am sure (hopeful) that I will meet plenty of great individuals. There is an enormous potential for a great social life - I will keep you update.
PS: I will try to keep you updated on my adventures since Croatia is just recently becoming a major tourist attraction for Americans. Though, I am here for research purposes ;-).