I feel like I need to preface this by acknowledging that this is a long blog post, as far as they go. It involved a lot of gnashing of teeth, wondering how best to sublimate my time in Rijeka, blend personal and professional growth, ect ect. My friends know me as a pretty long-winded person so if anything, this is just an accurate representation of how I really communicate for those patient enough to listen.
In terms of expectation going into my internship, I have to say I tried to keep it light. I tend to think that people who go into experiences with specific expectations tend to be disappointed by them; after all, reality never matches up exactly with what we think. So with that in mind, all I thought I needed to do this summer was take a couple of deep breaths, read a little more and learn something at work.
To be fair, my situation was colored a little more by where I was going, a Serbian to Croatia. The formation and breakup of Yugoslavia may not be a talked-about part of European history in the states (even if it should be), but it seemed omnipresent coming into my internship. From family telling me to watch how I speak, to the obvious language and culture similarity, I certainly thought that I would be reckoning with what it meant to be Serbian in a different country. Though a previous blog post kind of took the wind out of my sails, I found it to be largely a non-issue. During my time in Croatia, I never felt like I needed to explain myself as Serbian, and its even a little strange to me to spend so much time talking about it in hindsight because it really was a non-factor in that way. If my experience taught me anything in this sphere, it is realistically how similar the Balkans is in so many respects. The way people live, the way they conduct business (and how it differs from Ivan) is all something that I have seen before. In the post-Yugoslav landscape especially, there is a huge push to see the difference in countries, but if anything my experience taught me about the fundamental similarity of a culture that, while undoubtedly riven, has more in common.
In terms of my personal life, I would describe Rijeka as a breath of needed fresh air. I love Ann Arbor dearly, but it is also true that the pace of life there can get a bit hectic. Of course, if you had asked me a year and a half ago I would’ve been complaining I didn’t know people on campus but things change. In college, they change quickly. Rijeka gave me a chance to decompress in a way I had not before, in a setting where truly no one knew me. I most looked forward to the days where I got to run to the number 1 bus a little early, go to a beach on the southern side of town, and race the sunset in counted book pages.
As an English and History major it (often) shames me to admit that I rarely read for pleasure between the 450 (literally) pages of reading I have a week. This summer, I am proud to say I read 7 (and counting) books! I also was able to interact with people my age in a totally normal way, and built relationships I am really proud of. I was, ironically, most happy when I felt a lump in my throat saying goodbye to one friend in particular. It felt like a testament to creating a relationship that was significant, context aside, and for that, I am proud. To that end, my time in Rijeka did continue to drill into my head that we, in almost everything we do, think we have more time than we actually do.
I experienced a lot during my time, I saw Zagreb, Plitvice, Vienna, but I still had plenty on my “to-do” list that never got checked off. I kept thinking I would see Dubrovnik next weekend, or next month, and before I knew it I was hurriedly packing up my things. While I am confident I will see all I wanted to and more at some point, it is worth reminding ourselves that we should jump at the chance for a new experience before we sit and take a break. As someone who wants to be happy and not comfortable, I believe new experiences allow me to have a better relationship with myself.
As I touched on last time, its ok to feel down abroad. I definitely had lingering things bother me from the school year, and it is also important to remember that going abroad in and of itself will solve none of that. I can go from America to Croatia to anywhere else, and I cannot leave my problems anywhere. Being abroad has helped me, in many ways, isolate just what it is that has been bothering me, and hopefully help me tackle it when I get back home.
Finally, I was not in Rijeka to just enjoy the sun and beach, I was there to work and learn. I am grateful to say I did not have a typical internship experience and will sum up what I learned in the Ivan Verunica School of Business, best explained to me by Tim, the coach of Red Top Swim, a longtime client of INCroatia. He felt that Ivan married the perfect potential of Croatia with an understanding of the necessity of relationship-building in working with international companies. In Croatia, he felt that while many people wanted to facilitate experiences, especially for international clients, companies could not be relied on to deliver consistency year in and year out. With Ivan, Tim reiterated how comfortable he felt knowing that he had a main point of contact who knew the importance of next year, and the year after that. As someone who was busy running a sports team, it was reassuring not to have to plan their training trip every year and know “somehow, someway, Ivan has got us taken care of.”
To me this perfectly encapsulates how Ivan treats business as a relationship first. If you nurture and care for it the way you would any other relationship in your life, the results (read as money) will come without a problem. As someone who admittedly has not been experienced in those kinds of interactions and relationships, this approach was really heartening. One of the things I find distasteful about some approaches to business relationships is that they always seem to arise with an expectation that one party will benefit the other parties bottom line at some point, and vice versa. In working alongside Ivan, I feel like I got a good look at a successful alternative that felt more authentic to me. I don’t know if I will be working in trip planning, or in the private sector, but if I do, I would definitely draw on my experience with INCroatia.