Written on May 29, 2008
IT WAS MONDAY, 9 AM CROATIAN TIME (3 AM EASTERN TIME) THAT I smoked my last cigarette before getting in the cab to head to Dubrovnik Airport. That was about 3 days ago, and I think most of the symptoms of physical withdrawal (headaches, depression, general dysphoria) have subsided. What still lingers is purely psychological, and has more to do with leaving Dubrovnik than nicotine (I was smoking more than 2 packs a day for the last few weeks). The people, the culture, the beauty, the sense of wonder, awe and safety all at once disappear and you are suddenly forced to return to regular, normal, humdrum life–and it’s a little bit of a shock.
The night before I left I remember wishing RIT was on the semester system. Maybe it wouldn’t have seemed complete to me regardless of how much time we spend there, but I think another 5 weeks would have made the entire experience much more satisfying. I could feel the city starting to wear on me, but leaving I still felt like there was a lot left unexplored, and a lot I didn’t quite understand yet. Maybe if I spent more time in the museums, or doing other more touristy things I would felt more satisfied… I didn’t even get around to walking the walls in their entirety before I left.
But at the same time, because of the people I met I’ve done and experienced things that very, very few tourists of any kind could have in Dubrovnik, or any place really. I’ve had coffee with Croatians, meet them, talked about personal things, I’ve seen their lifestyles, their passions, their personalities, and their problems first hand. In class Zoran talked about the Iceburg of culture; the culture Croatia presents for the rest of the world in tourist traps and gaudy museums and informative plaques is the tip of the cultural iceberg. 12 weeks is enough time see some of the nuances of their culture, stuff beneath the surface: things that are a lot more real, and a lot more interesting and less obvious. While I wish I could stay longer, I’m so grateful for having the opportunity in my life to see and understand another culture up close like this.
One of the recent episodes of my favorite radio show, This American Life, was about the figurative size and form of the world we inhabit; how our experiences shape it and how it shapes who we are. It’s kind of a weird thing to think about, but I think being in Croatia has dramatically changed my perception of the world and people; it’s changed the world I inhabit quite a bit. It’s bigger now. I see America as more of another country than a giant indomitable entity that the rest of the world revolves around–one of my old misconceptions. I don’t see cigarettes as evil or dumb anymore. I see work differently. I see war differently: more close up, and it seems more real and frightening than ever.
One of my preconceptions was actually strongly reaffirmed by my visit here: That people, underneath the cultural tip of the iceberg, are, by their nature, regardless of country and culture and upbringing, pretty much the same. From seeing the relationships and conflicts in people’s lives there, at least among the people who I’ve had the time to get to know long enough to see that side of their life, it’s clear that the dramas in peoples lives in Dubrovnik are very similar to those in America; they are just played out with a different accent. You see a political battle between nationalists and progressives, fear of unrequited love, problems with parents, inlaws, jealous boyfriends, and getting along with siblings–not better or worse than you see in the United States, but the same. I think of all the things I’ve taken away from the trip, I’m most grateful for that.