Group of students on spring break in Croatia with Kori Ryan

Finding shared humanity

Student Stories
May 30, 2024
Fitchburg State this year added Croatia to its roster of study abroad destinations
Group of students on spring break in Croatia with Kori Ryan
Students share experiences from study abroad in Croatia
Students described their experiences in Croatia during a roundtable talk presented as part of the Undergraduate Research Conference.

Fitchburg State students and faculty have been exploring the world through study abroad programs for years, but 2024 marked the first time a university-sponsored voyage headed to Croatia.

This Spring, students in Associate Professor Kori Ryan’s human services class on global caring and helping enjoyed life-changing experiences in their travel abroad (the trip will be offered again in Spring 2026).

The course focuses on diverse approaches to social and human services, including trauma and discussions of "living under the siege." Students visited the war museum on the Hill Srd above Dubrovnik, were exposed to a war veterans meeting, and worked with a local non-government organization focused on improving the mental health of Croatia's vulnerable populations.

Members of the trip shared their experiences during a roundtable discussion organized as part of the university’s Undergraduate Research Conference.

“My first reaction was how beautiful the country was,” said Lexi Granchelli. But speaking to the people who have lived through the region’s tumultuous history made an even deeper impression. Granchelli was amazed to learn that even during wartime the residents enjoyed parties and fashion shows. “They did everything in their power to remain human, and that taught me a lot about resilience.”

Aleysha Santos said she was also impressed by the human spirit she encountered. “It gives you a different perspective hearing someone else’s story,” she said. “I didn’t expect everyone to be so open. I really appreciated it.”

“They were very resilient and had a lot of heart,” added Rachelle Keegan, who has also studied in Verona, Italy and Eastern Europe during her time at Fitchburg State.

Quejanae Beavers-Hatter described an eye-opening trip, from seeing how another culture deals with trauma response to an embrace of long meals. “I ate oysters literally every day,” she said.

Cristian Crespo said he appreciated the strong group dynamics he felt the group cultivated from the earliest hours of the trip. “I was impressed at how fast everyone got along,” he said. “Everyone got closer than I expected, and everyone got vulnerable with each other.”

From a cultural perspective, Crespo too noticed the local affinity for long, uninterrupted mealtimes, without a cell phone in sight.

Kris L’Heureux said she appreciated the sense of community with her peers, too. “I was surprised at how comfortable I was sharing and being vulnerable,” she said.

L’Heureux said the experience also made her feel more connected to her mother, who herself had escaped war in Lebanon to find a new life in the U.S. 

Ryan said the students should remember the feeling of closeness they cultivated while overseas. “I feel like I have family all over because I’ve traveled,” she said. “This has been the most influential experience I’ve had at Fitchburg State,” Ryan told her students. “You all have changed me more than you know.”