In the fall of 2013 I had the opportunity to study abroad with UTC. I lived in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria and studied for four months at the American University in Bulgaria, commonly known as AUBG with the students. This experience instilled a deep love and respect of the Balkan region in me and four months simply was not enough time there. When the opportunity presented itself for me to return back to the Balkans for a study trip with the College of Business, I could not resist. While I had an understanding of Bulgaria, I knew that Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, and Montenegro would have their similarities and differences.
Traveling through and experiencing these Balkan countries has only deepened my love for this region. It was interesting to visit such tourist heavy locations such as Dubrovnik and Budva as my town in Bulgaria was anything but a tourist destination. Personally, Skopje was one of my favorite stops as it felt most similar to Sofia, Bulgaria. However, I was not prepared for how much Albania would hit home with me. Not only was the countryside beautiful, but the various cities all unique and individual. Perhaps our time in the traditional guest house was my overall favorite location in Albania. This experience stood out the most because we were graciously welcomed into their home and treated to an authentic and traditional Albanian dinner. The guest house was located high in the mountains in Valbonë Valley National Park. This location provided stunning views of untouched, rugged, snow capped mountains. Our guide Erion took us on an incredible hike up into these mountains that I will never forget.
While I knew this international visit would be positive due to my familiarity with the region, I had forgotten just how much the Balkans mean to me and how they shaped me as an individual. Moving forward, I know the Balkans will always have a special place with me and intend to return again in the future. This study trip has benefited me not only academically, but also personally. I cannot recommend highly enough that people travel outside of their comfort zone. The Balkans are a region steeped in tradition and history. Their beauty and uniqueness are unlike any other destination. The people, culture, and countries will forever be dear to me and I highly encourage others experience them as well.
Eleanor Thompson is working towards a Masters of Education: School Counseling. She participated in a faculty-led trip to the Balkans through the College of Business in May, 2018.
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