“Doing Business in the Balkans” was hands down the best study abroad program I have ever been on. Our travels took us through Croatia, Montenegro, Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania, and it was very apparent both Dr. Asllani and Dr. Wheatley took considerable amount of time to curate the most authentic experience for the students. I have traveled with several study abroad groups but nothing like this.
First and foremost, Dr. Asllani is from Albania, which, in my opinion, is the most important factor if you want to experience the culture in a new, unfamiliar place. Having someone with local knowledge and expertise when it comes to navigating the region meant we were presented with opportunities most study abroad trips never get the chance to have. Taking the ferry through a damned river gorge, spending the night in an Albanian guest house then waking up to hike through the Albanian Alps, stopping for lunch in one of the newest formed countries in the world (i.e. Kosovo), eating locals meals while listening to local music with a hotel operator in Republic of Macedonia. These are just some of the many opportunities we were fortunate enough to experience.
Secondly, our guide Erion. He had incredible knowledge about the history of the region and insisted we learn some of the languages in each country. He made us count to 10 and then sing “Happy Birthday” to Dr. Asllani in Albanian, he took us on a hike in the Albanian Alps, he taught us about all of the region’s architecture, he did his very best to explain the very complicated political relationships between the Balkan countries and answered any and all questions we had.
Being an avid traveler, I tend to avoid signing up for group study abroad trips. I like to explore places on my own, pretend I live in the country I am visiting and see if I can handle any challenges I face. After traveling throughout the Balkans, I see group traveling in a different light. I have new friends, new colleagues and even better, new connections in business and around the world.
Hailey Johnston is an MBA student at UTC. She participated in a faculty-led trip to the Balkans through the College of Business in May, 2018.
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