My experience in the Balkans has been very introspective, dynamic, and humbling as it relates to my understanding of the world. The preservation and importance of local heritage was evident in all countries visited. It was also apparent that this region was bubbling with globalization as Western influences were evident everywhere.

Contrasting differences in socio-economic status of the countries visited was observationally apparent.  For example,  Dubrovnik appeared to be thriving as a vacation playground for the wealthy. It was also heralded as a scenic film and television production destination. Many of the places visited in Albania provided the most scenic views imaginable with a purity and simplicity to match. Albania and Kosovo also seemed to have a truly principled sense of tradition and pride that was contagious.

I was amazed at the unspoiled beauty of the Albanian Alps. The rivers would have been a dream for any whitewater enthusiast. I truly felt that what I was experiencing was an opportunity of a life-time. Life seemed so relaxed in most places visited. I loved the tradition of the evening stroll and plan to implement in my own life once I return home. I was also a huge fan of the food.

The lamb, beef, vegetables, and pizza all tasted fresh and not greasy. Most of the foods were not processed. My fast food experiences were also rather amazing. I visited one location on my first night in Dubrovnik and another the last day in Tirana. They were both legitimately fast and able to accommodate a variety of dishes and large amounts of customers in very short amounts of time. The owner of the restaurant in Tirana credited his three workers with making the customer experience flawless. However, I thought the systems that were put into place were incredibly efficient and probably how fast food was designed originally.

It seemed that there are a lot of opportunities for growth in all of the countries visited. People in each country explained that online marketplaces were in their infancy and seldom used. It was also interesting to see that most of the locals also still used cash. Some of the countries like Macedonia had amazing incentives such as a government match of funding to begin business in the country. The claim in Macedonia to get permits and be able to start a business in a week was rather fascinating. European Union membership appeared to be a necessary next step to propel growth. It appeared that there are many unknowns to an outside investor. I would have to spend considerably more time in each place talking to business leaders before embarking on an investment. It appeared that there were many opportunities for expanding infrastructure and residential housing in the major cities in the region. This was apparent by all of the construction materials for sale when we would arrive in a new city.

Overall, I am incredibly thankful for participating in this course and meeting so many wonderful people with varying backgrounds. This is one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Willard Jackson is working on his PhD in Learning and Leadership. He participated in a faculty-led trip to the Balkans through the College of Business in May, 2018. 

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