August 14, 2019 – As previously reported on TCN, the first Domovina Birthright Program took place in Croatia last month, an initiative between the American Croatian Association of Professionals, and the Croatian Government.
The idea of the program is to take the young adults of Croatian descent (ages 18 – 30), who wish to learn about their heritage, explore Croatia, connect with their Croatian identity and meet other young Croatian adults on an amazing trip to Croatia.
Kristiana Banđen is one of the 34 initial participants in the program, and she has kindly agreed to document her journey as she explores the country of her heritage. Over to Kristiana for Day 10-16:
The last 6 days of our trip were full on! On Day 10, we spent the morning driving to Zadar from Knin where we spent half the day exploring the city before driving to Šibenik.
I was excited to visit Zadar with the group because it is my favourite city (from all the countries I have visited) ever! Over the summers growing up, my family and I would stay with my aunt in Pakoštane and we would often spend days visiting Zadar, so it brings back a lot of great memories. I have always enjoyed jumping off the sea wall and sitting by the sea organs. I was happy to visit all my favourite spots during our guided walking tour. After our walking tour, we visited Rector’s Palace for a lecture, exhibition and lunch before driving to Šibenik.
When we arrived in Šibenik we had another walking guided tour of the city which I really enjoyed, our tour guide was great and Šibenik is such a beautiful city! It’s a city I’ve visited as a child but have not spent a lot of time here. To end our tour, we visited the Fortress of St. Mihovil that has breathtaking views of the city. Luckily for us, when we were there, singer Tony Cetinski was in the middle of his dress rehearsal for his evening show at the Fortress.
We enjoyed dinner at restaurant Peškarija to end the day. Great food!
The next day, we visited Ivan Meštrović’s mausoleum in Otavice. It was really cool to see so many of the sculptor’s creations throughout the trip. The mausoleum was beautiful, and I highly recommend visiting if you have the chance to! Next, we drove to Imotski, where we enjoyed lunch and the artwork at the Don Ivan Turić’s museum. We explored the city and visited the Blue and Red Lakes. I never even knew Croatia had an attraction like this, I really enjoyed seeing the lakes. Dugopolje was our stop for dinner before ending our day in Split, where, we spent the next 2 nights. Our lodging throughout the trip was mostly in dorms and I really enjoyed sleeping in the student dorms at the local universities. It made our experience in Croatia feel more like a local than a tourist.
The start of our tour in Split began at the University of Split for a lecture and tour of the campus. There are so many courses offered in English at all the universities we visited in Croatia. Although I finished my studies, it was interesting to hear that there are so many opportunities to study in Croatia and what each university offered. Following our university tour, we had a walking tour of the city centre of Split. Split is another favourite city of mine, so I enjoyed having some free time for shopping and swimming! Afterwards we visited the Ivan Meštrović gallery. I love touring galleries and this one didn’t disappoint. His work is amazing, especially the meanings behind them, which was nice to hear from our guide. Following the gallery, we walked over to Velum for dinner.
Last, but not least, the last two days of our trip! From Split, we travelled to Dubrovnik by ferry. After the 5-hour trip in the Old City, we right away jumped onto the ferry to the island of Lokrum where we were greeted upon arrival and walked over to lunch. After lunch and some free time to swim, we toured Rector’s Court back in the Old City and stayed in the centre for dinner.
The following two days in Dubrovnik concluded our Domovina trip. Throughout the last two days, we had a private walking tour of the city, walked the city walls, viewed the sunset at the top of the city by cable car and visited Cavtat. I have previously visited Dubrovnik when I was really young, that I don’t even remember, so it was great spending a couple of days here with the group. The Old City of Dubrovnik is beautiful, and the walls of Dubrovnik walk is a must do to take in all the sights. I’m glad we had our tour early at 8am. The city gets unbelievably packed after 10am and in the afternoon, it’s almost impossible to walk. For this reason, I really enjoyed being able to visit Cavtat. It’s the perfect location close to Dubrovnik for some peace and quiet, not overcrowded like the Old City. Cavtat is already on my list of cities to return to!
As Domovina 2019 has ended, I had some time to reflect on the experience. I am truly grateful and appreciative that a program like this was introduced and that I was chosen as part of the members of the first year to attend. Throughout the trip I was able to see, visit and learn so much more of my country that I never knew of. I knew quite a bit about the Croatian culture because as a child I was actively involved in the Croatian community in Vancouver as well as having travelled to Croatia. I was already so proud to be Croatian, but this trip made me appreciate it more. We were able to meet with many politicians and members of the government who made us feel very welcomed. Hearing the excitement from them, about us being here, reflected on the importance of young Croatians from outside of the country to visit, see their roots and uphold our culture and language. All 33 of us (participants) now have a better understanding of our amazing culture and country, which we all brought back to our native homes. The warmth we felt throughout the trip was a feeling of home that we will always cherish and remember.
If you are interested in being a part of the group next year or in the future, we (and I speak for everyone who attended) highly recommend this experience. It will open your hearts and eyes to your heritage and the experience with others your age from around the world is truly unique and unlike any other. I have memories to cherish a lifetime!
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