Molly Sander, Katie Shearston and Daisy McMurdo discover student living in Croatia while spending the summer in Zagreb researching and writing their dissertations.

Settling in

I’m sure every student who’s studied abroad will empathise with how terrifying it is landing in a completely foreign country, where the native language isn’t English, and realising that you’ll be spending the next three months (or more) living there.

While settling in took longer than expected, five weeks on and I think we can all happily say that after the stresses of moving in, finding our way around a new city and running around Zagreb trying to get various documentation sorted, we’re now nice and settled in this Croatian place we call home.

Dissertation work

We’re out here with the Erasmus European student exchange scheme to do our dissertation research. The University of Zagreb is one of three European universities where we could spend our summer working on our dissertations. We each have a dissertation supervisor from Zagreb  as well as from Lancaster. They are key to doing any work out here because of their local knowledge and contacts, both vital in data collection.

We’ve been very lucky with our supervisors who have taken us on field trips to Medvednica (a local nature park where most of our research is based), recommended other places to visit in Croatia and also, in Molly’s case, taken her to a cave to help with water quality research in caves.

Before leaving for Croatia, we each had an idea of what our dissertations would be: with Molly (Bsc Geography)  studying the link between climate change and land sliding, Katie (Bsc Geography) investigating the potential effects of land use change on stream discharge and Daisy (Bsc Environmental Change and Sustainable Development) analysing the efficiency of Croatia’s protected area network in conserving endangered species.

Getting a good start on our dissertation work did, however, have some difficulties as every other day in Croatia in June seemed to be a bank holiday and most of the contacts we’d been given were away.  This, coupled with GIS (mapping software) dramas for Daisy and Katie due to technical issues and the language barrier meaning that any secondary data needs to be translated, meant slow starts for us all.

Despite this, we’re still trundling along and are slowly learning to be more patient with email replies. We’ve organised lots of meetings and have already started to collect data for analysis.

Student life

Our student dormitories in Zagreb were very different to our accommodation in Lancaster. Firstly, all of the rooms are shared so that was definitely a bit of a shock to us, especially Daisy who was left in a flat by herself with three Croatians.  Fortunately the girls she shared with were really lovely and were very excited to have an Erasmus student staying with them – especially a British one! Also, in our building, there are only 4 people per flat (very different to our Lancaster halls of residence).

The flats are tiny with only a small kitchen surface, hob and fridge with no real communal area. Whilst this is a lot different to what we’re used to, it does make sense here as the weather is so hot that most people socialise outside.

As students here, we get a student card which gives us subsidised student meals at the halls canteen. This means we can get a full meal for about 90 Khunas (roughly £1). It’s fair to say that the canteen food isn’t suited to   fussy eaters, as Molly and Daisy have learnt, but it does the job and means there’s no need for a massive kitchen in each flat.

Exploring Croatia

Living and studying in Croatia for three months has definitely given us all a bit of a ‘Yes man’ attitude, as we don’t want to miss out on anything. So far this has meant drinking cocktails whilst suspended by crane 60 metres above Zagreb, going to an international music festival and getting completely lost in the Croatian countryside.

Our time living in dorms was lovely, especially as its located only a 5 minute walk from Lake Jarun – the perfect running, swimming and sunbathing spot. But we’re all very excited to have moved into a new flat closer to the city centre, especially since most students have left for the summer and the dorms have turned into a hostel for tourists.

There are other exciting plans in the pipeline, such as visiting Plitvice Lakes and Lake Bled. This gives us lots to look forward to in our little Croatian adventure! While completing our dissertation research of course!

Find out more about studying Geography or Environmental Science at Lancaster Environment Centre, and about opportunities to study abroad.

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