Insight Trip to Slovenia: May 2022

Insight Trip to Slovenia: May 2022

“Why would you ever want to go to Slovenia? I don’t even know where it is, let alone WHY you would want to go there.” I would tell everyone – Slovenia’s tagline is “the only country with LOVE in its name” but that did not seem to satisfy their curiosity, but in my opinion, visiting off the beaten path is what makes Fulbright Association tours so great.

For many, Slovenia would not be on their short list of countries to visit, but that is a mistake. The country is lovely, the people are friendly, and the food is excellent – all desirable attributes in my mind. After all, that is what makes a Fulbright Association trip so unique – the ability to interact with a county and its people at a much deeper level than your average tour.

The Fulbright program started in the wake of World War II – Americans set to better assist and understand the world by living and working abroad while also bringing both students and career professionals to the United States to better understand us. The Fulbright Association is made up of former recipients of Fulbright grants as well as many Friends of Fulbright. As members, we share the vision of increasing understanding and developing friendships across our countries.

Yugoslavia (of which Slovenia was a part) was crafted after WWI from a group of diverse nationalities, many of which hated each other. As a saying of that time notes, “seven neighbors, six republics, five nations, four languages, three religions, two scripts, and one goal: to live in brotherhood and unity”. If you are familiar with the Balkans, you know that the area has been the center of unrest for much of the 20th century. In fact, World War I broke out first in the Balkans before engulfing the rest of the world. Much hatred and unrest ran deep in the area.

Tito was able to hold Yugoslavia together by the sheer power of his personality. When Tito died, Yugoslavia fell apart. Today, the area is composed of seven distinct countries, and Slovenia is one. Slovenia is a lovely country in Europe with about 2 million people. It is roughly the size of New Jersey and the capital city, Ljubljana, has a population of about 300,000 people. This makes the capital city very walkable.

The Fulbright Association offers two types of trips: Insight and Service. This was an Insight trip – meaning we were to do a deep dive into the country, its history, its people, its culture, and so on. Many of us love to travel but touring through a country without truly interacting with the locals is not my idea of traveling. For eight of us, this trip gave us the opportunity to see a country that most Americans know little about. Thus, a trip with the Fulbright Association is not a regular touring trip – it is a deeper interaction with the people, the culture, and the history of the area.

We started our trip with a Zoom call with the Slovenian Ambassador to the United States and proceeded to visit, while in the country, historical museums, national parks, and other important sites. As an economist, I appreciated that we even learned about some of the larger industries in Slovenia – winemaking, salt extraction from the sea, and bees/honey (who knew Slovenia had more bees per capita than any other country on earth). There is a type of bee, Carniolan bees, that were native to Slovenia and are now found around the world. We came home with a much deeper understanding of the region and an appreciation for its issues. Visiting a WWI museum and especially exploring the western part of the country (where the war front ravaged through for 29 months) brought forth the horrors of that war and how it devasted the country. We saw a lovely church built by Russian prisoners of war from WWI in honor of 300 or so of their countrymen who died building a road over one of the taller mountains in the area.

I think all of us came away from Slovenia with a better understanding of the country, a love for its beauty, and an appreciation for Slovenia’s dedication to “green living” and recycling.

Kathy Parkison, Fulbright Association Representative

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