Culture: Dr. Ellen Brehob's International Service Learning Program trip to Croatia

Ellen BrehobEvery year, the University offers students the opportunity to participate in the International Service Learning Program, an interdisciplinary exercise in experiential education. Students are afforded the chance to travel to a number of countries, including Botswana and the Phillipines, experiences which allow for intercultural exchange and a chance to work with outside disciplines.

Mechanical Engineering Dr. Ellen Brehob serves as the academic representative of the Speed School for Croatia, a country situated in Eastern Europe near the Adriatic Sea. With two decades of service under her belt, Brehob sees the program first and foremost as immersion in to new experiences.

“I think that Croatia is different because it’s not a third world country. They have good food, good teeth. The program is a little different. I think you go because you want to do something good. But it’s not like we’re going to give them good drinking water, it’s more a cultural exchange,” says Brehob.

The Croatian program is relatively new, having developed over approximately the last six years. A former Communist state, Croatia endured a grueling civil war in the early-90s, which they have since recovered. That was part of the discussion as the Croatia program developed.

Brehob explains, “What they wanted was conflict resolution and how to keep peace, and we haven’t really met that.”

A multi-disciplinary program, engineering students work along with communications and nursing students to help assemble a program that they can take to Croatian high school students.

“Our students see they get to talk with High School students, detailed conversations. What it’s like to live in Croatia, what are their lives like. The Croatian students are really intrigued by Americans. They like talking to UofL students. The Croatian teachers are into it. We go in May,” says Brehob.

She continues adding, “We visit two high schools. One would be like our US high schools. They’re being trained to go to college. They’re learning math, English. The other is technical school. They are not being trained to go to college. That’s vocational. The tie to engineering, we go there and teach them hands on projects.”

Brehob hopes that the students walk away with a fresh perspective on the chances that they are afforded in the United States. Croatian students are often short on career options, and Brehob reports that a majority seek to move out of the country to find employment. Still, she has had a great experience in Croatia and believes that her students have benefitted as well.

“I love that in Croatia, they have a real sense of family. They don’t have as much money, but they have a happy comfortable life. It bothers me to see these kids who, I don’t think they have great job opportunities,” says Brehob.