Croatians have a lot to be proud of this summer with the country’s successes in the World Cup. But another long-standing point of pride in Croatia is the quality of its water.

“You can drink the water here—really,” emphasized a clerk at the Hotel Dubrovnik in Zagreb when he noticed our typical American request for bottled water in Europe.

This summer, I traveled to Croatia with graduate students in the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability’s (CLiGS) Masters of Natural Resources program (MNR) at Virginia Tech to study the country’s natural resources, with a focus on water management.

IFE Croatia students

A unique component of the MNR program is the International Field Experience (IFE) an embedded element of the Global Issues in Natural Resources course, a required core course that leads students to think globally about sustainability challenges and their careers, and to situate their own professional work in a global context.

After several weeks of online study, students then travel as a group to another country to observe natural resources issues firsthand and meet the experts and professionals dealing with those issues.

As an alumnus of the program (MNR ’16), it was a special treat for me to embark on the trip—one of the first courses I took in the program during Summer 2012, Coastal Conservation and Management, was water-focused. An IFE was not required when I began the MNR degree, so I didn’t participate in this study abroad opportunity. It didn’t take me long to realize what a bonus the new requirement is for the program and graduate students.

IFE Students

We met in the Croatian capital city of Zagreb, arriving from all over the U.S., including Virginia, Maryland, Florida, and Utah. MNR students have a diverse set of professional backgrounds, and the cohort for this trip was no exception—the roster included an education outreach ranger at Dry Tortugas National Park, a biological science technician for the US Forest Service, a hospital social worker, a professional wildlife photographer, a firefighter, and an associate dean of students at a private liberal arts university, ranging in age from approximately 22 to 45 years old.

Almost immediately, everyone began connecting faces with the names they’d been seeing in online discussion groups, and in previous MNR courses. After weeks of corresponding virtually it was fun to meet in person. We were able to finally meet the course instructor, Dr. Anamaria Bukvic, a research assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Virginia Tech and a member of the CLIGS Global Faculty. Dr. Bukvic is originally from Zagreb, and this added a unique element to the trip. She made a point to show students ‘behind-the-scenes’ places to go and set up numerous visits with local government officials and natural resources experts.

In Croatia, there is water everywhere.

From the picturesque beach towns on the Adriatic Sea to the pooling turquoise waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes, a UNESCO World Heritage site, water is a primary driver of the country’s thriving tourism industry. Approximately 17.4 million tourists visited Croatia in 2017.

Lake Plitvice

However, despite the country’s rich abundance of beautiful, clean water, it also has its fair share of water-related issues. One of our first stops on the trip was to visit the quaint city of Rovinj, a haven for artists, musicians, and foodies perched on the Adriatic Sea. We met with Rovinj Mayor Marko Paliaga as well as Paolo Paliaga, a scientist with the Center for Marine Research at Ruder Boskovic Institute, to talk about the history of Rovinj and some of the challenges it faces.

[In the second installment of this two-part series, scheduled for publication on August 20th, Lindsay offers an insider’s view to the IFE students’ trip to Rovinj, Pula, and Karlovac, where they met local leaders to discuss the challenges facing communities along the Adriatic Sea.]


Lindsay Key headshot

Online MNR alumna Lindsay Key is passionate about helping scientists translate their discoveries into news that the general public can understand and use. She’s especially knowledgeable about the life sciences, and have written extensively about the environment, wildlife, and human health. In addition to the MNR, she has degrees in creative writing (focus: poetry), English, and Communication Studies.

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability thanks Lindsay Key for granting permission to use her photos.