Going into the International Field Experience (IFE) visit to Croatia, I wondered how this small group of Virginia Tech Master of Natural Resources (MNR) students would be able to leave a positive impact on Croatia in such a short window of time.

Once we arrived in the capital city of Zagreb and met face-to-face for the first time, everyone began to communicate and build relationships – after all, we were a group of strangers who would be spending a lot of time together working as a team over the next ten days, and all hoping to learn as much as we could from this opportunity.

panel discussion

As a cohort, we spent our first few days in Zagreb gaining a better understanding of what historical issues and successes the city has faced. In learning about the city, we became aware of the city’s sustainability challenges and how they are trying to address them. Zagreb has repeatedly faced issues related to water resources, including past fights between cities over ownership, or current citizens’ desire to be close to water resources such as River Sava or Lake Jarun.

During the trip, our cohort was able to sit down and collaborate with local academics and professionals on a multi-faceted, complex renewable energy project. The energy project revolves around hydroelectric dams that could eventually meet some of the European Union’s renewable energy goals for the country. As we met with these groups, it was encouraging to hear that both groups seemed to be willing to support the renewable energy goals, and they also wanted to ensure that diverse interests were engaged throughout the process. The ability for the project champion – the energy company – to encourage collaboration from the differing stakeholders was one of the most memorable moments from the trip.

Piltvice Lake

After spending some time in Zagreb, we took a day trip to the only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Croatia – Plitvice Lakes (Plitvička jezera). Over the course of thousands of years, calcium deposits formed the collection of 16 lakes that are connected to each other by waterfalls to make up this beautiful site. Walking through the park and observing the flora and fauna, along with the crystal clear turquoise water, was stunning. I will never forget this experience and, if I ever go back to Croatia, I plan to visit the site again.

Lake Jarun

Throughout the trip, it became clear that water quality is a high priority in Croatia. Every time we interacted with the locals during this visit, their pride in this resource was abundantly obvious; for example, Croatians wanted us to know that anyone could drink water from a spigot, and that we should feel comfortable drinking tap water when out at a restaurant rather than ordering bottled water.

Croatia is a beautiful country where I was able to learn about the history of this place, experienced stunning scenery, and enjoy the friendly hospitality of the people. Leaving Croatia, I was amazed by the level of focus on the environment and sustainability in this country, whether related to water resources, land, historical sites, or other environmental priorities.  This educational experience really opened my eyes and changed my perspective. I arrived wondering what kind of impact my fellow MNR students and I could have on Croatia, but it was Croatia and its citizens that had a positive impact on me and my world view.


Blake Waller headshot

The next Master of Natural Resources (MNR) Croatia International Field Experience is scheduled for Summer 2018.

Blake Waller is currently a National Resources Specialist with the Department of Navy. In this role, he is responsible for developing and managing natural resource programs to ensure compliance with Federal, State, and Navy regulations. Blake has more than nine years of experience in Federal land-based natural resource stewardship and conservation, and is a 2017 graduate of the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program