Cultural Shock in Zagreb

Leading up two my study abroad experience, I had heard “culture shock” as a common talking point. Whether by family and friends or at the pre-departure meeting, it was brought up multiple times. I was heading into my study abroad experience with the idea that this wouldn’t apply to me. “How different could it be?”

I was mistaken. The culture shock wasn’t a significant or complex barrier to entry for my trip; however, I experienced it more than I expected! There are so many differences, starting with the drive from the airport. Small things add up: the manual transmission in most cars, the unkempt grass along the sides of every street, and cars parked on top of the curbs. Were any of these changes meaningful in themselves? No. However, noticing subtle differences and considering what historical events might have fostered the disparities was very insightful.

One great example of historical events showing up in the present can be found in architecture. The first thing I noticed about downtown Zagreb was the buildings. Historic buildings lined narrow streets, many of which date back to the Socialist Yugoslavian period. During the ’60-’70s, the country underwent immense industrialization and developed the cityscape scene today. While much new construction has been undertaken towards the outskirts of Zagreb, the city's interior holds onto the aging architecture.  This is very different from US cities or even other European cities such as Vienna, which offered much more modern architecture. I loved experiencing the advantages and disadvantages of each firsthand, and I am hopeful this trip will not be my last time to do so.