This summer, I was happy to accept a sea-kayaking traineeship with Outdoor Croatia, an outdoor guiding company based in Dubrovnik. As a Masters student in Outdoor Education, I wanted to use this opportunity to observe how people in another culture approach learning in and through the outdoors. I have worked as a sea kayak guide for many years and in several different countries, but I still learn new and valuable lessons every time I work with guides in foreign places.
During my time with Outdoor Croatia, I helped to lead a five-day kayak-based tour around the Elafiti Islands for a British military group, teaching and learning about local cultural and ecology. Before departing for Croatia, I began to familiarize myself with the local landscape, history, culture and flora and fauna. It is always intimidating to be a leader in a place I’m unfamiliar with, so I do my best to learn what I can in advance. But there is no substitute for learning about a place in that place, so I made sure to arrive in Croatia a few days before the trip began.
Before heading to the isle of Lopud to begin the kayak tour, I explored the city of Dubrovnik. I visited the War Photo Limited Museum, where I learned about the Yugoslav Wars through photojournalism. I walked the historic walls that have fortified the medieval city for hundreds of years while absorbing historical information from an audio tour. I toured the Rector’s Palace, which served as the seat of the Rector of the Republic of Ragusa between the 14th and 19th centuries. I visited the Trsteno Arboretum, which dates back to the 15th century and showcases many ancient species of trees. All of this helped inform my position as a guide over the following week.
Once on Lopud, the island from which we began our trip, I met the local guide team and my partner for the week, Marko. We talked through the trip and our guiding styles. We were eager to learn from one another, so we decided to split up the coaching evenly. By the time the clients arrived, we felt like a united team.
The next few days were spent coaching kayak skills while on a journey around the beautiful Elafiti Islands. We visited secret, underwater caves and learned about local fish. We jumped off cliffs and learned about local geology. We paddled past stands of pine and learned about local plants. We observed war-torn buildings and heard about the Croatian War of Independence from a person who lived through it. This opportunity provided confirmation that no matter how much experience I gain in my field, I always have more to learn. I’m so grateful to have had this experience and I can’t wait to share my newfound love of and knowledge about Croatia. I hope to visit again soon!