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National Scholars 2006

National Scholars Trip

belgradeA group of 11 Clemson National Scholars traveled to Belgrade in May, 2006 to study the past, present and future of that part of Europe. These are some of the impressions of Professor William Lasser, Director of the Program and students Damon Andrews, Lauren Smith, Stephen Lareau, Kate Hicks and Laura Hart.

Professor Lasser says "Traveling to Belgrade with Professor Vladimir Matic was an extraordinary experience. Belgrade is a marvelous city – full of restaurants, cafes, shops of all kinds – with thousands of years of history. My students had a wonderful time, but – more importantly – they had a first-hand look at a complex nation, poised between East and West, trying to emerge from a tragic and difficult experience in the 1990ies. They came home with a better appreciation of Europe, of international relations, and of their own country."

belgradeTrip and Program:
The trip to Serbia exceeded Damon's expectations. He says "The people we were in contact with and the knowledge and insight that were shared are invaluable. In addition, the Yugoslav crisis has taken a backseat to Iraq, and being face-to-face with such an important issue in that nation brought about its importance despite the media loosing coverage on it."

Lauren thinks that the group of students was generally prepared so there were no startling revelations. Professor Matic "prepared us very well for the different viewpoints we would experience. I felt like the meetings with public officials and NGOs offered an interesting perspective on past events and future outlook".

She says "Student groups like the National Scholars are an amazing way to foster communication between two societies, especially because engaging young people, the next generation of leaders, will ensure that future progress will be made in understanding and appreciating differences."

The United States Ambassador to Serbia Michael Polt, who received the group, emphasized the importance of such programs and direct communication of the young and praised the national Scholars initiative and students who came well prepared and with great questions for him.

Stephen was very pleased with the program and observed "I did not expect to have the nearly unlimited access to high ranking officials as a foreigner and especially as an American. The meetings in the Foreign Ministry were particularly interesting as we were meeting with some of the highest ranking officials in the entire department." He also notes that the difference in political opinions was evident in nearly every meeting the group attended.

National Scholars found many similarities but also some differences when they compared Serbian students to their American counterparts.

Kate says "The young people I met while in Serbia immediately impressed me as intelligent and politically active men and women. Many American students take our economic, social, and political stability for granted and have never felt the need to fight for a particular cause. This is strikingly different from the young Serbian population with whom we interacted; these students formed common interest groups and highly active on social and political issues. They served as an inspiration to our group by acting as truly passionate, unified, and dedicated group of student activists.

Stephen agrees that the Serbian students "are definitely more passionate than the average American students in regards to politics. They have the opportunity to change and shape the entire future of a nation." He also notes that the country is overrun by poverty, but was amazed "at the generally positive and upbeat nature of the people… Our hosts were overly optimistic and positive people despite the difficult times they faced throughout their lives."

belgradeDamon says "The young people we met were outgoing. They were very nice and informative, and it was encouraging to see such intellect in a culture that has been ravaged by war recently. It is obvious that a nation like Serbia with sharp, young minds will recover quickly. They were similar to average Americans, I thought. Maybe the only difference is that they took less for granted than we do, but their social skills and conversation topics were similar."

Lauren was also impressed and notes "Learning what life is like both for the political leaders and students in Belgrade made me realize how, at the same time, they are so different and yet so similar to their American counterparts. Seeing people spending time in cafes and shops in the center of Belgrade was identical to life in America, yet people have experienced so much in the last few years. The normalcy that we observed is a fairly recent phenomenon, and while we take for granted the ability to enjoy evenings with friends and family, hat is certainly not a given in many parts of the world. The students that we met were all so concerned about the future of their country, and so much more willing to e involved in public life than American college students.

For Laura the first impression was striking. She says "We arrived in Belgrade in the afternoon, so we didn't really get to see the city until the sun was setting on our first day there. We walked the city, and the sunset by the fort where Sava meets Danube was absolutely breathtaking. The area sets such a beautiful contrast of urban and rural, with the trees laid out in one direction and the city in the other. The colors were beautiful, and the weather was comfortably warm. It was an absolutely perfect evening, and I'm so glad that my first impressions of Belgrade were so wonderful."

Laura didn't expect Belgrade to be "as western as it was". She says "We spent so much time talking about how the Balkans were a blend of East and West. They certainly are, but the Western part is much more obvious in Belgrade. There were times when I felt like I was in many of the other European capitals that I have traveled in. There were shops and restaurants all set up for summer days of late night dinners and conversation in the streets. You can certainly see the Eastern influence, especially near the fort and the park (Kalemegdan), but Belgrade holds its own with the other important European cities.