Matt Maruca’s Year Abroad
February 1, 2017 • 215 views
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Rather than spend his junior year here at Harriton, Senior Matt Maruca studied abroad through the KL Yes Abroad program. He was sent to Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the program’s effort to increase relations between the United States and countries with “significant muslim populations.” Matt was one of 65 American students to take part in this endeavor, so the Harriton Banner went straight to the source to find out about his unique experience.
HB: Describe the area in which you lived. What did you see in your daily travels?
MM: I lived in a city of 200,000 people. The architecture was that of little terracotta-roofed cottages and then many tall, brutalist, communist-built apartment buildings; not much in between. No skyscrapers. The city had beautiful hills on one side, a nice river running through the middle, and an ancient Ottoman Fortress right in the center of town that I walked by every day. It was truly amazing.
HB: What was your host-family like?
MM: My host family was a dad, 38, and mom, 35. They did not have kids. They were extremely playful, kind, and friendly. My host dad treated me almost like a younger brother. My host mom fed me well and made sure I wore enough clothes to avoid a cold, and didn’t get my hair wet. They taught me many lessons and ensured my safety in the city.
HB: What are the differences between the school you attended there and Harriton? Which do you prefer?
MM: The school I attended there is much older, and the teachers teach with a more lecture-based style. It uses less “modern” technology. I preferred it far more to Harriton because the students have much more of an ability to go outdoors during school hours. They are far less stressed despite taking more subjects; they also complain less, seem less tired and stressed, and have more motivation to study and succeed.
HB: What was your favorite part of your travels?
MM: I lived in a much better environment than Philadelphia and had a much greater access to the outdoors and better quality food, so a number of health issues I previously suffered from improved, from headaches, to allergies, to brain fog, stress, and fatigue. Also, I got to meet so many cool, kind people from all across the world at various events and through my travels. I also got to take a week-long trip with the Junior class to Venice, Monaco, Barcelona, Nice, Cannes, San Rafael, and Verona.
HB: Did you struggle at all with the experience?
MM: I did not struggle much. I was growing as a person and learning a lot which always has its ups and downs.
HB: Did you learn any new languages there? What language did those around you speak? Was it difficult to communicate?
MM: I learned the local language, Serbian, which is the same as Bosnian, Croatian, and Montenegrin, but split for ethnic reasons. I also learned Italian because I took it in school. It was easy to communicate because almost everyone under age 40 knows English, and I was learning their language.
HB: Describe the differences between culture there and culture here. How difficult was it to adjust?
MM: The cultures are fairly similar. They are adopting much from the US. People felt very similar. Only, they were less into their technology and talked more as people. Also, they seemed generally to care more about others. People were far more serious about relationships in high school and didn’t do too much outside of relationships. There was a war 20 years ago so there is ethnic hatred, but my city was pretty homogenous, so it was not seen on a daily basis. Adjusting was easy.
HB: When you reflect on your year abroad, do you consider it the best of your life?
MM: It was a phenomenal year, however every year is better than the last. It was especially great because I was able to learn about myself and what I care about, and particularly to develop a unique perspective about my home country by seeing it externally.