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(E) Croatian Exchange Student Web Site
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  02/19/2002 | Miscellaneous | Unrated
(E) Croatian Exchange Student Web Site
 
 
     My article which follows was published in a recent issue of the 
     Zajednicar. If you would like more information about hosting exchange 
     students from, or sending exchange students to, Croatia, please visit 
     our web page: http:\croatianstudents.cjb.net. Many thanks to CROWN 
     for making all of this possible. 
 
     Croatian Exchange Student Opens the Door for Others 
 
     This past holiday season was special for my family and me, and not 
     just for the obvious reasons. Sure, we enjoyed our usual traditions, 
     but we also had the privilege of hosting a Croatian student in our 
     home on his first visit to the United States. We decided to do this 
     knowing that it would be a great opportunity for our children to 
     develop a stronger connection to their grandparent's homeland, but 
     little realizing how much fun we would have seeing our world through 
     our guest's eyes. 
 
     It all started with a simple request sent out via the CROWN newsletter 
     (www.croatianworld.net) from Dr. Matko Marusic, professor at the Zagreb 
     School of Medicine and editor of the prestigious Croatian Medical 
     Journal (www.cmj.hr). Dr. Marusic was looking for a Croatian-American 
     family to host a 17-year-old neighbor of his, Tomislav Soldo, for 
     several weeks during the Christmas holiday season. We learned that 
     Tomislav was a typical teen who enjoyed music, basketball and computers 
     and that, importantly for us, he spoke English well. 
 
     In the days after we agreed to host Tomislav, we busily exchanged 
     emails to learn more about him and his family and to work out the 
     details of his trip. When we met him at Chicago's O'Hare airport, we 
     found that he'd had a good trip but was understandably quite tired. 
     Once he recovered from his jet lag, we enjoyed many experiences 
     together including things that we might not have done without a 
     visitor to entertain. We spent a day in Chicago sightseeing and 
     ice-skating, went to Mass on Christmas day, went bowling (Tomislav 
     learned fast) and often played basketball at our church gym. He met 
     my wife's entire family, our boy's friends (who all liked him very 
     much, especially the girls), the president of our local Croatian Club 
     in Joliet, Dane Sikic, and even one of the Chicago Bulls. 
 
     This last event came about as a pleasant surprise. Knowing that 
     Tomislav was a tremendous basketball fan, we thought he might enjoy 
     attending an NBA basketball game. Checking the Chicago Bulls roster, 
     we learned that they had a 7' 1" Croatian player, Dalibor Bagaric, on 
     their team. On a whim, we contacted the Bulls, told them about our 
     visiting student, and asked whether it might be possible to meet 
     Dalibor. We knew this was a long shot, and were therefore genuinely 
     surprised when they agreed. Dalibor was very gracious, allowing 
     Tomislav to shoot a basket with him while the team warmed up before a 
     game and giving us his personal seats when he found out that ours were 
     not nearly as good. 
 
     Tomislav's own words are perhaps more eloquent than anything else I 
     could say: 
 
     "A couple of days before Christmas 2001 I embarked across the Atlantic 
     for the first time in my life. It was exhausting, but one does not go 
     overseas every day. This would be my first Christmas without my 
     family. At O'Hare airport a nice man with red cap waited for me - Joe 
     Misurac, with his son Jason, 19. While driving to their home in 
     Plainfield, Illinois, I admired the nice houses on both sides of the 
     highway. 
 
     "I spent three weeks with the Misurac family, who did all they could 
     to make up for my longing for my family in Zagreb. My stay in the USA 
     offered opportunities of which I could barely dream: sightseeing in 
     Chicago (the skyscrapers fascinated me the most), attending an NBA 
     game, and meeting Dalibor Bagaric, who plays for the Chicago Bulls. 
 
     "I loved the open and friendly attitude of the Plainfield and Joliet 
     inhabitants, who accepted me as though I was born there. A few days 
     before my return, I spent a day with Matt Misurac, 17, visiting his 
     high school. I liked this experience the most, because this was a 
     relaxing and interesting school day and I was able to meet many nice 
     people my own age. Pity I did this so late in my stay that I was 
     unable to visit the school again. 
 
     "I liked the USA a lot, but also realized how difficult it must have 
     been for those who, under political or economic pressure, had to leave 
     their country between the Drava River and blue Adriatic Sea. Mr. Dane 
     Sikic confirmed these feelings as being his experience also. As a 
     sincere and devoted Croat, he had to leave Croatia under communist 
     pressure and look for happiness elsewhere. The story of Joe's father, 
     Mr. Joseph Misurac, Sr., is rather similar. However, this enabled me 
     to spend three beautiful weeks in the USA, for which I am truly 
     grateful. 
 
     "I thank my hosts with all my heart, hoping that we will see each 
     other again. There is so much more to do and I hope that my experience 
     will prompt many more visits of young Croatian students to American 
     families of Croatian origin. To Croats in the USA I send my love and 
     affection, wish them lots of luck, and hope that they will come to 
     visit our beautiful country as soon as possible. God bless America 
     and Croatia." 
 
     If this story were to end right here, we'd all agree that Tomislav's 
     visit was a complete success. However, Dr. Marusic is hopeful that 
     this visit may one day take on added significance as the first step 
     towards providing the same opportunity for many others. He envisions 
     not only other North Americans opening their homes to Croatian 
     students for similar visits, but Croatian families hosting North 
     American students as well. Students would be responsible for their 
     own airfare, and host families would provide lodging, food, 
     sightseeing and care. The fulfillment of this vision lies not in 
     awaiting the establishment of a large organization, but in each of us 
     doing what we can to further this process. 
 
     As a first step, we have established a simple web site: 
     http:\croatianstudents.cjb.net. If you are interested in hosting a 
     Croatian student in your home or sending a student to Croatia, let us 
     know. If you'd like to assist with this project or have ideas that 
     may be helpful, please contact us. You can also reach us via email at 
     croatianstudents@mail.com. By working together we can impact the 
     lives of our students along with those in Croatia, and strengthen the 
     bonds of kinship between our countries. 
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