Seconds into stories

When you take an entire class on storytelling and vivid descriptions, there is never a dull moment. This is exactly how I have felt for the past two weeks taking Travel Writing with Lola Akinmade Åkerström, a renowned author and photographer based in Stockholm teaches with DIS in the summers.

Best said by Lola herself when I asked her to describe our course content, travel writing is “trying to capture the sense of a place as holistically as you can while respecting the local traditions and cultures and making sure that the stories you share are responsible and intentional.”

This is exactly what we set out to do when our class traveled to Croatia for a five day Study Tour last week. As someone who personally strays away from foods that swim, I was nervous for our pre-planned itinerary, but Lola assured us that this was the authentic travel writers experience, and to be a true, unbiased travel writer, you have to be open to new opportunities, experiences, and, in some cases, new foods.

Our five-day itinerary was designed to mock that of a short “press tour,” something travel writers go on where they are asked to visit a location and then write stories and guides for the destination. With this in mind, we made the most of our 120 hours in the small country, visiting three cities and stopping at every excursion, farm, and even country on the way. 

We landed early on a Saturday morning in Split, Croatia. From the second our feet stepped onto the hot pavement surrounding the airport, we were busy.

Beginning with a walking tour of the Diocletian’s Palace, we were treated to cheesy burek and creamy gelato to keep us energized as we took in the sights. After our historical tour, we were taken to the vibrant hotel where we were told to take the next few hours to explore the city on our own before meeting back for dinner. Lola said that this sort of self exploration was the best way for us to find our own stories.

And stories we found. Adventuring with my friend Emmy, we met groups of people from England, Spain, and Germany all with their own stories to tell. We laughed as one of our new friends spilled his half-full drink on the ground before telling us it was on purpose. 

“In our country,” he told us, “you have to step in the drink and make a wish. It’s good luck!” Soon, my white tennis shoes were dyed a light pink as I shouted with him, wishing that his favorite soccer team would score a goal that night. But our free time flew by quickly and before the sun could set we were meeting back up with our class for a dinner of charcuterie and fish.

Now, as I mentioned, I am not one to choose a menu item that swims, but my time in Croatia might have changed my mind. Once I got past the eyes on my plate staring right back at me, the fish was delicious. I was so grateful for this “forced” experience to expand my palate and try something new.

The rest of our time in Croatia flew by just as quickly as the first day, with our day in Hvar feeling like hours and our two days in Dubrovnik nearly minutes, but that didn’t stop any of us from making the most of it. After all, we had stories to write. 

Hvar was filled with a boat tour of the small islands around the coast followed by a rooftop dinner and a stop at the Hvar Fortress for another lesson about the town and country. On our way out of town, we stopped for lunch at a local lavender farm. Taking the ferry back to the mainland, we stopped by the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina on our way to Dubrovnik for a quick visit. I was thrilled that Lola had the idea to make a pitstop, allowing us all the opportunity to watch the most beautiful sunset. Hopeful to make it to Dubrovnik before last light, we hopped back on our bus and pulled up to our hotel just as the sun disappeared. 

Dubrovnik had even more adventures in store for us. Home to several Game of Thrones sets, there was activity around every corner. We toured the Old City, learned about the process of making silk (and even made friends with some silk moths), and experienced an authentic farm-to-table dinner where we cooked our own breads, meats, and cake. Our last stop in Dubrovnik was, unfortunately, the airport, where we said goodbye to the country of Croatia and dreamed of the stories we could tell during our flight home. 

While this wasn’t any of our first times in a foreign country, we are all based in Sweden right now after all, I could tell that this taste of professionalism and freedom was new for many of my classmates. It was certainly new for me. Learning about travel writing in our classroom is inspiring, but it can only teach you so much. The real learning takes place through doing, and we did Croatia right. With only five days, I was worried that I would come home unchanged, with barely a story to tell my parents, but I can genuinely say that I learned something new about myself in the small country. 

I learned about freedom. How to make the most of my time while prioritizing what needs to be done. I learned about friendship, and how quickly people you met five days before can become your closest friends. I learned about saying yes. Opening myself up to new experiences can be scary, but 9 times out of 10 (if not more), it is so worth it.

Most of all, I learned that everything we do is a story if we learn how to tell it right. Each day, each moment, of our lives is an experience and an opportunity for growth, and that’s exactly what a story is. Through Travel Writing, I am learning how to turn each of these life-altering seconds into stories.

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