We had the chance to chat with blogger, Alex Schmidt aka “The Mindful Mermaid“; an API Dubrovnik alumna who has recently relocated to Croatia. Alex studied with API during her spring semester in 2015.
So, who is the mindful mermaid?
I’m Alex Schmidt, also known for my blogging name “The Mindful Mermaid”. I just graduated this past spring from Loyola University Chicago, where I studied political science with minors in journalism and environmental science. When I studied abroad in Dubrovnik, Croatia I didn’t know a single person. By the end of the program, I had a group of Americans and Croatians that I consider life-long friends. I also met my boyfriend at university while abroad and had the opportunity to visit him in Dubrovnik again at Christmas time.
As a recent college graduate, I felt the pressure of the real world, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of wanting to return to Dubrovnik and live in Europe again. Over the past year, I’ve been saving every penny to come back abroad to live with my boyfriend, Domeniko. We decided I would spend the summer in Dubrovnik while looking for internships/work in Europe together. I’ve been here for almost a month and decided to start a conscious lifestyle and travel blog about my unique journey.
When did you know you wanted to study abroad? What were your goals for study abroad?
Unlike some people, I wasn’t someone that always wanted to go abroad. I was honestly a bit scared to get out of my little bubble of comfort. However, I got bit by the travel bug after taking a few trips in college and decided that living in a new place and experiencing a different culture would be an unforgettable opportunity.
My goal for studying abroad was to grow as an individual and widen my cultural horizon. I wanted to go into it level headed without super high expectations, and just be ready to experience something new, some good, some bad. Yes, I was terrified as I took a plane across the world knowing no one in my program. I felt like I was sailing away by myself without having sight of any land ahead. Yet, it was the most life-changing decision I’ve ever made.
What was it like coming home?
Honestly, I did not want to come home, and so when I finally did it was surreal and even a bit sad. I had reverse culture shock, and it took me awhile to get assimilated. I didn’t really realize how much I had changed until I was home, and much more culturally sensitive and aware. There are a lot of skills I learned abroad that I actually found myself using in both my personal and professional life.
How did studying abroad shape your future plans?
Before I left for studying abroad I had this plan laid out for myself about going to law school and climbing my way up in the world of politics. Spending time in Croatia really changed that plan for me. I realized that what I thought I wanted was not what I really needed right now. I needed to find a way to spend some more time doing what I truly love: writing, traveling, and influencing positive change. That’s where I came up with my unconventional post-grad plan. To be continued!
How is it being back abroad in a different capacity?
Being back abroad is actually nothing like when I was here studying abroad with API. Previously my world felt a lot smaller. I had 19 Americans in my study abroad group and I think around 40 in the entire school, which I actually loved. But now I am completely surrounded by locals, which I also love. I am living in a village slightly outside of Dubrovnik, and it’s great because I’m exploring Croatia’s endless beauty and spending a lot of time with Domeniko and his family.
As a student, I had the luxury of traveling with friends every weekend and going out seeing sites around the city. Summers are complete chaos here and many work in tourism, while winters are very slow and quiet. Despite its beauty, there are a lot of struggles in Croatia’s government and economy, which are rooted in Croatia’s history. It’s important to understand the struggles of a community wherever you study abroad.
If you could offer one piece of advice to a prospective study abroad student, what would it be?
I know everyone says to get out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself, so I will say something more specific: get to know the locals. Don’t just hang out with Americans the entire time. Make an effort to find people that actually live where you are studying and get to know their stories. Be curious and ask questions about their culture and language. By doing this, you will be more immersed in the culture and out of your comfort zone. You’ll have a fuller perspective on the place you are living, and you will get more out of your experience. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t do this myself.
Follow Alex on her social channels to keep up with her story, here: