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Civic & Community Engagement in Croatia

Civic and Community Engagement

A round table discussion entitled Relevance of Civic and Community Engagement – a Local and Global Viewpoint, organized by the University of Rijeka and Rijeka City Library was held on Friday, March 30, 2018, in the American Corner section of the Rijeka Library at the Youth Hall ''Trsat''. The round table discussion was organized as one of many activities within the framework of the nine-day stay of the student delegation from The State University of New York - Buffalo (SUNY) led by Professor Christine A. Lai, Ph.D., and gathered a significant number of participants and guests, thus providing a lively discussion.

In addition to the SUNY-based Professor Christine A. Lai, Ph.D., and the group of SUNY-based students: Ashley E. Balicki, Alexis R. Lewis, Kacper Kozminski, Vadim V. Lebedyuk, Nakia C. Hock and Amber L. Martinez, also present in the discussion were the following Rijeka-based persons: Associate Prof. Bojana Ćulum, Ph.D., from the Department of Education at the UNIRI Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jolanda Todorović, Head of the Program Coordination Service of the Croatian Cultural Centre ''Sušak'', Marko-Luka Zubčić, Coordinator of volunteer activities on the ''Tourism Valorisation of Representative Monuments of Rijeka Industrial Heritage'' project, Associate Prof. Sarah Czerny, Ph.D., from the Department of Cultural Studies at the UNIRI Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dejan Gvoić, student-volunteer from the UNIRI Faculty of Health Studies, Ms. Pegi Pavletić, President of the UNIRI Student Body Government, along with Ms. Iva Tijan from the UNIRI International Unit as moderator.

The main purpose of the gathering was to look at the challenges of social engagement, both in the community and service learning, research and volunteering. Unlike volunteering, service learning and research as a pedagogical approach, provide, among other things, the opportunity of learning for students.

The students presented different but in many ways similar perspectives, activities, and suggestions, by comparing and contrasting the experiences of American students and their fellow students in Rijeka.

Ms. Pegi Pavletić, President of the UNIRI Student Body Government, pointed out the activities of various civic, sports and student associations as an opportunity to engage in activities that represent community service. However, she also pointed to the lack of such year-long programs, as well as the support system needed for their implementation. The concept of service learning at the University of Rijeka aimed at establishing connections with the community, local or global, will surely be further promoted by exchanging these experiences and opinions.

By gathering the impressions from both sides, this meeting concluded by posing an important question: What can the University of Rijeka adopt and accept from American colleagues in the field of service learning, and what did the American delegation learn during their stay at the University of Rijeka?

Professor Christine A. Lai emphasized that students will return to the US with memorable impressions of the Rijeka community. Here they witnessed that student-volunteers contribute to their immediate community as needed, regardless of the narrow scope of a particular study program, while at The State University of New York Buffalo students contribute to the community in narrow(er) relation to their field of study.

Professor Bojana Ćulum concluded that we can learn a lot from the American colleagues while emphasizing that we must not disregard the volunteer network of students developed through the ''Students and the Community'' course that she holds at the Department of Education at the UNIRI Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. She believes that, in accordance with a formerly validated concept, it is possible to connect the studies and community service among the students of other University constituents, as well, by including the elaborated American model of service learning narrowed down by any given field of a respective study program.

Student Tino Vodanović, from the Office for Students with Disabilities, highlighted the importance of inclusion of students with disabilities in the concept of service learning, emphasizing that they also want to be included in such programs, thus contributing to the community. Everyone present agreed and supported this significant initiative.

The meeting also provided all present to get to know each other better and contributed to an open dialogue, likewise opening opportunites for possible exchange programs in regard to civic and community engagement topics.

American Students at UNIR

Professor Sanja Barić, Ph.D., Vice-Rector for Studies and Students, along with Ms. Iva Tijan from the UNIRI International Unit and Ms. Patrizia Pelčić from the International Mobility Erasmus Office welcomed Professor Christine A. Lai, Ph.D., Head of the group of students from The State University of New York, on Monday, March 26, 2018. The group is here for their week-long volunteer visit to Rijeka, i.e. work on the Civic and Community Engagement project in Rijeka.

This concept implies acquainting the students with the community and direct action on concrete problems in real life. Civic engagement implies volunteering to make positive changes in the lives of our communities and developing a combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that change. It also includes the participation of individuals in activities of personal and public significance, which are not only for individual enrichment but socially useful to the community.

Community involvement implies cooperation between higher education institutions and their communities (at the local, regional, national or global level) for a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in the context of partnership and reciprocity.
The US Delegation arrived at the University of Rijeka Campus on Friday evening March 23, where a welcome committee consisting of the UNIRI Student Body Government welcomed them. During their visit to the University of Rijeka they have accommodations at the Student Dormitory "Trsat" within the framework of the Student Centre Rijeka.

Upon their arrival the group visited the Swimming Pools Kantrida and Athletic Hall Kantrida on Saturday, March 24, 2018, for sports-related volunterring activities. They helped out members of the Forca Swim Team, a swimming club for disabled persons, also experiencing Empathy Swimming, where the swim coach tied their respective arms, legs, and put blindfolds on in order to experience what it's like to swim with a disability. After that the students tried indoor rock climbing.

The students shared their experiences at the University of Rijeka Rectorate, where they were also briefly introduced with the work of the University of Rijeka, after which they made statements for the media.

The US Delegation is headed by Associate Prof. Christine A. Lai, Ph.D., and the respective students are Ashley E. Balicki, Alexis R. Lewis, Kacper Kozminski, Vadim V. Lebedyuk, Nakia C. Hock and Amber L. Martinez.

The group is set to visit the Rehabilitation Center Rijeka, Brašćine and Pulac subsidiaries, and ''Fortica'' Rehabilitation Center in Kraljevica, where they will participate in volunteer activities with the Center's proteges, and the ''Škurinje" Elementary School where they will, through various workshops, get acquainted with the program for children of Roma nationality, encouraging them in their English language studies.

They will also meet with representatives of the Student Union of the University of Rijeka, as well as Erasmus Student Network representatives.

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