Katarina Mitrović was recently awarded for the best Ethnology and Anthropology Master Thesis by Ethnographic museum in Belgrade. The award is named after Borivoje Drobnjakovic (1890-1961), professor of Ethnology, director of The Ethnographic museum and one of the founders and directors of The Institute of Ethnography SASA, and is one of the most prestigious achievements for graduate students in the field. Katarina’s project, “International student exchanges as anthropological issue: case study of study migrations between Serbia and North America”, was inspired primarily by the Global UGRAD exchange. Her thesis is a comparative study of North American and Serbian higher education, which is based on thorough research and analysis of exchange students’ experiences in both countries. In order to fully capture what it is like to be a student at a U.S. college, Katarina discusses her findings from 17 interviews that she conducted with her Global UGRAD colleagues who attended various U.S. colleges. She also illustrates Serbian education through testimonies of 14 students from the University of Alberta, Canada; Clemson University, USA; and SIT, the School of International Training program: Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, Peace and Conflict Studies in the Balkans. On top of that, as someone who experienced both perspectives of this study, Katarina fully compares, contrasts, and connects the two different education systems, while subtly layering in her personal impressions.
Through an in-depth analysis of the series of interviews, Katarina made several thoughtful insights about the position of exchange students. By putting him/her in the context of the globalization process, mass migrations, and intense cultural and economic interdependence around the world, she questioned the exchange experience, on the border of truism and studying. As she concluded, an exchange student is an attraction of the global village, simultaneously “close” and “exotic” for the new classmates and the community, and usually seen as the exclusive representative of a country, sometimes even a continent. Also, while analyzing U.S. universities, she highlighted the importance of alumni networks and school spirit, as well as the life on campus, considering them broadly different than Serbian. Katarina discussed if campuses could be analyzed in terms of “hyperreal models of the city” (Baudrillard 1991) independent and functional for themselves. Furthermore, she explored the ways in which the American approach to representative democracy, individual freedom and free market shapes the behavior of students and their attitude towards universities and education (Gilbert 1999, Ramachandran 2006, Balkin 2004, Chemerinsky 2000, Bok 2005 ect.).
Knowing that between 1950 and 2009 the number of internationally mobile students increased more than 30 fold (from 107,000 to 3.4 million, Shields 2013) Katarina’s work is perceived as very important now and in the years to come. By taking a deep look inside both educational systems, she draws some interesting points of their differences, strengths, and weaknesses. Her comparative research shows the importance of exchange and international students for individuals, universities, and educational processes worldwide. She emphasizes why the U.S. educational system is considered to be one of the best in the world, and suggests how some education practices could be adjusted and implemented in Serbia. By showing how easy, subtle and fun it is to make current and ex-students interact and communicate among themselves and with the local community, Katarina considers school spirit and alumni networks in the U.S. the great example for her country to consider. During her stay in Wyoming, Katarina volunteered in Laramie Plains Museum and Head Start program kindergarten.
In order to share this innovative analysis on student migrations with the public outside of the field, the ethnographic museum in Belgrade will give Katarina an opportunity to host an exhibition in May 2018. Given the breadth and the depth of her Master thesis, it would be difficult to share all the findings through one exhibition. Instead, following the suggestions of her mentors and the Ethnology and Anthropology faculty members at the University of Belgrade, Katarina decided to focus her exhibit on one piece of her project: the University of Wyoming, where she spent her Global UGRAD exchange year and that she holds dear to her heart. Having that in mind, an in-depth, extended, two-week project would give Katarina an opportunity to gather enough materials for exhibition and enable her to present what studying at a U.S. university is like. The importance of student folklore, school spirit, college life, and the connections between the university and the local community would be reflected throughout homecoming events in October 2017: the big community service-oriented event, homecoming football game and the parade. Moreover, by getting back to campus setting she would be able to document the ways in which the university meets the freedoms and needs of its students through several spheres: education (inside and outside the class), safety, food, religion, interests, hobbies etc. Katarina would be in a position to, at her ethnographic field, talk to international students and see how they articulate homecoming traditions, and how they integrate with local community.
Katarina Mitrovic studied at the University of Wyoming as a Global UGRAD 2014-15 participant.