The first recorded field trip occurred in 2003, taking around forty pupils to Sarajevo and Mostar. It was part of an initiative promoted by the Piedmont Regional Council’s Resistance and Constitution Committee, where the opportunity is given to students who distinguish themselves in an annual modern history contest. The last flashpoints of the post-Yugoslav wars had only recently subsided. The trip was part of other initiatives focused on times and places considered the most important in Italian and European history: “This year we’ll repeat the “voyages of remembrance” to the nazi concentration camps, and areas that were key to the Italian resistance, but this is the first time that we’re taking students to the former Yugoslavia”.
Since then, at least 7000 Italian students have participated in field trips to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Albania. These are the most frequently visited non-EU countries in south-east Europe. For the most part, the intention is for pupils to “discover” this little (and poorly) known part of the continent. The region has a long-standing and important relationship with Italy, testified by the close ties between various civil society groups.
Apart from the effort involved in mapping all these trips, there is the difficulty of reconstructing a phenomenon which is extraordinarily widespread and spontaneous, characterised by autonomous projects in a wide variety of regions. This is why the data presented here should only be considered approximate.
The programmes take various paths, focusing on themes ranging from domestic and international politics, rights, the economy, migration, or, more generally, cultural exchange between students. The region’s complex history lends these topics substantial relevance and depth . These grassroots activities have gradually become one of the principal expressions of the cultural relationship that crosses the shores of the Adriatic.
How many are going? A constant increase
The growth curve for students exploring this region seems to be increasing rapidly since 2003. Since the early 2000s there has also been a constant increase in the use of experiential learning, leading to a broad growth in so-called “journeys of remembrance”. As for south-east Europe, the period up to 2010 was characterised by individual experiments in just a few areas.
Between 2010 and 2015, however, the first real sign of growth emerged, with an increase in total numbers and, above all, renewed commitments from specific regions. At that point, students numbered several hundred each year. Then, in the following years, there was what we can justifiably call a boom: trips with well over 500 students each year, reaching a thousand or more in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Looking at the data per country, the trips to Bosnia and Herzegovina stand out – a destination which has been gaining in popularity for many years. There are many links between this region and Italian civil society associations, and it is also seen and presented as a central context for late 20th century European history.
On the other hand, the other countries in the region have only recently received significant attention. Apart from occasional peaks due to specific initiatives, Serbia seems set on a path of gradual growth. Initiatives involving Albania struggle to gain momentum, despite evident interest from many parties.
As for Bosnia and Herzegovina, these trips have seemed, up to now, tied exclusively to north-central Italy, with long-running initiatives in Piedmont, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Marche. Interest in Serbia, on the other hand, seems to be spread more evenly. For the most part, this is due to the fact that there are many trips promoted by the Intercultural Association, which introduced Serbia among its destination countries and includes schools throughout Italy. As for Albania, the towns and cities of Puglia show the most interest, due to geographical proximity.