'Everything was super'
That was the word that best summed up our trip to Serbia — and the word that Serbians loved to use the most.
“How was your flight?”
“Well, the delay leaving Houston caused us to miss our connection and get rerouted, but we got here at the same time we would have anyway.”
“How do you like your food?”
“You mean it is super?”
Everything was super — the food, the scenery, and the wonderful people we got to meet. Even the way we got to Serbia was pretty super.
Two years ago, Jodi Larson and myself presented a workshop at the annual conference for the Association of Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums. It was a hot and humid day in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we first turned museum professional development (typically a rather dry subject) into an exciting “Jeopardy”-style game that everyone could win.
Who could have known that sharing our “Serious Fun” workshop that day would bring us to the Balkans on a grant from the United States Embassy?
Jodi and I had met when working together at the George Ranch Historical Park, a living history museum outside of Houston. With over 30 years of working in non-profits, we both saw a need to change the way museum professionals were trained.
While museums seek to provide hands-on, exciting, memorable activities for their visitors, administration often gave their staff a binder full of old articles and said, “Here, read this and then make it interesting for the visitor.”
Well, we believe that you should give the same consideration to your staff that you do to your visitors. We put together a consultancy, Museums Unbound, so we could ‘change the way we change the world.’
At our first presentation in Baton Rouge, one of our participants just happened to be a visiting curator from Serbia. Professor Nikola Krstović later said that his first impression of our workshop was “these ladies are schizophrenic! They keep jumping from topic to topic!” But then he realized there was a method to our madness. He walked away amazed.
Two days later, we passed each other at a conference lunch and he asked, “The museums in Serbia need this kind of training. Would you ever come to my country?”
We said, “Find a way to bring us and we will come!”
Over the next two years, our workshops went to conferences in the USA, Canada and Australia.
As running Museums Unbound was a side job for both of us, our consultancy developed slowly.
But when Nikola wrote us to say he had gotten a grant from the U.S. Embassy to bring us to Serbia, we knew our side gig was growing up.
On May 7, 2018, Jodi and I boarded a plane in Houston and jetted over to Eastern Europe. For three days, we lectured at the University of Belgrade and in local museums and NGOs. We had participants play Telephone Pictionary to help them understand the concept of neurodiversity. They passionately argued which words were the best in our “Better Word Showdown” so they could understand the power of language.
[The winner was “forklift.” Don’t believe me? Look it up in Serbian, it is a fantastic word!]
The improv game “Yes, and” helped them practice the vital skill of adapting quickly to changing situations. The days were full of laughter, intense discussions, funny mistranslations, and exhaustion as we packed learning and fun into every moment.
At the end of every day, our hosts exclaimed over and over how ‘super’ we had been!
After we said goodbye to our students, we took some time to explore this ancient city ourselves.
When we poked around the Medieval Belgrade fortress, we found walls built by the Romans.
The next day we took a fantastic tour of the Museum of Yugoslavia that highlighted the difficulty of preserving the history of a nation that fell apart in the last few decades. At every turn, we met people eager to share their stories and welcome us to their country.
When we finally boarded the plane back to the USA, it was with the hope that we might be able to bring Museums Unbound to Slovenia next year. After all, how could we not come back to the place where everything is super?
Hannah Moses is the co-founder of Museums Unbound and a park ranger at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site at Stonewall.