Where in the World

With Holy Cross as home base, one Crusader family is journeying to all corners of the globe this summer to pursue a shared love of learning

By Elizabeth Walker

From left: Lydia Grek '16, Vera Grek '14 and Heidi Grek '12 with their father, Philosophy Professor Predrag Cicovacki

If philosophy Professor Predrag Cicovacki and his family starred in a reality television series, it would have to appear on the Travel Channel. Cicovacki, who also directs the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Holy Cross, is spending the fall semester in India as a Senior Fulbright-Nehru Fellow at the Malaviya Centre for Peace Research. Also this fall, his daughters, Heidi '12, Vera '14 and Lydia Grek '16, are embarking on academic adventures of their own, scattering the family among three continents.

"I'll spend four months in India at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi," Cicovacki says. "This area is the cradle of Hinduism in India. Nearby is the famous Deer Park, where the Buddha began preaching his sermons. You have two of the oldest religions in the world, Hinduism and Buddhism, virtually in one place."

Cicovacki is particularly interested in the influence that religion played on Gandhi's views and conduct, and what effect Jainism-with its emphasis on nonkilling-had on Gandhi's thoughts and actions. He plans to live for several weeks in a Jain community.

 "I want to study the Jains and their way of life," he says. "That fits very well with directing peace studies here and teaching nonviolence, and with my work on Albert Schweitzer, who had this great idea about reverence for life. We have so much to learn from each other."

Cicovacki's family certainly has learned from each other- Cicovacki and his wife, Jadranka Grek, have instilled a love of learning and travel in their three daughters.

Heidi, who graduated magna cum laude in May with an English major, a German minor and a creative writing concentration, is heading to Germany in September, where she has a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. In addition to teaching English to German students, she also will take German literature courses at a local university. Her father's sabbatical year at the University of Freiburg in 1999 made a deep impression on her. She returned to Germany in 2010 on a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service.

"I've taught English to adult immigrants in Worcester, to children in Bosnia through Builders for Peace and to kindergartners in China," Heidi says, adding that she might apply to graduate schools for a master of fine arts degree in creative writing when she returns from Germany. She was more decisive about applying early decision to Holy Cross, which was her first choice.

"We practically grew up on the Holy Cross campus," Heidi continues. "Yet I never realized how committed the College was to community service until I became a student here. I know that Holy Cross has prepared me for the next step." 

The next step for Vera is Russia, where she will polish her language skills before spending her junior year in Spain. Vera has travelled extensively with her family and on her own, but the Spanish major has never been to Spain. Her parents intentionally omitted the country on the family's trips every other summer to the former Yugoslavia and Serbia to visit relatives.

"When I was in eighth grade, my dad was supposed to go to a conference in Spain, but it didn't work out," says Vera, who speaks fluent Serbian. "My parents said they would go everywhere but Spain because I needed to experience that on my own. I knew then where I would go on study abroad some day. I'll be in Moscow for six weeks this summer in an intensive Russian class. In August, I'll finally head to Spain."

Vera points to the advantages of growing up in a bilingual home: "I learned that you can't expect the rest of the world to speak English."

In August, Lydia will be traveling a short distance-just over a mile from the family's home near Worcester-to take a big step: She will join the Class of 2016 at Holy Cross. Like her sisters, Lydia plans to live on campus. For the summer, however, she will hold down the fort; when Jadranka Grek joins her husband in India for two months, Lydia will be the only family member on this continent.

As a Crusader, Lydia also intends to continue her volunteer work, which includes fundraising for Invisible Children, teaching piano lessons to low-income people through Afternoon Tunes and working with elders in a music therapy program. Studying languages, playing music and traveling remain her passions.

"All the traveling my family has done has made me more curious," Lydia says. "It definitely opened my eyes to the world. I like learning just to learn. I attribute that to my parents and all the traveling we have done."

"We're used to everyone heading off in all directions," says Cicovacki, who is known to leave candy bars in his daughters' campus mailboxes to sate the cravings of this family of avowed chocoholics. "Vera reminded me that she has been to 20 different countries-16 in the past 10 years."

Jadranka has no qualms about the prospect of her family living in four different countries in the coming year. "I always expected this would happen," she says. "I have always looked forward to seeing what kind of people our daughters would become. I love to hear about their adventures."

"Holy Cross has been a big part of all of our lives in different ways since I joined the faculty in 1991," Cicovacki adds. "It's kind of an American dream we're living with our daughters. The future is open to us-and the world is our backyard."