“Slovak/Slovene for a year” is a section about those who have experienced one of our countries as foreigners. We will share their stories with you, so you can take a look at the countries from the foreigner perspective.
This article is written by a Slovene student of the Slovak language and Social sciences, who spent the academic year 2010/2011 in Bratislava.
Zzzzzzzzzz. The sound of the alarm clock on a Sunday morning, it is still dark outside. What a horror! But this time it wasn’t hard for me to get up for I was on my way to a trip. About an hour later, I was already in Ljubljana, filled up my uncle’s station wagon with my luggage and said goodbye to the rest of my family. On that September morning my mother and I entered the car of my uncle who generously offered to give us – and especially to my giant amount of luggage – a ride to Bratislava, which took us only 4 hours.
Have I mentioned I took the whole wardrobe, if not even more? A big mistake! Clothes, footwear, cosmetics, dishes, a pile of books and dictionaries and also a few of the »necessary« local sweets, etc. Well, I applied for a 10-month student exchange and I didn’t want to leave anything to coincidence. But, of course, while I was already sitting in the car I realized what everything I have forgotten: for example my studying materials from the first year of college in Ljubljana, which I needed a lot…
We were welcomed by a nice Slovak family in a smaller town on the outskirts of Bratislava. My uncle has met them one hot summer on the Pag island in Croatia and introduced them to me in order to make sure I would do fine in the new city. So this is how I met Mrs Marta, Mr Ján and their daughters Zuzana and Daniela.
There were more amazing coincidences connected to our meeting. Firstly, Mrs Marta Botiková is a professor at the Faculty of Arts in Bratislava, which I was about to attended during the exchange. Secondly, it turned out her daughter Zuzana was going to a student exchange to Ljubljana! So at the end of the day my uncle and my mother drove back to Slovenia with Zuzana, while Marta took me to my new future home in Mlynská dolina.
My roommate Tina who was at the moment a student of the Social Sciences Faculty in Ljubljana, was expecting us at the dorm. We have been already in touch for a few months via internet and made sure to stay in the same room. We hugged as if we had known each other for years. On that day I also ran into my colleagues from the Ljubljana faculty, who were also there to study the Slovak language. Later on Katja – who came to Bratislava to write her thesis – joined us with Tina in the room. Since they have arrived few days before me, they knew how it all worked and quickly introduced me to the timetable and the faculty activities.
The day after my arrival I was already on my way to the Faculty of Arts, which is in the centre of Bratislava. There were no big surprises, I have already visited Bratislava during the excursions with my colleagues and have also seen the faculty. I had a clue about what to expect: all the administration connected to my arrival to Bratislava, potential changes of the learning agreement content and all the other things that belong to moving to a new country and faculty. However, the stress I was going through was obvious. Not only to me, but also to my hairdresser, who has noticed my first grey hair after the exchange. But today, when I look back at it, I can finally smile.
People have asked me many times about how my exchange was. I always answer that it was great but at the same time I emphasise that it wasn’t all just wonderful. There were many problems which I had to face. I have to admit that sometimes during the first semester I shed a tear or two. And not because I would miss my close ones (thanks to the internet we surprisingly haven’t even noticed the distance) but because in Bratislava I hav found myself in situations in which I didn’t know how to react. I was suddenly all alone in a foreign country. But after all, my experience with the exchange taught me how to be independent and courageous. Now I can go anywhere and I know that I will survive. Well, maybe except for China, in that case I would have to take this statement back.
Studying at the Slovak Faculty of Arts was an interesting experience. I attended the subjects for both foreign and native students. In order to pass the classes for the natives I had to work really hard and I can honestly say that I have invested more work and energy into my studies than I would ever have at home. Therefore I have to disappoint you: I don’t have many fun stories and events from countless student parties about which I could one day be talking to my grandchildren.
What I have noticed was that there weren’t any copy shops in the vicinity of the faculty, while there are plenty of them in Ljubljana. I believe that is somehow connected to the fact that the students (at least as far as the Faculty of Arts is concerned) attend their classes regularly and that is why they are not in the need of copying the notes from each other. I got the feeling that their approach to the studies is somehow more serious and that they take the first exam terms more often.
Well, in spite of the fact that I went to class every morning like a good girl, I still have attended few parties. All the Erasmus students who spent the spring of 2011 in Bratislava will probably remember this period by the world championship in hockey that took place in April and May in the capital of Slovakia. That was when Bratislava was overflown by hockey supporters from all over Europe, including Slovenes. The centre of the town has transformed into a real cosmopolitan capital and the parties went on till late hours. According to my experience, the Slovaks are in comparison to the Slovenes slightly more reserved when it comes to meeting new people, but I am sure that there are some exceptions. Like I have already said, I have made few friends in Bratislava that I managed to keep until today, mostly thanks to the internet. I keep promising to go back and visit them for some years now.
It would be wrong of me not to mention Saša Vojtechová Poklač, the language lecturer of the Slovenian language, who is (with the help from the Slovene embassy in Bratislava) ensuring the promotion of the Slovene language and culture in Slovakia and the development of international and intercultural contacts. Numerous events and meetings at the embassy have helped the foreigner students to accommodate in Bratislava faster and feel like we are at home.
On the other hand, the Slovaks are used to live more modestly. The Slovenes have truly left the times of Yugoslavia behind and have become consumers with the big capital C. There are no doubts that we have noticeably bigger houses (maybe even too big) and drive good cars, even if they are »over our budget«. In Slovenia many students have their own car, while I haven’t noticed anything like that during my student exchange in Bratislava. The Slovenes also give more money for fashionable clothes. The life standard of Slovaks is lower, which I have noticed soon after my arrival to the dorms. They were modestly equipped and in the desperate need of a thorough renewal. I didn’t trouble myself with that much, I just took it as a part of my experience.
Bratislava is a capital that is waking up from socialism, developing in the spirit of capitalism and opens up many opportunities. I can’t wait to observe its changes and progress the next time I visit.
Tjaša Malnar, 2016