A semester in Maribor
Erasmus - almost everyone does that, correct? But somehow you think that yours was special. And you're damn right it was! There is no one else in the world who experienced the same thing as you did - meeting the same group of people, traveling to identical spots and who had the same inside jokes. (Actually, I went with a CEEPUS program, but nobody knows what that is, so just imagine CEEPUS every time I write Erasmus down below)
The time came, when I had to choose my place to crash for the fourth semester. To be brutally honest - Slovenia didn't even cross my mind. Why on Earth would I do that? Let me list you off some reasons why I wouldn't.
- I have been there few times already.
- It's closer to my hometown than my home university is.
- I get like 70% of the language, so it's not really out of my comfort zone.
- I totally prefer large cities over small towns.
- Everyone would mix it up with Slovakia. (and yes they actually did)
But I ended up with a decision to make: this, now or who the hell knows what, next semester. So... why not? Maybe it's a destiny. Let's do this. Maribor sounds cool. I have no clue about the city whatsoever but it's gonna be great. Hopefully. Actually I have no idea. But let's grab the chance! Let me share with you pieces of my observations.
Maribor. A city which became my home for 5 months.
Film photography can save tons of memories
I always have a disposable camera by myself because I think, some memories are nicer being captures this way. However, my phone broke during my Erasmus and I lost majority of the photos I have taken. These stayed! And it makes them even more special. Just look at the atmosphere... it takes me back to those times.
Student coupons are heaven
You're reading this, so you're a human. You're a human, so you have to eat. Probably you also enjoy it, because who doesn't. Let me tell you this: Slovenian students do not have cafeterias / bufés / whatever you call it in the university. "What? That sucks!" - you'd think. But wait! There's more! Student coupons. It's a system called subsidized students meals. Let me explain - students are able to eat in specific restaurants, where a part of the meal is subsidized by Slovenian government. On average, you have to pay about 2,5EUR extra - but there is a variety of restaurants in the range from 0 until 4EUR. You get your coupons monthly, depending on the working days.
Your full time job during the semester is to meet people everyday, who join you on the journey to become fat - so you basically spend like 2 hours daily just enjoying a meal together and sending photos of the food in its large quantities to less lucky people (like my roommate, starving on her Erasmus in Belgium LOL). If you are wondering, you usually get a soup, a meal of your choice, salad, fruit and sometimes ice cream. Still not jealous?
Slovenian language is confusing
One would say that nothing can really surprise you if you are at least a bit prepared for it. I was prepared for any kind of experience, but the fact that I will be sharing my dormitory room with someone unable to understand English was definitely not on the list. However, surviving the first few seconds of shock was the only negative thing about it and thinking about it now, it was an amazing experience. I got to know a hard working girl, her family and closest friends while practicing my Slovenian language (actually, we had a Slovak-Slovene conversation and we understood each other). During my stay in Maribor I got "fluent" in understanding what the hell is going on when someone spoke this language, however, there are few words which I still find really tricky. Let me share you some of the best ones.
- OTROK - in Slovenian "child", in Slovak a "slave".
- I knew about this one before I came to Slovenia, but it always made me laugh. Just imagine these posters like "otrok in the car" or "bring your otrok to the church with you"
- SLOVENSKO - in Slovenian "slovene", in Slovak "Slovakia".
- Yes. This one is brilliant. You know how every nation is already mixing us, why would you create an adjective which basically means someones homeland? And we call our native tongues "slovenčina" and "slovenščina".
- DUNAJ - in Slovenian "Vienna", in Slovak "Danube".
- I found out about this one while telling my roommate that the river Danube is going through my city. It took me some time to find out why is this freaking confusing her.
- JED - in Slovenian "food", in Slovak "poison".
- The feeling of choosing what kind of poison I will have for my lunch was great.
- FÚKAŤ - in Slovenian "#@!*", in Slovak "to blow".
- I don't have to tell you how awkward this is. Cause when you want to say the wind is blowing, it will only blow their minds...
- CHLAPEC - in Slovenian "servant", in Slovak "a boy".
- When I was talking about boys to my roommate she had a weird face expression.
- STANOVANJE - in Slovenian "flat", in Slovak "camping in a tent".
- Everyone was just telling me how they are looking for a new tent or how long have they been living in their current tent... weird Slovenians...
- STOL - in Slovenian "a chair", in Slovak "a table".
- Are they for real...? It already stopped being funny. So many weird misunderstandings.
People are the most important part of the experience
I was so so so lucky with the people I surrounded myself with! When I arrived, the hardest part for me was to imagine that I will have to approach some strangers. Could you imagine standing in front of your home university while someone comes to you and starts a conversation? Weird, right? On Erasmus it's the daily life. Everyone is in the same life situation. That's what they signed up for. So getting to know people has never been easier. When I came back from my stay it made me a bit more open in these situations, but I still have some progress to make. I think English is a big part of crashing the barrier, it's much more open than speaking your native language.
First of all, the ESN section in Maribor is bunch of hard working motivated people, who do their job really well. No doubt they are among the best teams in Europe. Probably everyone has the greatest memories tied with the welcome weeks. For the three week period, we were able to join multiple events each day, getting to know more and more students all around the world. The variety of them was incredible - doesn't matter if you are an introvert, a party animal or something in between. I went through the museum visit, wine tasting, hiking on a hill with torches, gala night, polyglot cafés, pub quizzes, buddy rally's, pub crawl, Slovenia trip, social erasmus activities, karaoke, Slovene night, international dinner... oh God I can't even remember all of them.
Maribor is a small town so we all became a family. The time in the town felt frozen and there was no hurry. You could find yourself walking down the street and meeting some of your closest friends. That's how you ended up at a café, pub, sitting next to the river or playing board games at someone's flat. Buying pizza at 3AM, because only "Pekarna Drava" was open. Randomly enjoying the sunrise from the hill overlooking the city. Hiding in random room from the dormitory security. Having huge picnics at the city park. Going to the biggest student festival in Slovenia. Looking at the swans swimming under the red bridge. Working on a school project together. Buying the sun-wine. Complaining about how fast the student coupons are disappearing. Those were the little things holding us together.
Traveling has never been more spontaneous
"So, where have you been during your Erasmus?" The real answer is I didn't travel as much as I could. Maribor is located only three hours by car from my hometown, so people were usually taking trips to the places I've already visited (Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, etc.) and it didn't make sense for me to join. However, I have to admit, it has never been easier to travel. I remember one night, sitting in the park with my best-Erasmus-friend Benjamin, drinking wine and talking about life. He told me - "oh, I've never been in Venice". I was just like "me neither" so we decided to rent a car for the weekend and in two days I was on my way to explore Venice and Trieste in a family van. I also visited Zagreb as a day trip and joined two ESN organized trips to Croatia and Slovenia. We managed to visit five Croatian cities in three days. And Slovenia? It's a small country which has everything. Mountains, beautiful nature, ski resorts, castles, historical small towns, biggest cave system and a cute seaside. So I don't have to tell you how amazing it was.
And just like that, it was all over...
There is nothing more I can say, that would describe how nostalgic this made me feel. It's been more than a year since I first arrived. And... okay, I really can't find the right words. Just hvala lepa. To everyone who made this special. I hope our paths will cross again someday, somewhere, and it will be my pleasure to host you, if you ever come to Prague!
If you're reading this and you've never been in sLOVEnia, definitely visit it!
If you're reading this and you've spent your Erasmus in Maribor with me, sending hugs!