Blog entry No. 7 – Slovenia: Europe’s Best Kept Secret
Today, I’m writing one last time because I want to sum up in short my numerous experiences for you once more. Looking back, it was over way to fast! With empty bags, but full of valuable experience I returned to Germany in July. Recently I read an article about Slovenia with the truly appropriate heading ‘Europe’s best kept secret’. To be honest, before I started my semester abroad, I haven’t had any precise expectations. Compared to other typical ‘study-abroad’ destinations, there were only few student reports and within my faculty of Mechanical Engineering I was the first one to go to Ljubljana. But this fact was also, what attracted me most! Now, after initial uncertainties, I am more than glad, that I chose this unknown Balkan alternative. But what was it that made my semester abroad in Slovenia so special?
Don’t let the view from the highway fool you! Behind the perfectly ordinary concrete buildings, there lies the beautiful little city and historic center, situated along the Ljubljanica River’s loop with many pretty restaurants and cafés. There is a castle on top of a hill in the city center from where you have an amazing view over the whole city and even the impressive summits of the nearby Alps (at least when the weather is good). During the semester, there are students all over the place – ca. 65,000 students within a total population of 280,000 people. A mad percentage, which also shows in the city’s night life. In general, the Slovenian capital is always remarkably clean, safe and relaxed. In addition, the ‘Tivoli Park’ with its many outdoor-gyms offers a lot of possibilities for sporty activities. The city’s infrastructure consists of a bus network. There is no subway or tram. But it costs you only 1, 20 € to get from one end of the city to the other. In Ljubljana there are no fare zones. You pay per ride (changing busses included). Since the last bus departs at midnight, I recommend you to take one of the very cheap taxis (Metro or Laguna) if you’re out late.
The largest part of Slovenia is very rural and has an incredibly wonderful nature to offer, still untouched by tourists. The best example for that is, as I believe, the Soča Valley, located in the Triglav National Park. I went there three times, and every time the nature there impressed me anew! But winter was pretty cool as well. The skiing region closest to Ljubljana is about 35 kilometers to the north. Even in March it was still possible to go skiing there. Alpine skiing is very popular in Slovenia by the way. If you get the possibility to watch a competition, you should really go see it! I was at the ski jumping world cup in Planica and I was very impressed by the atmosphere. Besides the skiing regions, Slovenia also has a couple of kilometers of Mediterranean coast where you can go on hot days to get a tan and which is easy to reach by car within an hour. In addition, Slovenia is the perfect starting point to explore the (probably for you) unknown Balkan during your semester breaks. The people and the landscape, which I saw on my trip through Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, inspired me so much, that I am planning to go back there for my summer holidays.
Because Ljubljana is rather small with its 280,000 inhabitants (at least compared to other European capitals) we soon developed into a big, overall, international ‘Erasmus family’. The center of most events was one of the two main ‘dorms’, each a campus-like terrain, where most students live. The Erasmus students have a whole multi-story building to themselves. The great advantage is, that it is inevitable to meet other international Erasmus students. You share your 16 square meter room with one other person. Also, it is always very busy in the corridors, even past midnight. Someone who appreciates a little privacy, comfort and silence should think about finding a private accommodation somewhere else. But be careful. As you might have read in my first blog entry, you can easy be tricked. Costs and living expenses here are a little bit lower than in Germany. This becomes most obvious in the gastronomy sector, taxi rides and rental fees. However, this does not apply to common supermarkets. But where can you get groceries cheaper than in Germany anyway?
One highlight here were the so-called Studenski state discounts. If you showed your certificate of enrollment and your Slovenian mobile number, you were allowed to eat (an awful lot), twice a day, in participating restaurants at a good price. A complete menu would cost about three or four euros. Fresh sandwiches were even for free, since the state discount covers the total costs of 2, 67€.
My study program at the faculty of Mechanical Engineering was actually quite challenging for me. Contrary to other faculties like, for example Economics, my faculty didn’t have a strong international focus. We were only 10 international students altogether, attending different semesters and therefore different lectures. That is why the lectures weren’t held in English but in Slovenian which was very hard sometimes. But the professors tried to offer at least practical exercises, laboratory courses and the course literature in English. In this manner, I made the definitely valuable experience of an intense self-study.
If you are looking for something extraordinary and fancy living in a relaxed capital with many spare time activities, then Ljubljana is just right for you! And those of you, who are otherwise not able to complete a semester abroad due to commitments at home, can easily take the plane, bus or car to travel the 700 kilometers back home for a couple of days. That’s what I did. The living expenses in Ljubljana are affordable and the inhabitants are very nice and friendly. If you are studying Mechanical Engineering, be careful with the subjects you choose and contact your Erasmus commissioner (Mr. Mirko Sokovic, in 2015) for support in advance, because not all courses might be taught in English and you might find some lectures in Slovenian in your schedule.
I hope, that I provided you with enough information and that I was able to make you want to visit the Slovenian capital.
If you have further questions, I would be happy to answer them for you. Just contact me: lukas.wiemer[at]student.fhws.de