University: Slovenia vs. England

I’m actually talking about Ljubljana vs. London or the Faculty of Arts vs. Middlesex University, or to be even more accurate, about Russian and English languages (with a focus on translating) vs. an Erasmus exchange. I’m currently in the midst of writing my thesis which is exactly why I’m writing this post. It’s a beautiful way of avoiding what I should really be doing. I also haven’t written one in ages because I didn’t have time (I prioritised other things, in other words). Most of all, I think it’s an interesting topic.

I’ve been thinking about studying abroad in my last years of high school but I was too young. Living in a foreign country seemed like a scary thing at the time. I also thought about it when I was in my first year of master’s (which I spent on exchange in London). I could just leave my course and enter an English university, I thought to myself. What attracted me was that a master’s degree generally only takes a year in London. I’d also be able to stay and I wouldn’t have to be in Ljubljana. In the end, I decided not to go for it because of the disgusting tuition fee and the fact that I was already in the midst of my master’s. I also knew that my Erasmus mates wouldn’t be there anymore and it was hard to picture London without them. Well, enough about that: here are the differences between how universities work in England and in Slovenia.

Ljubljana Castle, Kongresni Square
Ljubljana

Tuition fee

Studying at university is free in Slovenia as long as you’re a full-time student. You do need to have a certain mark and number of points to enter most programmes, though. If you’re studying part-time, so with fewer contact hours and mostly in the afternoons or at weekends, you do have to pay. But it’s nothing compared to what you’ll pay in England. Tuition fees there are around ten thousand pounds, depending on the university and the programme. A lot of people must get loans to be able to study in England, whether they are English or not. Studying part-time in Slovenia will typically only cost you a couple of thousands of euros.

Contact hours

In England, there are significantly fewer contact hours than in Slovenia. You either hate it or love it but I guess most students at least like it; I certainly did. At my university in Ljubljana, I had to spend around 25 hours per week at uni, while in England it was typically around ten. Students are supposed to do a lot of reading, writing and independent work at home, but in my case, it wasn’t really more than I had to do in Slovenia; in addition to all the contact hours that I had.

Exams

During the exam periods in Slovenia, I was typically a mess: I had a severe lack of sleep, was very stressed and basically didn’t have a life. I usually had around fifteen exams per academic year, sometimes several per week. The exam period in London was a vacation compared to that, in the sense that I didn’t have any actual exams. Not that they don’t exist, they do, I just happened to choose modules that didn’t have any (as I was on Erasmus and could choose). But in general, there are fewer exams and more essays that then count as your course work; they are what gets you the mark and lets you pass the module. Another difference is that in Slovenia you can take an exam several times. Some people will take it for the first time without studying, “just to see what it looks like”. This doesn’t happen in England.

London from Primrose Hill
London

The number of modules/subjects

In Slovenia, I always had lots of subjects. That’s also because I was/am doing a double major: English and Russian. At Middlesex University, most people had five modules that went on for two semesters. This meant less homework, fewer exams and fewer contact hours, of course. It was more relaxed and easier to focus on the subjects that I had. At my own uni, it was often hard to concentrate on something, even if I liked it, as I had ten other things that needed my immediate attention.

Building/campus

In Ljubljana, there is no campus. The University of Ljubljana composes of many faculties that are scattered all over the city. Middlesex University has a campus and all its faculties are there, which is common in England. The Middlesex campus is pretty cool: there’s a huge library, several cafes and (mainly fast food) restaurants, a gym, etc. The best thing is that the buildings are surrounded by trees and grass, so you basically have a park where you can sit and read or hang out while waiting for your next class.

Extra stuff that the university offers

Middlesex University offers its students certain things that clearly tell you that they have paid ten thousand quid for studying there. Among those are free printing, several computers that students can use for free in the library, a library that’s open 24/7, information/help points, a general higher degree of organisation, not to mention various events such as a welcome fete for new students, a tour of London, regular student parties, etc.

Lecturer-student relationship

I don’t know whether that’s connected to the money or to the English culture, but the relationship between students and lecturers is somehow less formal and more friendly. Students call the lecturer by his/her first name and not “professor” as we do in Slovenia. The lecturers in England make sure everyone comes to the office hours to get their course work checked and hand it in on time. They also make sure there is at least some debate during almost every lecture; in Slovenia, it’s not unusual if the lecturer’s the only person speaking throughout the lecture. Students aren’t that keen on taking part in a conversation or ask a lot of questions.

Ljubljana vs. London

This is just a personal preference but London is a thousand times more interesting to me. I love it and I dislike Ljubljana, what’s new. It is, however, disgustingly expensive, and while Ljubljana is by no means cheap when it comes to accommodation (except for student halls – these are very cheap), it’s a lot cheaper than London. It’s also smaller which makes it comfortable to move around by bike, and public transport isn’t that expensive. London is a crazy international city with lots of traffic, lots of people, but also lots of events, parks and diversity. My inner Harry Potter-loving child was having the time of her life when I moved there for ten months. And so was my twenty-something-year-old-self.

Girl in front of Middlesex University
Middlesex University (funnily enough, I have no pictures of my uni – it’s not particularly beautiful – might take one like this when I graduate, haha).

How long does it take

In England, at least from what I’ve seen, most people finish bachelor’s in three years, master’s in one. In Slovenia, it’s supposed to take five years in total, but in reality, it mostly takes longer. Most people take an extra year or at least six months to write the bachelor’s thesis and then again to write the master’s thesis. Failing a year is also pretty common. Consequently, most people need around six to seven years to finish their studies. In England, this is not the case, I’d say. Also, we start university when we are nineteen in Slovenia, while in England most people will be a year younger.

Do I regret studying at my university?

In short: no. I liked studying English because I love it while studying Russian opened a whole new world to me. Besides, it’s sort of cool to be able to read and speak a language that’s almost exotic to most people. I do love writing, though, and a major in journalism or creative writing (which doesn’t exist in Slovenia) would have given me opportunities to do it a lot more often. I can still write, though, can’t I? Studying English and Russian made me more enthusiastic about languages in general. I started liking and then consequently improving my Italian, as well as learning Spanish. Studying languages has broadened my horizons, and I’m hoping that it will open interesting doors for me. Another plus of studying in my own country was the amount of money that I saved and how close I was to my family and friends.

If I hadn’t chosen my uni, finished bachelor’s and then applied for a master’s and an exchange in London at the same time, I would have never experienced the Erasmus year that I’ve experienced. The London period was one of the best periods of my life. During that exchange, I met some pretty incredible people that I’m still very close to. It’s where and how I met my boyfriend, and at this point, I can’t imagine a world without him in it. This is what I think of every time I doubt my university-related choices. It helps, it truly does.

Long Distance Relationships

My experience, thoughts and advice

I remember googling »long distance relationship« when I first got into it. We all search for answers on the internet in this century, so I’m writing this hoping someone might benefit from it. It feels weird to write about it because it’s not some city about which I can make a list of pros and cons, neither can I tell you how much maple syrup to add to make it sweet. It’s something very personal, and yet it’s something that I feel like sharing. So, with the boyfriend’s permission, here’s my honest experience in a long distance relationship.

Parque del Retiro, Madrid.

How did we meet

There’s a big chance that you already know that because you’re my friend or you’ve read my previous posts here and on Instagram. In case you’re not and you didn’t, I’ll very happily tell this story again, as it’s my favourite. We met on our Erasmus exchange in London, in a shitty neighbourhood called Cricklewood, in dodgy old student halls. At the beginning, we were just friends as we both belonged to a group of exchange and international students from all over the place. We got along, but nothing much more than that. I thought he was cute, but at that time everyone was flirting with everyone, and we both had other interests, let’s say. Until something clicked, as it always does, and we became something more than just friends.

The group of exchange and international students from all over the place (well, a part of it).

How did we agree on staying together

We only defined ourselves as together days after we had left London. In London we behaved like a couple, but we never said we were one. That goodbye was the hardest in my whole life. What scared me the most was that I didn’t know what we would be when we’d see each other again. We agreed on me visiting him in the end of summer, and him visiting me in the end of October, but it wasn’t enough for me. I didn’t understand whether that meant that we’d be with other people or not, whether we’d keep in touch, whether he’d forget about me in a couple of months. Luckily, we both wanted the same thing. It only took some texting to confirm that we were together and trying this whole long distance thing.

The reactions

The reactions, at least on my side, were pretty bad, to be honest. I could count the friends and family that were optimistic about us on the fingers of one hand, and I don’t know if I’d get to five. Some were somewhat optimistic, but in the sense that it was a good experience and »worth trying«. What they really meant was that it was a nice temporary thing, and I’d get over it eventually because it was impossible and wouldn’t last. My mum was sceptical, my close friends were sceptical, not to mention my grandmother, of course. I wasn’t, though, at least not much. And here we are a year and a half later.

How do we do it?

Well, we spend a lot of money on plane tickets, a lot of time texting and many hours talking via Skype. We try to visit each other at least every month and a half to two months. The longest time we spent without seeing each other was three months (right after London), and the shortest was about 3 weeks. To be honest, time passes quickly, especially if you’re busy. And you get used to it.

I think communication is key: we’re in touch through WhatsApp throughout the day, and we skype about two times per week. We don’t do many phone calls, but I guess that’s because we belong to the generation that stopped using phones for that. We tell each other about what we’re doing, about the problems we have and the good things that happen to us. I guess we do what normal couples do, just that most of the time we can’t tell it in person.

Why is it somewhat easier for us

I’m not saying it couldn’t be easier; he could’ve been from Venice or something, and then we’d see each other every couple of weeks. Valencia is further away; it’s too far to travel to by car, train or bus. And yet, it’s not that far. The flight only takes two hours, and I don’t live too far from Trieste’s airport, neither does he from the one in Valencia. The tickets aren’t that expensive if you buy them in advance, and you aren’t picky about dates. Sometimes Ryanair cancels a flight and you can stay longer, haha. Plus, we’re in the same time zone which makes things a lot easier as well.

Would I recommend it?

When we had just got together, I talked about it with a guy who used to be in a long distance relationship (at the time he was still in the relationship, it just wasn’t long distance anymore). He said that he wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. That you’re simply not there when something’s wrong. I have to agree with that. No hug for you when you need it. He also told me that I should be prepared to move, and I can’t say this isn’t true either. It’s in the back (and often in the front) of my mind every minute of every day.

I would only recommend getting into a long distance relationship if you really love the other person. If you’re in love with them, you think they’re the one for you, you think it’ll never be as good with anyone else. I felt all that, and that’s why it made sense for me. But I knew the guy, we lived in the same flat for nine months. I doubt that you can feel that for someone you’ve known for three days, but who am I to be the judge of that. Not living ten time zones apart also increases your chances and makes it more worth trying in my opinion.

My advice

If you feel all the right feelings (and the other person does as well, that’s obviously crucial), and you get into a long distance relationship … You need to trust them. You need to believe that they’ll wait for you, and you can’t panic every time they go to a party. Trust is fundamental in every relationship, but it’s absolutely necessary in a long distance one.

The second important thing is to plan ahead and make sure you’ll have enough time and money to visit your boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s fair that you visit each other more or less equally, even though that’s not always possible. That’s okay too, you just both need to agree on it.

The third key point is, as already mentioned, communication. You won’t see each other after work/uni or in the evening, so you’ve got to text, call, skype, ask and answer. You need to plan cool things, like watching a film together while skyping, send songs to each other, record audio messages and write nice texts.

In front of a garage, apparently, Valencia.

Final thoughts

I’m usually pretty down after we’ve spent time together, and then one of us must go back home. It’s not that difficult to adjust later, but the actual goodbye is dreadful. That said, I’m absolutely thrilled when I’m about to visit him or he’s about to visit me, so that makes up for it.

The thing is that a long distance relationship is not only a romantic story of lovely messages, getting to know another culture (at least in my case) and seeing new places. It is all that, but it’s also a lot of waiting and missing, some severe phone addiction, lots of staring at each other through a screen, many hours at airports and a lot of tears. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret anything about my relationship, and I’d do it all over again any time. But it’s not because of the long distance relationship itself. It’s because of the guy with whom I’m in it.

In somewhat kind circumstances (as in not living on different sides of the planet) long distance relationships are possible. And they can be pretty damn great. If they don’t work, they probably don’t because the people who are in them aren’t fit to be together, not because of the distance itself. The distance is manageable, and it’s temporary. Getting yourselves to the same location, you leaving your home and family or he/she leaving theirs, is a whole different story, worth another blog post. I’m into travel and living abroad, and I’d obviously like to eventually live in the same place as my boyfriend, but the future and leaving home scares me shitless. I suppose that’s normal, and I still have time to deal with it. We’ll deal with it together. 😊

Home?

The places that influenced me the most: Koper, Ljubljana, London, Valencia

I’ve been thinking about this scary thing called future quite a lot lately. I know why that is. It’s because I’m finally finishing my studies. This is my last year as I’ve got four subjects and the thesis left. Once that’ll be done, I’ll have to put my life together, as they say. The location is just one of the things that come with adulting, but it’s the one I want to focus on today. So, here are some thoughts about the four cities/towns that influenced me the most.

Koper, my home

Before I went on exchange, home was a simple and clear notion for me. It was the small coastal town I was born in, Koper. It lies on the coast of Slovenia, near the border with Italy, as well as the one with Croatia. I spent the first nineteen years of my life living here. It’s where I went to primary school, to high school, where I made friends, where I had my first kiss and my first party. I’ve always loved it: the weather that is better than anywhere else in the country, the proximity of the sea, its smallness and simplicity. Most of all, I probably loved the fact that basically anyone I had ever cared for lived here.

Koper is very small and there isn’t much going on, especially during the winter. A consequence of its size is also the amount and diversity of options when it comes to studies and work. I wonder how I’d feel about it had I stayed here to study, without trying to live on my own and without experiencing a city with an actual student life. Would I have been bored? Probably.

A typical evening in Koper.

Ljubljana, my second home

When I had to go to university, there wasn’t much choice in my small town. So, I went to the capital, like almost everyone did. I have friends who come from the same town as me, and who grew to love Ljubljana, who will probably move there permanently at some point. Personally, I never liked it there. I think the old centre is very pretty, and it’s a fact that there’s much more going on in the capital than in Koper. But that’s just not enough for me. I hate the weather, which is colder and rainier than in my hometown, even though they are only 100 kilometres apart. Waking up to the fog isn’t out of the ordinary either. You often don’t know what the weather’s really like until midday.

I could go on with listing the things that made me a Ljubljana-hater: the accent of its residents, how everyone’s rushing all the time, the public transport that never works like it should, the traffic jams. But I also have to acknowledge the fact that I’m stressed whenever I’m there, as it’s always all about uni and uni-related work. It’s not like I’m suffering, though. I’m not. I have many friends there, and especially during bachelor’s we used to go out often. The various events made my student years interesting, which they probably wouldn’t have been had I stayed in Koper. They just weren’t enough to make me want to live there.

Ljubljana’s Congress Square and castle.

London, my Erasmus home

Perhaps I’ll sound like a paradox now. I, on the contrary, absolutely loved living in a city that is also famous for rushing, traffic jams, rain, cold and fog. But it’s London; its level of coolness makes up for all of that, including the fact that it’s not a coastal city. London’s night life, the number of concerts, festivals, various other events, restaurants, bars and shops can’t compete with anything you can get in Slovenia. We’re just too small. I love its internationality, its architecture, the fact that it’s a city that never sleeps, the New York of Europe. I’ll stop here because I’ve expressed my love for this city enough in the previous posts.

The coolness of London also has its negatives sides, though. Its size makes it hard to meet anyone. As good as the transport system is, going somewhere can take ages. Then there are the crazy prices of accommodation, transport and everything in general, and the lack of any real nature. Luckily, London’s parks are amazing, and they make for a great escape. They’re huge, and you can really pretend that you’re not in a city anymore. When I lived there, I felt great whenever we took a trip, though. When we went to Dover, and I saw the sea after months, I felt relief, somehow.

The walk from Camden to Regent’s Park.

Valencia

Just when I was enjoying my life in London to the point of becoming confused about where I’d like to live, the only thing that could have made me more of a mess happened: I fell in love with a Spanish guy. And that’s how Valencia came into my life. I’ve travelled there many times and spent last summer working and living there. Valencia has its disadvantages, of course. It’s too hot in the summer months, huge cockroaches taking walks on its streets (or in your kitchen) is a regular thing, and life’s a bit slower than in most of Europe, probably. The jobs situation isn’t ideal either.

Otherwise, Valencia is pretty much perfect. It’s next to the sea, but it’s a proper city with many interesting things going on. It’s still small enough to be manageable, and you don’t have to waste your life in a metro or in a bus. The weather’s perfect if you can handle the heath in the summer and the absence of snow in the winter. Spanish people are lovely: open, friendly, direct and funny.

Playa de la Malvarrosa, my happy place.

And now what?

I’ve always been into travelling, but London was the first city that made me think that I’d perhaps like to live somewhere else than in my hometown. That it’s possible to have different homes in one life. Valencia did just the same.

I guess the normal thing for a person like me, who’s from a coastal town and dislikes the capital, would be to try to find work in the hometown first. And if that didn’t work, to suck it up, move to the capital and find work there. To continue the student life and come home every weekend. Or perhaps drive there and back every day and be tired all the time. It would make sense because it would allow me to spend more time with my family and friends.

But as much as I love them, I wouldn’t stay, at least not right now. Koper’s too small, I’ve explained Ljubljana, and I’d never consider living anywhere else in Slovenia. Of course, a big reason is the boyfriend abroad, and the fact that long distance relationships aren’t meant to be long distance forever. But it’s also the fact that there’s too much left to see and experience out there, and not just by travelling. I want to spend a couple of months living in Italy, some time in Russia, and a part of me wants to return to London, or at least to somewhere in England. And then there’s Valencia where I definitely want to return.

Worries

If living abroad has taught me anything, it taught me that it’s possible to find home somewhere else. That I enjoy it, that it’s possible to make friends anywhere, as it is to survive without being physically close to my loved ones. As long as there’s Wi-Fi at least. The very real possibility of moving away makes me feel guilty and worried whenever I think about it. How do I leave everything behind, even when I know I want to go? I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t go that far, that Europe is small, that nowadays it’s easy to stay in touch and to visit. That they’ll survive without me being there all the time and I’ll survive without them. That I’ll do my best to come back often and that Koper will always be my home.

Writing this didn’t make me figure out where I want to spend my life, or what the “right” decision would be. I still don’t know which city I’ll call home in the future. It did help me understand that it doesn’t matter, though, that I don’t need to have that figured out just yet. As for you, if you actually managed to get through this post which probably turned into a rather confused diary entry at some point, I hope it was somehow useful to you. 😊