Why did you decide to study abroad?
I am from Serbia and I decided to study in Slovakia. It was the first time I decided to study abroad. I did my Erasmus in 2017/18 in Córdoba. It was my goal to use as many opportunities during my university life as I could, so in 2019/20 I decided to study abroad again, this time in Almería. I want to learn as much as possible about other countries, cultures, meet people from different countries, develop as a person and learn new languages, but I chose Spain twice because I love the country, its culture, food and weather. Almería was a perfect choice because it is in Andalusia, it has a sea, the weather is nice and is a hotbed for Erasmus students. Furthermore, local people don’t speak a lot of English, so it’s easier to learn and practice Spanish.
What did you expect from Almería/UAL/your experience that turned out to be different from reality?
The first thing I wanted from my experience in Almería was to learn Spanish, which I did achieve. I can speak fluently now. The university was better than I expected and I have amazing memories of my studies at the UAL. This university is offering so many things, from connecting theory to practice, offering friendly professors, a gym and different extracurricular courses (such as Drawing, which I took).
Would you recommend other students to study abroad?
The worst mistake students make is not taking advantage of the opportunity to study abroad just because they are scared. I saw people going to study abroad with such bad English and then improving so much. Also, I saw people going to study abroad alone and finding so many friends that they keep coming back to that city. I would just recommend them to put their fear aside and use that opportunity because it would be the best experience of their lives and they would learn so many things. It is true that after studying abroad every person changes for the better.
Did you take classes in English or Spanish? Was it hard to get used to the language? How long did it take you?
I was studying in Almería for the whole year. I took English classes and only one of those was taught in Spanish. I took it to improve my professional Spanish and it was worth it. Also, I took a Drawing course in Spanish language and it was fun. I am studying in English even in my country so English is not problem, but Spanish was definitely a challenge. and I am happy that I was able to learn it.
How hard were the classes? Was it difficult to pass? Which were your favourite/least favorite classes/professors?
The classes were not difficult. They were interesting because everything we learned as theory was applied in practice. We had a lot of interesting assignments and I learned so much. My favorite class was Management Skills. The professor was passionate about the course and we had interesting working groups. I believe that when professors are passionate about their subject, they make students interested in it, too. The least favorite course for me was Strategic Marketing because we were merely reading Powerpoint slights.
How do you think this experience has changed you?
Studying abroad is amazing opportunity to develop yourself as a more mature human being. You start living out of your comfort zone. You learn to do things by yourself and take care of yourself. For me, it is important to work on self-development, and studying abroad is helping me a lot with it. I learned new things, for instance, managing stressful situations and adapting to a different culture. The most important thing I learned during this exchange but also during pandemic is that there are few important things in our life and, when they are taken from us, we see how much they mean to us. My family is important to me, and during normal busy days I forget to text them and call them, but during the pandemic I realized that with just one message during the day you can make someone’s day happy. Also, we chase things in our life that are not even important, we give attention to people and things that do not deserve them and, that way, waste our time. I realised what my priorities are and what really matters to me.
In which way are your hometown and your Exchange town different?
My hometown and Almería are totally different. Serbia is a country with an unpredictable weather; people are different, life, culture, food: everything. People in Almería are friendly, talkative, like to spend their time enjoying the little things, they do not mind sitting in bar at lunchtime tasting the flavour of their tapas. In my city, people are stressed, never have free time, are always in a hurry and nervous. I saw so many experiences in which people were unpleasant with one another. I like my hometown. It is amazing because it lays between seven different hills and there are trees all around place. It is full of students. Nevertheless, I fell in love with Almería because it is always sunny, you can see beautiful sunsets, enjoy the beach and do outdoor sports.
What would you recommend to UAL students preparing to spend one semester or year at your University?
My university is Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra in Slovakia. It has 5 different faculties and a lot of courses offered in English. What I would recommend to UAL students preparing to go to my university is to go for sure and not giving up. Slovakia is a small but amazing country with beautiful nature, interesting culture and travelling around is pretty easy, because Slovakia is in the middle of Europe. It is close to Vienna airport, which has flights all around Europe for reasonable prices.
They should prepare for the culture, language, food and weather shock. It would also be useful to learn a few Slovak words or having Google translator available, because maybe only young people will be able to speak in English.
Slovakia is cold during winter and in my city it is a windy winter. One amazing thing that can happen is that you wake up, look through a window and see snow everywhere. Usually during those days, there are a lot of snow fights between Erasmus, or students building snowmen, as many of them have never seen snow before. My University is not difficult and offers different courses in English. Students get a lot of support from the International office. All the faculties are at the same place, and all the Erasmus are living in one dormitory. The university together with ESN in Nitra is organizing different events and trips to bring Erasmus students closer.
My main advice would be not to get scared of the language. Even if you do not speak it, people will try to understand you and there will always be someone to help you. And at the end, Erasmus is also about learning a new language. Also, food is different but try all the national food of Slovakia, maybe you find something you like.
Which are some of your favourite spots at the city/professors at the university/restaurants/trips/special festivities, etc?
Nitra is a small city. It has around 80,000 inhabitants. It is laying between 7 hills, where two of them are easily reachable. Nitra is a student city and during the academic year. It is so alive, full of student events and academic atmosphere. My favourite places in the city are Zobor (one of the hills), it takes around one hour to climb up but the view is breath-taking, especially in the evening during sunset and afterwards when all the lights start lighting up; it takes around 15 minutes to climb Kalvaria (one of the hills). There is actually a monastery at the beginning of the hill and the view is so beautiful, especially during night when you want to take a walk; The castle (Slovakia has many castles) is in the city centre and it is so nice during the sunset. I recommend going there and just sitting and enjoying the view; The Botanical Garden - it is part of my university and it is on the campus. There is an open part where you can walk, sit, see different trees and plants and there is a small lake. In addition, there are 7 closed parts where you can see different plants from different parts of the world.
My favourite professors at the university are all that are interested in the course they are teaching. Usually professors teaching in English are interesting and connect theory with practice.
My favourite places to eat are Piccolino, where you can buy only one slice of pizza. It is tasty, cheap and available almost 24/7. Then, Stara Kotolna, where you can eat delicious hamburgers with homemade French-fries. Hoffer, which you can find around the city and daily menus are rich and everyday different. Slovak cuisine offers different meals than the one in Spain. Soup is an important part of a meal, and meals are usually cooked and not fried. Almost every meal goes with rice or potatoes.
When it comes to trips, Slovakia has an amazing nature, a lot of spas and wellness centre and huge aqua parks. It is possible to go skiing or snowboarding during winter. I would recommend going snowboarding or skiing, going to the spa and wellness (Aqua city Poprad), going to Treetop walk Bachledka, going to Bojnice, aquapark Tatralandia and next to it, there is also Zoo Kontakt, where you can play with wild animals.
My favourite festivities are Halloween night, in which many castles open their doors during this night and prepare scary animations with the lights off and it is one of the interesting experiences. There are many Music festivals in Slovakia during the year. In Nitra there is in May one called Majales and it is mostly for students. Also, Easter offers different traditions.