Isanya Köhne

After a little break we’re back with another story that’ll hopefully inspire you to explore the option of going on an exchange abroad. This week we’re traveling back to Eastern Europe, with its authentic culture and beautiful surroundings. Our destination; Croatia. Tamara, 24 years old and currently a master’s student in Nijmegen, went to Zagreb during her sociology bachelors a couple years back. “I really wanted to go to Zagreb as both my parents are Balkan, my dad Croatian and my mom Serbian. I wanted to go back to my roots”, she says.   

Amazingly multicultural

Before leaving for Zagreb, I first had to fill in some paperwork in which I decided which classes I wanted to follow, arranged a scholarship, and took an English test. One of my classes was cancelled upon arrival, so I had to adjust my Learning Agreement during my stay. The paperwork sounds like a lot of work, but eventually it’s not as bad as you expect it to be. For housing, I chose private housing. I lived in a small apartment with four other exchange students, one from Brazil, two from Morocco, and another Dutch exchange student with Balkan roots. We all had our own bedroom but shared a kitchen and bathroom. My roommates became my best friends during my stay and remain to be these days. It was the perfect option for my exchange housing, as it was near to the city centre and had all the facilities I needed. I found this apartment by searching through Facebook groups, more specifically one called ‘Exchange students Zagreb’.

Upon arrival I was excited, yet nervous, despite speaking the language because of my Balkan parents. How am I going to find my faculty? How am I going to meet people and not be lonely? There were many questions going through my head. You have got to tell yourself to just go with the flow, everything will turn out to go smooth. Going on exchange is incredibly valuable. You’ll meet so many new people that will become great friends. You’ll learn about the country you’re in and their culture, as well as the cultures of the other exchange students you’ll meet. I believe it results in you becoming much more open-minded and removes your prejudices. And of course, it will help improve your English and other languages. It did for me.

Sea and sunsets

Since I was familiar with the culture prior to my exchange, I didn’t really experience a culture shock while I was there. However, the biggest obstacle I experienced, was simply being far away from family for so long. After a month and a half, I started to miss my family and pet. You’ll meet many new people but family can’t be replaced, so at times I was definitely craving some advice from my mom, haha. But, eventually, I realised that time was flying by, and that I should enjoy every minute of it. That mindset really helped me a lot! The Croatians are significantly different from the Dutch. For me it wasn’t difficult to communicate with the locals as I speak the language, it was more the way of life that is different. The Croatians like to use the word ‘pomalo’, which means to take it slow, to slow down. In the Netherlands we’re so used to planning, being on time, living fast. I’m used to that way of life, so it was difficult at times to accept that many things are handled quite informal and slow paced in Croatia. A good example is that of school or meeting locals. If you say, ‘let’s meet at five o’clock’, I mean five o’clock. If a Croat says, ‘let’s meet at five o’clock’, that usually means at six or even cancelling last minute, and then asking to meet up a whole other time.  

I have to say that my fondest memories of my exchange are the night going out as well as all the trips. Erasmus students party like there’s no tomorrow, so a lot of great memories are made during those types of nights. I will also never forget one trip we made to the province Istria. Together with nine others, we rented two cars and had a road trip. Good food, the sea, sunsets, and even spotting dolphins sums it up well. It was amazing! Another memorable event was the one pictured below. This picture was taken on the 27th of April, which is Kingsday in the Netherlands. During my exchange there was one house where exchange students lived. This was also the house where we’d usually go for (pre)parties. We called it the Paper street, because it resembled the house from the movie Fight Club. Together with a couple other Dutch students, I organised a Kingsday celebration in the Paper street house and it was incredibly fun. Everyone dressed up in orange, had Dutch flags painted on their bodies, and we were dancing to Dutch music. Definitely a night I won’t forget.

An amazing experience

My class consisted mainly of exchange students and we all used to hang out. The groups were small, which allowed us to get to know each other really well. After class we would always go and grab a bite together. All these students went abroad to have a good time, learn something new, so most of them were very social and spontaneous. Participating in the events organised by ESN Zagreb was also helpful in meeting others and getting to know your new home. A week in my life would usually look like the following: on Monday I usually had class. I would wake up in the morning On Monday I usually had class. I would wake up in the morning and travel to the faculty by bus. After classes I would have a lunch in the Mensa with other students and in the afternoon, I’d follow a salsa class. In the evening I would go to a bar called ‘Rakhia Bar’ that had Erasmus nights on Monday, with very cheap rakija! Tuesdays were mostly chill days, days at the lake or in the park and evenings watching movies with friends. On Wednesdays I had class again. After class I’d meet up with friends and go for lunch and a stroll through the city. Thursday mornings I’d go to the faculty again. The Thursday evenings were for a club called Klub, which was again an Erasmus night. The whole club would be filled with Erasmus students and that was so much fun! Before Klub we would always have a pre-drink with a lot of people in a park outside. Weekends were for sightseeing. I would go on a trip to other cities or discover museums and places within Zagreb. If we stayed in Zagreb during the weekend, the evenings were free for partying. We would have pres at the Paper street and then head into town to the clubs, my favourite being club Katran. This club had multiple floors where different music was playing. Reggaeton, house, hip hop, you name it.

During my stay I travelled to Istria as I mentioned before. I have also been to Split, where my family is from. I also travelled to a couple other countries. A reason I highly recommend going to Zagreb on exchange is because it’s located right in the middle of many beautiful countries. I’ve been to Budapest, Ljubljana, Sarajevo, and road tripped through Montenegro. But even though I saw quite some sights, I wish I had travelled even more in and around Croatia. I had a lot of time off from studying that would’ve been perfect to use for exploring instead. Living in Croatia is good. The costs are doable if you come from a country like the Netherlands. Having dinner out and going out is cheap compared to the prices in the Netherlands. The same goes for groceries. The costs of housing really depend on where you end up. I paid around 200 euros a month for my apartment, which was really good for the location. 

Cevape and burek

If you’re considering going on exchange, all I can say is to go and DO IT! You will not regret it. It is such an amazing and valuable experience and probably one of the most fun times you’ll live during your years as a student. I had been to Croatia before and had already fallen in love with the country then. It was the first time I went to Zagreb though and fell hard in the first week already. As soon as you meet the amazing people there and discover the old upper town, you’ll know that this would be your second home. When I had to head back to the Netherlands, I had mixed feelings. I was happy to go home and see all my family and friends again, but I didn’t want to say goodbye to Zagreb and its amazing people. I’m still in touch with my friends from exchange. We facetime every now and then, and have had a reunion as well. One of my friends from there also lives in the Netherlands, so we see each other regularly still.

Exchange in Croatia is never boring. You’ll have to try eating Cevapi and Burek, go on a coastal road trip with friends, visit the museums, etc. Zagreb is an amazing city for your exchange. The locals are amazing, there’s a lot to do for students, the food is tasty. I highly recommend going on Erasmus exchange, especially to Zagreb. If you do so, become part of the ESN family!

Thank you Tamara, for sharing your story about the beautiful Croatia this week! We are happy to hear that you had such an amazing experience and got to know Croatia even better. If you have questions about Zagreb or Croatia, don’t hesitate to contact Tamara!