Column: sLOVEnia II – getting to know Europe on skis

The descent is a voyage through the cultural differences.
Steven Snijders

In my previous column, I wrote about my Erasmus period in Slovenia. While it might not have been hugely exciting in terms of the scientific content, all other aspects of my Erasmus experience were fascinating. Of course I can never cover ‘all other aspects’ in just one column, but I can give a taster of what I mean.

In Maribor, I got a unique introduction to skiing. No packed ski resort or expensive plane journey for me — I just boarded bus number 6 one Sunday morning, which took me from the city centre to the piste. Skiing is fun and watching one another fall over is hilarious. I can’t imagine any better way of getting to know this winter sport. Another way of passing the time together, and similarly excellent value for money, was going out for a meal. Slovenia offers all students 20 heavily subsidized restaurant meals a month. Students can dine on salmon in a restaurant for a mere 3.50 euros. At the same time, I was being paid a grant by the European Union. I felt like the student equivalent of a benefit scrounger.

Whenever we had a party, the Spanish liked to start a group conversation about sex whereas this just made the Germans uncomfortable

These meals and skiing adventures with students from all over the place taught me a lot about the cultural differences and problems with collaborating within the European Union. When we went skiing, the Italians thought a ninety-minute lunch break the absolute minimum whereas the Germans were more concerned about making efficient use of the ski pass. A German friend joked about this, as he found any evidence of a lack of efficiency and effectiveness pretty funny. The Spaniard in our group didn’t find it amusing at all and the Italian didn’t even get the joke. Whenever we had a party, the Spanish liked to start a group conversation about sex whereas this just made the Germans uncomfortable. I really enjoyed seeing different countries’ stereotypes revealed in this way.

My Erasmus period made me realize that I actually get a lot of satisfaction from my overfull schedule in the Netherlands

Fellow columnist Oscar has written about how much fun an Erasmus exchange is, but of course that’s not the whole story. An Erasmus period has its downsides too. You give up all the positive aspects of your home situation in return for your Erasmus adventure. I too felt the pressure to be permanently having a good time, but that’s not realistic. I also missed the structure, daily objectives and challenging course material of my ordinary life. My Erasmus period made me realize that I actually get a lot of satisfaction from my overfull schedule in the Netherlands. I learned something about myself: I would never enjoy a life as a benefit scrounger for long.

Steven is a master’s student of Economy and Governance and enjoys playing squash. He is always open to a game of squash and a good conversation. You can reach him by email.

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