The Balkan Charm

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Milena is 25 years old Polish girl, who is passionate about Balkans. She used to travel to Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia. She holds a Master degree in Balkan languages with specialization in Serbian. Last year she went for the 4- month scholarship to Belgrade. What was her impression about the Balkan countries?

  1. Why you decided to study Balkan languages?

This field of study has always seemed to be interesting and original. That was even before I found out, what exactly are these studies about. I hoped, that I would get not only knowledge, but also precious experience, I would do something different, than a majority of students and most of all, I would travel a lot around the Balkans. My field of study, as it turned out later, was very exotic and brought me a lot of pleasure, many adventures and nice memories.

  1. How popular is this field of study in Poland?

Nowadays this field of study becomes more and more popular. You can study Balkan languages at almost all Polish universities. I can tell you, how does it look like at the University of Gdansk, because I study there. In 2007, when I was in the beginning of my “Balkan adventure” two relatively big groups of Balkan languages have been created: first was focused on Serbian language and second one on Croatian. After finishing a bachelor, just five of us decided to study master there. Unfortunately, last year a group for master studies hasn’t been created. The main reason was a lack of candidates. I cannot understand, why it happened. Maybe because of no prospects for a job connected to this field of study? I guess there are also some other reasons.

  1. Why did you choose Serbia and Serbian language as a main specialization?

Just by coincidence. I wanted to join the Croatian group, but finally, with one friend of mine, we decided to choose the less popular Serbian group. I have been getting involved with Serbian language for five years in this way. This link still exists, because now I study PhD at the Faculty of Languages of the University of Gdansk. My doctoral thesis will be probably connected with Serbian linguistics.

  1. How can you describe your first stay in Serbia? Your first impressions? First people who you met there?

It was simply a magic. Fascination. Friendship. People turned out to be extraordinarily helpful and smiling. It was totally crazy trip since the its beginning. I went to Belgrade alone to visit one guy who I had met during my holiday in Tunisia. We became good friends and still keep in touch. I spent ten days in Belgrade full of snow and I was totally impressed by this city…

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  1. And how was your impression after the scholarship in Belgrade?

My stay in Serbia for a scholarship was a bit disappointing. It was not as marvelously as the first time. I started to see also some disadvantages of that place. For example polluted air, it was not especially pleasant to walk among the exhaust fumes. My second disappointment was the attitude of people, who were complaining all the time: about low salaries, a bad weather, high prices and almost about everything. It started to be difficult to me. Serbian people are really nice, I will always think about them with nostalgia, but they like complaining wherein are similar to Polish people! Belgrade is a beautiful city, especially its old part: it is amazing during the night, during the winter, when is foggy…always! But is necessary to invest a big amount of money in the renovation of this city, in order to every tourist could feel there comfortable and safe. But what I have to admit, certainly all these disadvantages could be less offending, if I had my family and my boyfriend Pawel with me during that period.

  1. If you are comparing Polish and Serbian mentality, what are the main similarities and differences?

Both Polish and Serbian people tend to be over affectionate and too emotional, they both complain and express their feelings very loudly. Polish people, as opposed to Serbian are following the European trends, we are also capable to enjoy life more and appreciate what we have. We are proud of our national identity, we like speak in good way about Poland, even being abroad. Or, maybe it is just my wish?

  1. How can you describe living conditions in Belgrade?

An ordinary Serbian citizens save money all the time. They check prices and chose cheaper products, even if they are worse quality. What was unusual to me, the prices in the Serbian capitol are relatively high, even higher than in Poland. That was really strange, because people there do not earn a fortune…

  1. How about the system of higher education in Belgrade?

I had a chance to attend classes at the Faculty of Languages of the University of Belgrade. There was no microphone and no efficient sounding during the classes. It was almost impossible to hear, what the lecturer was talking about. My impression was, that the most important there was the dialogue: both students between each other and the lecturer with students. I could feel there really nice, laid –back atmosphere. Almost like among the group of friends.

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  1. Which Balkan countries you visited and which of them do you like the most?

During my stay in the Balkans I visited Macedonia, Slovenia and also Hungary, which is not counted among the Balkan countries. Macedonia (Skopje) – a calm, a magic.. I felt there almost like in the land far away, like in a fairy tale. Slovenia – an order and progress, but on the other hand people there were wonderful. Instead Hungary (I was in Budapest) – it is worth to go there during the autumn. All of these places, which I visited, enchanted me in some ways. Anywhere I couldn’t find such an incredible silence as in Matka Canyon. My impression was enhanced by the fog, rising above the water and making the boats almost invisible. The effect was fabulous! Ljubjana is the city of the bridges. There is the bridge of lovers. You can find there some padlocks, hanged by the couples in love, the cafes where you can find aromatic tea and great beer…The best mulled wine in my life I tasted just at the lake Bled, first time in my life I also tasted roasted chestnuts and I ate kaki fruits. My photos from Budapest are full of autumn colors, and during the night – the thousands of lights. Furthermore I visited Croatia few times – I spent there holidays together with my family, always with the same host and at the same place- in small village Seget Vranjica, few kilometers from Trogir. It was a wonderful time, full of sun and happiness. Things, which I remember the most from these trips are: an incredible fragrance of citrus fruits, an ice cream with taste of nutella, the noise of traffic, the songs of the street musicians…

  1. Would you like to move permanently to any Balkan country?

No, definitely no, but what is important, I would not move to neither any non-Balkan country. When I came back, I realized how beautiful Poland is, how strongly I love Polish people, my family, my friends, my boyfriend Pavel… I cannot feel such wonderful anywhere else. I cannot wait when I will tell my children about our customs and traditions, sing Polish song and watch Bolek i Lolek (one of the most famous Polish cartoons).

  1. Do you think that everything what you learned about the Balkans during your studies was true?

Yes. We have been told about candidness and warmth of the Serbian people, that they always help the others. Serbian are extremely kind, of course with rare exceptions, but of course it can happen everywhere.