The Most Precious Things You Bring Back Home After Long Journeys Are Stories

Marija Grujovska

Author: Stefan Alijevikj
Picture credits: Marija Grujovska

“One of my strongest memories from my childhood is that of my grandfather’s stamp collection. My grandfather had the chance to travel to many different places of the world and the most precious things he always brought with himself back home were his stories. Those stories were materialized in the stamps that after every travel he would carefully stick in his stamp book. Exactly looking at the stamp collection and listening to my grandfather’s stories sparked a strong interest in cultural diversity. My then subtle discovery of the notion that there are many ways of being human has channeled my interests and passion ever since and drove me in pursuing a degree in social and cultural anthropology,” writes Marija Grujovoska, coming from Macedonia and who is conducting her studies in Vienna, Austria in the field of Anthropology.

Further on she adds: “Studying anthropology is probably one of the best choices I have made, considering the ways it has shaped my personality. It has taught me many things that I find very relevant for my life, one of them being that the reality that we live in is not the only reality out there and that there are people in the world that live their lives in ways unimaginable to us, yet so normal to them.”

Apart from anthropology, Marija also likes photography and visual story-telling. She considers photography to be a positively powerful medium for when used in the right way and as per for stories – they have played a big role in her life and as much as she enjoys reading and looking at them, she enjoys telling them. Now, here is Marija telling her story for Mladiinfo:

Mladiinfo: Why you have come with the decision to study abroad and enroll in Vienna? 

Marija: “I came up with the idea about studying abroad quite early in my high-school years, since I had to satisfy my curiosity for the rest of the world.  Even though I was not sure what exactly I am going to study, I knew it won’t be in my home country. Considering the fact that one of the most affordable options for studying abroad are the German speaking countries, I started learning German intensively. I decided for Vienna once I knew that Anthropology is what I want to pursue and the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna suited my interests the best.”

Mladiinfo: How is the educational system in Vienna different than in your home country?

Marija: “My experience with the universities back in Macedonia is not first-hand. Everything I know about studying in Macedonia comes from my friends and family. However, one of the most visible differences is the highly individualized approach that the University of Vienna has towards its students. Basically, the students are able to choose themselves how many subjects and exams they want to take during the semester. The choice of subjects depends completely on the students themselves. This approach has both pros and cons. On the one hand, as a student you have a complete freedom to design your study the way you want to and on the other hand, this means that you have all the responsibility if something goes wrong. It also means that since you don’t have a fixed schedule, you also don’t have a fixed study group, which could make things harder when it comes to your social life in a foreign country.”

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu - one of the biggest Hindu pilgrimage sites
Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu – one of the biggest Hindu pilgrimage sites 

Mladiinfo: In the recent period you also traveled in a faraway country, to Nepal? How was this journey ignited? 

Marija: “Nepal entered my life quite unexpectedly. Two years ago I felt the need to immediately get out of my comfort zone and go to some far away country. My initial plan was to travel either to Bolivia or Tibet and do some volunteering work in order to sustain myself. Somewhere in the application process, I quite spontaneously sent an application for volunteering at one orphanage home in Nepal as well, not thinking it as an option, but more as a plan C. It turned out that the orphanage was the only NGO that replied to my application and before I knew it, I found myself in Kathmandu. When I think about it now, I am more than happy and grateful it turned out that way. After a very fruitful summer spent in Nepal, I came back with a research topic which got approved at my institute and before I knew it I found myself in Nepal again, working for another NGO and at the same time doing my ethnographic research. I came back to Europe only a few weeks ago.”

Mladiinfo: So how did you personally revived Nepal?

Marija: “Nepal has given me much more than I ever expected. My wish to get out of my comfort zone came true, but at the same time arriving in Nepal felt very much like arriving home. I have spent a total of 6 months in Nepal and I am still striving for more. It is a place that I know now I will always return to. I don’t want to sound like I am romanticizing the country, Nepal has a lot of social problems that I was directly involved with while working with Heartbeat – a local NGO which dedicates itself in helping underprivileged children in many parts of the country. Yet, Nepal has something to offer for everyone. For me, it is a combination of everything – its cultural diversity which satisfies my thirst for anthropological knowledge, its amazing food, astounding  landscapes and last but not least the strong emotional bonds I have built with certain people and places that will keep me coming back there for years to come. In particular, I have a very special “partner in crime” in Nepal, with whom I have literally been through my best and worst and we are already planning our next adventure together. To put it in a nutshell, Nepal has given me a lot professionally as well as personally.”

Rural area in Nepal, taken during one of the many fieldwork trips with the NGO I was working with
Rural area in Nepal, taken during one of the many fieldwork trips with the NGO I was working with

Mladiinfo: Can you extract a Nepal experience from the whole that will last you a lifetime? Or is there a particular “wisdom” story from the other part of the world? 

Marija: “Well, it is not like I have met the lonesome spiritually elevate yogi that reveals the purpose of life up in the Himalayas. What I have realized though is that (as cliche it might sound) we humans are all the same everywhere, despite the visible differences between us… along with a broader perspective and a much clearer picture of a bunch of not so charming truths about the existing power structures, inequality and a set of ironies that unfortunately rule our world.

I traveled through different parts of the Himalayas during both of my visits of Nepal. There are countless stories I would like to tell from these two journeys but perhaps the most fresh one would be from this year’s trip to Mustang. We were on a bus that was to take us to the starting point of our trek. The bus ride turned out to be nothing quite like we were imagining, despite the fact that we were informed about the terrible road situation. Basically, the bus was really old and it was far from an appropriate vehicle for the particular road conditions. The road was scarier than any roller coaster I have been on and scarier than the bungee jump I did earlier in the summer…We were literally shaking our way through an incredibly bumpy road. The most interesting bit was the fact that on the right side of the road there was absolutely no safety fence and a huge river was raging somewhere below…faintly visible because of the height we were on. Our hearts skipped every time the bus went close to the edge of the road (and this was many times)… At the end it all paid off after our first glimpse of one of the highest peaks of the world.”

The Dhaulagiri range (6920m)The Dhaulagiri range (6920m)

Mladiinfo: For lastwhere are you to travel in the years to come? What are your future plans after completion of your studies in Austria?

“In January I am off to the USA where I will be  doing an exchange semester at the University of South Carolina. This is something I worked really hard on and I am hoping for a great experience over there. After that, I have another trip to Nepal scheduled, which I am sure it will be another beautiful endeavour. I am in the process of designing another potential research topic over there and finding another exciting and productive internship.”