NOVI SAD IS A PLACE TO BE
»Why did you choose Serbia, particularly Novi Sad, as a place for your student exchange?« was the first and most common question at the beginning of my 10-month student exchange. Well, as I'm a student of Heritage tourism on MA level, the options were scarce to begin with. I really wanted to go to an exchange since I like to meet new international friends, travel and challenge myself with unknown experiences, and luckily I had found the Erasmus Mundus Sunbeam project where I could mostly choose among the Balkan countries. Novi Sad seemed like a perfect option because it's »cozier« than Belgrade, very multicultural and the programme on University of Novi Sad, particularly Tourism programme on Faculty of Sciences, was the most compatible with the programme on Turistica. I didn't hesitate and prepared all the documents (there were quite a lot!) and applied for a 2-semester study exchange.
Me and my friend were luckily accepted and flew to Serbia at the end of September (2015). We stayed in a hostel for a few days while we were itensively looking for an apartment (foreign students are unfortunately unable to live in student dormitories) and found a great and relatively cheap one close to the faculty as well as city centre. We had a lot of time to explore the city's treasures since our classes (in Serbian language) didn't start until the second half of October. However, the professors and students alike were thrilled to have students/classmates from Slovenia and accepted us as one of their owns. The classes and activities at the faculty were interesting and at the beginning quite difficult (because of the language) but professors (treating students like colleagues) were understanding and we quickly learned Serbian quite well.
Food-wise probably all of us are familiar with Serbian cuisine – ćevapčići, pljeskavice, burek, riblja čorba etc. I did eat some of them from time to time but generally I was cooking meals for myself ... I was especially thrilled about the big vegetable and fruit markets which were quite cheap and always fresh. The lifestyle is quite similar to Slovenian's (we are close after all) so I didn't experience too much of a cultural shock.
Transport – I mostly used trains and buses – is very cheap compared to Slovenia (e. g. city bus ride is app. 0,40 €) and easy to master. However, the prices in shops and stores (convenient stores, clothes) surprised me because they are very similar to ours, even though the standard is significantly lower – I admire Serbian capability to make it through the month with their salaries (to shock you – a friend from the faculty said she would get 180 euros/month of initial paycheck with a master's degree!).
Considering the number of exchange students in the first (winter) semester, it was quite dull because there weren't many and some just weren't up to hanging out at a few but great ESN events and activities. Nonetheless we made quite a lot of good Serbian friends and managed to make our days interesting with iceskating, hiking, movie nights and dinner parties. I especially took advantage of very afordable cultural events (plays, musicals, concerts) and attended them quite frequently. Since Serbia is in majority an orthodox country we had a double celebration of Christmas and New Years Eve, which were quite unforgettable despite being cold.
In second semester more students arrived to Novi Sad – and as they say, the more the merrier J. It was getting warmer and we were hanging out more and made some true international friends that will hopefully last a lifetime. Our big happy family was making pizza evenings, movi nights, cards-playing gatherings, just-because parties etc. We also had a great opportunity to visit mountains in Zlatibor with ESN and even Szeged in Hungary with a non-expensive student tourist agency.
All in all, I was very happy to come to Serbia , also to get rid of some stereotypes and prejudices that »we« have about »southern« nations. Most of them are very laid back, extremely friendly and open, and always ready to help or just chat on a bus. I am grateful to have met so many like-minded and warm people, had an opportunity to visit other places in the country and all of Serbia's neighbouring countries, to learn Serbian on B2 level through language courses (I'm still bad at differentiating between č and ć, đ and dž, and I tell you, cirilic is harder to get used to than it looks), and become very much independent in kitchen and in life ;).