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Students in Ljubljana

Ljubljana, SI (View on map)

Previous articles may have led readers of Us Europeans to believe that the population of Ljubljana is uniquely composed of students, mostly in international disciplines. Reality is not very distant from that idea. Ljubljana IS the Slovenia`s capital of student life. Young people populate the streets, the terraces, the parks ? everything. Up until every next Friday, when they pack their bags, and head home for the weekend.

Eugen (23):

..calls himself a lazy student
The weekly exodus out of Ljubljana is an interesting phenomenon. Students either use professional trolleys or sophisticated backpacks to transport their stuff. Without noticing that they are actually heading out of the city, an uninformed tourist may think that the city has been flooded by Australian backpackers on their one-year trip around the world.

Not very surprisingly, Friday is the favourite day of the week for Carmen (19), who studies Chinese and Russian. It`s the day she exchanges her crowded dorm for her parent`s place in Brezice. `I share a room with one person, then there`s another sleeping room with two people and a common room and bathroom. It`s quite inexpensive, about 60 euros a month. But at the same time, you can count on noisy neighbours for every night of the week until at least 2 or 3 in the morning. Only a handful of very bright students can apply for a private room in student accommodation. The two alternatives are to either cope with the noise and lack of privacy, or to find private accommodation, which will cost more than 200 euros a month and is still no guarantee that you do not have to share a room.`

Vedran (20) is studying dental medicine. He is living in an apartment that is owned by his parents. `My father is a dentist and he is providing me with the facilities to become one as well. Once I finish my studies, in about 6 years from now, I will probably start working as a dentist in my home town Murska Sobota. Ljubljana is the only place in Slovenia with a dental university, so I will be living here until then, commuting between home and there for the weekends.`

Although most of Vedran`s friends are also students, he also knows people who do not continue their studies after highschool. `They stay in their home towns and usually end up doing manual labour, or working in caf?s or bars.`

The high number of university graduates makes it hard for people to decide not to study. Only very few youngsters could get away with choosing not to pursue any university studies. They would at least have to find a way to escape their parents` pressure to make them study. Goran (22), a first-year student of History and Sociology thinks his parents would withdraw any financial support to show him how important it is to have a university degree: `I don`t think they wouldn`t have forced me, but they would probably have been both angry and disappointed. They would have tried at any cost to convince me that studying was the best option.`

Contrary to the situation in some other European countries, being rich or poor does not make a decisive difference in whether people do or do not choose to go to university. Education is for free, hardly anybody buys books, dormitory accommodation is fairly inexpensive, it`s easier for students to find jobs than it is for anybody else, students get discounts on meals and if all of that still doesn`t suffice, they can apply for government grants of up to 200 euros a month.

A student of Cultural Sociology, whose name and age I unfortunately forget to ask, tells me that all books are available at the library belonging to each academic section. `Those libraries will have a few copies of all of the course books that are in use. Just before the exams, there may be a lack of books, but at any other time, there are plenty for everybody. Most of the material we need to study consists of notes and photocopies`, she says. `I am working at a student`s organisation to make some additional money. Fortunately, students have access to many types of discounts. The best one is the food coupon system. At the beginning of each month, students can buy a voucher booklet with a number of coupons that matches the number of working days in that month. The price we pay for the coupons is a lot lower than what we would otherwise pay for meals. That`s why so many students are populating the city`s terraces. They don`t even need to cook, as they will just go to cheap restaurants for lunch and dinner. Many people also like to study or socialise on the terraces. I personally prefer to go to the library, where it`s much quiter than outside in the sun.`

Taking it slow
Eugen (23, photo) is originally from Ljubljana and relies on his parents to take care of his financial situation: `Our house is close enough for me to get around town walking or maybe by getting a bus. I`m one of the few Slovenian over-18s who do not have a driver`s licence. Basically because I was too lazy to get one. I am also quite lazy when it comes to studying. I should be attending many more lectures than I actually do. Also, I changed studies some time ago, which means that I will be studying for a little longer than actually needed. I should have graduated at 23, but I think I will need another 3 years to get done with it. I started studying law, but am now studying translation. My languages are Slovenian, English and German. Regardless of my specialisation, I would like to go to Prague if I were to do an international exchange. I just visited a friend over there, and simply find Prague a great city.`

Eugen explains me that Slovenian students have a long summer break and a very short Christmas break. They also get a few weeks off in January to prepare for the mid-term exams. `During the summer holiday, you can clearly see that the students make up a considerable part of Ljubljana`s population. The city`s population just deflates when the holidays starts, just like it does during the weekends.`

Domen (18), who studies at the music academy, says that it`s hard to tell during which weekends students will stay in Ljubljana and which ones they will use to return home. `They need a reason to stay: a party, a festival, a concert. Despite the many people leaving the city, Friday and Saturday are still perfectly suitable for going out. Caf?s and bars risk being empty on Sunday and Monday evenings, but any other day of the week is fine.`

Domen likes to study in the park whenever the weather is good enough. He adds that he can only do that whenever he has to do theoretical work. `My specialisation is violin play, so I obviously need to practice a lot as well. I can`t really do that outside, so will either do that at home of at the university`s practice rooms.`

Domen tells me that universities tend to offer a diverse range of activities to their students. `Last week, we went to Hamburg with our school orchestra to participate in a competition. They will also lend a helping hand when it comes to individual auditions.`

Marsa (19) is not a member of any student association, but also took part in several activities that were organised by her university. `I joined a skiing trip and also went to some congresses about specific diseases. I am studying pharmacology, so beside the usual sports activities, most other events arranged by university are usually directly related to the studies. Most programs also include a compulsory practical internship. I will try to get a placement with one of the major pharmaceutical companies in Slovenia: Lek or Krka, who both produce generic drugs. `

More details
Ana (19), who also studies pharmacology, fills me in on the remaining details on Slovenian universities. `Slovenia has four university cities. Ljubljana is obviously the biggest one. Maribor, Portoroz and Kranj complete the list. Some programs are only available in Ljubljana, even though it`s not uncommon for students to be forced to move abroad because the program of their choice is not available in Ljubljana either. The most popular studies are applied sciences rather than purely scientic programs. Pharmacology, law and economy are probably the standard choices. Most universities do not have entrance exams, although some do. Those include all studies that either require artistic talents or extremely high intelligence.`

Every Slovenian student has an `index`, a small book listing all the grades he or she obtained throughout the project. For every exam you do, the mark will be inscribed, along with a signature and stamp. If you lose your index, you have a serious problem. Neither is it advisable to fail an exam three times. The fourth time will cost 37 euros just for signing up. Most students are however too ambitious to get to that point. Competition between students is huge. Everybody tries to get straight A`s, not in the least because the labout market is flooded with students every year. If the fact that people have obtained a diploma no longer really counts, employers will start looking at the marks to select the best people for the job they have on offer.`

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