Rui Monteiro and Vitor Magano, students form Faculty of Engineering at University of Porto, Portugal (FEUP) spent winter semester of academic year 2014/15 at Faculty of Organization and Informatics in Varaždin via Erasmus+ study exchange programme. We asked them about their experience and this is what they said.
What were your expectations before arriving to Croatia?
Rui: At the beginning, we honestly thought we were going to Zagreb and not to Varazdin, so we were quite excited about it, thinking that we would be having parties every week and that we would meet a lot of other foreign students. So we kept our expectations high. However, soon we found out that we weren’t going to Zagreb but to Varazdin, about which we knew very little. We searched a bit about it and it seemed like a very calm city, with not a lot of parties and things to do, but we always kept looking at the bright side and thinking that we would spend less money, and that because it looked like a city of students, that we would have fun anyway, and that we could always travel to other places while we were there. Gladly, we happened to be right!
Vitor: At first, when we had the full list of options with countries we could go I looked at some other countries like Nederland, Poland, Germany, but then I did some research on all the available countries, looking for attractions, touristic spots, level of studies and I ended up choosing Croatia with one friend, we were both interested in know the country with a great culture. I was expecting to go to Zagreb and be in a more ERASMUS like environment with lots of foreign students.
What are your impressions about Croatia?
Rui: It’s very different from Portugal, at the beginning! I mean, people don’t speak portuguese there! And all the directions and information on the streets is in a language that it’s kind of chinese to us, at first! But also, we soon realized that many people in Croatia speak English (even the homeless people, if they want to ask you for some kunas! some of them will even try to speak in portuguese, if they think they will get something from that!). And most of the people we met in the beginning were very friendly and helpful. Because of that, we soon started to feel like we were kind of at home, but in a different place. Other aspect of Croatia that we noticed once we arrived there was that the prices of almost everything were a bit lower than the prices in our country. That was obviously a good thing to notice.
Vitor: When we got to Croatia we saw many cultural differences and we stayed in Zagreb for one day, everything was great, the city, the people, the prices, most of the things are cheaper in Croatia. Then we got to Varazdin and we made our first mistake, take the train, we were expecting a fast train to get to Varazdin but instead of taking the fast option we took the slowest one. It was a long trip. Anyway, we saw some differences in the types of buildings but lots of similarities with our country, Portugal. So Croatia in general is a well developed country with beautiful sightsa lot more security than in Portugal but with some economic problems. I loved the country, the culture, the people, almost everything.
What do you think about FOI and University of Zagreb?
Rui: I think that FOI, our host faculty, is a nice faculty in which I’m happy to have been studying for the past months. The professors that held our classes were very professional and helped us every time we needed. And also the people from the International Relations Office were always present when we needed, throughout the whole semester, and were always very kind to help us in every way we needed. About the University of Zagreb itself, I honestly don’t know much. I can only tell that they were also very helpful in the process of dealing with all the paperwork needed for us to apply the Erasmus programme.
Vitor: FOI seems to be a well developed faculty with great teachers and a good overall ranking in the country (one of the best). I liked to study there, we noticed the concern in delivering us the best they could in english so we could have a better experience. We were used to a really big faculty and that was the first thing we noticed, in comparison with FEUP, FOI is a really small faculty but it was ok. I don’t have a lot of impressions about University of Zagreb because the only contact we had with them was on the presentation day, it was great, we saw lots of ERASMUS students from almost every part in the world and the University gave us some information on what to expect in Croatia, it was well organized.
How did you find and how would you describe FOI students, are they a good hosts?
Rui: They are really good hosts! I can only tell good things about them. We had a lot of fun with them. They were kind enough to introduce us to the croatian culture: thinks like rakia, pelinkovac, homemade beer, a lot of expressions that I think people in Croatia use daily that are not as polite as they are funny! They failed to show us the museums and the monuments in the city and all that stuff, and I’m so (not) sorry about that! :) We were there with other two Erasmus guys, from Spain, so we became friends and we did a lot of things together.
Vitor: The best thing about Varazdin was that not being with people from other countries we got to know lots of people from Croatia and I loved that part, I don’t know why but I was expecting a culture more similar with the Russian culture but curiouslyCroatia seems to be a lot more like the western Europe and everyone was so kind and always trying to help. I can say they are great hosts.
Which part of your staying at FOI and in Croatia is most interesting? Why?
Rui: It’s not one thing in specific, but that, staying in in the studentski dom and getting to know a lot of students from Croatia there was, for me, the best part of going to Croatia.
Vitor: The part of being abroad and away from everyone you know. I love traveling and meet people from everywhere, even if I’m a bit shy that was one of the best experiences in my life, the friends, the sights. Even as students we were able to visit some places and I loved everything. Another great thing is the easiness people in Croatia can travel to other countries and visit them in one day or one weekend, in Portugal we only have one border country (Spain).
How did you like student life in Varaždin, and is it similar to Portugal?
Rui: It’s not that similar. I mean, in Porto, I think we have a bigger faculty, with lots of people and with really good conditions, but life there, for students, is a lot more expensive than in Croatia. In Croatia, you have a lot of support from the government. The meals are really cheap, because of that support. In Portugal, we would have to pay about 3 euros for a meal subsided by the government and here we can get good meals in menza for less than 1 euro, and honestly they are better. Sorry Portugal! Also, I heard that the students here don’t have to pay for their studies if they are good and manage to get the graduation without failing any subject. In Portugal, we have to pay, either we pass or fail the subjects, so I guess the government there in Portugal is not so supportive about education as the Croatian one.
Vitor: Varazdin is a really calm city and we noticed that. Everyone goes do the same places, and everyone is friendly and the night life is really different, in fact that’s the main difference. In Portugal (Porto) you can go out any day you want and you never know who you will find because there are so much places to go. I like the idea of finding everyone in the same place, everyone is close and everyone knows each other. In Porto the night life is spent in clubs which I’m not a fan.
Did you learn any Croatian words?
Rui: Yes, I know some Croatian words now, but I think it’s better not to use them here. They are not really of the polite kind! I think one of the funniest I learnt there was “puta”, which means “times”, in English, but don’t look up for its meaning in portuguese!
Vitor: Of course, everyone we met taught us something, they always want to know how our accent and if we can pronounce it. Of course I can’t keep a conversation but I can say some words, like hello, bye, thank you, order a coffee and order a beer.
Do you have any message to the other international students that plan to come at FOI?
Rui: The best advice I can give them is to not think twice and the reason for that is that I, myself, would not think twice if I had the chance to repeat it.
Vitor: Don’t expect to come to the capital of parties but expect to meet great people and a beautiful city :D.
Would you like to add something for the end?
Rui: I would just humbly add that there is a place on the planet better than Croatia to spend a semester, or a year, on an Erasmus programme, and that place is Porto! :) See you here.
Vitor: I want to thank everyone I met and for making all the time I spent in Croatia one of the best experiences I had, specially the last weeks.