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My unforgettable semester in Zagreb during a pandemic (Fall 2020)

Photo: Julia Lipold

My unforgettable semester in Zagreb during a pandemic (Fall 2020)

Do you really want to go abroad in times of Corona? Aren’t you scared? Wouldn’t it be better to stay in Austria? These are some of many questions my friends asked me before I decided to go abroad. Many people couldn’t understand my decision, but I can just say: This was the best decision I could ever make!

I always wanted to go abroad to study in a different country, to meet people from different countries and to learn more about different cultures and so, so the year 2020 couldn’t stop me from this. I arrived in the middle of September in Zagreb, Croatia, and one of my biggest adventures started.

University of Teacher Education Zagreb

The University of Zagreb has many different campuses spread over the city, most of them in the city centre or close to it. The University of Teacher Education is located close to the centre and it is easy to reach with different tram lines.

So, as soon as I arrived in Zagreb, I met with my coordinator at the university who helped me a lot with all the complicated paperwork. You also get a checklist from the university before you arrive, which tells you what you have to do, where you have to go and all the numbers, addresses and mail addresses you need for those steps. This helped me a lot, because at the beginning all these things can be really confusing. Another great idea of the university is that you get your own “Buddy”, who is studying at the same university, like you, and can help you with all the courses and other questions you might have.

As confusing as everything can be at the beginning, especially in Corona times, all the help I got from the university and my buddy made everything much easier.

I was one of the lucky ones who still had her classes in-person till the middle of December. Of course, we had some different measures due to Corona, but still, I had the possibility to experience “normal” courses and to meet my colleagues. At the University of Teacher Education there was just another Erasmus student and we didn’t have all courses together, so I had the possibility to meet more Croatian students and improve my Croatian.

All courses I chose were held in English and one also in German but still, sometimes the professors spoke in Croatian, what was a great experience because you learned how it feels to be in a different country without understanding much, which was very useful for my education.

I really enjoyed my courses, and all the professors are really nice, helpful, respectful and have a lot of appreciation, what made me feel comfortable from the first day on.

School Practice

Sadly, due to Corona, there was no possibility to go to schools this semester. One professor still arranged a seminar with “eTwinning”, where we worked together with students from Italy and Spain and had to prepare teaching materials and talked a lot about teaching systems in other countries, which was really interesting and a lot of fun.

The language and courses

The good thing about Croatia is, that many people can speak English or also German. I already mentioned before that you don’t really need Croatian at the University, but still, it can be helpful sometimes, especially when you have to do all the paperwork at the beginning.

But if you want to learn more about the Croatian language, what I think should be part of your Erasmus semester as you are living in this country for a longer time, then the “Croaticum” is offering some special semester courses extra for Erasmus students, which are cheaper than “normal” language courses.

There are many other language schools in Zagreb as well, but this one was on my list from the university at the beginning of my semester:

https://croaticum.ffzg.unizg.hr

Accommodation

There are many possibilities in Zagreb, where you can find a nice place to stay over the semester. The University of Zagreb offered a lot of information and links (see below). It depends on where you want to live, how much money you want to spend and if you prefer living alone or with somebody else. You can live really cheap in one of the student dorms but there you have to know that you have to share your room with another person. So, if you want to have privacy, I wouldn’t recommend a student dorm. Some people told me that they booked a dorm because they thought it might be easier to find company, but no worries – I also got to know a lot of people without living in a dorm 🙂

When you are searching for a “normal” flat for 5 months over Croatian websites it might be a little bit difficult as the people mostly want a contract for 1 year.

For me it was clear that I wanted to live alone, especially during the Corona Pandemic, that I was searching a place over “HomeInZagreb”. You have to pay an agency fee, but it was the best decision to book over their agency. There you can choose if you want a shared home or a flat/studio alone. They have many, really nice, modern accommodations and help you a lot with the registering process at the police. If there are any problems, you can call them anytime and they will help you.

But for those housings you better be fast, because the best and cheapest ones are, of course, gone really fast.  

Here is the link offered from the university:

http://www.unizg.hr/homepage/international-exchange/exchange-students/student-services/housing/

The city

Zagreb is a really beautiful city with many things to do. It has different museums – from a technical and a modern arts museum to the “Museum of Broken Relationships” or “The Hangover Museum”. So, even if it’s raining, it will never get boring.  

But there are many more things to explore in Zagreb. It has a lot of historical places like the Art Pavilion, the National Theatre, the Cathedral and lots of interesting squares or places to meet with friends and relax. After so many months here in Zagreb I still haven’t explored everything. If you are seeking for some nature you will also find huge parks where you can go for a walk or a run with friends. My favourite park is “Park Maksimir” or “Park Bundek”. If you want to take a walk, or if you are here in summer also a swim, the Jarun lake is the right place to be. I really love all these places in Zagreb and, if you want to get out of the city, the tram number 14 leads you directly to the foot of “Sljeme”, the famous mountain near Zagreb where you can do a hiking tour, go skiing in winter, or just enjoy the view and the snow on the top. So, there is a lot to discover in and around this beautiful city.

But now let’s come to one of the most important parts of the Croatian culture “piti kavu”. I think no other culture enjoys drinking coffee for hours so much like the Croatians. If you can sit 4 hours with one cup of coffee in a coffee bar with friends, then you are on a good way to be Croatian 😉 This might be the reason why Zagreb has so many different and special coffee bars, bars and restaurants. They have so many places to go that I had a list with all the places I have to see and try. Especially in the street called “Tkalciceva” you will find many coffee bars, restaurants and bars – this street is famous for that.

If you want to try the traditional food, like “Strukli” or “Cevapi”, you will find it in this street as well and you have to try it when you are in Croatia, there is no other choice.

I really love this city and enjoyed walking down the Ilica street, the main shopping street, and just look at the beautiful buildings. Zagreb also has an upper city with a beautiful view above Zagreb. Many different ways will lead you there and, when you don’t want to walk, take the small cable car, starting from the Ilica street.

When you are walking around in Zagreb there is always something happening. There won’t be a time when you can’t find people or musicians on the street, and this is one more point why I fell in love with this city.

Transport

Zagreb has a really good transport system with buses and trams. When you are studying in Zagreb you can get a monthly ticket for 100 Kuna (approx. 14 €) and with this you can go everywhere and it’s really cheap. You just go every month to the ZET office (they have many different places spread all over the city), pay 100 Kuna and that’s it. Just at the beginning you need to register over your university, but they help you with this process.

If you don’t want a monthly ticket, or for the beginning, you can buy a ticket for 30 minutes. This one costs just 4 Kuna (approx. 53 Cents) when you buy it at the Kiosk called “Tisak”. When you buy it at the driver it costs 6 Kuna.

The only thing is that you have to “stamp” these cards in the trams and buses and this is just possible at the first door or the last door. So, when you are entering the tram with such a ticket, think of that!

Another way of transportation is ordering a “Bolt” or an “Uber”. You just download the app and write from where to where you want to go and in about 2 minutes a driver will be there.

It is really cheap in Croatia and, when you are in a hurry or have too many things to carry, it is the best way.

Travelling

I never thought that travelling through the country would be possible in times of Corona, but it was. Especially at the coast in Croatia, where there were no people because most of them go to bigger cities after the summer season to work there. So, I had the possibility to travel around Istria and Dalmatia and other parts with my Erasmus friends without meeting a lot of other people. We saw many different places and had the possibility to drive to the sea every weekend if we wanted to.

For travelling between the different cities, they have many different buses. You can go with Flixbus or other Croatian bus lines that are really cheap.

Because of Corona, we decided to rent a car, which is also very cheap in Croatia when there are more people. With the car you are more flexible and can go to places where no bus will take you. When travelling in Croatia, Istria and Dalmatia is a must! Also, the Plitvicer lakes and the Krka waterfalls are worth a visit – doesn’t matter at which time. I was at the beginning of November and it was just wonderful with all the colourful trees. Of course, when the sun is shining and at a time where no other tourists are around it’s much more beautiful and calm.

From Croatia you can also go to Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia and Hungary very easily, in order to explore these countries as well.

Overall

At the beginning I didn’t know how it would be possible to meet people in a new city in times of Corona and if there would be enough other Erasmus students, but the ESN Zagreb organized so many Corona-friendly events in the last September week, where I was able to meet so many great people from all over the world. Already after this first week in Zagreb I loved my new home for the next months.

To spend the semester abroad, despite the pandemic, was the best decision I could make. I learned so much more about other cultures, not just the Croatian culture. But I also learned more about my own culture and reflected a lot. I never thought about my own country and culture so much like I did in the past months ,because many people ask you about your culture, and you start to think about some things more and more. I explored so many things and learned a lot. It was also a huge effort regarding my future job as a teacher, because you learn much about other cultures and also how it feels to be part of another culture away from home and, at least at the very beginning, “alone” with a language you probably don’t understand. I also grew personally as you have to go out of your comfort zone, especially at the beginning when you don’t have a plan about how everything works.

I will be forever grateful that I had the possibility to go abroad and be part of a different culture.

Author: Julia Lipold.

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