Student Joyce Reiners-Joliet described her experiences on exchange at Zagreb School of Business
1. The organisation of the semester abroad at the University of Ludwigshafen
Since every semester a lot of students with ERASMUS+ go abroad, this process is already routine at the University. In general, everything was alright since, in the end, I have had a great semester at a partner university. I loved the possibility of looking for partner universities on the website of our University. The application process, however, is a bit intransparent. They asked for documents and when I delivered them they said that these were not needed. What was quick and simple was the approval of the Learning Agreement. Although it all worked out, in the end, I missed, however, a concrete contact person who is really interested in the students‘ problems. Zagreb has in fact been my second choice, my first one being a partner university in Italy. The only courses in English I could choose at this time were in the medical department. When I asked Mrs Page about this and told her I was concerned that I could not choose any economic courses, I was told that I should do this there. A few weeks later I learned that I could not have chosen any other courses there. So within 10 minutes my semester abroad was turned from Italy to Croatia. This clarified, the rest of the organisation went relatively smoothly. Probably also because of the fact that I quickly received my supporter’s contact in Zagreb with whom I could discuss everything else personally.
2. The organisation of the semester abroad at the Visoka poslovna škola Zagreb
Being used to the fact that bureaucracy in Croatia is a bit slower than in Germany, you could rely on the fact that the organisation went well and the support was very good. Upon knowing that I was going to Zagreb, my supporter Neven Šipić contacted me. He gave me all the information about the several courses in order for me to choose them for my Learning Agreement and he also sent me all further information needed for my studies. He named two „buddies“ who had been in Ludwigshafen in their semester abroad in order to make my start easier. He also took care of everything necessary so I could receive a semester ticket and even went with me to the corresponding authority. Plus he made sure I got my student’s ID and knew all the advantages of this card (e.g. reduced food prices in many restaurants).
3. Living in Zagreb
As a student of the Erasmus foundation of the University Zagreb, you have the possibility to apply for a room in a dorm. Since I, however, only heard about this after all rooms had been occupied, I am still not sure if you – as a student of Visoka poslovna škola Zagreb – can also live in one of the dorms. The advantage of these dorms is the very low rent. You pay abt. 80 Euro for a room you share with another student. Bathroom and kitchen are common rooms. Since a dorm was, however, not an option for me any more, I looked on the Zagreb Erasmus site of Facebook for a room in a shared flat. I very much recommend this site for your search for a flat. There are some untrustworthy offers like on any other site, but here a lot of students looking for a flatmate post their offers. Since this site is well-known and popular with Erasmus students, there are also many landlords helping find apartments which are perfect for people who look for a flat only for a certain period of time. I was lucky to find a room in a shared flat where there lived two other female students. I first contacted one of the flatmates since they were looking for an Erasmus student for the third room. After the first contact and a few emails, it was quickly clear that I could have this room. All further formalities were clarified with the landlord. The price for this room with use of kitchen and bathroom as well as towels, bed linen etc. was 300 Euro/month plus additional costs (abt. 50 Euro during wintertime). This is an average price for a room in a shared flat in the city centre, however, only for foreign students. Compared to other Erasmus students I have paid quite a lot for this room. Croatians were always surprised about this allegedly high price. Since the landlords know that foreign students do not know a lot about looking for a flat in Croatia I assume they offer their flats and rooms on the corresponding Erasmus sites at higher prices than on inland sites. However, I cannot complain. The rent was within my budget, the flat was in the city centre, it was modern, newly furnished and clean. Above that, I had very good contact with my flatmates who made it easy for me to settle down there.
4. Studies at the Poslovno veleučilište Zagreb
Here, too, my résumé is positive. In the beginning, I was very surprised to hear that at this university there are no English courses during the winter semester so that the lectures would be individual courses. If I had had this information earlier, I am not sure if I had chosen this partner university. But my concerns were soon dispelled. Every single professor gave me his/her full attention during these five months and conveyed the content excellently. Because of these single lectures, there were, of course, also very new possibilities for the professors to concentrate on the student and plan projects. Although all professors are very busy, they gave my lectures their full commitment and in general always all effort that I remember this semester very positively. Consumer Behaviour was the only course I took part in with a group. The professor succeeded in managing the normal lecture in Croatian and at the same time conveying the subject for me in English. In Communication Studies I had single lessons, but I was invited to the Croatian course in order for me to hold my lecture. Here I was integrated very well. The whole course took care that I felt welcome. Although it was not asked for, even two of the other students held their lectures in English so I could take part in this lesson. All in all, the professors very much got to my heart. Be there questions regarding the lectures, cultural difficulties or simply aims for excursions, all professors were always great to contact partners for me and have their share that I had a wonderful time.
5. Life in Zagreb
Although Zagreb is Croatia’s capital, it is – in comparison to German cities – quite small and calm. Zagreb has got a beautiful old town, amazing viewing platforms, churches, chapels and parks. Moreover, this city has won the prize for the most beautiful Christmas market in Europe in 2016, 2017 and 2018 – and rightly so. Here, whole parks are turned into skating rinks, the whole city is expensively decorated, on every corner, there are booths with mulled wine and food, and also the streets out of the centre are brightly illuminated. One day is enough to visit the most important attractions in the city, but I was never bored in the five months of my stay. Many parks invite you to linger and it is part of Croatian culture to meet in a cafe and enjoy some coffee.
The city’s inhabitants are mostly friendly, helpful and speak very good English, if not even German. If you get to speak to a Croatian, they are very glad to tell you that they have a cousin/brother/uncle living in Frankfurt / Stuttgart / Munich. I was ensured everywhere that Zagreb is, in general, a very safe city which I can only confirm after my personal experience. Even at night and alone I never felt unsafe or threatened.
Though Croatia is part of the EU, its currency is not the Euro but Kuna. Prior to your departure, it makes sense to find out whether you can with the credit card of your bank not only withdraw Euro free of charge but all over the EU, independent from the currency. I myself have set up an account with an online bank for this time and could thus safe charges. You do, however, have to pay the currency conversion when withdrawing money. On the long run, it was worthwhile to change Euro to Kuna in the country.
6. Travelling around Zagreb
Though Zagreb is a very nice city to spend time in, there are other cities to be discovered all around. Zagreb itself has a well-connected bus station, a station and an airport. Generally, Croatians tell you not to use the train since it is disproportionately expensive and goes only very irregularly. I myself have always reached my aims very well and, above all, at quite a low price by bus. For day trips there are aims like Samobor, a city well-known for its traditional Kremšnita; Varaždin, a city with a well-preserved castle, or the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. The famous national park with the Lakes of Plitvice, too, is reachable within two hours from Zagreb and is in any way worth a tour.
For a tour of several days, I recommend the cities of Pula, Split or the island Krk, however, better not in the summer months, since then they are crowded with tourists.
One of my targets for this semester was to visit all the neighbouring countries of Croatia which I did! If you plan thoroughly and do not go during the season, you can reach and visit especially Bosnia, Herzegowina and Serbia at a very low price by bus.
For arrivals and departures, I can only partly recommend Zagreb’s airport. It is well accessible from the city centre and although it is quite small, there are regular flights to Germany, especially to Frankfurt. Flying is, however, also quite expensive. If you visit this place, not just for one weekend, it is worthwhile to book a flight to Ljubljana or Budapest and go the remaining route by bus.
7. Overall assessment of the semester abroad
I had a wonderful time in Zagreb and, above all, at the Visoka poslovna škola. I can with the deepest conviction recommend the city as well as the university to everybody thinking about doing a semester in Croatia.
During this time, not only my English has enormously improved, but I could also have a glimpse into a foreign culture and was thus sensitized for foreign and my own culture. I could collect numerous experiences I cherish and would return to Zagreb any time. Although Croatia is not far away, there are quite some cultural differences. You have, for example, to get used to the traffic; in opposition to Germans, the Croatians are quite offensive drivers. Or the bureaucracy. But to balance this, you learn how to slow down if you, for example, go have a coffee for two hours at least once a day or can start from the fact that appointments are at least 20 minutes late. All trips I took additionally have also raised my awareness for the way cultures develop and how Croatia and its neighbouring countries have reached their today’s economic and social standard. Above all, my trips to the other Balkan countries made lasting impressions on me, not least because of the historic and political occurrences in the past 30 years.