Young people have a lot of travel opportunity these days, both for studying and work abroad. Many use this opportunity to get to know our planet and to make friends with people who live on different continents. They want to learn about themselves, but also to understand that some countries have a lot more to offer than what we can see in the media.
The young man Dejan Lazic (25), a student of the Faculty of Economy in Ljubljana, belongs to precisely that group. He was born and he grew up in Slovenia but he said that he is proud of his Serbian origins. He arrived at Columbia four months ago, more precisely to Bogota, for student exchange, with the intention to research about the subject for his master thesis.
- Where did you get the idea to go to Columbia for student exchange? How did you settle in the new environment?
So, why Columbia? During my undergraduate studies, I was on student exchange in the south of Spain, in Andalusia, and then, later on, I went around Spain, Valencia to be precise, for student's practice. I became a solid fluent in Spanish after 12 months. I lived and worked in France, and I spent the entire year in Oslo as a student, and I found a job there.
Europe seemed small somehow and I wanted to have a new experience on some other continent. Luckily, the faculty of Economy in Ljubljana offers a lot of possibilities for studies all around the world, so the decision was made for South America, and I chose Columbia after few professors recommended it to me.
I wanted to perfect my Spanish and to meet local culture. I didn't have any problems with settling considering that there was no language barrier, I also knew one girl from Bogota with whom I studied in Norway. However, South America is something entirely different compared to Europe.
- What places did you visit while you stayed in Columbia? What sights did you have the opportunity to see?
I had the opportunity to see a lot of areas of Columbia and in one word, I was amazed. The country is beautiful and people are incredibly hospitable and good. We have been to the Carribean coast, the region where coffee is made, the city Medellín, the desert of Tatacoa. There are more places that are interesting, but that will be for some other occasion.
- Is staying in Columbia expensive and where did you stay during your time there?
Columbia is not among the expensive states in South America. You can have lunch for about 3-4 euros, groceries are not too expensive, so all in all, you can't say that it is an expensive country.
Traveling inside and out of the country cost because you usually travel by plane, busses are extremely comfortable but to reach your destination you will need at least half a day. I live in Bogota in the apartment with two roommates, everything is settled and we get along nicely.
- What event left the strongest impression on you?
I would like to say that the travels are the ones that left the strongest impression on me for the beauty of the province and fantastic people. People in Bogota are a bit colder, and the city is not so special, but all those travels were an incredible experience.
I would like to emphasize the carnival in Barranquilla, which is the third in the world and where the entire city lives for those three days, everybody is dancing and are happy, it's general madness. Also, I will never forget places where people live like 50-60 years ago and where you can really rest and try something new.
- Describe the most interesting person you had the opportunity to meet.
All Columbians are interesting in general and I could mention a man in the street where I live in, he makes fresh orange juice so we became good colleagues in these few months and we always have a chat.
- What kind of food did you have the opportunity to try and how much is their cuisine different from ours?
I've tried a lot of Columbian food which consists mostly of a lot of potatoes, rice, chicken, fish, bananas in hundred ways. In general, most of the food is fried in oil, so it is very greasy. They don't use many vegetables in their diet, they have around 200 types of fruits which they use to make freshly squeezed juices which are fascinating and which are drank with dishes.
- What kind of impression Panama had on you? What especially remained in your memory?
Honestly, my memories are mixed. The capital city, Panama city looks like small Miami and I didn't like it very much. Perhaps because of the people who are not pleasant and heartwarming as people from Columbia so that was a disappointment.
But luckily, I visited islands San Blas in Carrebean sea, which is a pure fantasy and incredible experience. Those are small islands where rarely anyone lives and there are about 10-15 tourists, there is no internet, turquoise blue water in the sea, paradise on earth...
- What is the nightlife in these two countries? Did you have the opportunity to go out often?
I didn't go out in Panama so I can't be the judge about the nightlife there. I had the opportunity to go out in Columbia, only in Botoga, so I can say that the there are various places and that you go out only during the weekend. People of Columbia know how to enjoy themselves, to dance, so the atmosphere is very very good. They don't dring too much, they are more interested in dancing. I can say that I am amazed by nightlife in Bogota, girls are very beautiful, and they find foreigners very interesting.
- We can often hear that these two countries are relatively poor. Is that really the case and how do people really live?
Columbia is the third country for social inequality (after Haiti and Angola), so you can see expensive cars and well-dressed people, and also you can see a lot of misery and poverty. It is especially noticeable in large cities, like Bogota, Medellín, Cali.
People in villages are not rich but they are not poor, all in all, I think they live really difficult. Panama is better, that is a territory that separated from Columbia 100 years ago with the help of America so their story is different than Columbia, where the conflict raged for 70 years between military groups which caused a lot of refugees and displaced persons. The capital of Panama is very well organized, while the rest of the country lives on average.
- Did you have any reason to fear for your safety, since it is well known that foreigners in Columbia are often the target for kidnappers?
No never. That story is more media inflated. You have to be more careful in large cities where you go at night and to take Uber (safer than a taxi). And if you use public transport, take care of your things and those are mostly main recommendations.
Wherever I stayed in Columbia I felt completely safe. A lot of my colleagues, who are foreigners, lost their phones but pickpockets are present all over the world, there are just more present in Columbia.
- Do they know of Slovenia and the other countries from Balkans in these countries and what was their reaction when you told them where you come from?
They don't know our counties. When I mention Yugoslavia it is a bit better, but it doesn't change much. There is one interesting thing. People of Columbia watch football with great passion, our football players and football workers left a deep mark in Columbia (Sekularac, Vladica Popovic, Toza Veselinovic), so they are the association to Yugoslavia and they are very respected and people talk about them with great enthusiasm, although they were present during the 60s and 70s. Otherwise, the question is always whether it's cold from where I come from.
- What countries do you plan to visit and why do you think that entire South America is special?
I have traveled pretty much, so the plan is to dedicate to master's thesis. South America is incredible, first of all for its natural beauties and people for sure. It is very different in comparison to Europe, everything is somehow authentic, you have a lot of places where people live like in Europe fifty years ago.
Certainly, a warm recommendation to everybody who likes travels to visit this beautiful part of our planet. Things are becoming much simpler if you speak Spanish, because the people are interesting and it is worth talking to them, English won't help you much.
- Did you have a chance to visit the birthplace of Pablo Escobar? What it the opinion of people of Columbia about him?
I've been to Medellín. It was ranked among the most dangerous cities in the world some 20 years ago, and it has a lot to offer now and it is completely safe. Medellín is developing with lightning speed, there are a lot of constructions, they have a modern metro, many foreign companies are coming to develop business.
Tourists are everywhere, many of them because they saw the series "Narcos" unfortunately, so they want to follow the steps from the mentioned series and to meet everything related to Pablo Escobar. Honestly, I didn't watch the series, nor I am interested in things about Escobar. Columbia has much more to offer and it is not treated the way it deserves in the world at all.
I don't talk with the people of Columbia about Escobar because it is a very sensitive subject and they don't want to return to the period which brought negative reputation on them, so the opinions on him are not very positive.
- What is life in Slovenia like? Do you come often to Serbia and what do you like the most when it comes to our country?
Most of the people in Slovenia have a job and it isn't a problem to find one, but those jobs are paid just enough to have enough for living. You won't become too rich and you won't be too poor. Students have a lot of benefits - cheaper transport, meals, accommodations and they are very sought after since they are paid less than ordinary workers.
Retired people have problems with small pensions. Politicians are corrupted. Overall, life is very calm, nature is very beautiful, food is tasty, everything is near and there are a lot of tourists that visit the country. That is Slovenia in short.
I have a family near Modrica, Republika Srpska, from my father's side, and the family from my mother's side is mostly in Novi Sad, where I stayed a few times and I like the city very much and I gladly visit it. When I return to Europe I will surely go to Novi Sad when I have time. I love Serbia and my people.
- Did you have a chance to meet the nightlife of Belgrade, since we often hear that Slovenian citizens often come here to have a good time?
Of course, I did. I worked as a tourist guide and I took tourists from Slovenia for New Year's celebration to the capital of Serbia. Everybody had a great time and they went home with positive impressions. Serbia is very popular in Slovenia in general, first of all, because of the good food and fun time.
- What are your further plans for studies and a job later on?
I am near the end of my master's studies. I have one more exam to complete my master's thesis. I hope that I will finish everything this fall and we will see what are the options for further on. I first have to get a job but the school comes first, and then I will think about the job.
(Telegraf.co.uk / A. Taskovic - email@example.com)