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The life-changing experience of studying abroad

03.10.2018Comments are closed.

Vito Petan

2nd year master student, Bank and Financial Management at the FELU and exchange student at Tongji University, School of Economics and Management in China.

Joel-Alex Bertrand-Poitras

2nd year student, University Degree Programme in Business and Economics at the FELU, from Canada.

Studying abroad may be one of the most valuable experiences for university students, by offering them the opportunity for professional and personal development. Living and studying in a country with a different culture and language is a life-changing experience for most students. Two FELU master’s students talk about their experiences of studying in a foreign country.

Intervju 7

What was your main motivation to study abroad? How did you decide on the country you wanted to visit?

Vito Petan: I have always been interested in the rise of China and its economy. As a result, I started learning mandarin at the Confucius Institute and went to China for the first time in 2014. I wanted to go back after that, and when I got the opportunity to spend a year at Tongji University in Shanghai, I knew I had to take it. Shanghai is the financial and commercial centre of China, soon to be the biggest economy in the world, so it is definitely the place to be at the moment.

Joel-Alex Bertrand-Poitras: My biggest motivation for studying arose from the fact that, at the age of 27, I had held various jobs since the age of 14 but had never completed my education. I came to realise that a university degree is needed for my future professional growth and studying abroad would enable me to quench my thirst for exploration. My choice of Slovenia came about because I had fallen in love with an amazing Slovenian woman and embarked on a wonderful journey with her. We have been happily exploring Slovenia together.

It often takes time to adjust to a new country, its people, habits and also a new university. What were the biggest differences between your home country and your new environment?

Vito Petan: Shanghai is one of the biggest cities in the world, and some 100 times larger than Ljubljana so the difference is obviously huge. The sheer size of the city and its economy is simply stunning. It takes some time to get used to it, and after 1 year I can still say that I have many places and things left to explore. I had a hard time adjusting to Chinese food but, other than that, I think I’m pretty much a local by now.

Joel-Alex Bertrand-Poitras: The biggest difference was in the daily interactions between individuals, which in Slovenia tend to be more distant. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how approachable the majority of the professors and teacher assistants were.

Which were the top three reasons for choosing that university?

Vito Petan: Shanghai was my first choice in China and Asia, and Tongji is one of the top three universities in Shanghai. It is also the best one available for Faculty of Economics students, so it was a natural choice for me.

Joel-Alex Bertrand-Poitras: I chose the University of Ljubljana due to its reputation within Slovenia as the most outstanding higher education institution. I also chose the FELU because of its ‘Triple Crown’ accreditation, seeing it as a mark of distinction and source of recognition for my future endeavours. Finally, the university’s, as well as the faculty’s, international orientation was appealing given the globalisation of the workplace where my degree will allow me to better position myself.

What were the greatest challenges you had to face at the university in China?

Vito Petan: There were some language issues with professors, but other than that I think they take care of the exchange students very well and I didn’t experience any major challenges.

Joel-Alex Bertrand-Poitras: One of the greatest challenges was adapting to a different student culture, where the diversity of nationalities, attitudes and outlooks within the student body produced a unique dynamic I was privileged to discover. Learning to maintain a balance while simultaneously working for a Slovenian company and studying also proved to be a rewarding challenge.

How do the study experiences in your home country and foreign country differ?

Vito Petan: I would say that they are quite similar, but the amount of work required was a bit lower at Tongji than at the FELU, probably because we were exchange students. There was more group work, cases and presentations, and less studying needed to pass the classes, which was perfectly fine. As an exchange student, you want to be able to experience the new environment, travel and meet new interesting people, and not spend all your time in the library.

Joel-Alex Bertrand-Poitras: The study experience in Canada might be seen as far more structured than in Slovenia, with greater emphasis on continuous work over the course of the semester. The Slovenian system allows greater access to the professors and stresses the students’ exam performance.

How did the study experience in the foreign country affect you personally?

Vito Petan: The year I spent in China saw me grow as a person and offered me invaluable insights into the second largest, and soon to be the largest economy in the world. Few people outside China realise the sheer size of the Chinese economy, how fast the Chinese middle class is growing, and the transformation of China from copycat to innovator in fields such as mobile payments, e-commerce, fintech and bike sharing. I believe that everything I saw and learned here will help me in my future career, no matter which path I choose.

Joel-Alex Bertrand-Poitras: I would say it has made me a better rounded individual because I was given the opportunity to interact with fellow students from across the globe, with each bringing their own point of view and solutions to common problems. I also discovered that an unsung advantage of studying in Slovenia is its central location, allowing for travel throughout Europe, as well as its unending natural beauty.

What would you recommend to students who are considering studying abroad?

Vito Petan: I would recommend to anyone to seize the great opportunity the FELU is offering to its students, and choose one of the less popular destinations such as Asia over the popular ones like Spain. Not only will that make you more employable, moving out of your comfort zone will make you grow as a person and expand your horizons, which will help you in your future career and life.

Joel-Alex Bertrand-Poitras: I suggest you keep an open mind and try talking with as many people as you are comfortable with. Both nationals and foreigners have different experiences within their respective systems and the one now being shared together. It is a golden opportunity to acquire knowledge and understanding that usually lies beyond one’s reach when studying in your own country.

What was the highlight for you of the 2016/2017 academic year?

Vito Petan: My highlight of the year was definitely meeting classmates and friends from all over the world and make bonds that will last into the future. I’ve made many good friends and learned a great deal from them. Shanghai is one of the most international Asian cities and, besides learning about Chinese culture, you can meet people from pretty much anywhere in the world. If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely choose to spend my exchange year in Shanghai one more time.

Joel-Alex Bertrand-Poitras: The highlight of my academic year was the Business Law course with Professor Mitja Kovač. The class provided a very interesting overview of the legal business environment in Europe and North America. It also offered many opportunities for discussion and critical thought on issues which are current within the EU framework and the wider Occidental business environment.

Read more stories in the Yearly Review 2016/2017.

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