Arman’s Path Through Europe and His Ph.D. Study in Ljubljana

Pursuing a decent education is a priority aim almost for everybody today. Parents wish to give their children the best, and teenagers feel the need to be highly skilled in this competitive world. Moreover, this can be the perfect opportunity to start a new life in a foreign country. Fortunately, there are tons of scholarships and grants for the best of the best.

Arman is a Ph.D. student from Bosnia and Herzegovina who came to Slovenia to study physics. His passion became the anchor that dragged him through the best universities of Germany and Slovenia.

Read further to know about:

  • What is it to be a student in Slovenia?
  • The differences between the Slovenian, German, and Bosnian education systems.
  • How to get a scholarship at a foreign university?
  • The importance of promoting the Balkans region.

What do you do in Slovenia?

Now, I’m doing my Ph.D. here, in Ljubljana. I’m from Bosnia, so I obtained a Bachelor’s degree there. But I did my Master’s in Germany. Here, I continue my studies.

Was it easy to enter the Ph.D.?

The thing is simple in the physics field. There is one website where all the open Ph.D. positions are available. I applied only for a couple of them, and I got this one. Let’s say, the more you use, the better!

Were you studying for free in both European universities?

Yes, sure. Here in Ljubljana, you already get a salary.

As you have been studying in three different universities, can you compare them? Where did you like the most?

Unfortunately, In Sarajevo, we have a pretty small physics faculty. It consists of several departments, and after your fourth bachelor year, you have no space to grow further. However, teachers and assistant teachers were excellent. For example, in Germany, some assistant teachers could be unprepared sometimes. Which is not bad; I understand them now (laughs). You’re doing a lot of research, and teaching is secondary, but it could be better.

For example, in Germany, there was an occasion when an assistant teacher wasn’t well prepared because he hadn’t gotten the solutions the day before. I mean, you’re a teacher, you can solve it by yourself. That was a minor drawback. On the other hand, there were many possibilities, equipment, extra-curricular activities, and courses. It was amazing! I explored a lot in those two years.

Here in Ljubljana, it’s different. In general, the Ph.D. studies are different from the regular ones, with exam sessions and lessons. It’s more research-oriented. And I really like it. The first year was a little bit slow because I had to understand many new things, study new material, etc. Generally speaking, I adore the studies here.

If I had to compare doing PhDs here and in Munich, the extra activity here is optional; the main aim is the research. So, I don’t consider this as a drawback.

Do you study in English or Slovenian? Bosnian and Slovene should be close enough.

Exactly, they are! But all my studies are in English. This includes communication with my supervisors, colloquiums, and other activities. In any different situation, I use Slovene. I’m still studying this language, but it wouldn’t be a problem if my studies were in Slovenian. 

Yes, in the beginning, the understanding was a bit hard. However, I got used to the language quite soon.

Which city of Bosnia and Herzegovina are you from?

It’s a small city called Brčko. It’s on the border between Bosnia and Croatia.

So you should have a dialect close to the Croatian language, right?

The peculiarity is that there are not so many differences between Bosnian and Croatian (laughs). We understand each other perfectly. But as you’ve said, there is a dialect continuum between our countries. In the border area, we use common phrases, words that can differ from the literature standards.

Do you use the Cyrillic alphabet as Serbs do or the Latin one same as Croats do in Bosnia?

Actually, we use both. We learn both in elementary school, and then it’s up to you which to use.

Do you often return home?

Yes, because it’s really close. However, during the pandemic, I visited it only several times. The regulations now are quite\ complicated.

Did you find any differences between Slovenians and Bosnians?

Yeah, I did. It’s not a big gap, you know. But in Slovenia, nobody is overwhelmed by the problems that we usually have. Regarding the country, government, the level of life. Here, people think more about self-improvement and progress. There is more credibility for science and research. Of course, Bosnians have this approach, too. However, it’s hardly seen from the façade of complaints about politics.

From my experience, the people here are more open-minded. In Bosnia, older people have some dogmatic approach to doing things. When there is a question, “Why do I have to do this?” they answer, “Because you should.” There is no logic here!

I don’t experience this in Slovenia. Of course, this is partially a generation gap issue. However, the younger generation learns from the older one. So, I think in Bosnia, it is still there, while in Slovenia, it disappeared.

You mean they have a more “western” approach, mentality, right?

Yes, but it’s still with the Balkan “spice” (laughs). It’s the country on the crossroad of the western and Balkan worlds, so they grabbed a bit from each one and created something unique.

Did you find differences or similarities in the way people do their work between Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Not really. Mathematics and other exact sciences are becoming universal. Mostly, because of the Internet. So, they are similar. However, in Bosnia, we have political influence on the educational field. I felt that even on my faculty in Sarajevo. In Slovenia, everything is regulated, so there is no way to cheat.

In general, the work approach is similar.

Is your scholarship enough to live in Slovenia? Do you have any experience of employment in Slovenia?

Yes, definitely! It’s completely enough. So, no other work experience yet.

It seems that it’s common all over the European Union. Ph.D. salaries are equal to average wages. When I started to study at a European university, it was a big surprise to me. Because in Ukraine, Ph.D. students have a minor salary, that is not even enough to pay bills, for example.

Yes, I have friends from Germany studying for Ph.D. They say the same. I’m not sure about the Eastern European countries, but it seems the same situation as well. For me, it’s completely enough, because as a student I need only a flat and food (laughs). In Bosnia, it’s different. Ph.D. students there are being paid only for teaching.

By the way, when Slovenians hear that you’re from Bosnia and Herzegovina, do they have any bias?

It depends on whom you are talking to. In university, nobody is biased. However, there were some occasions outside the university. Sometimes, people think you’re a “second class” person, or you came here to steal their jobs. But I don’t hang out with those people. They live with issues that started 60-70 years ago. Things have changed now. I’m always cool with jokes on this. You know, it’s a Balkan thing to joke about ourselves (laughs). On the other hand, it was only a couple of times; most people are tolerant here.

About jokes, It’s hilarious when you try to explain the Balkans and post-Yugoslavia cases to the westerners. For example, you tell about Bosnia and Herzegovina and its two governments and the reasons it happened. You consider this so interesting, but they answer you, “Oh my God, it’s a mess” (laughs).

True (laughs). However, there is also a similar system in Belgium. So it’s not that bad, but I really hope that one day we’ll have a more uniform country, without any separation movements because they don’t make any sense.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m not sure. I have been living in Slovenia for only one year, and the Ph.D. will take three more years, so it’s quite a complicated question. We’ll see! I can go further in academia, or I can look for a job, and so on.

Going back to Bosnia can also be an option. However, I would need some people to join me. We could open a new department, for example, promoting science. Now, we are researching particle physics. In Sarajevo, we don’t have such a department. Maybe, we can do it one day. That’s my dream!

What about Slovenian education? Would you recommend it? 

Personally, this year studying in Slovenia was a pleasant experience. I had such a nice time! The members of the department are nice and friendly. People around are passionate about physics. There are a lot of international students studying in Ljubljana. If you ask me, I would definitely recommend the Ph.D. here.

Of course, there are some drawbacks. I’m from outside the EU, so it took my nerves to get a residency permit. It was just easier in Germany, you know. In general, I don’t have any complaints besides that. It’s a one-time thing. You do it, and the problem is solved.

What was different?

It was a little bit of a mess. In the beginning, I was told I could do a visa in Ljubljana, but it turned out that I should return to Bosnia for this. After that, once already in Ljubljana, the organization was slow. You need to wake up early, visit the migration office, and wait until 5 pm for your documents to be accepted. After two months, I received my residency permit.

In Munich, it was just easier. Everything was online.

Have you managed to travel a bit around Slovenia?

I visited Bled, Bohinj. Also, I traveled to the coast, around Izola and Piran. And for now, that’s all. They are charming and beautiful places. Furthermore, people keep them clean, and everything is made for tourists there. It’s cool because, firstly, people keep taking care of their environment. Secondly, it’s in the field of interests of the government. Overall, it was adorable. At least, from what I’ve seen.

Do nature and the weather differ from the Bosnian ones?

I guess there is no significant difference. The geography is almost the same. Of course, I don’t know about the coastal regions too much. Probably, they differ. However, here in Ljubljana, it’s similar.

Would you recommend Slovenia for people looking to start a new life somewhere?

I can definitely recommend the Slovenian education. If you need “a leap” in your life, I advise pursuing a Master’s degree in Slovenia. It depends on a person, for sure. However, I can recommend Ljubljana for studying physics. They have a few good departments here.

You know, usually, people are looking for prestigious universities, like in German or the Netherlands. In the end, it doesn’t mean a lot. I can advise countries like Slovenia, because universities here are smaller, so the communities are closer. You know each other. It’s easier to get a recommendation letter. Plus, teachers are paying more attention to the students.

The other thing, it’s cheaper than going to Germany or Austria. Slovenia seems like a very “humble” country. You don’t hear a lot of it around if you compare it with Croatia or Poland, for example. However, education ratings show Slovenian universities higher in lists.

That’s why we do our project. It’s aimed at promoting Slovenia to the world. And in general, promoting the Balkans and its culture as well. Many people think that it’s some “second class” region, with all the stereotypes about Slavs. However, it’s not. It is a big and beautiful undiscovered world with incredible cultural variety.

Exactly! As you said, people look at the Balkans as still some “east block” countries. Of course, we experience the consequences of history, but it’s all different now. We need to promote the Balkans. It’s not even one culture. There are a lot of them: Ottomans, Austro-Hungary, Europe, the East. Yeah, it’s interesting.

That was a fantastic talk, Arman! I wish you good luck in your studies!

Same to you! It was a pleasure! Thank you, Nazar!

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