From Moscow to Ljubljana: Alexander Family’s Success Story

People who have ever moved to another country know that differences in mentality, geographical location, and language play a great role in assimilation. However, what about business assimilation? It happens that ideas working in your home country are not really suitable for the new place. Which are ideas suitable for Slovenia?

Alexander, an expat from Moscow, who created a successful business in the field of tourism here, is going to tell us his personal story of immigration and how to keep afloat in Slovenia.

Read further and get to know about:

  • the differences between Slovenian and Moscow business approaches
  • how much time you need to spend to break even here
  • funny stories regarding understanding Slovenian dialects
  • Slovenian school and medical systems
  • and much more

Could you please, tell us your story in short? Who are you? From where? And how did you end up living in Slovenia?

Wow! I’m afraid we don’t have so much time to listen to all my story. (Laughs). But I’ll try to be short. In 2012, we just visited Bled Lake as tourists. When we left Moscow, the temperature was -25 C. When we arrived at Bled, it was +15 C. After this, the decision was made. Within one month, we moved to Slovenia.

As for today, we have touristic company TravelSLO that works with Russian-speaking tourists, e.g. from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and other parts of the world. Moreover, we help with emigration from Canada, Australia, United States. As for today, we’ve taken out a niche in Slovenia and feel quite confident here. We love this country, it’s suitable for us. That’s in short.

You mean that you have opened your own company, right?

Right! We opened our company and did that without any help from external professional mediation agencies. All the documents can be filled also with minimal knowledge of English. It has been quite an easy and straightforward process for us.

Was it hard to move with a family to Slovenia?

No problems at all. But we were moving in times when the local laws were a little bit different. We moved with all the family together. Now, the process has changed. Of course, we worried about children, how they would live without friends. However, one day our elder kid said, “I don’t want to return to Moscow anymore.” After this, we signed with relief.

How was the Slovenian language at first? Was it hard or not so much to study?

The language is not hard at all. Personally for me, Slovene was much easier to learn than English. The reason is simple. Slovenian belongs to the Slavic language family as well as Russian. Moreover, the Ministry of Tourism of Slovenia provided us 360 hours of the language when we moved here. Unfortunately, today immigrants don’t have such a possibility anymore.

After half a year, we could speak and understand quite well. After one year, our Slovenian became brilliant. Furthermore, the children started to speak even faster than us. (Laughs). They didn’t have any courses, but school, kindergarten, and friends made them speak easily. My elder child can check my business messaging in the Slovenian language. As my speaking abilities are good, but the grammar is still not ideal.

That’s impressive! How much were your children when you came here? And how much are they now?

They were five and three when we came. Today, the elder boy has a birthday. He is 13 already.

From my experience, I can tell that it really is like that. I was studying Polish at the university, one more Slavic language. Vocabulary, grammar, etc. are quite easy to learn for us.

On the other hand, the Slovene language still has its peculiarities. For example, it uses the dual grammatical number, which is used only in Slovenian and several languages in Africa. All other languages using dual grammatical cases are dead for now. In Russian, we use only one pronoun for plural. In Slovenian, they differentiate man+man, man+woman, woman+woman, and so on. Thus, each one has its own endings for the six cases. Sometimes it’s really mind-blowing!

Moreover, the peculiarity of Slovenia is that there are 38 dialects here. But we were taught only the literate standard. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to this because, in Russia, dialects are not so dramatically different. Basically, there are differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. But here, it isn’t so easy.

For example, we had a business meeting in a Slovenian region that borders Austria and Hungary. At that time, we were studying Slovene for 3-4 months. When we communicated with our potential business partners, we understood them comfortably. However, when they spoke between themselves, it seemed like a mixture of Austrian, Hungarian, and other words. Moreover, they told us that in the neighboring town, at a distance of 5 kilometers, the dialect is even more different. This dialect is spoken only in three towns with ten buildings each.

The second funny situation about using dual grammatical case happened when we were meeting two persons in the region that borders Croatia, also for business purposes. As we understood, there had to be several of them because they used dual grammatical cases while speaking. So we decided to wait for others. One coffee. Second coffee. Third coffee. We are asking where others are. And the answer, “what others, there are only two us for the business meeting.” It turned out that they just don’t use dual grammatical cases on the border! (Laughs).

Do you go back home to Russia often?

Actually, not often. I haven’t been to Russian for eight years. However, in the last half a year, I had to visit it several times. I was a little bit shocked because everything changed dramatically. However, I don’t feel nostalgia.

As I understood, you are not going to leave Slovenia anymore, right? Because there are people that are willing to obtain a European passport and move further to, for example, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, etc.

For those people, Slovenia will be an intermediate point. Personally for us, Slovenia is the destination point. The country suits us perfectly. We traveled around Europe, visited almost every European country. However, Slovenia suited us because of the mentality, first of all. I would never live in Italy, despite the fact that they are active and friendly; they are really close to Russians. I couldn’t live in Germany or Austria, because of their pedantic approach; they are just different.

However, Slovenians are open. I haven’t even had any negative experiences with Slovenes. They are always ready to help, to give advice. We moved eight years ago, so the situation was a little bit different. It was almost impossible to find somebody speaking Russian here. Now, there are a lot of them, from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, etc. Moreover, Slovenians are happy when they get to know that you are studying their language. It is spoken by only around 2 million people.

Of course, for us, studying Slovenian is a must-to-do. But for Slovenes, it feels like a heroic deed. And as I said, Slovenian is not hard for us. Indeed, not so easy either. Moreover, it opens a lot of possibilities. Now, we easily communicate with Serbians, Croatians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Polish, Czech, Slovakians.  Not ideally, of course. However, it’s enough to understand each other and to agree on a deal.

Are there any differences between Slovenians and other Slavic people?

First of all, Slovenes don’t recognize Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, and other Russian-speakers. If you started to speak Russian, then you are Russian. For example, we had a client from Armenia. The manager of the hotel asked me to talk with him because I know Russian, calling him “this Russian client”. At this moment, the Armenian man turns to me and says with a distinctive accent, “What is he speaking? I’m not Russian. Look at me!” (Laughs).

What about other differences? Slovenians are not fast. They are doing everything calmly and patiently. For example, if you haven’t noticed in your email “URGENT”, you’ll get the answer after five days or even a week.

However, we start to understand this approach. For instance, my friends told me that I had become so slow already. (Laughs). Slovenians have beautiful weather, climate, food, wine, so they enjoy life. In any governmental or social institution, you should be patient. One more story happened at the beginning of our life here. We had clients from Moscow who wanted a reservation in a particular hotel. I’m writing emails, I’m calling there. Silence. Clients from Moscow are calling me every half an hour. So I sat in the car and drove to the coast. By the way, it was a 4-starred hotel. I’m asking about the places at the reservation desk. They answer me, “Yes, a lot.” It turned out that they answer emails only in the morning! And I was calling during lunch, so nobody answered me because they were eating!

This management is strange to us. This leads to very low competition. They don’t fight for a client. When I ask them about this, they tell me, “So what? If this one doesn’t book a room, tomorrow we’ll have another one.” That’s why our company wasn’t convenient for Slovenian employees. They couldn’t work at our pace. Moreover, the schedule. Slovenians start to work at five, six, or seven am. However, as we work with Russian speaking clients, we start at nine. Sometimes, we need to work on weekends.

Slovenian trainees who were working in our company never agreed to work on weekends. For example, once I had a trainee in the field of management. He was doing usual correspondence. At five o’clock, he closes the computer and leaves. I’m asking him, “But you have left only to write your name and surname at the end of the letter and press the enter!” He answers, “Yes, I’ll do that tomorrow!” I was shocked!

We had around 10-15 trainees already. However, now the workers of our company are only people from Ukraine, Russian, Belarus, Kazakhstan. Slovenians are just different. They are good at communication and cooperation because they are open people. However, the workers are not so suitable for our field. Tourism requires it to be available 24/7.

However, as I understood, they are hospitable people, aren’t they?

Yes, Slovenians are very open and hospitable. They will never refuse to help you. On the other hand, they are conservative. For instance, I had friends who tried to open Ukrainian or Russian restaurants. It was hard. You can have delicious food and low prices, but it doesn’t work like this. Generations are eating in one usual café, and that’s normal for them, even if it is expensive or tasteless. However, if you attracted a Slovenian client once and he/she liked it, you win, because you have a new regular customer.

For example, I have friends who have business with chocolate creams. They are still keeping afloat, for eight years already. They started with selling confectionery products from the Baltic states, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus. Soon enough, they understood the peculiarity of the Slovenian approach to sweets. They don’t eat sweets as much as we do. They don’t buy in kilograms. They eat cookies, gingerbreads. Only after they created small packages with a sweets assortment, 100-150 grams each, their business did succeed.

Moreover, as I noticed, companies founded by people from post-Soviet countries are competing among themselves. Slovenian companies just have another approach to doing business. When I was discussing our business plan before arrival in Slovenia, my Slovenian partners told me that it’d be good to break even in five years. I was shocked because I planned to do that in 1,5 years! And they guessed! After Moscow, it’s extremely slow.

The market here is not similar to ours. It comes from the mentality. Now, we learned how to take this into account, understood them. So we are doing pretty good now. But a lot of people who just start a business here, don’t really expect this process to be so long. Most of them just get bankrupt in a year or year-and-a-half.

What about differences among South Slavs?

They are, definitely. However, they do not influence our cooperation. The negative legacy of Yugoslavia’s breakup still lives somewhere deep inside here. For example, when we started our business, we worked only within Slovenia. After that, we got additional licenses, and now our company reaches 98 countries. I was working on the Croatian coast. I had to park my car, but I didn’t have change. I started to look for a shop where to change big banknotes, usually speaking Slovenian. One shop. Second shop. Third shop. No change at all. And here I notice that a cashier opens a cashbox and he has a lot of it! Finally, I remembered Russian and “commented on the situation”. The Croatian cashier turns to me and says, “You Russian? I thought you Slovenian.” He opens the cashbox and gives me a pile of change. (Laughs).

Slovenians are just different. They are hard-working. They are apolitical. They built their own good economy in times of socialism. Thus, it was the only post-Yugoslav country that showed confident economic growth after the breakup. That’s why, maybe, other South Slavs have inner resentment.

Ok, let’s step aside from the cultural topic for a bit. Tell me, please, about the Slovenian school system? Do you like it?

Oh, here I need to start to praise again. (Laughs). Of course, I can compare it with the Russian one. I have nephews living in Russia. So, I can say it’s definitely better. First of all, the education standards here are ensured by Bologna Agreements. The first difference is in the fact that after finishing secondary school here, students already have a specialty. Thus, you can either go working or continue your studies at a university. Nobody limits you after school.

In my opinion, this system is more interesting and easier than the Russian one. Of course, the amount of knowledge learned in school is less, but I don’t think we need that level of knowledge we are given in Russia. Yes, our pupils who come here feel like straight-A students.

However, here the students are taught to work independently, not like us. Moreover, I didn’t meet a lot of Europeans who held two and more higher education diplomas. I came here with two degrees, a technical and a law one. And they ask me, “Why? For what?” I finished the first one because my parents wanted that. After that, I understood what I liked and obtained the second one. But here, school students know what they are going to do in their life.

In kindergarten, they visit different factories, institutions, enterprises. They know who is a butcher, a backer, a locksmith. In school, they already know what to strive for. For example, our elder child wanted to be a chef at the beginning of school, but now he is completely sure to become a doctor. I understood what I wanted to do in my life only after the first diploma!

The process of education is completely different. When we came here, we were worrying that our younger child wouldn’t handle the first form. He didn’t even know the language. It turned out that the first form here is the preparation stage.  In Russian, before going to school, pupils have to know the alphabet, be able to count and read simple words. Here, they are studying how to talk and communicate at first. They are taught how to be friends. It’s so cool! We don’t have this approach in the post-Soviet area.

They use playfulness. They have three teachers in each form. They stay in schools from 9 am to 6 pm. In Russian, pupils are free at 12 pm. They study and do their homework straight after. At the end of the day, they do sport. Moreover, there are a lot of trainers, so they can choose any sport they like. One more thing, the primary school provides four meals per day. The price is 15-20 euros per month. It’s nothing.

Plus, they have a different teaching approach. Firstly, teachers have a decent salary. So, there are only people who adore this profession. In Russia, the situation is the opposite. Slovenian teachers live for children. Secondly, teachers change every year. This helps pupils to learn how to communicate and adjust. Now, our family is changing location, and changing school is not a problem for our boys either. In Russia, moving is a tragedy!

One more thing that shocked me. Here, to repeat the year is normal. If a child didn’t handle the year, it’s not a problem. The next year, he/she will succeed. For example, there was a boy in the class of my son who repeated the same year for the third time. His parents were absolutely patient and calm about this. All this is related to their mentality: individual education, individual approach. We don’t check the homework of our son. In Russia, my friends do this until the 9th form. Here, they understand that they need to study. Moreover, after school, they don’t live with their parents. In Russia, parents pay for their children for university and even after it.

Incredible. What about the medical system? Do you like it here?   

I will be praising it again. (Laughs). In fact, a lot of people who moved from Russia don’t like the Slovenian medical system. Everything comes from their mentality. They don’t like that everything here is slow. I won’t agree with these people. The medicine is good here. First of all, they saved the old Yugoslavian approach, that was working well in the times of socialism as well. Slovenia is a place with a high quantity of thermal baths and pools, recreational centers, and similar health centers.

There are three levels of medical care in Slovenia. The first one is emergency aid. This means to help you in several hours. If there is not a suitable specialized medical center in Slovenia, you’ll get aid in Germany, Austria, or Italy. The second type of aid is given in 1-3 months. This happens when you need to treat something important, but it’s not urgent. For example, a sonogram or some examination. And the third one is long-termed treatment. The period of waiting lasts from six months up to one year. Your therapist decides whether you need something urgent or not.

Our people just don’t like this waiting. They want to have it as soon as possible, try to find some private clinics. Slovenians don’t like private clinics, so they are not popular here. Why do you need to pay over for something if you can get it for free? Here, you have insurance that can cover your expenses. The basic insurance is paid by your employer. There is also additional insurance that you can buy yourself. If I’m not mistaken, my additional insurance costs 39 euro. It covers almost any treatment.

Moreover, all the medications, pills, and supplies are free with this insurance. But you cannot buy antibiotics or heavy meds without a prescription. Our people don’t like this and take everything from Russia. Also, they don’t like dentist service here. The problem is that they are busy and you can get an appointment in several months. However, it’s still free of charge if you have insurance. For example, I can have one free implant per year.

In general, the level of medicine here is higher than in Russia!

The last question for today. For whom would you recommend to move to Slovenia? And what advice can you give to those who are going to do this?

Well, it’s the hardest question of this interview. (Laughs). Let me think. There is a Russian proverb. It sounds like “A fish looks where it is deeper, a man looks where it is better”. If you don’t like something about the place where you live now: politics, climate, social environment, I think you need to move. It’s my personal opinion, not an operation manual. (Laughs).

Actually, I met a lot of Slovenians, and I’m jealous. They are very open-minded people. Here, people before 30 traveled more countries than I traveled in my life, and I’m almost 50. They are not afraid to move, to work in any other country, to find new friends. They see the world at first. The world should have been seen! The world is big. The world is not only Kyiv, Moscow, or Minsk. It’s huge. The world is not only Europe either. If somewhere is better for you, then move ahead. Real estate, car, children, anything cannot hold you from this.

You should feel comfortable. And I feel comfy in Slovenia as well. For example, I know a lot of cases of people who didn’t like it here because they felt a lack of energy and movement. They needed big cities. Personally, I don’t have this. When my family from Moscow visits me, they cannot stay here for more than two weeks. It’s too quiet for them!

If you need silence and peace, Slovenia will suit you perfectly, most probably. But still, Slovenia is not the only country. You need to travel and see the world first.

Great! I happened to know a lot of new things about Slovenia! Thank you very much, Aleksander!

It was a pleasure to talk to you too as well!

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