From St. Petersburg to Maribor With Olga and Her Daughters

Moving to another country is always a challenge. New location, new language, new people, new weather; everything is actually new. However, what about relocating alone and with three children? It sounds almost impossible. The next time you might think like that, forget the word “impossible”.

Olga, a person with enormous baggage of skills in the fields of defectology, education, journalism, and business, moved from St. Petersburg to Slovenia more than three years ago, as a single mom together with her three children.

Keep reading and discover:

  • How is the life of a teacher of Russian language in Slovenia
  • Hints on how to learn faster the local language while living your everyday life
  • The challenges of relocating as a single mother with 3 young daughters
  • Personal experience with the Slovenian healthcare system
  • and much more

Could you please, tell us, in short, your story? Where are you from? What do you do here? And how did you end up living in Slovenia?

I’m from Saint Petersburg, and I’m a pedagogue with 25-year experience in this field. However, within that period, I did a lot except teaching as well. I was working in a local TV station as a journalist approximately for 3-4 years. Unfortunately, the station was changing its format at that time, so it transformed into a newspaper. Of course, it wasn’t so interesting, so I left. However, I really like to write. Even now, I’m writing from time to time.

I have three daughters. I have been living alone with them for some time already. About the reasons why I moved here, I can tell you I just felt that everything came to an end over there. I mean, you stop being beneficial for that place, and your story over there just makes no sense anymore. So, I didn’t run from anything, like someone is running from the Soviet Union legacy. That’s not my story. I still love Saint Petersburg. To me, it’s the best city in the world.  

Everything started in 2016. I didn’t know anything about Slovenia yet. But among the European states, it’s a country that gives opportunities for people “40+”. And not only for business purposes but also for studies. In Slovenia, you can be a student even at the age of 60. I came to Slovenia and started studying at the Higher School of Tourism. It was 2017, we packed our bags and arrived here.

What are you doing now?

When we arrived here, I contacted people from the Russian Centre in Maribor. There, I started teaching Russian language to children from bilingual families. The studies lasted two years. When you finish your education, you have no more reason to stay in the country. I liked Slovenia, so I decided to stay. There were several options on how to do that: marry a Slovenian, get a full-time job, open your own business, and some more. I choose the last one. That’s how I started two projects on teaching Russian.

I was a teacher in Secondary School for Catering and Tourism in Maribor. However, now I fully switched to online teaching because of the nowadays situation. Generally speaking, I’m a primary school teacher and a defectologist (specialist in the correction of disabilities). Back in Saint Petersburg, I realized myself in teaching and even reached the position of a counselor at a school. Also, I had a small kindergarten as a small business.

However, when you come to a new country, you are tabula rasa despite all the previous experience.

Since I studied at a higher school of tourism, I am looking for work options in the tourism industry and, of course, I am looking for a job in my main specialty as a teacher / defectologist. Recreation centers, thermal baths, and other health institutions are also all good options for me in order to realize myself in my profession.

I worked in many different places in Slovenia already, having the possibility to experiment with both factories, carwash, and hotels. For me, an experience is an experience no matter what.

As I understood, you are teaching in Russian, aren’t you?

I’ve started with teaching in Russian for children who already knew Russian. Their parents just didn’t want them to lose the language. They were from Italy, Austria, and of course, Slovenia. I started teaching in Slovenian only in the previous year. Actually, I loved that. Now, my dream is to become a university teacher.  

Was it hard to learn Slovenian?

I was studying online the local language for half a year before coming to Slovenia. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any courses when we arrived here. But I dived into the environment immediately. I was looking for a flat, a school for children, dealing with a great pile of documents. I was taking notes before every call in order to know what to say. Things became faster when the studies started. During the first lectures, I was trying to catch familiar words and phrases. It was hard because the brain begins to be tired only after just 15 minutes of such work.

Sometimes, I even fell asleep studying the language. My children often found me sleeping on books. (Laughs). Moreover, I was in the environment all the time. Thus, I cached meanings from the context usually.  For example, I also started volunteering in social organizations that work with children.

On one hand, yes, Slovene is the same Slavic language family, however, linguists are skeptical about whether it is so easy to learn languages from the same root group. Sometimes, meanings can be oppositely different, and bring even more confusion into the learning process. Moreover, literary language differs from the spoken one, and Slovenian has an incredible amount of dialects, considering such a small territory.

Learning and mastering a foreign language ideally was one of my dreams, actually. However, I was always thinking that it would have been English. It turned out that this place was taken by Slovene. Unfortunately, I started to forget English because I was constantly speaking in Slovenian. Never say never, in the last 3-4 months, I began to perceive English naturally. I think it’s because my brain polished Slovenian, and now it needs more language experience. (Laughs). We need to learn languages. Especially the languages of the region where we’re living. For example, in the Slovenian Riviera, it’s good to know Italian. Here, in Maribor, it would be a benefit to know German. Even local dialects use German words daily.

Do you go back often to your home town?

I don’t go back at all. (Laughs). Actually, I exactly moved, and didn’t try to live in another country. For me, it was an intimate topic, so I even didn’t tell my friend that I was going to leave Russia. You know, it’s a complicated step, both mentally and physically. That’s why I decided to go all the way thru myself. I went back only once, the following year after my arrival here. I had to end up with some of my businesses.

I was planning to go and visit Russia this year because my last students had a prom. However, the lockdown broke my plans. Personally, I love my city, but I don’t feel nostalgia for it. Sometimes, I meet our people here who are complaining about how it’s hard for them not to return home for a long time. I even know why! (Laughs).

Why [don’t you feel nostalgia]?

You know, I spent my childhood in the Ural region. It was Middle Ural, Perm Krai, the Ural mountains. The nature of Maribor, and Slovenia in general, is very similar to the place where I spent my early years. Living in Saint Petersburg, I was missing the hills, the forests, and the rivers. When I arrived in Maribor, I found what I had missed the most. I believe, when you are over 30 already, you start looking for things from your childhood. Maribor is definitely my place. I even found here a part of Saint Petersburg. There are some buildings in a classical style that remind me of it.

In general, Slovenia is a peculiar country. You can find here hills in the Maribor region, mountains as Triglav, and the seaside as in Slovene Riviera. The only exceptions are deserts and steppe. And all this is on such a small territory. In Russia, also you can find everything mentioned above, but you’ll spend half a day by car to reach them.

Frankly speaking, in the beginning, I was thinking about living in Ljubljana. As a person from the city, I wanted to stay in urban jungles. (Laughs). However, when I came here to Maribor, even the weather became better.

How did your family react to your decision? You have three daughters, right?

Yes, now (in 2020) they are 19, 13, and 7. My elder daughter was born with bags. In her childhood, she had a map and checked the places she would like to visit. It was harder for the middle one to accept the fact that we are moving, most probably because of her age. And the smallest daughter was just too little to realize this.

This emigration was my personal project, and my daughters were with me. Maybe, it was a little bit hard for them, but they handled it even better than I did. My middle daughter spoke Slovenian perfectly after five months of living here. The elder one spoke English in the beginning but also learned the language fast. The smallest daughter speaks it naturally after just one year in school.

What do you think about the Slovenian school system? Especially considering you’re a pedagogue yourself.

Yes, I’ve heard about the European school system from my colleagues even before my arrival in Slovenia. Moreover, I’ve experienced all of its levels: kindergarten, primary school, middle school, and high one. I’ve found a peculiar thing. Different mentality brings different logic. For example, when we solve math exercises with my younger girl, even the narration logic is different from ours. I noticed this led to the same confusion in everyday life as well.

To mention the system, school students here get less amount of material than we do in Russia. They start to study grammatical cases and more complicated math only at the end of school. However, our diplomas are not valuable in Europe or the USA, despite knowing more after school. Here, students start to learn complicated things only in universities. For example, there is a quite popular institute of informatics in Maribor, that gives brilliant IT specialists. Thus, I’m not sure if we need to compare our and European school systems. They are just two different worlds.

What about the medical system of Slovenia? What do you think about it?

I don’t like it much, I think it is slow in my opinion. Sometimes, you can wait 2 hours for your appointment with a doctor. It’s if you have a place in a queue. If you don’t, you can even wait up to five hours. Of course, there are private clinics, but not so many in Maribor. Even for them, an “urgent” appointment is in 1-2 weeks. Also, basic insurance here is not enough. People usually buy an additional pack for 30 euros per month. And even with it, once we waited for a meeting with an orthopedist for one year.

However, I understand that we used a different approach. In Russia, we can get a blood test in one day. We also used to be doctors for ourselves, to think about treatment, medications, and so on. Here, people deliver this to professionals. They don’t do self-medicating as we do, and that is good.

Doctors here are really professionals. For example, my daughter had an operation, and everything went excellent. They have modern equipment, technologies, etc. The surgery is really good here.

Actually, I’m not the person who will complain about the rules in a foreign country. I believe we are guests here, so if we don’t like something, we can go home.

Would you recommend Slovenia for people who are going to move from their home country?

I believe everyone should find his/her own place. I can say how it happens that some people successfully live in a new country. In my case, it was a coincidence of factors. For me, the weather plays quite an important role, as I’m from a northern city. I’m happy even just because of the fact that there are a lot more sunny days here.

The mindset of people also plays a valuable part. Europeans are slightly different. You need to obey rules, be patient. Some of our people (Russians) can’t adjust and adapt to this.

Slovenia is very convenient in terms of variety. You can choose from a great number of places here. If you like the sea, you have the coastline region. If you like lakes and mountains, then Bled is for you. If you want crowds of people and a lot of activities, here it is Ljubljana. If you like silence, then choose a city near the border with Austria, like Maribor.

Also, language is an important part of assimilation. Don’t limit yourself just to English. In any case, one day you’ll need to do some documents in any institution and if you know the local language, then it’s easier to be in the flow, to be a part of this environment.

That’s all I can recommend.

·         And it is perfect for our readers in order to learn even more from your direct experience. Thank you very much for our conversation!

It was a pleasure talking to you, thanks Nazar!

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