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Playing the Root Card to Study in Slovenia

8. 10. 13
By Davor Knežiček

My wish to leave native Bosnia and Herzegovina to live abroad emerged during my high school years when I visited foreign countries as a part of school trips and visits to relatives. I initially discussed my desires with my parents, and we decided that after high school I should go to Munich or Vienna to study because I had relatives there that could help me get accustomed to the new environment. Eventually, due to a set of circumstances, I was given a unique opportunity to study in Slovenia – a country that, although was once a brotherly country part of Yugoslavia, I knew very little about and which I have not previously considered as a destination for my future life.

It all began when my uncle recommended me to join a local Slovenian cultural society in my hometown of Tuzla because my grandmother on my mother’s side was born in Slovenia. I joined the society’s Slovene language workshop, first out of the desire to learn a new language. Later I learned from other members in the workshop that the Slovenian government and Ministry of Education, Science and Sport provide scholarships for foreign students and allow them to study in Slovenia. In order to gain the scholarship, candidates must meet the following criteria: have Slovenian roots, can not have Slovenian citizenship, and pass the exam in Slovenian language at a basic level before enrolling to a university in Slovenia. If I were to get the scholarship, it would be a great opportunity for me to study abroad, so I began putting effort into obtaining necessary information regarding university study, undergoing the procedure for the scholarship, and learning Slovene.

In the spring of 2001, my time in high school was beginning to draw to a close. I was preparing for final graduation exams and concurrently collecting and sending necessary documentation to the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana, where I applied to study English. As I waited for a response from the faculty, I was impatient and nervous. All my efforts eventually paid off as I learned with great pleasure that I was admitted to study English in Ljubljana. I think it was one of the happiest days in my life, and I vividly remember the moment when I read the letter of acceptance. My admittance to the university meant not only that my wish for studying abroad had come true, but also that I was awarded scholarship that would allow me decent life in Ljubljana—in addition to the financial aspects, the scholarship also covered tuition expenses, student dormitory accommodation, and health insurance.

Despite initial positive prospects, I feared right until my very arrival to Ljubljana that some complications might arise that would force me to stay home. In addition, many doubts began to surface… How will I manage to live on my own without parents’ assistance? Will I be able to learn Slovene? How will the people and society accept me as a foreigner, especially since I would be “a southerner”, as people from other former Yugoslav republics are often derogatorily referred to in Slovenia. And to what extent will this perception influence my life and study? Furthermore, this period was marked by major global turmoil that came as a result of terrorist attacks on the USA, which occurred just a few weeks prior to my arrival in Ljubljana. I knew that those events would have a strong impact on the rise of xenophobia worldwide, even in Slovenia, and I was afraid that people would reject me for being from Bosnia, a country which at the time was very negatively presented in the media for its alleged connection with Islamic fundamentalism.

On September 30th, 2001 I celebrated my 19th birthday, but I will remember this day as the day I left home to study in Ljubljana. I spent my first few weeks resolving the remaining administrative issues necessary to live in Ljubljana and meeting my neighbours in the dormitory and colleagues in the college, as well as adjusting to the new environment, student life, and language. I lived in Rožna Dolina, the largest campus in Ljubljana, in a dormitory that housed about a quarter of foreign students. The international students were mainly Slovenes from neighbouring countries or former Yugoslavia with Slovene roots, like me. Socializing with them was especially important in the first weeks because they gave me many tips and advice about student life and life in Ljubljana in general, and they helped me overcome my initial homesickness. With time I began to socialize with Slovenians as well, at first with my neighbours in the dormitory and later with classmates in college. This quickly enhanced my knowledge of Slovene and helped me learn about Slovenian culture and customs. My initial experiences with the Slovenes were very positive, although I myself harboured a sense of inferiority due to the fact that I was a foreigner who came from a poor, war-torn country. I think I had less respect for myself than other Slovenes had for me.

I spent most of my college years as a foreigner. I was allowed to live in Slovenia via a student visa, which had to be renewed every September for the duration of one academic year. Obtaining the visa did not require a lot of documentation: in addition to the enrollment certificate from the faculty, I had to submit certificates for scholarship, health insurance, a temporary stay address, and a certificate of no criminal record from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Towards the end of my studies I started thinking about staying in Slovenia after graduation. The most reliable option was to obtain citizenship. The Slovenian law specifies that persons who have Slovenian origin may be granted citizenship without renouncing their current citizenship, which means that in case my Slovenian citizenship request was granted I would be able to keep my Bosnian citizenship. This was a perfect solution for me because not only would I be able to plan my life in Slovenia, but I could also return home without consequences if I change my mind. A few months before the expiry of my last student visa, I handed in all necessary documents, and my procedure for acquiring Slovenian citizenship began. Although I had heard different stories of how it takes a long time for the application to process and that some complications commonly arise, nothing of that kind happened to me. I remember submitting all documents at the end of the June exam period, and I was summoned to take the oath of citizenship on November 25th, which is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Statehood Day. Therefore, it took me around 5 months to acquire Slovenian citizenship.

When I officially became a Slovene I was sure I wanted to stay in Slovenia. The country seemed perfect to live in: the nature is wonderful, the cities are clean and peaceful, and geographically it is close to Central and Western Europe but also very close to home so that I could easily visit my family and friends in Tuzla for holidays or other occasions. Furthermore, as a Slovene citizen I have equal rights in terms of social protection, and I can equally compete in the job market. Unfortunately, by the time I acquired citizenship and graduated from college, Slovenia plunged into heavy economic crisis, which shook most of the world. There were very few job opportunities, especially for young people with little or no work experience. Like many of my peers, I was unemployed for some time, and prospects were bleak. My hopes for a better future in the country were diminishing when a stroke of luck fell upon me, and I managed to get a first temporary job in a private company, followed by a new one in a different company, where I am employed today.

I see my future in Slovenia, although the country is still suffering from the economic crisis. They sometimes ask me if I feel more like a Slovene or a Bosnian, and this is one of the most complicated personal questions someone could ask me. I think I am both because both countries are important parts of my life: I live in Slovenia and like it here, and I also spent some of the best years of my life in Ljubljana. On the other hand, I also feel a Bosnian because I was born there, and I spent my childhood years in that country. If I were ashamed to say that I am a Bosnian when I first came to Slovenia, this is not the case now. As a matter of fact, now I am proud of it.

The project has been generously supported by the European Commission The "Europe for citizens" programme, International Visegrad Fund and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.
Funded by the Europe for
Citizens Programme
of the European Union
Visegrad Fund. Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Daniela Pěničková, project coordinator
Phone: (+420) 296 325 345, E-mail:

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