by Damon Rousis
As the recipient of the SAAA STUDENT TRAVEL GRANT SLOVENIA 2018, I attended the 37th Summer School of the Slovenian Language from the 2nd to 13th of July 2018. I feel incredibly honoured to have been given the opportunity to learn Slovenian in Slovenia itself and I could only describe my time in Slovenia as a once in a lifetime experience.
Upon arriving in Slovenia, what immediately struck me was the sheer beauty of the landscape; the emerald green of the mountains so close to the airport and the lush vegetation just about everywhere. The trip into Ljubljana revealed a picturesque, colourful and historical small city that would become my home for the next two weeks. Soon after arrival, I was getting prepared for my first day at Summer School. The school, run by the University of Ljubljana, is held in the Filozofska Fakulteta, what would be most aptly translated as Faculty of Arts on Aškerčeva Cesta just outside the historical centre of Ljubljana. After a morning tea, we attended an information session and were given an official welcome from the dean of the faculty and course organisers. Soon after, we were ushered into rooms to complete a proficiency test – a conversation in Slovenian and a short interview – which served as the basis for our group allocations. I was allocated to Skupina 9, a group small group of students that would soon become great new friends.
Our teacher, Tanja Jerman, was excellent, very thorough and ensured that I learned a great deal. It took a while to get used to the complete immersion in Slovenian, not a word of English was to be spoken in the class, translating words into English was also not allowed – only definitions in Slovenian. I was probably the worst offender in the class, but our teacher was so patient and supportive that I eventually got used to expressing myself in Slovenian and gained the confidence to use my language skills.
Our class activities included reading as a group, completing comprehension questions, listening tests, class presentations and lots of grammar activities. Completing these very focused grammatical activities whilst being constantly immersed in the language improved my Slovenian remarkably. The course was indeed intensive – our classes ran from 9:00 in the morning until 11:00, we then had a short break and returned to class to work until 1:00 in the afternoon. After a lunch break, I returned to the university and attended conversation classes which gave me further practice with the language and vastly improved my vocabulary.
The university ensured that we were kept busy, even outside of class time. The “accompanying activities” offered to students were always engaging, fun and informative. The “Ljubljana City Challenge” arranged by Slovenian students from the university was our first activity and saw us being divided into groups and made to take photos at various locations throughout the city – always striking a silly pose! Our destination was Rožnik, a picturesque hill located in Tivoli park where the Slovenian writer Ivan Cankar lived for a period. Other activities included a very informative city tour, film nights, a very informative tour of the art gallery located in the former Narodni Dom and even traditional straw weaving.
The program also included a very memorable trip to the nearby town Škofja Loka and a guided tour of its main sights. The trip to Škofja Loka was my first experience of the Gorenjska region of Slovenia and the lushness of the countryside, the constant backdrop of the Julian Alps, steepled churches and gabled wooden buildings captivated me. Our trip to Bled was also fantastic and included boat hire which allowed us to row around and reach the island. Rowing on Lake Bled was an unforgettable experience, our group had great fun and we were all stunned by the scenery.
On the weekends I went exploring on my own and decided to go to lake Bohinj. Bohinj’s beautiful setting and crystal-clear aqua water was breathtaking and the medieval church Sveti Janez Krstnik (St. John the Baptist) with its frescoes was an amazing sight.
Above all, the experience of living in Ljubljana for two weeks, learning Slovenian and living the Slovenian culture was very gratifying. Upon my return from Slovenia I can positively say that my Slovenian has improved remarkably and that my confidence in using the language is greatly improved. I attribute this to the immersive experience offered by the Summer School and the skill of the teachers and course organisers, but also to the people I encountered in my day to day interactions that were very supportive of me as a student of the language and took the time to help me.
More about Damon Rousis.
More about the SAAA Student Travel Grant 2018.