Take a look at a postcard of any Alpine region. You will see dazzling white summits vanishing in the milky clouds, steep slopes covered with pine trees, beautiful mirror-like lakes and the most brilliant blue sky. Well, I studied there. For five months, I was living in a postcard. It’s been so long ago that it seems like it never happened, although when I browse through the pictures I can still feel the chilly Alpine air on my skin.
In the beginning, it did not even seem conceivable. When it was just a notice that the Department provided the students with an opportunity to spend one semester of the following year in a small town somewhere in Austria, I almost overlooked it. Yet, something made me google the name of the town and the most beautiful pictures popped up. I was looking through them stunned, not believing that something like that existed. After some time, I realised that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance which shouldn’t be passed on and I decided to apply and see if anything good came out of it. As luck would have it, I was one of the elected candidates and the journey commenced. I am not saying that it was anywhere near easy to get the whole machinery going (the other elected colleague and myself had a lot of trouble explaining the whole exchange system to the professors and we had a difficult time collecting all the necessary papers, as is the custom in Serbia) but once it had been done, we were thrilled to find ourselves on the way to Klagenfurt.
Although the steep climbing to Klagenfurt sent a rather clear message (you are in the middle of nowhere!), it still came as a surprise that when you needed to eat something, there was no trace of food anywhere in the radius of five miles. The most interesting moment for my colleague Katarina and me was when we wanted to eat something at seven o’clock in the afternoon. We ended up roaming empty streets in desperate search for food and found ourselves in what could be a perfect set for any of the good old noir movies. It was only us and the street lights that could be seen against the darkening horizon. Oh, well, Snickers had to suffice…
Once we got our bearings, everything went perfectly and smoothly. The University turned out to be the most interesting place to hang around, simply because everything that was happening was taking place there. Conveniently located right next to a breathtaking lake, it provides the students with the happy possibility to study in nature and never lose contact with their surroundings. Of course, the dormitory is another place where you want to be if you want to experience the beauty of spending a semester abroad and we made the most of it. Cooking with people from South Korea, Russia, the USA, Chile, Italy, Ukraine, Poland and many others turned our kitchen into a mobile house and every day we were dining in another country. What a progress, compared to Snickers!
If there was one special thing I would like to single out as the jewel of the whole experience, that would most definitely be that invaluable feeling that no matter which country we came from, we were all exactly the same – we were young people who wanted to see the world in a completely different way and that was what we eventually got. After travelling across Europe and meeting many new people, we would always highlight that no matter how different the origins, background, education and culture, we were all alike.
Villach festival, here we come!
Sadly, it had to end, but my time in Klagenfurt will remain a cherished memory and an invaluable experience. Whoever sets foot in that place has to get accustomed to a much slower pace of life, re-evaluate everything one has done and call into question any prejudice one might possess. I like to think of this experience as of the moment when somebody starts seeing the world as it is, without illusions, and finally gets to appreciate it.
All of the photos are courtesy of Danijela Mitrović