Lara Moya, a 20 year old Spanish girl, is one of the many students that each year decide to apply for an Erasmus exchange program. Leaving all that you know behind to go to another country and spend months there is quite an adventure, and also means you have to take a leap of faith and hope everything turns out alright (from university matters to facing everyday life).
- When did you decide that you wanted to spend a whole academic year on an Erasmus?
As soon as I knew about it. I think that some opportunities come to your life just once, so when you have the chance to experience them you should take it. At this age, we don’t have many responsibilities besides studying – if you’re not also working, of course – so it’s the perfect time for trying to do everything that otherwise you could not, before more “adult matters” step in.
- Why did you choose Zagreb?
To be honest, Croatia wasn’t my first option. But then I thought: “When will I go there if not now?” I mean, it isn’t that much of a common destination to go on a vacation, like France or England are, for example. You just don’t hear a lot about Croatia. Maybe now a little more because of the football World Cup, but that’s it. If it wasn’t because of the Erasmus program, I probably wouldn’t have come to Zagreb on my own. And I would have regretted it, I made a good choice, it isn’t that different from Spain in some aspects, and I’m grateful to be here.
- What did you know about Zagreb beforehand?
I knew about their coin and that they talked Croatian. And one of the aspects that scared me the most was that – the language. I didn’t know how people would treat someone who couldn’t understand a word they said, but so far everyone I’ve encountered, or almost everyone, it’s pretty patient and helpful and nice, so it’s not really that much of a deal now, still weird but not a scary thing. After I knew I was coming here, I researched a little bit about the Croatian history too, but I’ve learned more talking to people from here about it.
- What amazed you the most about Zagreb the first weeks?
I’m from Madrid, so when I first came to Zagreb I found it quite small for a capital city, but I mean that in the best way possible, actually. For me, Zagreb is better than Madrid because you feel more at home and the atmosphere isn’t that overwhelming. It’s not exactly quiet here – there is always people around but it is peaceful.
- And after two months here, do you still find something remarkably different?
The cold! And everyone I know from here is telling me that it isn’t that cold yet and that it would be snowing by now any other year, so I’m quite afraid of what’s yet to come. I have already bought scarfs and gloves and everything, but I don’t think I’m really ready for it.
- If you had to describe Croatian people in one word, what would it be?
I think that they are people that are getting used to newcomers and tourists. Mostly, the Croatians I’ve met are open to chat with you or help you out happily, even more so if they’re young. I hope they stay this way.
- And what about their culture?
The first thing that comes to my mind is “new”. Maybe it is because the country itself is new, I don’t know. I think they’re still shaping it and trying to stand out from the rest and from what it was before to offer something that is theirs uniquely.
- Have you tried any typical food from Croatia? What is your favorite?
So far, I’ve only tried ćevapi so I can’t say for sure if it is my favorite one, but I really like it. I also want to try the lamb and something called “juhe”.
- Tell me a little bit about the trips you have done around here.
Me and my friends have gone to some other countries nearby, like Hungary, Austria or Slovenia, because Zagreb is well connected and there are a lot of buses to many different places. It’s one of my favorite things, in Spain I didn’t travel around that much, so now I’m trying to do it as often as possible. Since I’m going to stay here until June more or less, I want to visit the Croatian coast when the weather is warmer, but I’ve already been in Krk island, Karlovac and well, I don’t know if it counts, but also in Koprivnica because that’s where the campus of my university is located.
- Would you recommend coming to Zagreb to other Erasmus students?
Totally. Like I said, I really like the lifestyle they have going on here, I’m so comfortable and happy, even if my arrangement is a little bit unusual because my university is far away from where I’m living and sometimes it can get tedious. I think that by the time I come back to Spain I will try to talk to more people than just Erasmus students into visit Zagreb, and Croatia in general. It has an unexpected charm that more people should experience by themselves.