A Student of the Graduate School of Tourism and Hotel Business in Maribor, Oleg Alferov: The Faster You Overcome the Language Barrier, the Faster You Adapt in a New Country

Today, our interlocutor is a 24-year-old student from the Graduate School of Tourism and Hotel Business in Maribor, Oleg Alferov. Only 5 months ago, he arrived in Slovenia from Russia’s Yeisk with a zero knowledge of the language, and now he receives praises from Slovenian teachers and students. Oleg tells a 2TM journalist how to succeed in learning a foreign language and what to do in order to quickly get used to the new environment.

Photo: © Oleg Alferov

– Hello, Oleg! Tell our readers about your reasons to come to Slovenia? Was it a spontaneous or a target-driven step?

– Hello! In Russia, I played basketball professionally and studied at a Master’s degree programme to become a sports coach. However, after graduation, I decided to finish my career as an athlete and receive education in Europe. I had decided to do this about six months before I moved to Slovenia, so I cannot call this step spontaneous. I committed to enter the Graduate School of Tourism and Hotel Business, which is located in Maribor.

– How have you found out about Slovenia?

– I first learned about this country a long time ago, but a more serious acquaintance happened only in 2017 when Slovenia won the European Basketball Championship. Given that the population of the country is about 2 million people, this success is all the more striking and suggests that sport is highly popular in Slovenia. I held that if Slovenia pays a lot of attention to the sport, especially sport for children, then the situation in this country is generally favourable and stable.

– Was it difficult to change the seaside scenes of your native resort town to the hilly valleys of the Styria region?

– I like the mountains the same as the sea. Maribor has extremely beautiful nature just as all over Slovenia. As for the climate, it is softer than in my native Krasnodar region (Russia) and I am only happy about it.

– Why were you so fast to change your fate and master the sphere of tourism and hotel business after receiving a degree in sports coaching? Why have you chosen a graduate school and not a university? Why exactly in Maribor?

– I made a choice in favour of a graduate school since I already have a Master’s degree. I am not interested in receiving higher education in the same programme for the second time. I always liked cooking and I was interested in the profession of a cook. I’ve decided to enter the Graduate School of Tourism and Hotel Business in Maribor since Slovenia is rapidly developing in these areas, and this school is one of the best in the whole country. My choice fell on this educational institution because here the study period lasts 2 years – less than in any university, and the study process is more narrow-focused.

– What seems to you the most interesting and useful for your future profession in your study programme?

– The school provides for compulsory student practice in one of the Maribor restaurants offered on the school website. I want to note that these are the most professional and expensive restaurants in the city, where students can learn a lot of new knowledge and gain invaluable experience. You will never learn it at lessons sitting at a school desk.

– Tell us about the history of your cooperation with the 2TM company.

– I found the 2TM Company on the Internet, visited their website and sent an online request – this is how our cooperation began. I should honestly admit that at the beginning of my communication with the company, I was not yet sure that I would go to Slovenia, as I was considering other directions at the same time. However, in the course of interaction with 2TM, I was increasingly inclined in favour of this country. Awareness, friendliness and responsiveness of employees played a significant role in my decision, since moving alone to another country is stressful, and I needed to get as much information as possible about the upcoming trip – about the country itself, training, prospects for foreigners and so on.

– How did you prepare for the admission process? How much time did it take you?

– I had started preparing for the move to Slovenia about 4 months before the admission process. The documents for admission included data on my school grades and the uniform state exam results, which are stored in the archive for a maximum of 5 years. An extract with marks for the 9–10 grades was also required. I finished school many years ago in Saint Petersburg. It was not easy to find all these documents but with the recommendations and help of Tatyana Meleshkova from 2TM, everything went well. Many thanks for that!

– What is the language of instruction in your programme?

– We study in the Slovenian language.

– Tell us about your experience of studying this language.

– At the end of August 2018, I went to the Slovenian language courses in Ljubljana. At that time, I had no idea what kind of language it was, and, accordingly, my level was zero. The school where I studied was called Cene Štupar. Our teacher Vesna Nagode caught our interest from the first class. We immediately noticed her professionalism, as well as the positive energy, with which she transferred her knowledge to our group. It turned out that she understands almost 8 languages, including Russian, and speaks some of them quite well. The intensive course was intended for one month, for 4 hours of classes per day. Classes were held, of course, in the Slovenian language to immediately immerse us in the language environment. However, in cases where our group did not understand something, the teacher could switch to English or Russian. This intensive course helped me a lot since I have mastered the basic knowledge of the Slovenian language in such a short time. In addition to our classes, we also had a tour to the centre of Ljubljana. It was very interesting!

At the end of the course, we wrote a test, after which we were given certificates of attendance. However, at the moment, it has not been required anywhere. The big advantage was that during the courses, I lived in a dormitory and everything I learned during the classes I tried to test in practice in the evening with my patient Slovenian neighbours. Of course, at first, it didn’t work out very well, but I helped myself by not being embarrassed to ask others for help. Communication with people was interesting, developing and positive.

By the way, my first subject in the Graduate School was German, which I also did not know. The explanation of the material was conducted in Slovenian, so it was somewhat more difficult for me than for my fellow Slovenian students. In fact, I had to learn two languages at the same time. However, living in Maribor, which is located 17 kilometres from the border with Austria, you will see that German is popular here, and it will definitely come in handy. My groupmates were very kind to me and never refused me in assistance. However, you should practically rely only on yourself and not on the outside help!

– What was the most difficult in the process of learning Slovenian?

– The most difficult for me was the dual number. I still do not understand why this grammar element is so necessary, but there’s nothing you can do with it. The main thing is to continuously practice and immerse yourself in the language environment as much as possible. I try to communicate frequently with local people, and some of them are surprised that I have been in Slovenia for only 5 months since, in their opinion, I speak Slovenian very well. Now, I have difficulties mostly with slang and terminological words that are rarely used in ordinary conversation.

From my own experience, I can say that, of course, the sooner you can overcome the language barrier, the sooner it will become easier for you to live in a new country. At the same time, there is absolutely no need to worry about your imperfect language skills. Firstly, it often happens that you will never meet people with whom you can be embarrassed. Secondly, I have not yet met a single person who would not want to communicate with me after hearing my imperfect Slovenian. On the contrary, all people tried to help me.

– Tell us about your study group at the Graduate School. How many people study together with you? Are there many foreigners? What are the relations between fellow students?

– My group has about 15 people with one guy from Russia and two students from Ukraine. Since I am an off-campus student with the classes held 2–3 times a week, two hours per day, I have not had the opportunity to get to know all my groupmates closely. At the moment, I communicate more with those people whom I met outside the university.

– Do you have an eventful student life? If it’s not a secret, describe us your regular day.

– Everything is new to me now and I don’t have to be bored. At the moment, I do an internship. Actually, this is a full-fledged work for 400 hours but you do not receive a salary. Classes are held every day from eight in the morning to three in the afternoon. In the evening, I do homework, some subjects take a lot of time. Sometimes I go with new buddies to play basketball, and then we can go somewhere to eat. I have also purchased a subscription to the fitness centre. I stay rare at home since I prefer to spend all my free time on practice, sport or friends.

– What privileges do you use here as a student (bonuses, discounts, etc.)?

– I use student meal bonuses as well as discounts on bus tickets.

– What is your opinion about meal bonuses?

– You can save a lot with bonuses. Almost in all cafes and restaurants, there is a menu for students. The quality of subsidised meals is no different from the usual menu in a cafe. That is, it is not some kind of a budget option. A student menu includes salad, soup, main course, water, and fruit. The portions are large here, there is always a choice, so I never stay hungry.

– Many students in Slovenia, due to the official work permit and employment services, almost from the first years of study try to earn money. However, foreign students sometimes experience difficulties due to imperfect knowledge of the Slovenian language and often because of self-doubt in front of a foreign employer. What is your experience with this issue?

– Since I went to practice a month after I’d started my studies, I didn’t have time to feel insecure and shy. In addition, the restaurant, in which we do practice, is considered one of the best in the city, so the rules are tough there. From the first day, I had to do my best. Of course, at first, it was difficult and unusual for me including poor knowledge of the language. However, if the employer sees that you are trying your best, then in most cases you will succeed. It was my efforts that helped me overcome the difficulties of the initial stage. This opportunity will undoubtedly help me in the future decide upon my career and find a well-paying job.

– Have you ever been home since you moved to Slovenia?

– No, I haven’t been home yet. Undoubtedly, I miss my relatives and friends, so I often get in touch with them via the Internet.

– What are your plans after graduation?

– After graduation, I want to find a job according to my profession in Slovenia.

– Thank you for the interview and good luck to you!

Interviewer: Polina Avfukova

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