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Re-launch 2009

Slovenia is a small, charming country nestled next to the Adriatic Sea, bordered by Croatia, Hungary, Italy, and Austria on various sides. Though part of the former Yugoslavia, it like Slovakia and Macedonia were able to avoid much of the chaos and war that shattered other Balkan states during their independence in the 1990s. As a member of the European Union it has continued its development and adopted the Euro.

By Camille Acey

Camille Acey, a current resident of Slovenia, has had an international background from the very beginning. The child of an American father and Ghanian mother, her first trip abroad was to see her mother’s side of the family when she was one and a half years old. Though mainly based in the Bay Area of California or New York City, her mother continued to take them travelling periodically as they grew older and in her own words, she soon gained “itchy feet spending most of her twenties in London during the Swinging Seventies. Her chance to (possibly) permanently live abroad came when her current boyfriend invited her to return to his home country of Slovenia where she now lives and works in journalism.

Since then she has fallen in love with the small nation she now calls her home. Of course, no move abroad is complete without stories of culture shock and adustment. Sometimes small things you take for granted are hard to find elsewhere, not because of development differences but simple customs. Like many expats of all backgrounds, sometimes the desire to try local cuisine gives in to homesick cravings. “I miss weekend brunches!” Camille exclaims. “Breakfast is a non-meal here and they don’t distinguish it from brunch. I awfully miss my waffles and pancakes and big fluffy omelettes. I am honestly considering opening a restaurant just so I can have brunch (and maybe the occasional burger and fries).” Not all cultural adjustments are those of loss though, some can help you realize an aspect of life you have totally disregarded before. “(Being in Slovenia) has taught me to appreciate nature more.. This is an Alpine country and people really appreciate it: they love to hike and be outside, so I am learning to observe it and maybe (one day!) I’ll actually enjoy it as much as everyone else does!”

View of downtown Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia

As readers know, adapting and not just tolerating the local culture of your adopted country is a big theme among Black Expat. The initial difficulties give way to greater rewards later on. Camille says, “it has been very humbling learning to conduct parts of my life in an entirely different language (Slovene). I have a newfound respect for all immigrants everywhere, and especially in America where they have this awful zero tolerance in certain places.” Of course, many people in Slovenia speak English like most educated people in Europe but Camille advises that you never feel that “you should be accommodated” and learn the local language and customs to enrich your experience. “I think knowing the language is pretty crucial. There is so much more you can do if you have at least some basic understanding. I am still in the slow process of learning this rather difficult language, but considering I’ve been mostly self-taught for the last nine months, I have been pleased with my progress.” An additional strategy for learning local languages she recommends is taking a formal course and joining a local discussion group for foreigners as she plans to do this year.

Of course, one of the hardest things to do once you end up in a new country is finding a “crew” or at least a few friends to hang out with. Most expats worldwide naturally hang out with other expats. Though she has made friends with some expats, in particular one from Colombia, Camille relates that the attitudes of many expats in Slovenia is a letdown. About many American expats she states, “I think a lot of the American expats here have been a total let-down. A lot of them made sure they packed their white American entitlement into their carry-on suitcase so they could immediately whip it out once they stepped off the plane.”

Learning the language has also helped Camille expand her social circle from more than just American or other Western expats. “I am still figuring out how to make friends. Friends and contacts here are CRUCIAL. It is a small country and if you want anything (especially a job) you have to know people.” Camille says she is lucky that her boyfriend has helped her really make friends an acquaintances. “I also made a few friends via the blogosphere. There is a great community of Slovene bloggers and a fair amount of them blog in English. When I started emailing them and telling them I was coming, quite a few were really eager to help.”

People seem friendly overall but being Black in and of itself does not seem to be a serious issue. “I have heard of people being discriminated against for speaking English in certain places, and I know there are some Nazi-affiliated people somewhere in this country, but I haven’t directly encountered anything thus far, nor have I come into contact with anyone who has. It is wholly possible, and white supremacy is a global phenomenon, but I can’t give any anecdotes. The minimal amount of vitriol I’ve seen directed towards anyone here has been towards the Roma gypsy, but again I haven’t heard of any physical violence directed at them, it’s been more horrific systemic violence.” Granted the seemingly global phenomenon of “the stare” comes part and parcel with living in a language with no domestic Black population. “Sometimes I am annoyed that so many people gawk at me but no one says anything.”

In total, Camille loves her adopted country and definitely recommends the experience of living abroad as a life-changing adventure.”Living abroad has taught me to pause more. Sometimes I don’t know the words to say what I want to say so I am quiet. I gain a lot by listening and being patient.” For those contemplating coming to Slovenia she suggests checking out the Slovenian expat web page http://www.sloveniawelcomes.com (and personally recommends the user Donna Osterc). For those considering going abroad in general she has three words of advice: “Go for it!”

Living & Spending

Average Rent: Don’t really know (about 10 Euros per square meter per month according to slovenia-life.com).

Meals: I guess it depends on what you want. Pizza is plentiful and wonderful and cheap. There is certainly no shortage of bread and pastries. In Ljubljana (and other towns), they also have some fast food places with local oddities/delicacies like burek and horse burgers, if you’re in the mood. I still get the feeling that most people eat at home most of the time. There is not an enormous amount of choice with only a handful of non-Slovene restaurants available. That said, there are a TON of restaurants serving low cost, hearty, local food. These are called gostilnas (guest houses), and while their menus can be fairly similar the quality ranges from decent to great.

Transportation: The train is cheaper than the bus but it depends where you are going. I’m not very sure about car expenses…

Expensive compared to US? I lived in NYC so this place is WAY cheaper.

Monthly Budget: I have no idea, but the capital city Ljubljana is definitely be more expensive than living here in Radovljica. There are definitely more flats available for rental in Ljubljana though since it is a proper big city instead of a suburb.

Modern amenities? Things are just as modern here as in the states, though most houses still have old wooden stoves and a lot of people still dry their clothes out on the clothing line. The newer amenities are available, but some people are adapting slowly.

Legal hurdles for foreigners: Non-EU citizens need to find a way to wrangle residence permits. If you have a ton of extra cash lying around, you can start a company and that will grant you the right to stay. If not, your best bet is to find a job with a company that can sponsor you. As for finding this job, good luck to you if you don’t speak Slovene, it is a near-impossible feat to find a job that doesn’t require language proficiency, and online job-finding resources are almost non-existent in English. The only possible thing would be to teach English at one of the language schools. I hear the pay is terrible, but it’d get your “foot in the door”.

Top 3 things to bring: 1) Alarm clock (it took me forever to find one!), 2) medicines & vitamins (when you are sick you don’t wanna be standing in the pharmacy pawing through a dictionary trying to translate “Robitussin”), and 3) the ‘Joy of Cooking’ or another appropriate/reliable cookbook (They have a decent variety of food here, but it just isn’t the same, so from time to time you WILL miss good old home cooking and things you took for granted, and while you can find a lot of recipes online, it is helpful to have it all in one easy-to-use condensed form. For example, I make my own mayonnaise now since the brand of Hellman’s they sell here is not the same as the Hellman’s I so loved back in Brooklyn.

Top 3 things to do: 1) Go to Lake Bled, 2) Go to the seaside in Piran, it’s breathtaking, and 3) Walk through the weekend market in Ljubljana and along the Ljubljanica.

Top 3 places to hang out: I live in a small town where people don’t really hang out, and when they do it is usually in grimy dark bars. I am still figuring out good places to go , but here are a few places I like in other towns:

BACK in Bled – nice old bar owned by Irish expats
Cutty Sark in Ljubljana – restaurant/bar with decent pizza, on Saturday nights they have a super DJ and fun crowd
Le Petit Café in Ljubljana – nice café and good place for quiet meetings

Mediterranean town of Piran in Slovenia
Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Wikimedia; Slovenian flag: User S. Kopp modified by Zacout370, Ljubljana: Kjetil Boyd, and Piran: Giraud Patrick

»Return back to 2009 Issue Archives

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5 Responses to “Living in Wheelville: Slovenia”

  1. Q1 2009 Black Expat Issue is out! « Mark [Derek] McCullough says:

    […] Re-launch Special 2009 – Camille Acey – Living in Wheelville: […]

  2. Cousin says:

    I think you are AWESOME cousin and definitely a trailblazer!!!

    E

  3. Jalstead69 says:

    Thanks so much for this….contemplating a move to Slovenia….this was so helpful!

  4. Alexandra G. says:

    Hi Camille, i would really love to get in touch with you, how can i do this?

  5. My Homepage says:

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    […] Read More here: blackexpat.com/new/magazine-archives/2009-new-year/living-in-wheelville-slovenia/ […]

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