Why Serbia? Why did you decide to come here? Just a couple of the many questions asked to the foreign students studying at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade. An obvious question it may seem to those who ask it, but a rather tedious exercise for the foreign students who must answer time and time again in almost exact fashion. In an attempt to find answers to these questions as well as to explore the differences that some of these students see between Serbia and their respective countries, i decided to question them personally. In addition, i also sought the opinion of some local Serbian students to gain an impression of their assessment of the impact and influence that the foreign students have had on life at the faculty.
At present they are approximately ten in all, originating from outside the Balkan region. Five are at the under-graduate level while the other five are post-graduate students. Geographically, they range from lands as far as Africa all the way to Persia, the Caribbean to East Asia, all studying at the faculty of Political Science in Belgrade. In my quest to find out more about these foreign students, their motivation for coming to Serbia, their lives here in Belgrade at the University and otherwise, I decided to have conversations with some of them.
I started off by talking to a student originating from a place we’ll all love to go, the island of Jamaica. She is a master student studying Communication Studies (Komunikologija) and claims that her main motivation for choosing Serbia as a place to study was the fact that she wanted to go to Europe, but somewhere “uncommon”, and for that reason she chose Serbia. In her view, life is more care-free in Belgrade than in Jamaica. Financially, it‘s much cheaper to live in Belgrade.
Another Master student from Iran, Meead Nakhavaly saw his move to Serbia mainly as a strategic step forward academically. The Master program here in Serbia was only one year long and in addition the opportunity for him to learn Serbian was an additional plus. Meead already speaks Russian.
The foreign students in Belgrade have surely had their fair share of enjoyment in experiencing what Belgrade has to offer. Many of them have been here for two years or more and have grown accustom to life in Belgrade. Many are still unsettled by the occasional stares they receive while travelling through the city but have learnt to take it in a light-hearted fashion.
At the under-graduate level, Abubakari Msumi from Tanzania notes that the academic work is still a challenge. As a second year student studying International Relations he still sometimes struggles in understanding the material but feels that the professors are patient and understand the challenges that a foreign student has when studying in a foreign language.
For Abubakari, coming to Serbia was an opportunity he had to take. It was always his desire to study in a foreign country, and the ‘World in Serbia Project’ provided an opportunity for him to do so.
For any student there are numerous benefits for studying in a foreign country. In addition to being able to learn about a new culture one can also compare the similarities and assess the differences that may exist between his home country and the foreign country in which he resides. There is much for foreign students to learn in Serbia that could prove vital in applying to their own home countries, especially from a political perspective. For example, Serbia is at present actively engaged in the accession process for EU membership. Foreign students in Serbia can actively observe this process and its impact on the Serbian population as well as the ongoing political discourse.
There exist different views concerning the impact that foreign students have had of the Faculty of Political Science. For some of the Serbian students like Milos Nikolic, the influence of the foreign students presently at the faculty has not been extensive. He notes that firstly they are small in number as opposed to the days of Yugoslavia (SFRY) when there were much more, and in relation to their activities concerning student politics, they have limited influence due to their lack of activity. Furthermore, he thinks it’s important that they maintain more contact with local Serbian students and attempt to engage in more student projects.
Tanja Todorovic, a native of Belgrade and a fourth year student of International Relations is however convinced that the foreign students have had a positive impact on the Faculty of Political Science in general. She believes that their presence has contributed to encouraging Professors to find new methodologies for teaching students. In addition, the exchange of culture and customs between foreign and local students also helps to contribute to improving cooperation and the transfer of new knowledge.
Many of these foreign students have proven, in their own right, to be exceptional ambassadors for their countries. They have been engaged in numerous different activities throughout the faculty. There are presently two foreign students who are members of the student union and one who is an official member of ‘AISEC Serbia’.
Many of these students plan to finish their respective courses here in Serbia and then return to their home countries where some may continue their studies or attempt to find work. The time they spend here in Belgrade would form an important part of their lives while also contributing to shaping their world view.