At the end of February, I started my semester abroad at University of Zadar. For a short period of time, university members (International Office, Erasmus/Ceepus Coordinators, Professors), ESN (European Student Network) members, Croatian and international students were able to meet, gather and communicate face-to-face. But soon, the situation changed.
Due to the Coronavirus restrictions, the university, offices, shops, cafes and bars had to close. Therefore students were forced to communicate in a digital form and the major part of communication suddenly had to be conducted online.
This was a bad basis for establishing “real” human connections and friendships with people from other cultures, but a good basis for learning or improving digital communication on several platforms with different communication partners.
The student community
Thanks to the European Student Network (ESN) Zadar, there was a Facebook and a WhatsApp group established for communicating with Croatian and over 80 international students from all over the world. The Facebook group was hardly used, instead all messages were exchanged via WhatsApp. No matter, which nation and culture everybody was from, the language was English, because Erasmus/Ceepus students need a B2 level anyway and it’s a commonly used lingua franca across the globe. The subjects and goals of the WhatsApp messages were mostly to exchange information on new laws and rules caused by the Croatian coronavirus measures (such as opening times of copy shop, mensa, library, etc.) or to meet somewhere outside to have a face-to-face chat and escape the social isolation for a while.
Most communication concerning studies at Zadar University and exchange of information about Coronavirus measures was performed via E-Mail. Because the university and its’ offices had to be closed, lectures and consultations were conducted online. The International Relations Office and the professors were always accurate and very supportive. The assignments, readings, researches and seminar papers were thematically very interesting and useful, quite challenging and I could improve my scientific/academic English skills.
There was a variety of E-Learning and communication forms each professor preferred. We used: Merlin, the learning platform of Zadar University (for assignments and literature), MS Teams (for messages, assignments, literature, web conferences and presentations), Adobe Connect (for webinars and presentations) and E-Mail (for messages and assignments).
Especially during the Coronavirus lockdown it proved important to keep connected online, to continue and to be able to complete the commenced studies. Although many international students decided to return to their homes, they still had the possibility to attend all lectures and consultations online and continue their studies.
In the Adult Education class we were only three international students. The professor included our experiences and nation-specific research of our home countries (Austria, Belgium and Czechia) in our assignments, which also contributed to favourable intercultural exchange.
When moving to and living in a different country, with a different language and different cultural aspects, one is recommended to observe and learn from the local people and to know at least a little bit of the language, because the sooner you adapt to other cultures (if their values are not completely against your own values, such as restricted women’s rights or having to eat chicken feet), the sooner you are accepted or respected in other communities and your social life becomes more fruit- and cheerful, both digitally and non-digitally.
Most of all, I was and still am extremely impressed by the much calmer and slower culture in Zadar compared to Austria. At the supermarket you don’t have to hurry at the cash desk and people behind you don’t get angry and impolite. When water or electricity don’t work, you just wait for three or four hours until someone shows up and repairs it, instead of falling into panic and phone hundreds of people to solve the problem immediately. When the government recommends staying at home, families and friends still meet for a nice walk at the sea or for Easter lunch with music on the balcony, instead of being afraid of the police catching you on the street without a facemask or a good reason for leaving your home.
Some decades ago, Austrian culture and way of life was much calmer than nowadays and the “Viennese comfort” legendary. Unfortunately neo liberal economy increased the working and living speed, thus the pressure and stress. I definitely prefer the Dalmatian way and would have loved to stay and study in Zadar much longer.