Saying ‘dobre’ to a Slovakian adventure
A finance graduate on the ups and downs of Bratislava life
I was sitting in a computer room in NUI Galway last April, studying my notes on economics when I saw my phone vibrating and answered the call. I had been successful in my application to work on a finance graduate programme for Dell, but how would I like to live in Bratislava, Slovakia? I said I’d think about it and immediately went to Wikipedia. This small former communistic country was not beside Slovenia as I had thought and was very close to Vienna, Austria.
I kept researching and found the country had 5 million people with 500,000 in the western capital of Bratislava. It was cheap, and hosted the European headquarters of many worldwide firms lured there by low tax rates. I weighed up my options and thought, why not? I was young with no responsibilities and ready for the adventure of living in Eastern Europe.
Myself and another Irish guy from Dell arrived here in glorious sunshine in late August to start our first jobs after college. One thing that struck straight away is the reserved nature of the Slovaks. It takes time to build relationships, and there is often a language barrier. Recently I asked someone “What’s your level of English?”, their straight-faced reply was “Yes”.
They have a word “dobre” that they use like we use “grand”, and it works in every situation. To use it properly is to say it a very casual way, as enthuasiasm is not their suit. My Slovak is quite limited even after 8 months here. It’s one of the hardest languages in the world with seven grammer cases and takes a Slovak 12 years to learn. As some of the Slovaks say themselves, it’s not very useful or international except for in Slovakia. It makes a difference though to make an effort.
Overall, Slovakia is a country on the up. All my Slovak colleagues have masters degrees from the local business universities, are very motivated, and talk about how the Celtic Tiger in Ireland had been a model for them to follow. This conversation always ends with “…but what happened?” I usually reply that some of us got greedy and we weren’t used to prosperity.
Someone sent me an article once about Slovakia being “the 8th unfriendliest country in the world to tourists”. I can really see why when I live here. There are not many tourist attractions in Bratislava, and the small city can seem boring for visitors. But the true beauty of Slovakia is in the countryside and the unspoilt nature that is guarded and never promoted outside the country.
Highlights of my time here so far have been skiing in Jasna, which is cheap and has as good facilities as Austria, and hiking in the Tatra mountains. In Bratislava, the public transport is clean, affordable and regular. But it does get busy when hockey matches are on – hockey is the main sport in Slovakia and they are very successful at it, winning the world championship in 2002 and having many players in the NHL in the US.
Wherever you go in the world it seems there’s a GAA club and an Irish bar, and Bratislava is no exception. But we always head to Goblins, the local expat bar, where the Guinness is the best I’ve had outside Ireland and there’s a real sense of community among the regulars. It is just like a local pub in Ireland, the only difference is the pints here are €1.50!
The second time I went there the owner roped me into joining the Slovak Shamrocks GAA club, which travels regularly around Europe for matches. We play tournaments against Prague, Vienna and Budapest, and have a mix of Americans, Slovaks, British and Irish on the team.
There’s a lot of work going here too. All the English speakers I meet have jobs with multinational firms like IBM, Dell or Amazon, or are teaching english. The unemployment rate in Bratislava is 4 per cent so there are a lot of opportunities here whether someone is skilled or unskilled. They’re trying to build a culture of business start-ups and innovation, but it will take a lot of time to change old mindsets and that is the expat’s advantage.
I’m very glad to have the chance to see another part of the world that was not always open. Slovakia is a country that is growing at a fast pace in every area, and although the people can seem different to us, with time they open up. My heart will always be in Ireland, and I’m returning in September, but at the moment everything here is “dobre”.