Studying at ZSEM as a German exchange student with Croatian roots

Marin Vahle is an exchange student from the Goethe University Frankfurt. With his mother being Croatian, he has always nurtured his close ties with the country and eventually decided to spend a semester in Zagreb. We had the opportunity to talk to him about Germany, Croatia, and his future plans.

Could you tell me a little bit about your background?

My dad is German, and my mother is from Croatia. I was born and raised in Frankfurt, where I study at my home university – the Goethe University Frankfurt. My parents never spoke Croatian with my brother and I at home but we would spend every summer at the coast, so I picked up the language really fast by playing on the streets with the neighbor kids. My grammar is not perfect, but I can express myself quite well I think.

How come you decided to spend a semester abroad in Zagreb?

I wanted to either do an exchange semester or an internship abroad. My original plan was to get an internship in Great Britain, but that turned out to be more difficult than expected. Finding a great internship there is not that easy and also, Great Britain is quite expensive. So, I decided to first study abroad somewhere and then pretty quickly decided on Croatia. I have family here that I can live with and that help me whenever I need something. Knowing Zagreb and having connections here just makes the whole exchange experience fantastic. I get to live as a local. I love the country and have always dreamed of coming here for more than just vacations, and this was the perfect chance. I have a friend in Germany who had studied here for a semester last year and she gave me the advice “Go there, and you will have a great semester!” Hearing that from her was really encouraging. Additionally, I wanted to see what the standard of living and of education here is really like. My mother studied at the public university of Zagreb and I feel like this way I can in a way re-live her student experience.

How has your experience studying at ZSEM been so far?

I didn’t know much about ZSEM before coming here. I’m taking all my courses in English but I would’ve even been fine with having classes in Croatian! This is my first education outside of Germany and it’s a lot different than what I’m used to. The biggest difference I can think of is the class size. In Frankfurt it’s not uncommon to have class with up to 700 students in one lecture hall. That makes it impossible to have any interactions with the professor.  I really appreciate the close contact with professors at ZSEM. The only thing I miss is the infrastructure that a huge campus offers, but I’m definitely seeing the benefits of a small campus. I would also say that we kind of speed through the course material in Frankfurt, whereas here we do things more slowly and have time to ask questions, go through multiple examples, etc. Overall, studying in Frankfurt is much more stressful.

What are your goals? Do you have any ambitions regarding Croatia in the future?

My goal is to become a successful consultant. Frankfurt is the perfect location for that. I’m prepared for working extremely hard to really reach that goal. Talking about the future, if I can manage to do that later in my career, I would love to somehow connect both countries. In the close future, I see myself in Germany due to the simple fact that the difference in salaries is currently too big for me. The trend of people moving out of Croatia is something I’m very aware of and I know there is a general motivation to move away. However, I love the country, its people and the mentality. The living quality is so high that I can imagine to eventually stay here long-term.


Interviewer: Tina Eres

Interviewee: Marin Vahle