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Slovenian students learning from Texas’ varied cultures

Date released: 02/03/03

SAN MARCOS — What can Texas teach the European nation of Slovenia about multiculturalism? Fourteen Slovenian college students are finding out between now and Feb. 16, as they spend two weeks exploring San Marcos and surrounding Texas regions.

The students, from the University of Maribor, organized the trip with the assistance of the Southwest Texas State University International Office and the Department of English as well as the U.S. Embassy in Slovenia. Nearly all are former students of SWT professor Steve Wilson, who spent five months in the spring of 2002 lecturing in American Literature at the University of Maribor as a Fulbright Scholar.

“Around September a few of the students started asking if it would be possible to come for a visit. I didn’t think anything would come of it,” said Wilson. “From the beginning, this was all the students’ initiative. I think that’s partly how we got the planning through so quickly.”

The University of Maribor is located in Maribor, Slovenia, a city of 150,000, and is one of only two universities in the country. Slovenia itself is a tiny European nation bordered by Italy to the west and Croatia to the east on the Aegean Sea. The Slovenian culture is virtually homogeneous, said Wilson, and with Slovenia on the verge of joining the European Union, there is a great amount of uncertainty within the country as to how this will ultimately affect the culture.

“Several students I talked to were convinced that Slovenia would not survive, that it is too small and would eventually be absorbed,” Wilson explained. “We’re talking about a culture trying to assert itself, but that is about to become part of an enormous international conglomeration. Those students may be right. Who knows what Slovenia will look like in 20 years?”

To that end, the students felt that Texas would be an excellent example for themof how various cultures can interact and flourish. Classes they will attend at SWT include Chicano, African-American and women’s literature. Scheduled excursions include trips to the historic German community of Gruene and San Antonio, which boasts one of the largest and most vibrant Hispanic populations in the United States.

Of course, no visit to Texas would be complete without experiencing certain world-famous symbols of Texas history and culture.

“I hope to see some cowboys,” said Slovenian student Barbara Lavrencic. “It doesn’t matter if they are a modern version or cowboys that we see in old cowboy movies. I would do anything to see (American) Indians and talk to them. I would like to see a rodeo and ride a horse, because I adore horses.”

During their stay, the Slovenian students will go on guided excursions to the LBJ National Historical Park and Sauer-Beckman Living History Farm in Johnson City. Other scheduled events during their stay include conducting a presentation on their culture at the San Marcos Public Library; discussing English Studies in Slovenia with the SWT chapter of the International English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta; and teaching Slovene to Brenda Butler’s Language Club for Gifted and Talented students at Hernandez Intermediate School in San Marcos.

“We’re a small country, but we have a lot to offer,” said Slovenian student Lidija Petkovic. “Our rich history, culture and landscape go far beyond our size. I look forward to showing you some of our best features, from the country itself to people. We feel very privileged to have this opportunity in bringing Slovenia closer to you.

“On the other hand, Texas seems to be an extraordinary place to visit. And since we’re all students, we can’t wait to meet your students and other people who work or live there, as well,” she said. “We hope to learn as much as possible from you. The way you live your lives (culture, customs, food, music, entertainment), understand the world (nature, people), solve all kinds of problems (politics, education), achieve any kinds of goals, help others, yourselves etc. and much more than that.”