Expats in Slovenia: Sam Baldwin

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COULD YOU TELL US WHERE YOU ARE ORIGINALLY FROM? WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO SLOVENIA?

I am from the UK; I grew up in rural England and later spent 13 years in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I am unusual amongst expats in Slovenia, in that I didn’t come here for love. At least not love of a person.

14 years ago, my brother and I bought an old vikend house in Koroška. Over the following decade, I came every year to work on the house. There were many, many problems along the way, but I came to love the country and people more and more, and eventually, when the opportunity presented itself, I moved to Slovenia to try living here for a bit longer. I’m still here…

COULD YOU TELL OUR READERS WHAT IS IT THAT YOU DO? WHAT IS YOUR CAREER BACKGROUND?

My career so far has been quite varied; I studied Pharmacology at university, but immediately after graduating, I went to work in Canada for a year, getting a job in the ski resort of Whistler, then later in the city of Vancouver.

After that, I returned to the UK to get my first ‘proper job’ and worked in a laboratory in my early twenties. But my time in Canada had planted a seed that I could not stop growing; I loved the mountain life and I wanted to see more of the world, so I quit my lab job and went to live in rural Japan to work as an English teacher. I later wrote a book about my experiences there: ‘For Fukui’s Sake; Two years in rural Japan’.

Whilst in Japan I had started writing articles for magazines and had begun to build a portfolio of published work, as well as building my first ever website – an online magazine dedicated to unusual ski locations. So when I returned to the UK I used that experience to get a job as an writer/SEO/content marketer, at a tiny startup in Edinburgh, Scotland.

That small startup rapidly grew into a much bigger company (eventually becoming a Unicorn), opening offices all around the world, so I got to spend some time working in Singapore, Miami, Beijing and Budapest, whilst progressing my career and building my own global content team. 

I now run www.GrowMyStartup.Business and use my decade of experience to help other startups and scaleups grow their customers and revenue. I work with companies in Slovenia, the EU, and beyond.

On top of that – I founded BREG Apparel: Slovenia-inspired t-shirts. I was looking for some Slovenian t-shirt designs but most of the merchandise I saw was either cliché (dragon, Slovenian flag, Tito) or overly-cute (love hearts and lake Bled).

So, I created the BREG brand as the antidote to sickly-sweet stereotype that is so commonly used on Slovenia’s merchandise. BREG designs are all original artwork based on Slovenian culture, cuisine and language but I try to find unusual and interesting subject material that has a story behind it.

For example, my latest design is the TR3 Ljubljana shirt, that celebrates the brutal beauty of Slovenia’s TR3 tower block. Or one of my most popular designs is ‘Ski Mežica’ – a retro Yugo motif that pays tribute to the lost ski area of Mežica.

IN TERMS OF WORKING AND LIVING IN SLOVENIA. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE FROM YOUR HOME COUNTRY AND SLOVENIA?

As a developed, European country and member of the EU – I don’t find Slovenia radically different to the UK, compared to other countries I’ve lived.

For me, the biggest differences – and the reasons why I love Slovenia – are the climate and landscape. You have remarkable beauty everywhere, plus a climate which enables you to enjoy it in all seasons.

I also think Slovenia sits in a sweet-spot between East and West Europe. You have all the infrastructure of a developed European nation, but there’s also that little bit of ‘Balkan spice’ which makes Slovenia a fun place with a relaxed pace of life.

In terms of the not-so-good differences – I don’t have much to complain about; perhaps sometimes Slovenia can be a little too relaxed! I have found the level of customer service from all sizes of business – cafes to accountants – can sometimes be a little different to what I was used to in the UK.

For example, some Slovenian businesses aren’t very proactive in their service and don’t tend to anticipate the wants and needs of the customer very well. I am often the one nagging a Slovenian business to do something for me, or to sell me something, whereas in the UK, it’s the other way round. I think the companies in Slovenia which do put effort in to better serving their customers easily outshine the competition here.

However, let me be clear, Slovenia is the 6th country I’ve lived in and the one I chose to come and live in, because for me, it offers a lifestyle I love.

DO YOU FEEL EXPATS IN SLOVENIA ARE TREATED DIFFERENTLY? HOW ACCEPTING ARE SLOVENIANS OF EXPATS LIVING IN SLOVENIA?

The vast majority of Slovenians I’ve interacted with have been very kind and generous towards me. I think expats from countries which Slovenia considers ‘good’ like the USA, Western Europe, or Australia for example, are treated very well.

However, I think it depends on which ‘expats’ we are talking about. I also know a few expats from other countries that have had some problems in Slovenia, because of their nationality or appearance.

As for me personally, I could tell you many stories where Slovenians have been incredibly welcoming and accepting, and I feel lucky to be living in a place where I am treated so nicely.

WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT YOUR COUNTRY SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN LIVING IN SLOVENIA? IS IT THE FOOD, PEOPLE OR SOMETHING ELSE?

The obvious answer – which almost any expat will tell you – is the three ‘Fs’: Friends, Family and Food. But on top of that, as I spend longer and longer living outside of my home country, I have started to miss aspects of my Mother country that I never previously appreciated.

For example, if I’m watching a UK TV show, and I see some British coastline – long windswept beaches, cliffs, and little cottages – I get a pang of nostalgia and homesickness, even though when I lived in the UK, I didn’t really visit such places very often.

The other thing worth I have started to miss is being able to communicate effortlessly and not having to rely on anyone to help me in day-to-day life. Although I have learned some Slovenian, there are many situations where I have to depend upon Slovenians’ excellent level of English to get by.

I call this the ‘Language Isolation Chamber’ and I wrote about it here: https://breghouse.com/2021/01/10/life-in-the-language-isolation-chamber-when-social-situations-create-lingo-loneliness/

Living away from your homeland makes you appreciate it more and I think everyone should spend at least one year living abroad so that they better understand both their host country, and their motherland.

WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE SLOVENIA?

Lush. Stunning. Surprising. Consistently beautiful.

WHAT ARE YOUR MUST-VISIT DESTINATIONS IN SLOVENIA?

When my friends and family come to visit me, I take them to all my favourite places, which include well-known, as well as some secret spots. The well-known ones are obvious – Bled, Bohinj, Piran, Ljubljana etc. But as for my secret spots – well I’m afraid I’m going to keep those secret!

Why? Well, for a short time I lived in Barcelona. There I experienced first-hand how damaging ‘over-tourism’ can be. The thousands upon thousands of visitors made parts of Barcelona miserable, for locals and tourists. I also saw how it had changed the locals’ attitude towards visitors; rather than being warm and welcoming, there was resentment, because the sheer volume of visitors lowered the quality of life for everyone.

I would hate to see Slovenia damaged by over-tourism. Already we see how destinations like Bled are becoming very busy during the summer. Whilst that’s great for tourist businesses and tax revenues, there are also some negative consequences for locals. So I’m going to keep my secret spots secret!

IF A VISITOR ONLY HAD ONE MEAL ON THEIR TRIP TO SLOVENIA, WHAT AND WHERE SHOULD IT BE?

That’s an almost impossible question to answer because Slovenia has such a great selection of delicious food. I could mention several superb restaurants which no doubt would be familiar to The Slovenia readers.

Instead, I’m going to tell you about a little place which I always take my friends to when they visit. It’s called Gostilna Pod Lipco in Stožice. This is my local and has the same feel of a pub back in the UK. It’s a simple, unassuming place with friendly, welcoming owners. They do the ‘a mini-cocktail’ of schnitzel which features three different schnitzel types of meat. It’s delicious. I know that Weiner Schnitzel is not a Slovene dish, but it’s popular here and one of my favorites.

Other foods I like in Slovenia include: burek (my favorite is špinačni), jota and Cockta (which I wrote a tribute to here)

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE SLOVENIAN SOUVENIRS TO GIVE AS GIFTS?

My BREG t-shirts of course! But I also sometimes buy Slovene beer (I love Tektonik, Human Fish, Bevog and Lobik) and coffee from ČRNO ZRNO. After the pandemic is over and when my friends can visit again – I want to take them on a gift experience to the Slovenian blacksmith – Emberborn – where you get to make a beautiful Slovene ‘knife for life’.

DO YOU KNOW HOW TO SPEAK SLOVENIAN? IF SO, WHICH WORD THAT YOU LEARNED SOUNDED THE WEIRDEST OR SILLIEST TO YOU? WAS IT PERHAPS A CURSE WORD LIKE THE “THREE HUNDRED HAIRY BEARS”?

Since arriving in Slovenia I have made some effort to learn Slovenian, attending classes and having a few sessions of one-on-one tuition too. So I have a (very!) basic foundation and can get by in simple conversations. This comes in useful when I visit my farmer neighbours in Koroška, as we converse entirely in Slovene – albeit very simply.

As for strange words – well, I find lots of Slovenian words quite strange and hard to pronounce. But some of my favourite words are just everyday words that I like the ring of, for example: medved, gremo, lahko, malo po malo.

WHAT‘S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LIFE HAS TAUGHT YOU?

Always go and explore with your own eyes.

There have been numerous times in my life where – if I had listened to other people – I might have missed out on experiences and opportunities.

Sometimes your friends, your family, your colleagues – either knowingly or accidently – project their own fears, worries or insecurities on to your plans and if you take heed, your dreams could easily die.

An example of this is when I worked in the laboratory in the UK in my early 20s. When I told my colleagues that I was quitting my job to go and teach English in Japan, their biggest concern was what I would do when I came back to the UK. Was I not worried about how I would find a job again then?

I didn’t have the answer to that, but I was certain that by just taking a chance and going and doing something different, new and interesting opportunities would appear for me. And they did.

It’s the times when I have set out on my own to try something – that have always led to more doors opening. Four years ago, I wasn’t planning on moving to Slovenia. But since coming here, I’ve worked for a blockchain company, founded a Slovenia-inspired apparel brand, and met many fascinating people along the way.

WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL MOTTO OR PHILOSOPHY ON LIFE?

Take the unknown path. It may be the scarier option but you’ll end up wiser for it. (Or at least have an interesting story to tell).

Sam Baldwin is the founder of BREG Design – Slovenia-inspired apparel. See the designs at: www.BregDesign.com