Sunday, June 11, 2017

Reflections from my first day in Slovenia

As many others cohort members have already covered some of the details about the travel and the fine food we ate, so I will try to talk about something a little different.

The visit to the University of Ljubljana, including the lecture from Lev was very interesting. It got me thinking about many the commonalities and differences between Ireland (my home) and Slovenia. Both countries are small, with small populations. Slovenia has 2.2m people, while Ireland has about 4.6m.

A key difference I see in the population data between Ireland and Slovenia is the growth of the population in Ireland from the mid-1990's onward.  In Ireland, this is a point at which Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) became a significant force within the economy. The direct investment from large US multinationals, specifically in the technology and pharma sectors generated lots of opportunity for employment. According to Lev, Slovenia is not a major receiver of FDI (yet).

Despite the growth of Ireland's population, the two countries undoubtedly have similarly small populations, and as a result some other interesting things in common. Lev described how poets are the heroes of Slovenia, this is similarly true of Ireland, although to a lesser extent. In Dublin city,  you will find statues honoring Sam Beckett,  James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and many others. This cultural pride permeates into our education systems. Both countries offer free third level education, through to the PHD level, and both countries rank highly in OECD education performance.

OECD Education performance. Ireland is shown above, Slovenia is shown below.
Another significant similarity is that they are both located in critical geographic intersections. Ireland is a critical market entry point for US capital, while Slovenia is in the intersection or Roman, Germanic, and Slavic economies and cultures.

A final, massive, significance is that both countries have long histories of being controlled by larger, more powerful neighbors. In the case of Ireland it was the British Empire and for Slovenia, we learned about the various waves of control from Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Yugoslavia. Today both countries are fiercely independent and proud of their distinct, rebellious identities.

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