Back in Philly

I’ve returned to Philly and the trip was hard, literally and figuratively. I’m no good with goodbyes and I’m not a terribly talkative person, especially to folks I don’t know well. Each goodbye was very awkward for me. Although I knew I was going, I kept trying to tell my mind that I wasn’t. I will miss everyone and everything about my life in Zagreb. The entire experience has really changed me, and I hope for the better.

The first thing I realized when I stepped foot outside of the airport in Philly was the smell of the city. I’ve lived in the city for 10 years and it never dawned on me that the city really does have a distinct smell. It’s not a particularly pleasant smell, but it is a familiar one.
The second thing I noticed was the sound. The city is so loud, even in my house. I’ve been so used to only the sound of barking dogs and chirping birds. Now I hear planes, helicopters, sirens, people, buses, you name it. It’s no wonder people have trouble relaxing in the city :)
It won’t be long before I am back into my old routine. I just hope that the experience and the memories I have stay with me and keep me moving forward in a new and positive light.

Getting ready to go back

I am getting ready to return to Philly and I have mixed feelings about it. I’ve been living in Zagreb, Croatia since January and although the transition was difficult at first I’ve really grown to like it here. Life here is far less stressful than in Philly, even when I have the same workload. It will take me some time after I return to Philly to really understand why.

People say the pace is fast in Zagreb. I can’t imagine it any slower. Folks really haven’t experience East Coast U.S. After that, they’ll love the “slow” pace in Zagreb again, hehehe.

Before I came here, I couldn’t imagine living outside of the U.S., although it was one of my life goals to do so. Now, I’m a little worried about returning to the fast-pace, stressful environment of Philly.

I’m very excited about returning to see my family and friends, work on my new house (that we left behind last year), and enjoy many of the American “conveniences” I’ve done without for the past 5 months. The first thing I think I will do when I return is buy a Starbuck’s grande non-fat latte, do a load of laundry to use the dryer, and watch some cable TV :)

While I’ve been in Zagreb, I’ve done without a lot of things…
– no clothes dryer
– no microwave
– no more than 4 channels via rabbit ears
– no to-go coffee
– minimal eating out (no one goes to restaurants here)
– no car to get up and go wherever, whenever I want
– no sushi (i love sushi)

But, this was a fantastic experience that can’t last forever. I’ve met a lot of great people, got to know my “extended family” better, visited a lot of exciting places, and experienced life in another country gaining a better understanding of its culture, language and all those great things that make up Dinko. I just hope I have time to see all the great folks I’ve met here that have really made my experience so great.

I have one more trip before a week of packing before I go. I will be spending a great long, Memorial Day weekend in beautiful Novi Vinodolski on the Adriatic sea.

In the meantime, you can check out all the pictures of the places we’ve been so far at www.dinko.net.

Back to English

Well, that was quick. Needless to say I only lasted a few hours before I completely broke down by the inability to communicate effectively. So much for the 3 day experiment.

I am just not at a stage where I can nearly cut out all English. My vocabulary isn’t high enough and my ability to create more complicated sentences with the right cases and word order is just not there yet.

Continued Language Struggles

It is close to 3 months since I moved to Zagreb and I am still not doing as well as I (and others) would like with the language. Sure, I know more words now than when I started. And, I know more grammar, but holding conversations is where I need the most practice and what I do the least.

I realized this soon after I began my Croatian lessons. Five lessons in I asked my teacher to change her format so that we could hold more conversations instead of me doing homework, trying to memorize word combinations and reading my homework aloud. She agreed, and we hold more conversations, but they are very basic and poor.

A few weeks ago I was doing some research online around linguistics, origin and roots of languages, and learning languages (particularly Croatian). I found a lot of great stuff, but the one revelation was this…

“People will not speak a new language if they don’t HAVE to.”

People will always find the easiest way to converse because speaking in a new language is difficult. I’ve realized that I can get by pretty well with mostly just English here. My boyfriend and I, despite several attempts, always end up speaking only in English. Mostly because of habit, but also because speaking in Croatian is frustrating for both of us and why would anyone want to voluntarily and continuously put themselves in a frustrating situation?

Speaking Croatian requires a whole different way of thinking and constructing sentences (at least for the beginners). For example, take the following relatively common English sentence,

“It’s so good to see you.”

and translate the concept into Croatian…

“Tako mi je drago sto te vidim.”

The literal translation back to English is…

“So to me it is dear that you I see.”

Oh my goodness. Since I don’t think “in Croatian,” I somehow need to come up with these kinds of things if I want to say anything more than “where’s the bathroom?”

Well, at my friend’s request, I am spending the next 3 days without speaking any English beyond what I need for my job. I hope it’s not a total disaster and that I’m not completely miserable with the frustration :)

What I’ve been up to

Nothing too exciting, but here’s an update anyway. Thanks to Dinko for the indirect idea of doing this kind of post :)

  • Getting official permission to stay in Croatia. Well, it took me 3 days, over 450kn (about $75), a lot of waiting and running around to finally get everything in order with the Croatian government. Gotta love bureaucracy.
  • Preparing for the 5K race in Velika Gorica, Croatia. This Sunday I have my first 5K running race in almost 10 years. I used to run a lot and I loved it. Now, I’m very out of shape and I don’t think I will do well. I hope to at least finish and not come in last.
  • Playing lots of Bela. It grows on you. Tihana and I will be expert professional players by the time I return to Philly.
  • Studying Croatian. I need to do this every day. I try to force myself to read ahead in my books, watch Croatian shows, and do exercises. Now I really need to get that conversational aspect down. I know more than I think I do.
  • Visiting Samobor. Last weekend we went with some friends to visit Samobor, a neighboring town. It’s really pretty and not as small as I thought. I want to go back when the weather is nicer to see the old ruins ontop of the hill.

What’s coming up…

  • Redoing my site. The age of my site and the ideas of fellow bloggers have inspired me to make some much needed and well overdue changes to my site. And I think I might experiment with free-tagging myself and my stuff :)
  • Visiting Venice, Italy. Dinko and I have a trip to Venice in a few weeks. It will be great fun. It’s closer than we thought.
  • Visiting Pula, Croatia. Idemo ca! Very exciting. Our friends have offered to take us to Pula for Easter weekend.

my difficulty learning croatian

I’ve been taking a Croatian language course for 3 weeks now and I don’t feel as though I’m progressing as much as I would have hoped. Many know that as an adult, it is very difficult to learn a new language if you’ve never successfully learned a second language before. In high school I studied Spanish, but it was only for 3 years, I never used it and I don’t remember much of it today. In college I studied Russian for 2 semesters. I remember some, and Russian is similar in root to Croatian, but I didn’t learn enough and I haven’t used it since.

I’ve been listening to Croatian (or Serbian) somewhat regularly, although limited at times, for the past 8-9 years. It was about 9 years ago that I met my boyfriend and a few other really great ex-Yugoslavians from Drexel. Since then I’ve been learning the language off-and-on on my own for the past 8 years. Needless to say, I am far better at reading and translating written Croatian than I am at anything else because I didn’t have much practice conversing in it.

Learning the language, by being immersed in it and forced to use it is one of the many reasons why I wanted to come live in Croatia. Being here has definitely exposed me to more spoken conversations, but I’m still not confident enough to contribute. I have difficulty hearing all of the words that are being said. Most of the time I hear only basic words and a few major words from someone and I can derive a concept from it and understand. But, quite often, I get stuck translating a word and miss the rest of the sentence. To strangers I look as though I’m dumb and then I end up saying

“Ne govorim hrvatski. Samo govorim engleski.”

Then they say sorry and keep quiet.

I had high hopes for my language course, but it is not living up to them. My classes largely consist of me reading aloud my homework from the previous class and then doing some exercises or reading aloud of small paragraphs from the work book. There is little real world, one-on-one dialogue between my instructor and myself. Today I asked her to modify the lessons so that we could spend more time on covering what I am weak in–conversations. I have my next class tomorrow and I hope that it is better.

There are only about 12 weeks left to my stay in Croatia and I would like to be able to hold real conversations in Croatian with my boyfriend’s friends and family. There is at least one friend and all of his family that do not speak much English at all and I would like to get to know them better and let them know me.

thinking more about the good stuff

Seeing the good in things over the bad can be difficult. It is often easier to find the bad than the good in things. Perhaps because what’s bad is more impressionable.

On Friday I had a call with a colleague in Vancouver. When asked, how I liked Croatia and what it was like here I had difficulty quickly coming up with anything that was positive. My first instincts were to say what I knew to be different and those were negative. It saddened me, because I do enjoy being here.

Over the weekend I got to thinking. Why can’t I come up with “good” aspects of living in Croatia. It’s not that I can’t come up with them. It’s that I don’t remember them. The bad things that I notice here happen often and leave a lasting impression on me. I am also very fond of my home in Philadelphia and might just be trying to find reasons why I shouldn’t like living in Zagreb as much as I do.

So, I hope to be posting more good things that I find and better comparisons than I have been sharing with family and friends in the States thusfar. Here is one to start…

The people of Croatia are very, very proud of their country. Sure everyone has something to say about the government, the state of affairs, relations with other countries, and ridiculous laws, but when it comes to a Croatian winning something, the whole country talks about it and celebrates it.

When Croatia won the Davis Cup in Tennis, there was a huge celebration in the main square. Thousands of people gathered to celebrate the and cheer the tennis players for their great victory as they returned from Slovakia.

When dinamo (Zagreb soccer team) wins soccer games, residents cheer, scream and shoot guns into the air.

When Janica Kostelic would win a metal or place first in some race, I could hear the people upstairs jumping up and down and banging things in joy.

And when some Croatian folksinger or filmmaker won awards for their contributions, all the TV channels and newspapers had something to say about it.

After the celebration, you will keep hearing about the great event in newspapers on television and from passers-by for days.

The U.S. is quite big, and it’s hard to say that the entire country celebrates in joy when a U.S. citizen wins some award or places in a sport. There’s no real window into those types events around the country. Our mass communication mediums don’t find these types of events worth mentioning pages because they won’t sell papers or commercials. But I can comment on a local level. Most big local events do get recognition and celebration, but it’s no where near the caliber of here. It lacks the luster and true pride.

No Samobor this weekend

Unfortunately the weather was too bad this weekend for us to visit Samobor and the over 170 year old Carneval (“fasnik”) festival. But, it’s ok. Samobor is really close to Zagreb, and as long as our friends are willing, we should get another change to go visit it.

Instead, we had a great lunch at our friends house, played Bela, and went out afterwards. It was nice, albeit, it’s still hard for me to get used to all the smoke everywhere. Bars here don’t have really good ventilation for that stuff. Sure, some bars in Philly are like that, and Philly hasn’t outlawed smoking indoors, but there’s much better ventilation.

Dinko and I are fortunate to have our friends and family offer to cook us lunches. It’s really great, but I feel bad that we can’t exactly return the favor in the same way. Our apartment and kitchen is too small to cook for four and we only have seating for 2. We’ll work something out to return the favor though :)

Lots of construction in Zagreb

There’s a lot of construction going on in Zagreb. I pass 6 active construction for houses on my 15-min walk from the main street (where the grocery store is) to the top of the hill (where our apartment is). Not only is there a lot of active construction going on, but there’s a lot of stagnant construction as well.

There are many unfinished churches and houses in and around the city. I suppose people run out of money.

Big superstores are gaining a lot of popularity in Zagreb. In comparison to the U.S. these stores resemble regular-sized grocery stores. So from U.S.-standards, they’re not really big, but the normal grocery stores in the city are very, very small. They are often the size of a poorly arranged WaWa, but with less convenience ;)

There’s a big superstore, Kaufland, opening up behind our friend’s apartment in the East part of town. Unfortunately I don’t know what kind of store it is because the website is only in German, but we shall soon find out.

Z’nuff for now.

First language test

I took my first language test today. It was mostly a written test to judge how much I know of the language before they build a course for me. Apparently I know quite a bit. I have to cover a few things in level one before moving on to level two. I had some problems with cases, particularly the genetive case, and i didn’t know some words. But all in all I can read and understand very well for never being instructed. Eight years of listening to the language off and on and a few self-learning books helped me with that, ha ha ha.

I started my classes on Friday and will continue them twice a week for 8 weeks. Soon I’ll be fluent–yeah right!