Online Language Classes Weeks 25 & 26: And yet again Paula has changed her mind!

These past couple weeks have honestly not been great for me on a personal level, and what little energy and brain space I do have for language learning, I want to dedicate to BCS. So I decided once again to “drop” my GLN classes, and I think it’s for good this time. My teachers were super sweet, telling me that I was doing great, that they understood life gets busy, and to keep in touch. My Hungarian teacher and I also follow each other on Instagram and respond to each other’s posts, so I know they mean what they say! 🙂

My Korean class ended, and to my great surprise, I was chosen as the star student in the class, earning myself a pat on the back and a $25 Amazon gift card. Ironically, when my teacher was explaining to me that I’d won it, I didn’t understand what she was saying and needed a translation from one of my classmates. However, both my teacher and I know that I’d been working hard all semester, and what I lack in actual language skills, I hopefully make up in effort and preparation.

I also finally decided what to do next semester: the part-time track with American Councils’ Uzbek program! I had been really hedging and hawing on it, but after watching a vlog by my favorite Uzbek YouTuber and realizing that even with my rudimentary knowledge of the language, I generally understood what she was talking about, I got a boost of motivation to keep going with it. 🙂 I’m imagining that if I make even half the gains with Uzbek as I did this summer with BCS, I’ll have a solid foundation in the language and be able to use it in most everyday situations. I also won’t be starting it from scratch, which I think will make the transition a bit easier.

I am fretting a bit about my Russian and how it gets worse and worse the longer I wait to take a class. However, the other day I met some Russians in my hometown and could actually hold a basic conversation with them, assuring me that I can wait a little longer to get back into it. I technically am still in my GLN Russian class and should maybe make an effort to attend every Sunday, but I’m not really a “half-ass” kind of gal. I know I don’t have the capacity right now to dedicate to Russian given that I’ve already missed so much class, so maybe I’ll give it another attempt next semester if it fits into my schedule. I’d rather this semester just be a wash and to try again next semester than to put minimal and inconsistent effort into it.

Online Language Classes Weeks 23 & 24: Did I Mention I Finished a Book in Bosnian??

I’m not sure how I missed this detail in my last blog post, but I read my first book in Bosnian! I’ve talked about it before; it’s called A ti zaključaj (“And you lock up/conclude”), an 100-page collection of short stories about love of all kinds: romantic, friendly, family. I’m pretty proud of that accomplishment given that I only started learning BCS in June. Granted, my entire book is covered in underlines and translations of the plentiful words I needed to look up, but this encourages me to stop being so intimidated about reading in other languages and to just take the plunge! As a personal project after my class ends, I’m going to translate all the stories into English so my friends can enjoy them too, and I might even reach out to the author to ask if she’d be interested in commercializing my translations if I feel they’re good enough. Now I’m nearly halfway through Uhvati zeca (“Catch the rabbit”), winner of the 2020 EU Prize in Literature and with a translation in English if anyone is interested in reading it! Of course, I’m reading it in its original Bosnian, but as soon as I’m done, I’ll buy the English copy and compare the two. 🙂

For a couple weeks, I felt like I was stagnating in BCS, and I knew why. There were things going on in my personal life that were distracting me and taking my focus away from class and motivation away from homework. It was frustrating since this is such a great opportunity, and I’m not sure when I’ll have something like the BLI program again in such a convenient (online so no displacement needed) and affordable (the program is cheaper online, there’s more scholarship money available, and I can have a job at the same time) format. However, this week I really pushed myself, and confiding to my teacher about some of the things on my mind helped me boost my language skills as I just talked and talked without pausing too often to look up words. Classic me, I did start crying at one point as we chatted, but a quick “Možemo li promijeniti temu?” (“Can we change the topic?”) took care of that. And anyway at this point, my teacher has seen me cry more than some of my friends have because we always get so deep into each other’s personal lives during class. 😛

As for my GLN classes, I go back and forth every day on whether I’m glad I’m doing them or regret it. I guess a good sign, though, is that while and immediately after doing homework and participating in classes, I feel great about it because I can tell the grammar and vocabulary is clicking and that I’m improving. A couple weeks ago, our Hungarian teacher’s native speaking friend visited our class, and we were all talking with her! Of course, not about anything complex, but I personally didn’t even know I could say anything in Hungarian without consulting my notes, let alone actually have a conversation with someone. I was also able to ask her a couple spontaneous questions cobbling together words and grammar we’d learned instead of just asking her questions that we’d pre-formulated in class. 🙂 My conclusion so far (and I know as soon as I post this entry, I’ll change my mind) is that I’d be having much more success with my GLN classes if I had the time to study my notes and give myself extra exercises. I’d have to take the classes during a semester when I’m not already doing an intensive program. However, I’m going to make the best of the classes this semester since I’ve already committed to them and allow myself to miss some days when I need a break, like I already have several times.

At work, I found out that one of my coworkers is Korean and hit her up for a conversation. She was absolutely not prepared and was spluttering and in shock. 😛 I’m kind of confused, though, because whenever I speak Korean in class, I sound terrible and clumsy and pepper my sentences with lots of English. Whenever I speak Korean in real life, I sound great and like I studied it for years, which I have. Maybe I’m just nervous because of the pressure of my classmates listening? I honestly wasn’t even aware I still had any competence in Korean until I talked to my coworker the other day and had no problem getting my thoughts across. This has been somewhat of a pattern throughout my life; I’m much better at languages when I’m using them for practical and social purposes than for class. I remember struggling to sound great in French class but then going home to my host family or heading to my internship and speaking it fluently. Failing quizzes in Russian but then using it comfortably on the streets of Yerevan. I think part of the reason my BCS skills have grown as quickly as they have is because my classes are one-on-one (so no shyness in front of other students), and because the teaching format mostly just feels like a conversation with a good friend. 🙂

I’m thinking now to next semester, and there are three options I’m weighing:

  1. Doing American Councils’ full-time ERLP program (16 hours a week) to study both Uzbek and Russian. This is what I most want to do, but I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to handle it with work at the same time.
  2. Doing American Councils’ part-time ERLP program (8 hours a week) to study just Uzbek. This is the most realistic option, but I really do want the Russian gains too.
  3. Not taking any language classes (gasp!) and just studying on my own. I already have my study plan fleshed out, and I self-studying has helped me with languages like Catalan and Italian, and could also really help with BCS too as long as I’m still reading and translating literature. I haven’t had huge success in the past self-studying Korean, Russian, and Uzbek, but at the very least it helped me maintain some of the things I’d learned and would’ve forgotten if not for the self-studying.

What do you think? Any advice?

Online Language Classes Weeks 21 & 22: Slipping a Bit in Everything but BCS

Now that I’m in the full swing of work and five classes, I’m definitely regretting my decision to go back to GLN, even if I do have genuine interest in each of the three languages and really enjoy my teachers’ instruction styles. However, I’ve made my commitments and will stick to them, gosh darn it! I have been slacking a bit on homework for all my classes except BCS, even Korean, and I skipped my Russian and Hungarian classes last week because it was my birthday and I wanted to do something fun with my parents. (We bought a box full of cupcakes and cookies, if you’re wondering.)

Still, I’ve found renewed motivation for Russian and Lithuanian and am determined to make the most of my time with them. (I’ll be honest, Hungarian and Korean are both a bit of a lost cause for me for the semester. I think if I want to make any progress with either language, I’d have to focus on them with no other classes at the same time.) For Russian, I’ve been consuming much more media in it and find that I miss its pronunciation and melody and even headache-inducing grammar. For Lithuanian, our teacher has done a fantastic job pushing us to learn how to conjugate verbs and decline nouns in certain cases, so the pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together. We’ve been doing listening exercises, including dialogue comprehension and filling in song lyrics as we listen to them, and I’ve been surprised to find myself actually getting most of my answers right! Even if I don’t feel I can have much of a conversation in Lithuanian yet, it feels good knowing that my listening comprehension isn’t bad – that’s usually my worst skill when I’m just starting to learn a language.

Also, I wrote a post about my love of Bosnian literature for the American Councils Study Abroad blog, and I wanted to include it here. 🙂

“Throughout my life, I’ve studied many languages to varying degrees of proficiency. However, there are very few that I feel a deeper connection to outside of either liking the languages themselves or spending time in countries where they’re spoken. Learning Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (BCS) through the BLI program changed that for me, which is ironic and pleasantly surprising given that it’s all been online.

My teacher is passionate about literature, and even when I was a very beginner in her class this June, she incorporated excerpts from her favorite books and articles by beloved authors into our everyday lessons. When she wanted me to practice declining adjectives/nouns and conjugating verbs, she pulled paragraphs from Bosnian novels to use as grammar exercises. When it was time for me to expand my vocabulary, she sent me essays by prominent Balkan writers. Early on in my BCS studies, I became familiar with the likes of Faruk Šehić, Lana Bastašić, and Adisa Bašić.

Initially, my eyes glazed over the content of what I was reading as I sought to just fill in the correct conjugation of a verb or find the right translation of a word. That changed with two particular texts: an essay that Šehić wrote about the stubborn perseverance of post-war Sarajevo, and a short story called “A ti zaključaj” in Bašić’s book by the same name. The former gave me a peek into the character of a city I had never visited and yet by that time had started feeling familiar to me through the written word and spoken musings of its citizens. The latter was universal in topic, offering us a fictional look into love and heartbreak and resolve. I was shocked to see my own experiences and thoughts staring back at me in a language that at the time was still so foreign to me.

I ordered three books from my teacher’s favorite bookstore in Sarajevo. Just as Knjiga o Uni by Faruk Šehić, Uhvati zeca by Lana Bastašić, and A ti zaključaj by Adisa Bašić sit on my teacher’s bookshelf, they now adorn mine too. I have since finished reading all of the short stories in Bašić’s book, having gasped, laughed, and cried (literally!) through tales that could have come straight from the mouths of my own friends in America. Although I’ve never been one for travel cliches, I can’t help but nod along to the ones about humanity being universal as Bašić’s seemingly simple and anticlimactic but ultimately poignant and honest stories show me that whether you’re Bosnian or American, Muslim or Christian or agnostic, there are certain things we all seek from our lives. We want love, whether that’s from a partner or a friend or a family member. We want stability. We want community. And Bašić has quietly created a community between her country and mine by telling ordinary, universal stories with extraordinary care.

I only started learning BCS in June, and it’s the end of October as I’m writing this. In that time, I’ve increased my language skills drastically, scoring an Advanced Mid on my OPI in August. I really have Bosnian literature to thank as a big factor in my progress. I’d always seen my prior studies of languages as a vehicle to making friends and increasing professional opportunities around the world. I’d never thought about the fact that it could also reveal to me an entire collection of media, particularly literature, that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to access and fall in love with. Likewise, I’d also never considered that loving something about a language besides just the grammar and the people who speak it – such as literature – could so dramatically boost my language skills.

I’m currently working through Uhvati zeca, winner of the 2020 European Prize for Literature – deservedly so. Rich in symbolism and each of its chapters reading like another layer of an onion you’re determined to peel even as the waterworks begin, it’s a coming of age story that, although with plenty of Balkan-specific references and situations, young people all over the world will find themselves relating to. As the main character, Sara, finds her way back to the Balkans and her native Bosnian tongue, so too do I find a deeper appreciation for this beautiful, fascinating language and the part of the world it occupies.”

Online Language Classes Weeks 19 & 20: I’m Terrible at Making Decisions!

This past week was unusually busy for me. I participated in a conference that ran from 7-9am CST every day, started my part-time job, and of course also had all my language classes and homework on top of that. After my first day at work, daunted by the thought of the early-morning conference AND studying AND working, I impulsively decided to drop all three of my GLN classes (Russian, Hungarian, Lithuanian). After I emailed my teachers, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, so I knew I’d made the right decision.

Except that after the Sunday passed and I didn’t go to any class, I realized I actually missed them and might have freaked out prematurely. 😛 So I messaged my teachers, tail between my legs, asking if I could actually come back and just maybe not attend every single class if there are days I’m particularly busy/tired. They were super nice about accepting me back, and today I felt pretty good in their classes again! Even for a language lover like me, spending six hours of my Sundays studying isn’t the most fun thing I could be doing, but I don’t know when I’ll have this much free time and access to online classes again in my life, so I might as well take advantage of it.

If you’re wondering about the conference I participated in, it’s called Indo-Pacific Youth Dialogue and was organized by my friend through a small grant she received from US Embassy Tokyo and ASEAN. She invited young leaders from all over South and East Asia (as well as Canada and the US) to be participants, and our schedule was full of interesting speakers: one of the founders of the Internet (!!), US diplomats, ASEAN representatives, business leaders, and more. Sometimes I had trouble following the panels because I don’t know much about the Indo-Pacific region, but that’s why I took plenty of notes, so I could look up these topics more in-depth later. 🙂

And if you’re wondering about my job, it’s at the pharmaceutical company my parents have been working at for years. I actually work with my mom’s colleagues, helping build covid test kits. I absolutely love my colleagues and feel like I can be my real, loud, silly self with them, and it definitely helps that most of them already know and get along really well with my mom. And a super great thing: one of my coworkers is Serbian, so I get a lot of conversation practice with her!!! :)))

Taking stock of today, a part of me is ever so slightly annoyed that I decided to pile GLN classes back on my schedule instead of just having a day every week to rest. (I don’t really count Saturdays as rest days anymore because I usually do homework for eight hours straight. :P) However, despite all the work/study-related faults I often pick on myself about, one quality I do actually like about my habits is that I’m ambitious when it comes to my passions, and I put in full effort to the things I care about. Although in my head, I’ve given myself permission to not go to every single class if there are days I’m not feeling it, I know that I’ll probably end up making it to all of them because there’s no point (in my mind) of even coming back if I’m not going to show up 100%. I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed and very exhausted today, especially since my ability to speak Russian has gone down since I started BCS, Hungarian is an infamously complex and difficult language, and Lithuanian is in the evening after I’ve already had two back-to-back classes. Still, I know if I don’t think too hard about how difficult and tiring this or that is and just take it all day by day, it’ll be fine. 🙂

Online Language Classes Weeks 17 & 18: I’m Now Taking 5 Languages – Am I Crazy??

This past Sunday, my GLN classes started: Russian, Hungarian, and Lithuanian. That means that for the next couple of months, I’ll be in five language classes: Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Korean, and those three. It might sound like a lot, but I think it’ll be okay; I’m not technically starting any of these languages from scratch. If you’ve been following this Online Language Classes series, you know I’ve been intensively studying BCS since June and Korean on and off since NSLIY in 2014, and most of you probably also know I speak Russian at an intermediate level thanks to a year of college classes and 10 months of tutoring in Uzbekistan. I took Lithuanian through GLN this summer and am retaking the same level (that is, beginner), but it’ll be a good way to refresh and solidify what I learned and forgot over the summer. As for Hungarian, if you’ve reallyyyy been following my blog for the past several years or if you know me personally, I dated a half-Hungarian guy for 1.5 years and spent a lot of time in his hometown of Miskolc, Hungary. During my relationship with him, I on and off self-studied Hungarian with Duolingo. Although it never amounted to that much because Duolingo is not a reliable way to learn a language from zero, I’m comfortable with the pronunciation/accent and a lot of the complex grammar constructions in a way that those new to the language might not be. All of this to say, yes I sound like I’ve fallen off the deep end for choosing to do five classes at the same time, but I promise there’s some semblance of method to this madness!

I was delighted logging into my Russian class and discovering that I actually already knew 8/18 of my classmates! My best friend Thomas and I had decided to take it together, and I knew a few of my other friends had signed up for it too, but I also watched as the faces and names of several other people in my life showed up. I was a little nervous at first, wondering if they’d judge my not fantastic speaking skills, but it actually made class that much more fun and comfortable having so many friendly faces with me. 🙂 And spoiler: I was shocked and relieved to find my Russian skills haven’t slipped by that much! It comes in waves; sometimes I’m so deep into BCS that whenever I try to speak Russian, only BCS comes out. Fortunately, for this first day of class, that wasn’t the case. Also, our teacher is very organized and encouraging, and she happens to be a travel blogger, which I obviously find super cool.

Hungarian definitely has a more intimate environment, but no less friendly. We have a small class of eight people including the teacher, me, one of my other best friends Nico, and one of my NSLIY alumni friends! Several people in the class are there because of Hungarian ancestry, but one girl is taking it because she’s a language nerd that wants a challenge, something I can relate to. 😛 Our teacher is young and dynamic, and unlike my Russian and Lithuanian teachers, barely used PowerPoints, instead relying on repetition and hand motions. He grew up in both Hungary and Japan; his father is Japanese and his mother Hungarian. He studied at NYU Shanghai and is now working at Google. In some ways, his background reminds me of my former boyfriend’s, as the latter was half Hungarian half Italian with strong roots in both countries and fluency in both languages, and he got his degree from NYU Abu Dhabi. 😛

My Russian and Hungarian classes are back-to-back, which means every Sunday from 10am to 2pm, I’m in class without a break (thought I snuck in lunch during Hungarian!). Then comes three hours off, during which I went on a run and walked a bit with my mom. I was tempted to take a nap, but I know the best thing I can do for my energy levels is to do the opposite, to get moving!

Lithuanian started at 5pm, and it was great to be back with my awesome teacher, Ksenija! Only a few people from the summer class are in this fall session, but we have several new people joining us, and I’m excited to get to know them. We have less students this semester than during the summer, which I prefer because it’ll hopefully mean more speaking practice. I didn’t take too many new notes because most of the lesson was review, instead adding to my day 1 notes from June. Ksenija came up with some innovative, interactive homework, sending us grammar drills on an Excel sheet that turn color if you get the answer right. That way, you can keep trying until you are correct without having to guess whether you are or not. 🙂 Although we weren’t taught the genitive or locative cases during class time, I picked up on their endings through the homework and also figured out how to form language names through adjectives of nationality. I’ve been practicing a lot of Lithuanian in our class group chat (perhaps a bit too much – I noticed I’m often the only one responding to Ksenija’s questions), and a few days ago I reached out to a friend from home, asking if his Lithuanian stepdad and half-sisters would be willing to talk to me about their culture and history!

I haven’t started work yet, and I imagine it’ll get more difficult to complete my homework as thoroughly once I do. However, I try to remind myself that if in high school, I could have class all day, hours of sports practice/competitions in the afternoon, and six classes’ worth of homework at night, I can definitely handle five classes and a part-time job now. 😉

Online Language Classes Weeks 15 & 16: A Couple Changes

I’ve decided to start posting on Saturdays instead of Sundays because I’ll soon be starting my three GLN classes, all of which are on Sundays. A bit unfortunate that all three classes I wanted to take landed on the same day, but I can’t really complain because this is my passion, and it was my choice to go for them anyway. 😉

I’ll probably also be slowing the pace of my posts because I’m soon starting a part time job, and between 16 hours a week of class (not including homework) and 20 hours a week of work, it doesn’t seem like a good use of my finite energy to write updates every single week. Besides, the main audience these blog posts are for is me. I enjoy having a log of my language progress given that these are things I don’t write much about in my daily diary.

Not much has changed in my Korean and BCS classes. I feel I’ve “stagnated” a bit, but not in a bad way. I’m actually pleased with where I’m at; I know that I’ve peaked for the moment because I’m doing well, and it’ll take more time and effort to improve even more. I was relatively quickly able to shed the heavy negativity I’d been carrying around about Korean – sometimes, tough love talks to myself (“You’re gonna continue sucking at Korean unless you get it together, cheer for yourself, and put a smile on your face!”) actually work! Now I’m just letting myself have fun with my homework and in class, and I’m back to always offering to present first, asking my classmates a million questions, and cracking the occasional joke. I’ve also been trying to get creative with my homework. Last week’s topic was food, so I polled my Instagram followers on their eating habits and shared my findings in class. Next week’s topic is exercise, so I made a short vlog of my workout routine. 🙂

Sometimes I’ve felt myself getting frustrated with my BCS, but I quickly remember that the only reason I made such quick gains over the summer was because I was starting from nothing. Anyway, I’ve been reading a LOT for class and incorporating the words I’ve come across in my everyday speech: “to nurture,” “to offer,” “strict,” “infidelity” (lol), etc. Those moments feel like victories because I know the things I briefly come across in the stories I’m reading are actually sticking in my brain. My teacher also told me this week that I’m one of few students she’s had that understands literature really well, something I’d never thought about myself even in English, so that motivated me.

Online Language Classes Week 14: Back to BCS!

My fall semester of BCS has started, and I gotta say, being on a part-time track has been amazing. I only have class on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays for two hours each, and they start at 11am instead of 8am. I also only meet my language partner (the lovely Amna again!!) for one hour a week as opposed to three during the summer program. Culture classes are still an hour every week, but they’re going to be much more flexible. Sometimes we’ll just have readings or videos instead of actual meetings, and on days we do have meetings, we won’t have accompanying texts like we did every week during the summer.

Asmira and I have decided to focus mostly on reading this semester, which I’m so happy about because I had just ordered and received three of her favorite books from her favorite local bookstore in Sarajevo, Buybook. Right now we’re continuing reading the rest of the stories in A ti zaključaj, which we’d started in the summer and I’d continued on my own in the few weeks of break I had. I love the different forms and contexts of love explored in each story: the “other woman” leaving a man expecting a child with his wife, a woman spending time with a man she met through a dating site and realizing he was only interesting online (they are only referred to by their screen names the entire story! 😛 ), a daughter estranged from her mother because she’d chosen to marry a man of a different religion, two old people who meet at a dance class, and now a sick wife whose doting husband gets her a turban he knows will outlive her. The story that touched me the most was one about a woman who was getting ready for a perfect life in Paris with her diplomat husband when she realizes he might be cheating on her. She just suddenly leaves him without ever talking to him again, and we never find out if he actually was unfaithful to her. That story broke my heart and I even cried in class while discussing it with Asmira because in my life, I’ve experienced a lot of sadness (with love interests but also with friends and family) because of miscommunication or leaving things unsaid.

I was initially getting upset about how I was doing in my Korean class; on the second day of class, I’d gotten myself so worked up and so nervous that I ended up stuttering my way through my short presentation and being noticeably upset afterwards. It took me back to the first several weeks of CLS when my dramatic ass couldn’t improve because I was constantly so down on myself. This past week, though, I chose to just chill and be kind to myself, and lo and behold, it worked! I still wasn’t speaking at the level I used to be at, but just the fact of being more relaxed helped me stutter less and brush off my mistakes. I still don’t understand what about Korean in particular freaks me out so much. In every other language I’ve studied, I’m excited to blabber away nonstop, not phased by mistakes even as people are interrupting me to correct me. For some reason, though, I’m insanely uptight and hard on myself with Korean. I wonder if it’s because it’s not a language I particularly enjoy speaking. I don’t find the pronunciation or sentence structure or vocabulary fun like I do with languages like French, Russian, Catalan, and Bosnian. Whatever the reason, like with this past week, I’m not going to let it stop me from improving and enjoying myself!

Booklist Summer 2020

After reading this post, I think you’ll be just as confused as I am by what the h*ck my taste in books even is.

The Clique series by Lisi Harrison

A middle school favorite, I reread it again this summer after first rereading it a few summers ago. It’s such a guilty pleasure, but I have no shame in declaring that it puts me in the best mood and brings back funny, sweet, and petty memories of my own time as a preteen navigating the highs and lows of… sixth grade. It’s basically about a clique of bitchy, rich, popular girls in middle school, but it’s so cleverly written and full of such funny cultural references and empathy that it’s fun to read even now at nearly 25 years old. I personally LOVED middle school, even the “heartbreak,” friend drama, and insecurities. In fact, I miss when my problems used to be so small, and I even recognized at like 13 years old that I had it good, that the things I was upset about weren’t actually a big deal and just added to the richness and fun of everyday life. Reading The Clique series puts me back in that time period when a boy acknowledging you existed was something to email your friends about (yes, I emailed my friends before I had a cell phone), and when you and your squad fought over stupid things but ultimately were there for each other. I haven’t had a real friend group since high school, and I miss it despite the groupthink and cattiness that came with it.

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t come across the prison abolition movement until this June after George Floyd’s murder. Davis is one of the original prison abolition activists, and although this work didn’t answer my questions about what a post-carceral society would look like and how exactly we would get there, it was an accessible introduction to a newbie like me.

Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire by Angela Davis

The interview/Q&A format of this book simultaneously expanded its breadth while limiting its depth. I was confused at times because not enough context could be given for a particular topic, but I also liked that the book was a brief introduction to every topic that could be broached when it comes to prison abolition. There were a lot of quotes I took pictures of, whether because they stirred something in me or because I was curious to learn more.

Hawk by James Patterson

After promising us with about five different books that that one was the final Maximum Ride installment and that the series was officially over, I actually believed Patterson when the “last” one came out years ago that it had finally come to its painful, fiery end. And then out of the ashes emerged Hawk, following Max’s annoying, abrasive teenage daughter as she rejoins her family and fights a president oddly similar to Trump, and I’m simultaneously cursing Patterson and his ghostwriter and spending money on this hot trash. The reason Maximum Ride is even still on its 10th iteration when it was supposed to stop at #3 is because of suckers like me who are so emotionally attached to the Flock that we will continue throwing our money at whatever garbage Patterson and his team come up with. I can honestly say Hawk was the worst book I’ve ever read. There was almost no plot, every single character was unlikable and cringy (even the original Flock), and it wasn’t funny or fast-paced like the old books were. I’m not trying to be mean or dramatic when I say that the Maximum Ride fanfictions I wrote when I was 10 years old were better than this book. However, the series was/is such a formative part of my childhood and even my life as an adult that I know when the next book inevitably comes out, I’ll buy it.

The Daevabad Trilogy by S. A. Chakraborty

I first read City of Brass in January, and while I liked it, I didn’t love it. However, in June when I read its sequel, Kingdom of Copper, I was HOOKED. That’s when I knew I’d found a new favorite series, something that rarely happens since I’m so loyal to my old favorites. While waiting for the release of the final book in the trilogy, I went back and reread all of City of Brass and parts of Kingdom of Copper. Then when the last book, Empire of Gold, came out, I read all 766 pages in four days.

There are several reasons I love this trilogy so much. The world-building is rich, with Chakraborty spinning a magical Islamic empire based on real geography. The mythical city of Daevabad is in modern-day Pakistan, Prince Alizayd’s family hails from the Horn of Africa, and Tukharistani traders cross through from what is now Central Asia. The vocabulary of our heroes is speckled with Arabic greetings, Persian roots, and historical references, and although a fictional religion competes with Islam among the tribes of the trilogy, it’s clear which one has the most cultural and political influence.

The main draw to the books for me, though, is its nuanced handling of ethnic tension, genocide, and the unwillingness of the ruling class to truly protect minorities. I was reading the trilogy in June and July, when Azeris and Armenians were entangled in military conflict, when I was learning about Srebrenica in my BCS class, and when protests and anti-racist action in response to the killing of George Floyd and other Black folks dominated the national discourse. (And still does!) The books helped me process what was happening in real life, especially since we were given a look into the lives of characters that ultimately had their hands tied when it came to enacting meaningful change for their citizens. I didn’t come out hating the royalty in the books, but rather understanding that they shouldn’t exist at all.

Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood by Barbara Demick

I had already read and loved Demick’s sophomore book, Nothing to Envy, which followed the lives of North Korean refugees before, during, and after their escape. This book was written before that one, and although Demick’s writing style was a little less refined, organized, and thoughtful, it followed the same format of pieces of a story at a time, not always on a linear chronological timeline. It tells the stories of ordinary citizens in Sarajevo during the siege of 1992-1995 that left their city and their families destroyed. Although I rated Logavina Street five stars on Goodreads, I’m thinking it was more a 4-star read for me because it felt like every other cliche piece Americans could write about wartime Bosnia. I read a beautiful piece in Bosnian by Faruk Šehić about his city burning, and it somehow painted his compatriots as neither heroes nor victims, his city as neither perfect nor destroyed. His essay of only a few pages painted a full-color, three-dimensional picture of Sarajevo for his readers that Demick’s entire book couldn’t accomplish.

Orlando by Virgina Woolf

I first read this in 2015 for a Queer Lit class I took at NYU, and I decided to reread it because I saw that the Vienna Opera would be showing it – the first time a work directed by a woman would grace that hall! I read online that Woolf wrote this as a fictional biography of her lover, and that it might not have even been intended for publication. That would explain why much of the book didn’t make a ton of sense to me. There’s this whole fanfare about how funny and lovingly the book is written that I just couldn’t pick up on while wading through the pages-long paragraphs following the life of a young, attractive English nobleman who gets his heart broken by an unfaithful Russian girl, takes up a diplomatic post in Constantinople, transforms into a woman, runs away with “gypsies,” returns to England, and lives for centuries. Being who I am, it was also hard to ignore the overt racism, like in the very first page when Orlando is kicking around the head of an African or Muslim that he killed. The best thing I got out of this book was a line about Orlando realizing that the “gypsies” considered it obscene that she was bragging about a house with a hundred rooms when they had the whole world. That was a great confirmation to me that humans can construct all we want, but it’s nature that actually rules the entire universe.

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

I was mainly drawn to this book by the opening essay written about Lorde’s experience as a Black, feminist lesbian from the West touring Soviet Russia and Uzbekistan. What was amusing to me was that I found some of her observations about Uzbekistan to be coming from the colonizer’s eye, a viewpoint I only normally accredit to white people. It just goes to show that non-white people can also have a colonizer perspective depending on the context, so we always need to be checking ourselves! I did like, though, that Lorde acknowledged that a lot of what we accused the USSR of doing or being, we also do in America, it’s just legal, under a different name, or to a lesser degree. And of course, from a very personal standpoint, I was fascinated by a glimpse into the Uzbek SSR – Lorde made it to Tashkent, Samarkand, and even Gulistan!

To my delight, there are far better essays and speeches than the USSR one. I’m thinking of rereading the entire book sometime soon because I need more time to process everything I’ve learned about the intersections of race, sexuality, gender, and even parenthood. This is the kind of book that you need to read slowly, one essay at a time, so you can really digest the words jumping at you.

One of my favorite essays was the very last one, a report about US military action in Grenada. I didn’t even know where Grenada was, let alone what the US was doing there, and I ended up staying late Googling the country and reading about the conflicts on its territory.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

I wanted to love this book the way I love 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, but I really just ended up being frustrated by the characters’ choppy speech (I know it’s meant to imitate Japanese influence on everyday language) and mundane lives. It’s a speculative fiction novel exploring what the USA would be like if the Nazis and Japanese had won World War II, and there’s even a speculative fiction novel within this speculative fiction novel about what the USA would be like if the Allies had won the war (though not in the same way we actually won in real life). Brilliant premise, but nothing made me actually care about what happened to anyone, and everything big that happened felt anticlimactic. The entire book was like a fever dream to me, devoid of reason and reality. Maybe I need to reread it to appreciate its genius – I came across plenty of reviews that got me excited about it, but whenever I returned to the book, I was disappointed again.

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

After finishing the Daevabad trilogy, I was craving a story full of idealism and action to fill the hole it left. I’d read The Hunger Games trilogy two or three times before, which sounds like a lot, but compared to other series that I’ve read at least 10 times, that’s nothing! I’d actually tried rereading it a few years ago, but I remember being stuck on Mockingjay and just never finishing it. However, after a conversation with my brother in which we discussed how Katniss and Gale were supposed to be Native Americans and how the premise of the story is actually about racial oppression, I knew I’d found my next favorite series. I wasn’t disappointed. While the writing, world-building, and complexity of The Hunger Games pales in comparison to Daevabad – after all, the latter is adult fiction, not YA – I couldn’t put the books down. I barely remembered what happened in Catching Fire and didn’t remember Mockingjay at all, so it felt a bit like experiencing the trilogy through new eyes. The opening chapters of the first book could’ve been taken word-for-word from things North Korean refugees have said about life in their villages, and the theme of fighting back against a tyrannical Capitol is relevant to the protests around the world and in America right now. I love rereading YA books now as an adult because I can apply my own experiences to them, and apply them to real life!

My next blog post about books will likely be just as scattered and genre-defying as this. What do we want to call my taste in books? Fantasy action with a dash of idealism, a scoop of teen angst, and a heavy sprinkling of revolution?

Online Language Classes Week 13: Is YEE Worth It? + My Best OPI Score Yet!

First I want to get the great news out of the way: I received my OPI score, and I can officially say I speak BCS at an Advanced Mid level after only 8 weeks of online classes, with no prior experience with the language, and never having been in the countries where it’s spoken!!! 🙂 Of course, I’ll be the first to assert that OPI scores mean little, and I still stand by that. I might be Advanced Mid for the kinds of questions they happened to ask me on my OPI, but I’m not there in any other skill. I still barely understand when I watch YouTube, and as I’m reading books, I have to look up what feels like every other word. However, I’m still feeling good about my score given that the only other language I’ve taken OPIs for is Korean, and I’d never scored higher than an Intermediate Mid on them.

In other news, my Turkish class with Yunus Emre Enstitüsü in DC finished after 12 weeks. 😦 It’s 100% worth it; not only is it a free class that’s six hours a week (so you get a total of 72 contact hours at no cost to you!!), the teacher is AMAZING. I mentioned in my last blog post that I don’t particularly love Turkish, but my classmates and teacher were what kept me coming back to class. I’m a huge introvert, so social interaction and Zoom calls normally tire me out, but I always finished a three-hour stint of Turkish feeling energized and refreshed. The free class (called A1.1-1) prepares you halfway to reach an A1 proficiency in Turkish, and there’s an A1.1-2 class being offered in the fall for those of us who want to continue through with the A1 level. I won’t be taking it because it interferes with my Korean class, but I’m considering it for the future! And if you’re thinking about learning Turkish, I can’t recommend doing it through YEE enough. I believe their free A1.1-1 class is offered every semester, including this fall!

I also ended up signing up for three GLN classes with the financial assistance of two of my best friends with whom I’m taking the classes, and my mom (I’m paying them all back, don’t worry!). I’ll be in Hungarian Foreigner (their level 1 class), Lithuanian Foreigner/Tourist (their level 1 & 2 combined class), and Russian Explorer (their level 3 class). I’m so pumped for each one. I used to date a Hungarian guy and often visited him in his hometown, so I self-studied through Duolingo for a while and actually made some progress. I don’t remember much of what I learned, but I’m excited to be in a real class and learn a lot more! Lithuanian is a continuation from the summer, and I’m not upset that a lot of it will be review given that I don’t remember much of what I learned from the summer. 😛 I took Russian Explorer in person in DC two years ago, but I didn’t love the way my teacher taught, so I’m looking forward to a new teacher this time around. And the best part is that the fall semester is 12 weeks long, not 6, so it’s even better value and I’m sure I’ll learn and retain even more! ❤

Online Language Classes Week 12: 다 잊어버렸어요! 아쉽당 ㅜㅜ

“I’ve forgotten everything! A pity”

This week my Korean class started. It was good to see some friendly faces in my class of 11 people; there were several NSLIY and CLS alumni, including someone who was in my same CLS class three summers ago! The teacher is the cutest woman ever: patient with our mistakes, open to hearing about our experiences so she could pass the info along to her teenage son, and eager to create a comforting environment.

And she definitely succeeded in that latter point! Even though I was extremely nervous and hadn’t taken a Korean class in almost three years, I pushed myself to always be talking, whether that was offering to go first for an activity, reacting to others, or asking my classmates questions about themselves. I’ll be the first to admit that it wasn’t my finest work; I’ve forgotten a lot of words and grammar, so I ended up being quite repetitive and slipping into English to ask how to say something. However, I’m hoping that during this course, I’ll pick back up on the things I’ve learned before and be able to use them in my regular speech. I’m a bit intimidated by some of the other students in the class who seem to speak quite fluently, but it helps me a lot to pay close attention to what they’re saying as a refresher and as a way to learn new words and phrases.

For the first time all summer, I skipped a couple Turkish classes! 😦 The first because I was just tired and not feeling it, the second because I was helping move my brother into college. I’ve definitely fallen off the Turkish train, and I don’t feel prepared for our final exam next week. To be honest, I don’t feel a particular passion for Turkish; the only reason why I’m so dedicated to the class is because I love my teacher and the other students!

I found out that my GLN Lithuanian teacher will be offering the class again in the fall, which I’m pumped for! Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I’ll have the money or time to take it. It’s a shame because the fall courses are 12 weeks long instead of 6, and given that I already took the summer course, I feel I could really reinforce my knowledge and be able to develop a basic proficiency in Lithuanian if I took it again and for a longer period of time.

Speaking of GLN, I was also going to retake the level 3 Russian class this fall as a refresher and a way to keep my Russian somewhat sharp even as most of my brain is focused on another Slavic language. However, the question of scheduling and money still holds, and even if I do find the money for GLN, I’d likely have to choose between Lithuanian and Russian. Sad! 😦 Fortunately, I’ve heard that the organization is planning to continue with some of their online classes even someday after covid, so I know that no matter where I am in the country or world, I’ll likely have the opportunity to learn with them. 🙂

Next week, my BCS classes will start back up! Even though the hours will be reduced by half from the summer, I’m still a little nervous because of how tiring it all was. Still, a few days ago I ordered a few of the novels that I’ve been reading with my teacher so that I can have physical copies to mark up and love- I’m tired of individually printing out scans of the each page. 🙂 The shipping cost more than the three books combined since I was ordering from a local Sarajevan bookstore (my teacher’s favorite spot in town!), but I’m happy to support Bosnian authors and businesses.