Hello from DC! I’m back in my favorite city for a couple weeks to visit my best friends and for a change of scenery. My parents are fully vaccinated now and were comfortable with me flying, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken this risk. At the airports and on the plane, I double masked, used copious amounts of hand sanitizer, and tried my best to stay away from others. I also changed my seat so that I’d have the row to myself. This is my first time traveling and flying for nearly a year (my last time was when I came back home from France, landing March 29), so it definitely feels good to be doing what I love again. This trip isn’t for tourism, either; I just want to see my closest pals again, and for this first week, I haven’t been meeting up with anyone. I’ve only been spending time with Thomas, the friend I’m staying with, and it’s been excellent. We know from visiting each other frequently throughout our nine years of friendship and spending two weeks traveling Uzbekistan that we work well together.
I recently, finally, finished my first novel in Bosnian, “Uhvati zeca” (Catch the Rabbit). I had previously finished another book in Bosnian, but it was an 100-page collection of short stories, so it was a little easier to read. This was my first novel at 200+ pages and written in “higher” style, with lots of symbolism, extended metaphors, slang, and other literary devices that are harder to pick up on in a language that is not my own. I had been enjoying the book but found both main characters hard to like. The ending, however, took my breath away, brought me to tears as I sat in my cubicle at work, and tied everything together. The premise of the book is Sara, a Bosnian girl who grew up during the war and moved to Ireland to start a new life and escape her dysfunctional country, returning to the Balkans to go on a road trip with her estranged childhood best friend, Lejla. Lejla claims that her brother Armin, who disappeared as a teenager during the war, is in Vienna and that she needs someone who can drive her there. The entire book switches between the present on their road trip and the past when they were children, the latter providing insights on why Sara is so traumatized by her childhood and why Lejla behaves in the strange and exaggerated way she does. I’ve now read several essays about Bosnians’ relationship with their country and with the war, but this book does the best job of really planting in outsiders like me the combination of bittersweet nostalgia, anger and disappointment, and ultimately sense of belonging to a collective entity that has suffered but survived.
I’m going to spoil the ending in this next section, so if you plan on reading the book – WHICH YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD – the author is a polyglot badass and did the translation into English herself!!! – then skip this next part.
In the very last chapter, we find out that Armin had never been alive. Lejla just wanted to rekindle her friendship with Sara but didn’t know how to simply say that’s what she wanted, as Armin was the last thing connecting the two girls. In fact, Lejla is one extended metaphor for Bosnia itself and how despite the trauma her country caused her, Sara will never truly be rid of it. It’s a part of her, and she will always be a part of it even if she recognizes how complicated her relationship with it is. The very last paragraph was done beautifully; the author doesn’t directly come out and say that Armin isn’t alive and that Lejla wants to be friends with Sara again. But you’ll just have to read it to see what I mean. 😉
Personalized Russian classes
I mentioned in my last post that I wasn’t really enjoying my Russian classes, but I love them now. I had told Asmira, my former Bosnian teacher, that I didn’t like the format of the classes, and she encouraged me to speak up. I was nervous to, but the program staff ended up reaching out to me to ask if there was anything they could change about the program given that my classes are one-on-one so there’s a lot of flexibility for personalization 🙂 I sent them a lot of suggestions for how I learn best and what specifically I’d like to cover, and they’ve incorporated all my suggestions! So shoutout to SRAS – if you’re looking to keep up with your Russian skills but with a minimal time commitment, I can definitely, wholeheartedly recommend them now! An example of some of the changes they made: I said I’m interested in international relations and would like to read news articles and watch authentic videos, so for my last class, my teacher chose an article about Russian as a potential official second language in Estonia and a video about Chinese students learning Russian. I can tell I’m improving, especially with spoken fluency (in terms of how quickly and comfortably I can talk) and vocabulary. It’s also been great to see how knowing BCS has helped me pick up Russian vocabulary faster because many words are cognates. I used to have SO MUCH trouble memorizing Russian words, but now it’s much easier for me when I know the same word in BCS.
After a “break” from online language classes (I use quotes because I did end up going back to Russian, didn’t I??), I’m ready and motivated to dive back into intensive language courses. Unfortunately, I likely won’t be able to do them because I anticipate starting a full time job by the end of April, but I want to keep the option open just in case either the classes fit in my work schedule or I don’t end up starting a new job anytime soon. I’m trying to decide between Uzbek, BCS, and Russian, though I’d likely go with Uzbek because it’s my weakest language of the three, I have a lot of resources to maintain my BCS level on my own, and I can do Russian through SRAS. Part of the reason I’m so motivated is because I’ve been looking at a lot of career pages in the international development / international relations / international education fields, and many of the positions I’m interested in require fluency in one or more of those languages. It’s been a really nice affirmation that in terms of professional use, I’m not wasting my time studying “rare” languages like BCS and Uzbek; if anything, I’m at a disadvantage for not being fluent in the latter!
I’m not sure if I’ll write a blog post about my trip to DC because I definitely don’t want to be flaunting that I’m traveling in the middle of a pandemic, but I have been continuing to study languages while I’m here and also visiting some cool places in the city that a lot of people might not have been to, so we’ll see!