“Uhvati zeca,” Personalized Russian Classes + Spring/Summer Plans

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.

“Uhvati zeca”

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.

*SPOILER*

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. 😉

*SPOILER END*

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.

Spring/Summer plans

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!

I’m Back! OPI Score, Russian Classes, and Language Tables

It’s been a couple months since I last wrote, but that’s mostly because I’d been taking a break from language classes. I loved the experiences I had with American Councils, the Yunus Emre Institute, the Korean Consulate in Chicago, and even sometimes GLN (though that’s a whole can of worms we’ll dive into later – they really messed up handling multiple issues with my friend, and although the teachers, volunteers, and students are great, I find the actual paid staff totally unprofessional and incompetent). However, online language classes really burn you out! I was definitely getting tired of being in front of a computer all day, especially since my BCS classes were one-on-one so I had to be “on” all the time.

I ended up receiving an Advanced Low score on my OPI in the middle of December when my BCS program ended. It’s a step lower than the Advanced Mid score I got at the end of the summer after only two months studying the language. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t a bit disappointed – I was ambitious and hoped I could pull of an Advanced High, though I knew that wouldn’t happen given that I’ve never even been to the Balkans before. Still, I’ve taken enough OPIs now to know that they’re a bit of a crapshoot, and I know several people who have moved down a score even after doing an intensive, immersive language program in-country! It’s common at the advanced level for obvious reasons: it’s much harder to make noticeable progress the more proficient you are. Anyway, I’m actually satisfied with my Advanced Low score now because I think it’s a better reflection of my actual speaking abilities than Advanced Mid is, and it doesn’t take into account how well I can understand, read, and write!

This past week I started taking Russian classes through The London School in Bishkek’s SRAS program. Classes are 50 minutes a session three times a week for two months, and the price is $280 for the program based in Bishkek. To be honest, I’m not loving the teaching style or materials, but I’ll write more about my thoughts when I’ve finished with the classes and can give a fairer review. My Russian has really gotten bad, yet somehow I was placed into their highest level (apparently equivalent to ASU’s Russian 411 class, though I have my doubts), which is impossible because I think even at my peak in Uzbekistan, my Russian was probably only at a high B1 level. I immediately switched down a level, and although those lessons weren’t too difficult, one of my good friends who’s very advanced in Russian got placed into that class too, and having him around has been intimidating me lol. So I switched down another level and will be starting that this week!

I’m also an Alumni Ambassador now for American Councils programs, and in typical me fashion, I’ve been a bit extra about it. The responsibilities for Alumni Ambassadors are minimal, but I decided to organize 42 of my friends into about 70 language table sessions covering around 10 languages. I know. I’m insane. Fortunately, my schedule isn’t very busy these days, so I have the time to be around to troubleshoot if need be and even lead a few of my own language tables. However, when I saw my Google Sheets spreadsheet with nearly every time slot filled, I did get a little panicked. 😛 I’m very grateful to all these people for stepping up and volunteering for this project, though!

I definitely won’t be blogging about my SRAS classes, but there are a couple topics I’d like to write about and reflect on these next couple of months. Hopefully it won’t be another nearly two months before you hear from me again!

Online Language Classes Weeks 27 & 28: The End!

And just like that, my BLI program studying Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian is over. I really have so many people to thank for getting me to where I am now, and I did write a post about all of them for the American Councils blog, so I’ll be including it in here. I took my post-program OPI on Wednesday, and of course I’ll write about the questions I was asked and score I receive once it’s available to me.

In perhaps a twist that no one (least of all myself) was expecting, I don’t think I’ll be continuing with online language classes next semester. Although I’ve made so many gains this summer and fall, I’m pretty burnt out on sitting in front of a computer to study. I want to focus on other interests next semester: on working out more frequently than I have been, on reading even more than I already do, on keeping up to date with the news and happenings around the world. I have a self-study plan for several different languages, but I think my main focuses will be BCS and Catalan. As for the others, I’ll continue what I do anyway for fun: watching YouTube and listening to podcasts in all the languages I’ve studied. 🙂

Anyway, here’s the blog post I wrote for American Councils!

“It’s hard to believe that my time learning Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (BCS) with BLI is soon coming to an end. I spent 16 hours a week on the program during the summer session, and eight hours per week this fall semester. That means that although the program was entirely online, I’ve been pretty immersed in my language studies – I often catch myself thinking in BCS, and occasionally also dreaming!

I went from knowing absolutely no BCS in June (I had to frantically look up how to say “Hello” right before I entered the Skype meeting with my teacher on the first day) to receiving an Advanced Mid on my post-program OPI in August to finishing reading a collection of short stories in October and now being in the middle of reading my first novel. None of this would’ve been possible without the people who have supported me along the way, whether they realize the role they’ve played in my life or not! Before my classes are over in a couple weeks, I’d like to dedicate this blog post to thanking them.

The American Councils BiH team

I first heard about the BLI program when I was an intern at American Councils in 2018. Selma from the AC BiH team came to speak to the DC staff about programs for both Americans and locals in Bosnia, including YES, BLI, and Access. I remember daydreaming about someday learning Bosnian with BLI but also doubting I’d get an opportunity given that I had already graduated college. Although the current world situation is not something to celebrate, I can’t help but be thankful that it’s given me an opportunity I’d been wanting for two years! Merima from the BiH team has been working tirelessly to make sure the program runs smoothly and to provide us with excellent cultural activities. Some of my favorites have been a coffee-making demonstration, reading and discussing a study about youth political engagement in Bosnia, and virtual tours of cultural and historical museums around the country.

The day I met Selma in DC in 2018!

Merima and fellow BLI student Rachael making Bosnian coffee together.

My language partner(s)

Over the summer, I had two language partners, and one of them, Amna, has continued working with the program this semester. Both of them were insanely patient and encouraging with me even in the first couple weeks when I could barely string a sentence together. One of the funniest memories Amna and I have is me learning how to ask questions using the verb “to be” during my first week and asking her, “Jesam li… ruzna?” Am I ugly? She has truly become one of my good friends, and I tell her everything I would tell my American friends at home! 

Filming a quick video with my language partner for the AC Study Abroad Instagram account!

The Serbians in my community

Even before the pandemic, I always lived by the idea that fascinating and amazing people are absolutely everywhere, you just have to be open to finding them! Although I’ve been in my small hometown in northern Illinois for the past several months, I’ve come across a surprising amount of Serbians with whom I can practice BCS, learn more about the Balkans, and feel like I am on an immersion program even in America. A month into my studies, two of my childhood classmates generously sat down to coffee with me to talk about their upbringing as Serbian-American and Orthodox. While out on a run, I heard sevdalinka (traditional Balkan music) blasting from a boombox and approached the man holding it; his eyes were bugging out to hear me speaking his language, and he promised to invite me to the next cevape outing after the pandemic. At work, I found out one of my coworkers is Serbian, and she brought me a bag of Balkan candies and chocolates for my birthday! At my local cafe, I’ve met three more Serbians who have all kindly invited me along whenever they grab coffee. Ironically, I became acquainted with one of them because he heard me speaking Russian with some other customers, asked what language it was, and introduced himself as Serbian!

My first time seeing my childhood classmates since high school, and now I can speak their language!

My colleague and I during our many outside-of-work encounters 🙂

New Serbian friends!

And of course, my teacher!

I’m not exaggerating when I assert that Asmira is one of my best friends; part of the reason my language skills have been increasing so quickly is because I’m so eager to talk to her about anything and everything that I have no fear of making mistakes and of just blabbing away to her! She’s attuned to what I’m interested in, so we read a lot of news articles, short stories about relationships, and novels. I lived for a year in Uzbekistan, so she’s given me Bosnian news clips about the country as listening homework. I can’t say how many times each of us has made the other burst out laughing in class, and even on weekends, we text each other and share things we think the other would be interested in. Of course, even in these casual interactions, she corrects any mistakes I make. 😉 I’m really going to miss seeing her multiple times a week and discussing everything from Balkan history to American politics to our love of black turtlenecks!

Asmira and me showing up to class in the same black turtleneck. How embarrassing, one of us must change!

Of course, an enormous thank you also needs to go out to the AC Study Abroad staff in DC that has made the transition to online learning seamless and still so conducive to language gains. None of this would have come together so nicely without all of you!”

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!