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TAC 2012 - Team Ne Nur - Hrvatske Krave

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Winner TAC 2011
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 Message 65 of 76
17 October 2012 at 12:10am | IP Logged 
Okay, I've been putting off writing about that trip for far too long. And now I've been on several other trips as well -- almost every weekend since then I've gone somewhere, so the stories are really piling up... So I might as well just get it all out of the way now. (And I just remembered that I've already written about most of this elsewhere, so I'm going to recycle some of that writing wherever possible. ;))

SEPTEMBER 14-17: Zagreb, Plitvička Jezera, Hrvatsko Zagorje, Varaždin
On Friday after school, my host parents picked me up in Opatija and we drove the two and a half hours up to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb. I immediately liked Zagreb, despite being such a big city. It reminded me a lot of Prague, which I absolutely loved when I visited it with my grandparents five years ago, with its beautiful architecture and its sense of truly being alive. Once in Zagreb, we headed to the Rotary headquarters for our orientation meeting. After a boring explanation of the rules that we all knew already and tips for being a good exchange student overall, we had a chance to meet the other students and get to know each other a bit. This year’s batch is the biggest and most diverse group in Croatia’s exchange history: ten of us from the United States, four from Mexico, three from Canada, two from Taiwan, and one from each of France, Germany, and Finland. Most of them are living in or near Zagreb, a handful more are in or near Varaždin in the north of the country, and then there are three of us who are alone in our towns — two of us on the coast and one in Slavonia. The thing that everyone had in common, though, was that they were all so incredibly friendly and just wonderful people all around.

After the meeting, most of us students headed to a newrby café to hang out for a while longer. Later, I went home with my host brother for the weekend, a friendly young college student from Zagreb. His parents were also very warm and hospitable, and insisted that I try some of their homemade specialties: pršut (prosciutto), cured sausages, cheese, egg-and-ham pastries, and fresh bread. Under normal circumstances back home I would have refused to eat a few of those, but I tried them all to be polite…and to my surprise discovered that they were actually delicious! This has happened to me multiple times here, where I end up loving a food I normally can’t stand back home. It just goes to show that European food is simply superior.

The next morning, I woke up to a lovely breakfast from my temporary host mother, and then my host brother and I went to meet everyone else in the city. Once we were all there, we climbed aboard the bus and set off for Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni Park Plitvička Jezera) in central Croatia, very close to the Bosnian border. One of the wonderful things about living in a small country like Croatia is that you can easily drive halfway across it and back in one day. On the drive down to Plitvice, we socialized on the bus while passing through all sorts of charming little towns. We stopped at a village called Rastoke, near Slunj, to walk around a bit and to stop at a café. It was a very cute little village with canals flowing between the houses, and looked like something out of a fairytale in the overcast weather. A while later we climbed back onto the bus and soon arrived at the Plitvice Lakes. Any Google Image search for “Plitvice Lakes” will turn up photos of impossibly bright blue pools and waterfalls shrouded in mist and surrounded by beautiful green hills. Before actually arriving there, I half expected those pictures to have been Photoshopped, and that the real thing couldn’t possibly live up to the pictures I had seen online. But it was just the opposite. Those pictures were perfectly accurate, and in some senses, didn’t do the natural beauty of the place justice. There was no way to capture in a photo that special light, the full vibrancy of the colors, and the magical feeling of Plitvice. We walked around the lakes and waterfalls for a couple hours, and finally came to a restaurant where we had a fabulous meal of local fish, which was quite an adventure in of itself for some of the exchangers. After lunch, we took about a thousand more pictures, sang a little bit, took some more photos, relaxed, snapped yet more photos, and then returned to the bus to go back to Zagreb. Several of the exchangers went out to a café again once we got back, but instead I went home with my host brother, which I was initially disappointed about but soon changed my mind once I had tasted the amazing food that his mother had prepared for us.

The next morning we headed out to Novi Zagreb again to meet everyone at the bus. On the schedule for Sunday was a tour of the region of Hrvatsko Zagorje in northern Croatia near Slovenia. Our first stop was in the town of Krapina, which was gorgeous. There we visited a natural history museum devoted to the “krapinski pračovjek”, the prehistoric cave-dwellers who lived in that area. From there we continued on through quiet little villages nestled between rolling green hills until we arrived at Veliki Tabor, a medieval fortress located almost on the border with Slovenia. It was so close to the border that we could actually see into Slovenia on the other side of the hills, and a few people even got automatic messages on their cell phones welcoming them to Slovenia and explaining the roaming policies for leaving the country! We wandered around inside the castle for a while, taking funny pictures in carriages, putting people in the stocks, and more. After that, our tour guide finally appeared and led us around the rest of the castle, but honestly it was more fun when we were just walking around on our own. After the castle tour, we headed down the hill to the tiny village of Grešna Gorica, where we enjoyed an absolutely divine lunch of local specialties. After the meal, several of us hung out in the vineyard next to the restaurant and fed a deer that was in a fenced-in area on the edge of the property. From Grešna Gorica we continued on up to the town of Varaždin, located near both the Slovenian and Hungarian borders in the far north of Croatia. Varaždin is a beautiful Baroque city which for a while was the capital of Croatia, and was surprisingly quiet and calm for its size (but I suppose that’s why the call it “the City of Sleeping Angels”). Granted, it was a Sunday afternoon, but even so, it was so surreal to have it be so silent and tranquil as we were walking through the city. After our tour, we stopped at a hotel for some sweets and snacks. Some people started ballroom dancing at one point because a wedding was going on in the adjacent room and the music carried over. Later, we said our goodbyes to those exchange students living in Varaždin, and the rest of us returned to Zagreb. Back in Zagreb, I said goodbye to all of the Zagreb people and then returned with my host brother for one last amazing meal prepared by his mother.

I was originally going to return to the coast on Sunday evening, but it was too late so I stayed an extra night in Zagreb, which was just fine by me. The next morning my host brother took me out walking in his neighborhood of Zagreb, and also showed me his university and Park Maksimir, a giant park — it even has a whole zoo inside of it — in the middle of urban Zagreb. Later on we met up with the two other exchangers who, like me, are the only ones in their respective towns (me near Rijeka, one girl near Zadar, and one girl in Daruvar), along with a couple Rotex students, and we all went together on a walking tour around the center of Zagreb. We walked all over, seeing the main square with the horse statue, the national theatre, a couple museums, some interesting sculptures and statues, St. Mark’s Church (the famous church with the beautiful colored-tile roof), Zagreb Cathedral, and also stopped in a bakery so I could try authentic Croatian kremšnita (which I had made myself a couple times back in the US). Once we had gone around the entire city center and gotten an idea of Zagreb, we sadly had to leave for the bus station in Novi Zagreb so that we could each return to our respective towns. None of us wanted to go, and all promised to come back to Zagreb just as soon as possible.

SEPTEMBER 28-30: Zagreb
Two weeks later, I returned to Zagreb for the weekend to visit all of my awesome exchange student friends there. I left after school on Friday and took the bus from Rijeka to Zagreb. Aside from accidentally getting on the wrong bus at first (they apparently have more than one bus per platform, but I didn’t know that so I just got on the first one I saw) and then having to run to get on the right one, the trip was smooth and was very beautiful as we drove through the region between Rijeka and Zagreb.

My exchange friend whose family I stayed with in Zagreb for the weekend met me at the bus station and then took me to her host family’s house in the Sveta Klara district of Zagreb. After a while, we finally chose to go to her host dad’s concert instead of Croatian lessons with the other exchange students, and I’m very glad we did. I originally thought it was going to be the loud, obnoxious kind of concert that I usually try to avoid, but it actually turned out to be a lovely performance of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, which her host father is a member of. It was very calming and relaxing, and the music was also beautiful, of course. Afterwards we headed to the center of Zagreb to meet up with the other exchange students, albeit briefly since they had to be home early. My friend's host mother said that we could stay out a bit later, though, and recommended that we go to Bundekfest, which was a kind of nighttime carnival. There was extremely loud music, candy, food, amusement park rides, and more. We just walked around for a while with her host sister, sampled the kebabs, stocked up on candy, and went on a ride or two. After that, we returned back to the house for a delightful cup of tea and cultural conversation with her wonderful host mother.

The next morning, we slept in rather late, and I awoke to a phone call from my grandfather in France who demanded to know why I was still sleeping. A little while later, we headed out into the city center again, but without any definite plans. As it turned out, it was “International Day of Tourism”, so there were all sorts of performers in costume all around the center, along with booths selling traditional Croatian foods and drinks. We met up with my friend's host sister there, and then with one other exchange student. From there we headed to Zagrebačka Katedrala (Zagreb Cathedral), where my exchange friends got yelled at for being “indecent” since they were wearing tank-tops inside the church. Regardless, the ornate Gothic architecture was just spectacular to behold, even though I had already been there the last time I was in Zagreb. We then headed to the Museum of Broken Relationships, a very unique collection of “artifacts” and their stories left behind from failed relationships. Some of the stories were very sad, other hilarious, and all in all very interesting. After that we headed to Millenium Slastičarnica, an absolutely AMAZING ice cream parlor and pastry shop where we enjoyed some divine treats which I can’t even begin to describe. By then most of the other exchangers had arrived in the center of Zagreb, so we met up with them at the horse statue in Trg bana Jelačića (the main square of Zagreb) and then headed to a nice street café where we spent a few hours relaxing and socializing, after which we returned home.

The next day was a bit lazier. We just went out shopping at a mall in Zagreb, which was pretty fun. We then returned to Sveta Klara for lunch and then immediately left again for the hospital to visit one of the exchange students who was there. He had some sort of infection that was serious enough that they had to move him from the hospital in Varaždin to Zagreb and that his mom flew out to Croatia from Canada. Thankfully he's okay now and will be able to stay in Croatia to complete his exchange year. My friend and I visited with him for a while alone, since everyone else was inevitably an hour or so late. By the time they arrived at the hospital, we had to leave, so I said my goodbyes there and we headed back to the bus station. I got my return ticket there, and since I still had some time, I accompanied my friend and her host family to a birthday party for a little while. Finally I did have to leave and sadly said goodbye to my friend and her wonderful host family — her adorable little host brother grabbed my leg and wouldn’t let me go when he found out that I had to leave to go back to the coast. The bus ride back to Lovran from Zagreb was uneventful, and my host father picked me up in Lovran.

OCTOBER 6-8: Otok Krk (Malinska i Baška)
The weekend after that, a different exchange student friend who lives in Samobor (near Zagreb), came with her host family to Malinska, on the island of Krk, for the long weekend (it was Croatian Independence Day), and invited me to come stay with her since I live nearby. That Saturday afternoon I took the bus to Rijeka, where I bought a ticket to Malinska and set off. Krk is connected to the Croatian mainland by bridge, so it's possible to get there by bus. The island is only a little bit south of where I live, but the difference in the landscape is dramatic. Where I live, at the beginning of the Istrian Peninsula, it's very green, forested, and lush, but on Krk and in the surrounding area it's much drier and rockier, and it's obvious that it's the beginning of the Dalmatian coast. That evening I walked around with my friend and her host family in Malinska before returning to their vacation home for dinner.

The next morning we drove to the other side of the island, to the town of Baška, where another exchange student who lives in Varaždin, was staying with her host family for the weekend. We walked around in the colorful seaside town and then met up with her and her host family for coffee -- my first coffee in Croatia. After that we headed up to a beautiful cemetery above the town with an amazing view of Baška and the rocky coastline. We then returned to Malinska, where we had lunch and then, bored, my friend and I took another walk around the town and had a mini photoshoot with us posing as models near the water.

The next day, we just hung out around the house, and then packed up and headed home. My friend's host family dropped me off in Rijeka so that I could take the bus home from there, and then they returned home to Samobor.

OCTOBER 11-13: Postojnska Jama, Ljubljana, Koper, Trieste
The following Thursday evening, my grandparents from Greece arrived in Opatija after having traveled with their bus tour across Greece, Albania, Montenegro, and all the way up the coast of Croatia. Once we had settled into our hotel room (I was staying with them at the hotel so that I could accompany them and their tour group the next day), we had dinner and I took them out for a nighttime stroll in Opatija. It was so surreal being in Croatia, my new world, with people from what almost seems like a former life.

As per the tour schedule, we were supposed to go to Pula, a city in Istria, on Friday and then Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, on Saturday. However, in an effort to yield more time in Venice, the tour guide decided to switch around the two days. So on Friday morning we headed north toward the Slovenian border, which is actually only 20-30 minutes from Opatija. Once there, we had our passports checked and were almost ready to go...until the guards during their inspection of the bus noticed a suspicious-looking locked compartment. Apparently it was the remains of a bathroom, which are illegal on buses in Greece, so it had been all boarded up. The border guards had to check it, though, to make sure there were no illegal substances inside before they could let us into the European Union, and went all out on it with flashlights and screwdrivers, which held us up for a while.

Once successfully in Slovenia, we drove through the picturesque countryside until we arrived at Postojnska Jama, a system of caves outside the city of Postojna. Because of the delay at the border, we missed the first tour slot, so we first went and had some tea at a café, which was perfect since it was very cold there. Then we went into the caves. They had installed a small train inside which takes you about halfway through the caves fairly quickly. I thought that was an ingenious idea, because from my experience of walking through caves before, it's very slow-going and everything starts looking the same after just a short while. But with a train, you can quickly see many parts of the caves, and thus better appreciate the beauty and variety of the cave structures without it getting boring. There was, however, also a walking part of the tour, but it wasn't as enjoyable as the train, especially since it was extremely cold in the caves and I was already quite chilled by then (I didn't know we were going to the caves so I hadn't packed for such cold temperatures).

After the caves, we continued on to Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. Ljubljana was a lovely city, and reminded me of a cross between a Central European capital like Zagreb or Prague, and Venice, with its canals and bridges. We took a tour around the center of the city and then had some free time to eat, shop, or whatever we wanted. My grandparents and I went to a restaurant and had some tasty Slovenian lasagna. Since the Croatian and Slovenian languages are very similar, I spoke to the waitress in Croatian and she responded in Slovenian, and we mostly understood each other. We then returned to the bus and I slept most of the way back to Opatija.

We quickly ate dinner and then my host father picked us up from the hotel and took us back to the house so that my grandparents could meet my host family and see the house. Once there, we unpacked the two huge bags full of food and various other goods that they had carried on the bus all the way from Greece: homemade olive oil, olives, and a cake for my host family, and for me, Greek cookies, candies, traditional sweets, crackers, chocolate, tea, and more. (All of which I'm now hoarding in my bedroom.) They are currently my favorite people in the world for all of that. After they had seen the house and visited with my host family for a while, my host father drove us back to the hotel and we went to bed.

Now since those two days had been switched, we were supposed to go to Pula on Saturday and then they would continue on to Venice and I'd just take the bus home from Pula. However, the tour guide decided to make another last-minute change, and instead we crossed the border again and went to the city of Koper on the coast of Slovenia. The city had some sort of significance for the Greek tourists because the city's name in Italian (it's a bilingual city) is Capodistria, and apparently that was the name of some Greek politician, or he was from there or something like that. It was a nice port city and we walked around for a bit near the water and through the old part of town, but I do think Pula would have been a more interesting choice since, if nothing else, it has a well-preserved Roman colosseum. However, I was very pleased nevertheless because it meant that I got to go back to Slovenia...and then to Italy as well!

After Koper we hopped the border into Italy, which was very easy since both Slovenia and Italy are EU members, so there was literally just a sign that said "ITALIA" and that was all -- we didn't even have to stop. Once in Italy, we went to the city of Trieste (or "Trst" in Slovenian/Croatian), which was beautiful despite the rain. The architecture was amazing and I felt like I was walking around in my art history textbook from last year. Our time there was limited because some of the Greek tourists had insisted on stopping to shop in Koper, and I had to make a bus back to Opatija, so it was a very short tour around the city center but still wonderful. We had just enough time for lunch, and since we were in Italy, we went to a pizzeria to try some authentic Italian pizza! I tried ordering in Italian, which was a complete disaster since I already had English, Croatian, and Greek spinning around in my head and ended up speaking an unintelligible mix of the four languages.

After our delicious lunch, we ran across the city to find the bus station, bought a ticket to Opatija just in time, and I said a tearful goodbye to my grandparents as I got on the bus back to Croatia and they returned to the group to continue on to Venice. The bus ride home was mostly uneventful, with only a delay at the Croatian border because of some idiot who forgot to bring his passport (how you manage to forget to bring a passport for a bus ride that crosses three countries is beyond me, but it happened) or something like that. It was so cool to get on the bus in Italy and then get off in Croatia, having passed through Slovenia in the process -- and it only took about two hours. Fabulous weekend overall.

OCTOBER 19-21: Zagreb
Yet to be written, but I have just made plans to go back to Zagreb! My other grandfather was supposed to come visit me here with a friend of his since they were already in Europe. However, while at a castle in southern France, his friend slipped on the wet stones and broke her ankle and can't walk or stand, so they have to return home to the US immediately and won't be able to visit me. I was very disappointed to hear that they won't be coming, so I'm glad to be able to go to Zagreb instead.
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 Message 66 of 76
24 October 2012 at 2:34pm | IP Logged 
Wow, reading about all your adventures makes me feel like I'm there myself! Thanks so much for writing them up in such detail. I have to admit reading this entry has made me really want to check out Croatia myself.

I have two language-related questions for you, when you have the time to answer: 1) What would you estimate your current level of Croatian to be? and 2) Did you find that your fellow foreign students, when you met with them in Zagreb, were happy to speak in Croatian together? In the past I've found that my fellow foreign students often unfortunately prefer to speak English, no matter where they're from.

Do keep us updated if you have the time and motivation! I so enjoy reading your 'reports'.
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 Message 67 of 76
24 October 2012 at 4:18pm | IP Logged 
Jinx, moraš obavezno doći u Hrvatsku ako možeš, i pošto živiš u Njemačkoj ti si već blizu! Volim ovu državu toliko puno, baš je lijepa i nevjerojatna! Vrlo sam sretan da sam došao tu. Kako ti ide hrvatski jezik?

1. I'm having a hard time defining my current level in Croatian. I'm at the point where I can hold conversations fairly easily and say just about anything that I need to express, but I still make plenty of mistakes and the way I say things isn't always natural. In my classes at school, I can usually understand at least what they're talking about, though the details still elude me most of the time. I guess that if I had to put a label on it, I would say somewhere in the range of B2...?

2. The answer to this second question is a definite no. Most of the other exchange students learned little or no Croatian before coming here, so they were extremely lucky to have been placed with host families who spoke at least some English. Only now, after about two months in Croatia, are some of them finally starting to be able to hold basic conversations in Croatian and form grammatically correct sentences. When we're all together, we speak in English (especially since over half of us are native English speakers) and throw in the occasional word or phrase in Croatian. They are trying, though, and are definitely making noticeable progress.

Edited by ellasevia on 12 November 2012 at 11:50am

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 Message 68 of 76
12 November 2012 at 1:39pm | IP Logged 
Time for an short update! Since I last wrote, I made another trip to Zagreb, traveled a bit around Istria, and
spent a long weekend in Zadar with several other exchange students.

Croatian is taking over my brain and forcing every other language out. The only language I can reliably speak
in now without interference from Croatian is English, and I've noticed that even my English has been getting
worse lately. A lot of the time I'll say things in what I would describe as foreigner's English, where you can tell
that they speak English quite well, and yet, something is a bit off in the way they phrase little things.

When my grandparents from Greece visited last month, I could barely understand them at first when they
were speaking to me in Greek. I adjusted to being able to hear and understand it again quickly enough, but it
took a while longer to be able to respond in Greek without accidentally using Croatian words. After a couple
days of hearing and speaking mostly Greek with them and their tour group, I was able to function in Greek
fairly easily again, and it was a bit weird having to then switch back into "Croatian mode" when I returned
home. However, it was still far easier to switch back to Croatian than it was to switch to Greek in the first
place. And when I returned to Croatia from our day trip to Italy after struggling with garbled Italian, I breathed
a sigh of relief when I realized that I was once again in a country where Croatian was spoken.

Similarly with Spanish -- when I had been called upon to say something in Spanish a couple weeks ago, I
simply couldn't produce a coherent sentence purely in Spanish, or with a decent accent. Last weekend in
Zadar, all of the other exchange students I was staying with were from Mexico, so naturally we all spoke
Spanish amongst ourselves. As with Greek, it was very hard at first to say anything correctly in Spanish, and
had to concentrate to make sure that I didn't inadvertently say something in Croatian instead. By the next day
my Spanish was once again fluent (and when I went home I kept accidentally saying things in Spanish
instead of Croatian) but it was very unnerving at first when I couldn't even speak Spanish.

My Japanese has been rotting from disuse ever since the end of the last school year, and it's really beginning
to disgust me. I'm much more accepting of the idea of languages like Italian and Portuguese and Dutch falling
into disuse because they're closer to languages I already speak very well and shouldn't be hard to just
refresh myself and quickly pick up again in the future. But for Japanese, which is unlike anything else I've
ever studied, which I've invested so much time and effort into, and which is so dear to me in its own right, I
can't stand to lose it. Therefore, in my free time at school when I don't have to attend certain subjects, I have
started going back through my old sentence pattern book (I knew it was a good idea to bring it to Croatia with
me!) and copying out every sentence by hand in an effort to review the grammar, the words, and the writing
system. I've made significant progress already, considering that a few weeks back I had forgotten so much
that I couldn't say much more than the simplest "X-wa Y desu"-kind of sentences. 

Other than this recent Japanese practice and a little active Croatian study at the beginning of my stay here,
I've done precious little language study since arriving in Croatia -- perhaps a total of 10 hours in nearly three
months. I have also barely visited this forum and have no idea what has been going on here lately. Maybe I
needed this break, or maybe I'm still adjusting to living with something other than English as my main daily-
use language. Whatever the reason, I'm starting to miss my language studies and this forum and hope that I'll
be able to reintegrate them into my life at least a little bit in the near future.
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 Message 69 of 76
12 November 2012 at 7:58pm | IP Logged 
It's always interesting to read your updates! It makes me remember my time as an exchange student in New Zealand.

What you're experiencing with your languages does sound unnerving, but I think what you're experiencing is normal because you're learning Croatian at such a high intensity. When I returned to Germany after my year of speaking English almost exclusively I sometimes slipped into English without noticing. Sometimes it was triggered by a word with English origin, sometimes it just happened and I only became aware of it after a sentence or two. It was a bit embarrassing in class, but I noticed the same thing from other exchange students who returned later than me. Last summer I was in Korea and tried to speak as much Korean as possible. But I also had to speak English and German and I frequently mixed up which of those two languages I spoke to whom. I only noticed when they told me... This didn't happen with Korean, because I have to make a conscious effort to try and speak this language. So it probably just indicates that you're getting very good at and comfortable with Croatian, congratulations :)
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 Message 70 of 76
12 November 2012 at 8:22pm | IP Logged 
It's nice for me to hear that somebody as accomplished as you is experiencing the same thing that I have experienced with my languages.

Here in the Czech Republic I would describe my English in exactly the same way you did. Like a foreigner with a good level and native accent.

In Costa Rica I spoke Spanish intensively for a few months and when I started trying to speak Czech, I almost felt like a beginner again (I was pretty advanced before I went).

So it's completely normal and it sounds like a fantastic linguistic experience for you that you'll always look back on very fondly. Keep enjoying it. :)))
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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 71 of 76
12 November 2012 at 10:27pm | IP Logged 
I've been through the same process, so I know what you are going through. The silver lining is that this only
occurs when your brain is doing high speed learning, so this is actually a good sign :-)

And I would have sold my own grandmother in order to have your Croatian level in Russian - and you still
have months to go! I am literally green with envy :-)
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 Message 72 of 76
22 November 2012 at 12:11pm | IP Logged 
@druckfehler: I suppose that's all true, I just hope that I'll be able to regain my skills in those other languages fairly quickly and easily. It was really quite scary to temporarily not be able to speak even Spanish.

@hribecek: About my English, it has gotten to the point where I don't like speaking it unless I'm with other native speakers, because otherwise I start to pick up the other person's accent and manner of speech. It's kind of embarrassing when I'm in my English class at school (where I'm supposed to be the expert) and can't speak like I normally do because of being surrounded by non-native speakers.

@Solfrid Cristin: Yes, hopefully my Croatian will get good enough soon that I won't have to constantly be in this state of "high speed learning", so that my other languages can catch up.

In other language-related news, it just occurred to me yesterday that Monday was my one-year anniversary of having begun to learn Croatian. I can still fondly remember going through those first lessons a year ago, and wondering what it would be like to live in the country where this language is actually spoken. :)

Edited by ellasevia on 22 November 2012 at 12:12pm

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