November 16 Journal
I’m not sure how to start this journal or exactly where to end it. I know I have waited way too long to write this. I started to write a journal after the first week, then that moved to my one month anniversary then to my second. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s just that my views of my host family, friends, Croatia, life, school, etc. change constantly. Frankly it’s hard to keep up with. I feel like I’m in a constant battle with myself; should I give this person a hug or a hand shake, should I say this or that, should I turn left or right?
Being in a foreign land you learn to make decisions fast. I was the kind of person that thought too much about one particular thing. Being an exchange student you really have to just start from nowhere and go, so I guess that’s how I should continue writing this journal. It’s really going to start………now.
I woke up to a text message from my Croatian teacher with the good news of snow. I opened my French doors to my balcony (glories of being an only child) and saw my first snowfall. How I treasure this moment. As the first snow of the season fell, I thought of everything that had already happened in my first couple months of being in Croatia. I visited Rijeka, danced folklore, eaten many mystery meats, discovered what some of those mystery meats were (too ashamed to share), have been late to school, had the President drive past me and my host family twice, seen many churches, had a Croatian photographer yell at me, eaten fresh figs, walked in graveyards, cried, actually kept my room clean, made friends, and I even fooled someone into thinking I was Croatian. With all of these ups and downs I realized that, in any situation I find myself in, I need to find joy in the simplest of things. So, I put on my newly purchased snow boots from Zagreb and headed to school. I had one of the largest smiles on my face, that I had been missing. As I walked to school I couldn’t help but sing Christmas tunes and Death Cab For Cutie songs. I didn’t care if the old ladies dressed in all black stared at me. I was genuinely happy.
I arrived at school, found my classmates, and followed them to our first subject of the day, which happened to be English. Students in Croatia take two mandatory languages, German & English. Italian and Latin classes are on Saturdays if you wish to take them. In English class my very wise teacher (also my private Croatian teacher) wrote the scrambled thought of the day on the blackboard. While the students tried to put the words in correct order, it all came to me. “There is no failure except in no longer trying” by Elbert Hubbard. I haven’t given up yet and I’m not going to. Yes, being an exchange student is hard but I know in the end it will be all worth it. Learning the language can be very difficult. I think Croatian is a beautiful language, but it is something I would call a beautiful mess. There are so many hidden rules, different words with the same meaning, or single words with many different meanings. I can definitely say I learned something every day. I have Croatian lessons almost every school day for 45 minutes with my English teacher. All the other Exchange students in Zagreb go to Croatian school twice a week. When I say “all the other exchange students” I mean it. There are twelve exchange students in Croatia. Ten students are in Zagreb, then there is Isabella from Germany in Varaždin, and little me in little Đurđevac.
I do like Đurđevac, however it is really small. According to Wikipedia Đurđevac has 8,862 inhabitants. Nothing like the one million plus in Jacksonville, Florida. Another thing different from Jacksonville is the air. The air here feels so nice to breathe in, and I take pleasure in taking a couple of deep breaths a day just to appreciate it. My town is cute and has character. It’s one of those towns where everyone knows each other. So, it was big news that an American girl was here. My first couple of weeks in school beside getting stared at I heard whispers of “amerikana” or “američki”. Now those whispers and stares have turned into small smiles followed by waves. I’m gradually becoming apart of this community. Đurđevac has one church, a town hall, town square, and I think we even have one traffic light. I like to people-watch sometimes but then the people I’m watching start watching me and it turns into some weird ‘I just made eye contact with you and I don’t know what to do’ tango. I like to watch the little kids pass by with backpacks that are bigger than they are. I see the gypsy kids following behind them and they say things to me that I don’t understand. I see the business men and the super skinny European women. I have started to recognize some of the dogs that roam my town. Some of my classmates know the names of these dogs. At first it really seemed very random when a dog would fall asleep by your feet when you were drinking coffee. But now I’m just accustomed to it.
What is also very common in Đurđevac is the bakas in black, like I mentioned earlier in my journal. I see these old women all the time. They wear all black from the kerchief on their head to their black shoes. To get a mental picture they look just like the grandmother, γιαγιά, from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Everyday when I walk somewhere I’m always afraid they are going to hit me with their bikes. I swear sometimes they just come out of nowhere. Instead of looking to the left and right twice each, I take an extra third look. I have to make sure that the old lady's skirt doesn’t get caught in the chain wheel. That would cause her to swerve uncontrollably while I innocently cross the street. Then all that would be left of me would be a half eaten apple and Croatian children’s books. I’m not trying to be paranoid or anything like that; sometimes you just have to think ahead. Oh dear, I really do live in the country. I look out for grandmothers on bikes while Sierra has to look out for motorcycles driving on the sidewalk in Zagreb.
I’m not sure how to end this journal just like I wasn’t sure how to start it. But here I am at the end of my thoughts. Hopefully I will write again sometime soon. That’s the least I can do, for taking so long to write this journal in the first place. The snow has yet to fall again, but every time I look out a window I see all of the possible opportunities awaiting me.
Till next time.
With love all the way from Croatia,
May 6 Journal
6 months since my last journal, 8 months in Croatia, and 4 months in my new host family. No, I didn’t fall off a cliff into the Adriatic, I didn’t get sent home, nor appear in some mystery meat stew. I’m here, where I have been, except now I live in a real village, Virje. Things in the beginning were rough, but I stuck it through with all the support of my family, Rotary, Croatian teacher, and friends. Life is not so melancholy any more. Everything is folding into place, got out of the first host family house and now on to bigger better things… only problem is that I’m having a hard time keeping up with all.
Recently, my parents came to visit. Which was nice - I feel like they grounded me a little. I have been so surrounded in Croatian culture that I sort of forgot where I came from for a little bit (oh dear, that seems scary to admit). My parents stayed in my area of Croatia for 4 days, then we went to Rijeka. After visiting Croatia’s coast we traveled to Italy. Bless my father’s soul he drove in Italy; that was an experience itself. Soon our trip in Italy was over and so soon my parents came and went. It was nice to have them meet the people that I love in Croatia and for them to get a slice of real Croatian life.
The strangest part of their visit was when we had to part ways. We were in Zagreb, I could not go to the airport with them so they dropped me off at the train station. We were in front of Glavni Kolodvor and we had to say goodbye. The world seemed to stop spinning. People around us were waiting for their trams, walking to work, talking on their mobile phones, doing what people do. Then there was us, my Mother crying, my Father standing beside her. Walking into the train station alone was the first time I felt like a true adult. I swear if I had the train cabin to myself I would have burst into tears. The world was on pause for that moment then on fast forward to now. Everyone moves on and continues to play their roles in life. So here’s mine….
15/4/10, 19:57 Now, I’m in the kitchen, my host father is making more French fries for my host brothers, my host mother is trying to teach me how to whistle, while my brothers laugh at me. “Jesti Špek!” (eat bacon) they yell, like it’s some trick that everyone uses to help you whistle. Or maybe it just the idea of ingesting food that does the trick for everything in Croatia.
17/4/10 1:46 I can’t stop thinking about what will happen in these next couple of months. Cats are running on top of my roof. The Strokes are going through my speakers and I’m thirsty.
17/4/10, 13:30 I’m home alone, Antonio (my oldest host brother) is helping Grandpa at the vineyard. Leo (youngest host brother) has tennis practice. Mama Sanja is at her university in Zagreb. Tata Željko has a 24 hour shift at the veterinarian office. I’m bored. I go outside, it’s a nice day. I walk through the garden, into the barn, pass the sheep, out the barn, knock on the door to my grandparent’s house. Baka is cooking lunch. I ask her if she needs help, she doesn’t, and even if she did need it she wouldn’t let me. We have a small conversation. As I sit and watch her wash the salad, I wish I could understand her better. Croatian is a difficult language and it’s even harder when people are speaking in Kajkavski (a Croatian dialect known in my region) and not the official Croatian language. It’s a problem that accrues daily for me.
18/4/10 – 12:00 It’s Šimun’s confirmation. One of my best friends (Dino) is the 'kum' (godfather is the best translation). Šimun is the younger brother of my other best friend (Tomislav), which they belong to family friends of my host family. I didn’t go to the church sermon at 10. The first and last time I went to a church sermon in Croatia was on Easter. My host mother flicked holy water into my eye and the old ladies gave me weird looks because I wasn’t praying. We are at a restaurant outside of my village. The aspects of this day look like lamb, battle ship, cakes, more lamb, poker, talking, and more lamb.
19/4/10- 6:00- Wake up. Long night of restlessness. It’s my sister’s birthday, today. I’m a little sad that I’m missing it. There are other things that I have missed but at least I have gained a lot in the process. I stop writing a paper for ethics, I have writer’s block. Go eat German cereal. Write more. Listen to music. Finish it. Wake Antonio up, get ready for school. This week we go to school in the afternoon.
23/04/10- 19:00 Recovering from the boring week at school. End of the year festivities have already started to begin. There will be a barbecue tonight. I’m getting ready. Debating rather or not to wear the dress with high socks or with tights. I go with the high socks. The nights still get pretty chilly but I’m ready for warmer weather. Dorotea (friend) and her mother will be here soon to take me to the barbecue.
24/04/10- 8:00 I should have worn the tights. Baking an apple pie to bring to the Tišljar’s vineyard.
24/04/10- 19:00 It was a long day. Got to our family friend’s vineyard at 12. Everyone pitched in to help dig around the vines, even Grandma and Grandpa. I love being in the vineyard, especially since the weather has been so nice lately. We also cleaned up the vineyard a bit. Cooked dinner. They liked the pie I baked. Now I’m at home to rest a wee bit. Then I will go in Ledi for tea, and after that I will watch a movie at one of my friend’s house.
This is my life, that I’m not ready to leave. It may be simple but I’m absolutely in love with it.