то су кључеви!

I have finally reached the end of my Serbian language training time.  I have to take my final test on Thursday morning.  I’ve learned a couple of things about trying to learn a language while studying Serbian over the last seven months.  My top three tips for mastering a foreign language are:

1. You have to become a human thesaurus.  After only seven months of classes, the majority of which was spent trying to master a rather complex grammar structure, there are huge holes in my Serbian vocabulary.  So I think about what I would like to say, in English, and then try to match the verbs and nouns to words I know in Serbian.  For example, I may not know how to say “off the beaten path”, but I do know how to say “on a road where a lot of people do not walk”.

2. Sometimes you have to say things you don’t really mean.  Sometimes, no matter how creative you are, you just don’t know the words to say what you want to say.  So you say something else.  During class, I have routinely supported policies and politicians that I would never in a million years support in real life simply because I don’t know how to say otherwise.  It takes a while to adjust to the idea that you’re practicing speaking, not practicing diplomacy.  There were a couple of weeks when my purposed resolution to any problem involved violence, because I knew the verbs “to bomb” and “to attack” but not the verbs “to discuss” or “to change”.

3. Learn to prioritize your vocabulary lists.  Each week I had a list of 60-100 new words thrown at me.  I was never great with learning new words in English, so trying to learn that many new words in Serbian was a struggle.  Each week, I would sort the list into three groups of words: memorize, recognize, and forget.  I memorized important and high frequency use words, learned to recognize words that were likely to come up but that I was unlikely to use personally, and didn’t waste time learning the words in the “forget” category (words pertaining to opera and outdated technology).


And those are the keys (то су кључеви!) to earning a passing score on your language test after seven months of studying.  Or at least I hope they are. We’ll see how well my strategies worked on Thursday!



Hopin’, and Wishin’, and Biddin’, and Waitin’

On Friday I met with my Career Development Officer (CDO)  to talk about our bidding strategy/preferences, and on Tuesday, we turned in our ranked list.  Now that we’ve officially “bid” on our posts, we are just left to hope, and wish, and wait for Flag Day!  Thankfully, we’ve been plenty busy, and haven’t had much time to focus on our future post.

Right after meeting with my CDO, I hopped into a car and headed south on I-95 for the weekend.  Our best friends, Erika and Tyler, were getting hitched in Mayberry!  Erika was my maid of honor, and Tyler was one of Cormac’s groomsmen at our wedding.  We returned the favor this weekend, and even got to walk each other down the aisle. We drove home on Sunday with sore cheeks from laughing and smiling for 48 straight hours!


Our faces looked a lot like this…


The beautiful bouquets


The bride was cool as a cucumber!


All dressed up and ready for a dance party


The bridal party en route to photos

The bride and some of her maids

The bride and some of her maids


Pretty sure this is a liability…

The third week of A100 training has been filled with field trips!  On Monday we went to Capitol Hill to see how the State Department works with Congress.  We talked about how the Benghazi case is unfolding and what that may mean for State in the future, what kind of requests we may get from Congressmen, how and why Congressmen may visit us abroad, and one of the most important pieces of our relationship: the budget.

I had to take a “full” Spanish language test this week.  I had a “speed dating” test earlier in A100, and was told that I needed a full course of Spanish.  Then I was asked to take a full test, which involved an hour long “interview”, of which I understood a little bit of what was asked but said almost nothing in response.  My examiner kept pointing to a bottle of water and saying something I couldn’t understand.  After the third or fourth time of this happening, I finally replied “I drink water because I swim!”  The look of confusion on his face was discouraging, but he did finally stop talking about the water.  Then there was an hour of reading comprehension where I was asked to read, and then report (in English, thank God!) what I had read.  The reading definitely went better than the speaking, but still not great.  My examiners ended both portions of the test early, indicating that I’m not at a high enough level to take the whole test.  I’ll know my official score later in the week.  My score will be pretty important in determining where we go, since many posts on our bid list require Spanish but our class has relatively few speakers!

Tomorrow I head out on the “off site” portion of A100 for two days of leadership building and soul searching.  It’s supposed to rain the whole time we are there, but the outdoor activities (which is almost all of our activities) go on, rain or shine!  So, I may write my next blog from a hospital bed, recovering from pneumonia.