Thursday, January 28, 2016

Slovak with a Southern Accent

The English language is both beautiful and extremely complex at the same time.  I have had the privilege of teaching English as a foreign language to some great students (both adults and children) this year. It is great to see them excited about learning English and challenging to make learning fun and interesting.

I am reminded how confusing the English language can be when preparing their lessons.  For example, we say "I ride in a car" but "I ride on a bus."  We work "in a factory" but "on a farm."  We live "on a mountain" but "in the mountains."

There are logical reasons for why we say these things and the challenge is to recognize the confusing parts of the language and be able to explain them to the students.

I know first-hand how frustrating and hard it is to study a foreign language as I try to learn Slovak.  I can feel very good about myself while I am studying my textbook, but when I go to try to speak to someone, I don't understand half of what is said.  That can be discouraging, but it is part of the learning process with any new language.

You can take for granted being able to communicate with those around you when you speak the same language.  I miss being able to talk and getting to know people more closely because of the language barrier and this is motivation for me to continue studying.

A good friend of mine, that has since passed away, was a missionary in Brazil for 30 years. He slowly learned Portuguese and spoke it fluently after not too long of a time.  He said that sometimes he would even forget some English words when he came back to the States to visit. He told a story about trying to talk to a man in America on one return trip that did not understand him.  My friend got more and more frustrated at the man until he realized that he was speaking Portuguese and not English.

So for my US friends, if you don't understand me the next time I speak with you.  Either it is just my normal Southern accent.  Or maybe I will be speaking Slovak to you.

Cau and dovidenia!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Slovakia Landscapes

For such a small country, Slovakia has some of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen.   As you travel throughout this land, you will find over 200 castles and castle ruins, breathtaking mountains, ice caves, cathedrals and many mineral water or hot spring pools.

Here is one of my favorite short videos that highlights some of the amazing parts of the country.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

You'll poke your eye out!

There are a lot of cultural differences between the United States and Slovakia.  I'm originally from the South and we love our sweet tea and plenty of ice in our drinks.  It amazes my wife that in the middle of winter, I still use lots of ice in my drink.

On my first trip to Slovakia (It is hard to believe it was over 14 years ago), I was shocked when everyone was drinking room temperature drinks.  I soon learned to ask for ice, and the waitress would add one cube of ice.  My wife would then ask for "lots of ice" and the waitress would come back with two cubes of ice.  Perhaps there is an ice shortage here that I do not know about.

Another small observation is that some Slovaks keep a spoon in their cup while they drink their coffee.  I keep telling my wife that she is going to poke her eye out with the spoon one day. Here is a short video that proves my point:

(here is the longer video that was produced as a school project in Nitra)

Even though I joke about the differences, there are so many things that I have learned from and appreciate about the Slovak culture that I'll write about in the future...I'll just need to remember to wear an eye patch when drinking coffee next time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Christmas Trees and Three Kings Day

My mom would have said that 2016 will be an "unlucky" year for me.  Today is January 6th, and I still have my Christmas tree up! She loved the Christmas season but always made sure to take our tree down before New Years as she jokingly said that it is bad luck to have it up in January.

But today is the day that most Slovaks take down their Christmas tree.  Today is the day of Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day.

"And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel." (Matthew 2:6 NLT)

This passage is taken from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2:1-12 which describes the visit of the magi or "wise men" to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem after he was born.  

Christians in Slovakia (and other Christians around the world) celebrate Three Kings Day on January 6th, which commemorates the visit of the magi to the Christ child and celebrates Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles.

There is a large community of Eastern Orthodox Christians in eastern Slovakia, and they celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6th and the birth of Jesus on January 7th rather than December 25th, the date of Jesus' birth according to the Gregorian calendar.  

Here in Slovakia the day is celebrated with worship services throughout the country, and this is the day that a lot of Slovaks take down their Christmas tree as the sign of the end of the Christmas season.  

I'm not sure if my 2016 will be unlucky...but it is nice to have a few more days to appreciate the beauty of our Christmas tree and to reflect on the true meaning of this season.  Now I have to go try to get the tree out of the house without getting sap on the couches and carpets!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Warm Hands (Snow in Europe vs South)

I'm sitting here looking out the window at the snow and notice something strange.  People are going about their daily lives. What?!  Are they crazy? Don't they realize there is snow on the ground!

Where I lived in America (Charlotte, NC), we seldom get snow, and when we do, there is total panic.  People will storm the stores buying up all the bread and milk that they can get their hands on.  I understand the bread in case your power goes out you can at least have sandwiches.  The milk I am not so sure about...possibly to make snow cream (fresh snow, milk and vanilla flavoring).

Schools close.  Businesses will either close or have a delayed start for the day.  And the local weatherman is on TV 24 hours a day.  In our defense, we get so little snow in the South that cities do not have the resources to handle it when it comes so it is safer to keep everyone home.

I've been impressed with our town here in Slovakia that they seem to keep the roads cleared pretty well.  Of course, it helps that we can walk the kids to school and walk to the grocery store if needed.

My wife always told me (as a joke) that when we lived in Charlotte that I was not allowed to wear gloves unless it snowed.  I can now wear gloves all the time here during the winter.  My hands are at least thankful for that.