The Wheels on the Bus Go Round

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View to my left from the bus stop near my home, beautiful mountains in the distance

I take the bus to school every day. This was true for most of my high school years as well, but of course, like all else that has happened here so far, the experience is nowhere near the same.

For starters, I’m allowed to stand on the bus here. In fact, I actually prefer standing for a few reasons that the over-analyst in me has identified:

  1. Standing ensures I won’t have to awkwardly give up my seat for an elderly person that may come on at a later stop. The older the person, the less likely they are to speak English. How am I supposed to tell them to take my seat? Yes I could just keep my seat, but how rude is that?
  2. A lot of the seats are in groups of two with something in front, whether a plastic wall or more seats. This makes getting out of the inner seat, or the one closer to the window, awkward for both parties. Having to shift in a way that lets the other person know you are about to get off, and then actually getting around them. Or, having to move for the other person/having them climb over you. No thanks.
  3. When the bus gets jam packed full, sitting only makes it that much harder to get off. Everything I mentioned in number 2, plus shoving your way past standing people. Again, no thanks. If the bus is even the slightest bit full, I avoid sitting, no matter how weird people might think I am (no one is thinking this).

All that said, the bus needs to be pretty darn empty for me to sit. And even then it’s risky because what if more people get on?

Despite all my overthinking, riding the bus here is something I enjoy, yet also feel weird about sometimes. In fact, living in this country is something I feel weird about at times.

I’m constantly surrounded by people who don’t speak the same language as I do (at least not their first language). What if someone tries to talk to me? Can people tell I don’t speak Slovene? Do I look American? All these questions have ran through my head more than once, among others.

They are silly questions, I know. Enough people speak English here that it wouldn’t matter if someone tried to talk to me. I also know how to say, “Sorry, I don’t understand Slovene very well. Do you speak English?” IN Slovene!

As for looking American, well, I do have this theory that Europeans and Americans look different enough to the point of being able to tell them apart, but I might be the only one. Or am I? What do y’all think?

I digress.

What was I talking about again? Oh yes, the bus. Riding the bus gives me two feelings: one where I feel like a cool city girl whose main mode of transportation is public, and the other is a strange sense of feeling like an imposter.

Sounds ridiculous, I know, but since I only speak one language, and am constantly surrounded by people who don’t share the same native tongue as me, I almost feel weird. Like I have secret that no one knows about.

This is not limited to the bus. This is how I feel 100% of the time when out in public.

The thing is, by simply looking at me, no one would ever be able to tell that I only speak English. At a glance, I speak Slovene fluently. Maybe English too and perhaps some German or French? And let’s not forget Croatian. I could speak Russian or Italian for all they know! The possibilities are endless when it comes to the snap judgements of strangers!

Why do I care about this? I don’t. Instead, I am fascinated at how little we are able to tell about a person by simply passing them on the street or making awkward eye contact on a bus (which should be avoided at all costs, but as Hannah Montana taught us, nobody’s perfect).

I think about this just about every time I go out. At times, it doesn’t matter that I don’t speak much Slovene, like when riding the bus to and fro school or walking down to the city center. Other times…

Other times it matters A LOT. When I go to the store, what if they say something and I don’t understand? Ordering at restaurant?? As if that wasn’t scary enough!!!

Just kidding y’all. I’m being dramatic. What I just expressed is only a fraction of what I actually feel. Still, it’s crazy how being in another country can make you fear things as simple as grocery shopping or ordering at a restaurant (okay, I’ve always been kinda terrified of that one).

How long will it be until I don’t feel this way? My prediction is never. Which is okay because these feelings aren’t negative. They’re just a part of living somewhere as a foreigner.

And as someone who is prone to having a bit of social anxiety and leans more towards the reserved end of the spectrum. Lucky for me, Slovenes lean toward this end as well. Phew!

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Yes is More

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At times I feel like I really will be able to learn this language. That maybe I’ll have a decent conversation with a family member some day and that I’m making good progress.

Other days I feel discouraged. There are so many words, so many rules, so much to practice, and still so much that I have yet to uncover. What if eight months is not enough time? Will I ever speak and understand and well I want to? Is this goal unrealistic and am I naive for thinking I can achieve it?

There are moments when these thoughts plague my mind, and I have to remind myself that this is something I’ve always wanted to do, knowing full well how difficult it was going to be. Sure I could’ve taken the easy route, gone on living in America, only speaking English while continuing to fantasize about speaking Slovene…

And forfeit the potential to fulfill a dream I’ve carried with me for over ten years?

No way.

I could never let myself do that. I already know the ball and chain of regret I would carry with me had I chosen to stay behind. Growing up with this desire to learn Slovene is the equivalent of an itch never getting scratched. How painful it would be to look back on my life knowing I didn’t even try, despite how much I wanted it and how open the door was.

I’ve always known that I would never be content with only knowing one language. As much as I’ve tried to find that feeling, it has never come. I’m jealous of people who are bilingual. Always have been, always will be. This ever present envy is the result of having extended family whom I cannot communicate with effectively and growing up with a mother and close friends who speak multiple languages. I wanted to be a part of the club. It pained me when my fifth grade English teacher asked our class who was bilingual and I had to keep my hand down. I so badly wanted to raise my hand. Wanted it to be true. Even seeing strangers on the street who I know can speak Slovene with as much ease as I speak English reignites that spark of jealousy within me. It’s something I have always wanted. Something that’s always been just out of reach.

It’s hard when you can’t be a part of something that feels very much a part of you.

Each year that passed of me only knowing English, I grew more jealous, more bitter, and more resentful. I had to learn to get over these feelings, which was easy by no means and took several years. I still have days where I don’t feel “over it” at all and have to remind myself that you can’t change your past, but you can shape your future. For me, that meant letting go of the fact that I grew up monolingual, and choosing to focus on what I can do now to change that.

After spending about a month here, I realize that my decision is viewed differently by Americans and Slovenes. In the US, when I told others about my decision to move to Europe in order to study a language, I was met with countless oohs and ahhs, an endless stream of encouragement and admiration.

But the people who are from here give me the impression that what I’m doing is odd. Why would she leave America to come to Slovenia of all places? And just to learn the language? Why would she want to learn Slovene anyway? There are only 2 million of us! Guess they don’t know my backstory.

I’ve also heard things that have led me to believe I’m wasting my time. That I should hurry up and go to college instead of taking this much needed break not only to learn Slovene, but also figure out what I might want to do with my life. There are a million and half other reasons I could give in defense to spending a school year here, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Even though there are times I fear I won’t learn as much Slovene as I want to or that I’m silly for even trying, I remember my classmates who are much older than I and have chosen to do the same thing despite their age. Did I mention I’m the youngest in my class by 11 years?

Though I often feel discouraged and overwhelmed when thinking of how much I have yet to learn, I remember the showers of encouragement I’ve received from others (thanks by the way) and that progress counts for a lot more than I give credit.

Even still, I fear coming out of this experience feeling just as lost about my calling and purpose as before. But then I remember that God was the one who led me here. If he didn’t have a good reason, he would not have done it. There is so much that will happen over the course of these eight months that I cannot even imagine, even if they aren’t the most grandiose or the most obvious.

And that’s all the comfort I need.

Last Friday

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A week ago today was a great day.

It started with a tour of Ljubljana, which was just okay. I can only take so much translation from Slovene to English without my mind wandering. Still, I saw some cool things and learned a bit about where I’ll be living for eight months.

Afterward, I went to have food with some classmates of mine at the open market. The food was savory, the company was sweet, and the weather was sunny. Conversation flowed easily and there were many laughs shared.

We went down to sit by the river on some steps to bask in the early afternoon sun and had more good conversation. One by one, people left to carry on with the rest of their day and it was just me and my two friends from Sweden.

We went to get ice cream and ate it on our way to the park where we walked, talked and got to know each other better.

My heart felt so full by the time we said goodbye and I rode the bus home. It hadn’t even been a week, yet I felt as though I had already made some really good friends.

Back at home, I was given all but 30 minutes to pack my bag before my two cousins and I headed off to Murska Sobota for the weekend.

That two hour drive held some of the most blissful moments of my life. An endless array of green hills dotted with orange roofs. Ashy mountains with a hint of snow resting in front of us. Quaint villages made up of colorful houses. Tunnels aglow with dim amber light. The sun setting behind us, giving the air a golden hue. The music adding to an already perfect vibe.

I was completely at peace. But it wasn’t your average peace. You know, the kind you feel when you doing something relaxing or are in a quite room.

It was the kind of peace that “transcends all understanding” (Phil 4:7 NIV). The kind of peace you feel enveloped in, that you can feel in every fiber of your being, an assuring kind of peace. I could feel God whispering to me, “you are right where you need to be.”

For the first time in a long time, I noticed my heart wasn’t pounding out of its chest. The tight grip, the heaviness, was no longer present. The sensation of being light as air, not a single burden bearing down on my shoulders, was ever-present in knowing I was smack-dab in the middle of the Lord’s plan for me.

This feeling, along with joy, has carried over into my week and is still with me today. Do I still get nervous about silly things? Yes. Do I still have a lot to learn? Yes. Do I still overthink everything? YES. But it has been a long time since I’ve felt this good about where I am in life. Since I have been this content and this fulfilled and this sure.

One of my small group leaders once asked me how I felt the Lord’s direction in making the decision to come here, and I didn’t really know how to answer her then. If she asked me the same thing now, I would tell her that I always felt peace about my decision. Even in those moments where all I wanted to do was cry, I still had peace about being in Slovenia.

I would also tell her that my excitement and anticipation in waiting to get here was through the roof while my dread and fear was nonexistent. While it may sound terrible, I don’t miss anyone, at least not to the point of feeling sad. I feel completely secure, and I am never alone.

Making friends and having cousins here has made all the difference too. Those first few big changes that had me feeling down made me realize that resting in the company of other people is so important! It’s true that the people you’re with make your experience so much sweeter.

There is still a lot of unknown that lies in front of me, but I feel confident in facing it head on knowing I have friends, family, and Jesus by my side.

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Friends for the Journey

I started my language courses a week ago today. Well, a week ago tomorrow considering the first day consisted of a table of croissants and chatting with our new classmates.

My course has a total of 39 students from 18 different countries. I’ve met people from Thailand, Russia, England, China, Taiwan, New Zealand, Germany, Serbia, the list goes on. I made three good friends too, a girl from Austria and two sisters from Sweden, and am so grateful to have met them.

Being around an international crowd has been a great experience so far. Even though I’ve been around a variety of students when it come to race and ethnicity because of my participation in the IB program, this is completely different.

None of us are the same age, English is not the first language for most, and we are all there for different reasons. I happen to be the youngest in the entire group. I feel like a baby at times (especially the second day when my mom took me to class while everyone else was flyin’ solo), but I enjoy getting to make connections with people who are further along in their walk of life. It’s a nice change from always being around those of the same age.

I’ve had many conversations with others about differences in the culture, food, and climate of our home country. A man from Brazil even asked me if I knew people who owned guns after finding out I’m from Texas.

Getting to know these people and having these conversations has been truly enriching. I learn more about our world and its people every day.

While this part of school has exceeded whatever expectations I had, the actual learning of Slovene had me discouraged for a bit.

I was placed into the beginner group. I was bored at first. I already knew how to say “Kako si?” and “Dober dan!” I already knew the alphabet and how to pronounce each letter. By the end of the day, all I could think was “How am I supposed to communicate with anyone if this is all they are teaching me? How long until we learn harder things? Am I ever gonna be able to speak Slovene!?”

Then I had to remind myself, “Megan, it’s been a day. You are not going to learn the whole language in a day. Calm down. It’s a process.”

Now, I actually feel grateful that I was placed in the beginner group. I already know a lot of things, which means I am one of the better students. This helped to boost my confidence which can be otherwise low when having to talk in another language in front of others.

Although I still have a long way to go and sometimes get overwhelmed when thinking of how much there is to come, it’s nice to know that I am not isolated in this feeling, nor the only one going through all that comes with learning a new language in a foreign city.

And thank goodness my cousins can speak English!!!

The Journey Begins

IMG_6152.JPGHello! Thanks for joining me as I begin this adventure in Slovenia. It has been a busy week and a half. First arriving in Murska Sobota, my mom’s hometown where we hung out and caught up with family there (I also became a Slovenian citizen!), and then in Ljubljana this past Saturday. I’m all moved in and even got to go to church and explore the city with my mom and cousins.

I am still not over jet lag, am a bit worried about my food situation (cooking all by myself for the first time?!), and I have to say goodbye to my mother on Sunday.

BUT, the good has outweighed the bad. The weather is cooler, I get to live in a beautiful city with my cousins, and I’ve already made friends at school!

The truth is, my attitude and feelings towards moving here have been mostly positive, which I am grateful for. I’ve been excited, looking forward to each step dealing with the emotions as they come. Upon arrival to Croatia, the destination of my last flight, I had the urge to cry which I honored for about ten seconds but then shoved back down again. It is not easy to hold in tears, but being the way I am, I held them in with all my strength until I was laying alone in bed that night. The rest of the week I was completely fine, and then come Saturday.

Actually, on Saturday I felt okay, it was Sunday that really got me. I went to church with my mom and two cousins and was welcomed so warmly there. I was feeling a bit down on Saturday evening and the feeling carried over into Sunday, and I thought going to church would cheer me right up, but it instead caused the floodgates to open.

It’s a feeling I cannot fully put into words. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t worried. I was completely at peace with where I was and what I was about to do. Instead, I was overwhelmed by all the change happening at once as well as the love that was surrounding me.

Everyone acted so kind towards me, one woman even told me that crying is good because it washes your eyes! That got a laugh out of me.

My mom left Ljubljana today, and I am on my own (mostly) for the first time in my life! My feelings towards this change by the hour, ranging from ready as ever to wanting to hide under my covers.

Yet I am confident in the Lord’s plan for me, and know good things lie ahead of me along with immense growth in all areas of my life.

Again, if you are here reading this, I want to thank you for your support. The thought of  writing this blog has been more intimidating for me than moving to Slovenia, because as much as I love to write, having other people read my writing is a big step out of my more reserved comfort zone.

So again, thank you!!!