48° 40′ 8.4936″ N, 19° 41′ 56.4864″ E
Have you ever been so confused that you don’t quite know how to react to a situation? I have been living in Slovakia for the past 6 months, and more often than not, that was how I lived my every day for the first three months. Living in a foreign country is much different than traveling in a foreign country. The quirky or unusual differences between your home country and the country you are visiting are cute and interesting, but when you are living in another country, those cultural differences are something you must live with every day and in some cases assimilate to. It is quite an adventure.
Coming to Slovakia, I had no idea what to expect. I am somewhat familiar with the culture of this country because my family is from Slovakia. However, the five words I knew in Slovak would not get me very far over here. Slovak is one of the most difficult languages I have ever heard and tried to learn. Fortunately, it uses the Roman alphabet, but its grammar and even its pronunciation are almost impossible for an outsider to learn in a short amount of time. For example, there are plenty of words in Slovak that don’t even have vowels! Try to say krk and prst. Those words mean ‘neck’ and ‘finger.’ Some other words are very long like čučoriedka, which means ‘blueberry.’ The language has been fun to learn even though sometimes I feel like two-year olds can talk better than me!
Slovakia has a very interesting history that my family wasn’t a part of, and that history has changed much of the culture in the area. After the Second World War (WW II) Slovakia was claimed by the Soviet Union, which is now Russia, and was held under communist rule until 1989 when the Soviet Union fell and released all the countries under its power. Communism changed the daily way of living and thinking in Slovakia. The communist government controlled almost everything, like housing, health care, jobs and wages. In some ways, people were happy because they would always have a job and a place to live. But in other ways, things were not so great, because people could not disagree with the government.
When Slovakia became democratic in 1990, everything changed. People had more freedom to believe, think and say what they wanted. They were allowed to travel to other countries, and buy and sell things without the government stopping them. But it takes a long time to change the way people feel about their government and country. Slovakians still feel a little uncertain about future, and take long time to start trusting new people.
This is the culture I find myself living in, and being a new face in a small town has made me an oddity and a kind of celebrity here. I am the only American in my village, and the only person fluent in English for miles and miles around me. That was an interesting reality to adapt to, but it has really been a fun and wild time. Because I’m the only American here, I have been on Slovak TV five times, I have been asked to give speeches at school competitions and meetings, and people like to stop and stare at me as I walk down the street. These are all things that I have never really experienced at home!
Traveling and living abroad gets you out of your comfort zone. Do you know what I mean? You do things you would not otherwise do, and that’s why I love traveling. I have been more challenged living here in Slovakia than I have ever been in my life. Now that I am six months into my stay here, I finally feel like this place is my new home. The community has welcomed me and made me feel cared about. That makes me incredibly happy.