Well, I survived my first weekend! On Friday afternoon, all 30 of us new Trainees piled onto a charter bus and departed to the main training center about an hour away from the mountain resort where we had been staying for preliminary Bulgarian lessons, policies and procedures, and a brief chance to recover from our travel.
At the Training Center, we met our host families and then piled into cars and dispersed throughout South-West Bulgaria. After that, we were totally and completely on our own until we met up with our Language Trainers this morning.
About 2 weeks before I finally left for Bulgaria, I endured a couple moments of borderline panic and doubts. Mostly, the fear was about learning the language. My one semester of college Spanish was a complete bust (even though all those conjugations seem to be making sense now that I try to approach a language with an entirely new alphabet and set of rules), and learning sign language would have been just as visual if it wasn't for the visual reliance of the language. I feared that I wouldn't be able to integrate (ooh, PC's favorite word!) because my language acquisition isn't the keenest. As soon as I got the panic out of my system, I spent the next couple of weeks growing more excited and less nervous. Even packing was easier than I expected (other than having to put away everything I decided NOT to bring!!). On Friday, when we were scheduled to meet our host families, I only felt a few sporadic pangs of nervous anticipation. But, I knew I had Help on my side, and everything was going to be okay.
Svetla, my host mom, and her daughter Didi picked me up from the training center. While Didi's English is fairly reliable, it didn't really set me at ease because she wasn't really translating for her parents (actually, PC requested that even if our families know English, that they refrain from using it as to allow us to immerse ourselves in Bulgarian. I spent the rest of the weekend (Didi left early Saturday morning) repeating "ne razbirem" (no I don't understand) over and over and over and over.
I can already tell that immersion tactics for language learning is essential, but it's tiring!!
When I previously learned a language, there was always the opportunity to clarify something when you had absolutely no clue. After class, I would ask the teacher to explain something again or explain on the spot. Here, my host mom can say the same thing over and over again, and maybe even use some new vocabulary, but if I don't understand, that's probably it. Unless one of us can successfully refer back to what we volunteers like to call the "longest game of charades EVER." When sitting in on a conversation when I was learning Spanish, if something came up I didn't understand, usually there was someone there to explain it later. Here, when the moments gone, it's usually looonggg gone. Even if I could remember a topic or a word long enough to write it down, my auditory interpretation of words into Cyrillic leaves a lot to be desired… BUT, I am actually starting to pick out familiar words, and I am beginning to recognize that the Bulgarian language DOES in fact consist of different words and phrases, and it's NOT as fast as it sounds when it rapidly releases itself from someone's mouth… J