I arrived back from Sarajevo just in time to go to the office on Monday morning. Thankfully though (after getting ready) I was told that we were not going.
On Wednesday Monika, Alessio and I went with Elena to the Italian school in Umag, to help with their day learning about the European Union. Our first task was to hide some paper stars in the gym, before being introduced to the students at the end of Elena’s introductory talk, about what the EU is, its history, and the day’s activities. We were then torn from each other, as we went with different groups to learn about one aspect of the EU.
I was with Dubravka, an English teacher, and Elisa, an Italian teacher, learning about languages of the EU. I learnt some interesting facts, such as that the British are not the worst at speaking a second language (though we are ‘top’ 5), and the proportion of people able to hold a conversation in one additional language is 54%, and 25% for at least two additional languages. This makes me think that people here are lucky to living in a bilingual area, with most people able to speak Croatian and Italian, and then also learn another language, (mostly English or German).
Of course, it is not just luck, it is hard work to learn another language, but it is a benefit to live in a bilingual area. And speaking both Croatian and Italian would have advantages, from being able to travel the whole of Italy and most of the Balkans and have a conversation with almost anyone easily (ignoring the old men who speak only an obscure local dialect), to living, working or doing business in both countries.
I often get told I am lucky that I am a native English speaker, because ‘everyone’ speaks English, which in some ways is true, you can always find things in English, but using it as an excuse not to learn another language is arrogant, and ignorant because it takes away the opportunity to really know another culture and talk to, and learn from the people you meet. Just try speaking to someone in their language, and see how happy it makes them.
The students made a poster with the information they had gained, and they were encouraged to speak English with me, which led to some “What is your favourite …?” questions and a surprising chat with one boy who spoke rapidly, and in depth, about his hobby of fixing up old cars.
With the poster done we headed off to the gym to display them, and play EU based games. With around 140 students, in two groups doing different activities, it was so cacophonous that Elena couldn’t be heard by students a few metres away when she was asking quiz questions. The final activity was for 2 teams of the younger students to race to find our hidden stars to complete an EU flag. This was impossible however, as some of the stars had already been found. And destroyed.
During the day we met Maja, the deputy headteacher, who offered to help with any projects, or for anything to do socially, such as a village party/ concert nearby on Saturday night.