Sara Dyson, founder of Expat In Croatia (EIC), spent last week at our summer school on Lošinj island, towards the north of the Croatian coastline. She was fully immersed in the Croatian language, with two one-on-one lessons of 45 minutes each, twice a day, and two hours a day of cultural activities with all conversation in Croatian. And of course there were many other opportunities to practice with locals, and explore this beautiful island.
Expat in Croatia runs a weekly “Five Question Friday” and Sara, with head teacher Linda Rabuzin in a co-starring role, presented EIC’s first ever bilingual version – Pet Pitanja Petkom – at the end of her immersion week. In honour of Sara’s visit, we thought we’d do our own Five Question Friday and here’s what Sara told us:
1. What are your impressions of the island of Lošinj? Any favourite spots?
Lošinj was like an alternate reality. It has all the same elements as other Croatian islands – sea, beach, pine, pretty riva promenades – but in vibration, it was on another plane entirely. I felt in my bones why they call Lošinj the island of vitality.
I loved Zabodarski beach (along with the off-roading and wild path required to get to it). While I marinated in the sea, little prop planes would fly over the trees from the nearby airport sporadically.
The very outer rim of Čikat, near the lighthouse (or what I thought was a lighthouse), was a superb place to watch the boats go by. Eating at El Paso next to the airport was super special. On my last day, a fan whose family is from Mali [Lošinj], took me on a bike ride to Veli [Lošinj]. There are so many moments/spots to call out from this, so let’s just say – it’s something you gotta do!
I was sad to get on the ferry. I can’t wait to return. Jedva čekam.
2. Could you outline the impact this week has had on your Croatian language learning journey?
The impact is visible on every aspect of my speaking. I have more vocabulary, I speak better and faster, I have the confidence to speak more often about more topics.
In my personal situation, I am learning Croatian but I am also striving to overcome a life-long social anxiety of talking to, or in front of, other people. Sometimes, I get so jammed up, I am too nervous to speak to people in my native tongue. In these cases, Croatian is totally off the table – it can even keep me from leaving the house.
To speak Croatian, I must get past the social anxiety challenge first. As part of the intensive course, Linda took me around to speak to people. We dined, we visited one shop owned by a friend, we bought coffee, we had coffee and cake at her neighbor’s house.
Linda and I would speak very openly during the lessons, but the moment I had to “perform” in front of people, I started to close in on myself like an armadillo. I had to fight those instincts. If I let them win, then what is it that I’m doing this for?
I wanted to make the most of this experience, so I assigned myself homework. The whole week, I said to our EIC audience, “We are only speaking Croatian this week.” So, every time we posted a story, it was in Croatian. As part of that, I made a video on my first day, without cuts, without a script, completely in Croatian, sitting in the dark, crusted in sea salt after a long day of traveling, and diving headfirst into speaking Croatian full-time.
Two days later, I made another video, where I mostly read Croatian about my anxiety with speaking – even in English. I shared what it feels like to have the words but not be able to speak.
Then on Friday, Linda joined me on Instagram for my weekly series Five Question Friday. On that day, it was Pet Pitanja Petkom. The whole episode was dual language. Linda spoke Croatian, and I translated her, while also speaking Croatian myself. It was completely live, nothing to edit or fix in the captions. It was what it was.
Finally, the day after I finished, I told my first story in Croatia on Instagram. I practiced it with Linda all week and got great at it! When I had to finally film it, I could feel the shell creeping over my shoulders, whispering, “This is too much, Sara. This hurts. Why are you doing this? You’re going to make a fool of yourself.”
But I did it anyways. Everyone was over-the-moon supportive. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. I was rattled filming it and it took multiple takes. I’m not fluent so it was never going to be perfect.
These are all significant personal milestones that I made myself do, not Linda, but I could not have done them without her.
I really wanted our audience at Expat in Croatia to see:
a) exactly what level I’m at
b) that it’s okay to make mistakes
c) the community supports you
3. Were there any “lightbulb” moments and any particularly hard bits?
Yeah, apparently, I speak Croatian and didn’t know it!
I don’t go into an office surrounded by Croatian speakers every day. I don’t have a Croatian spouse or mother-in-law. I’m not a student, nor do I have children, so I’m not forced to speak to teachers and other parents. My Croatian friends are all too used to speaking to me in English and I don’t push it, due to insecurity and anxiety.
So, my only opportunity to speak Croatian is during my twice-weekly Skype lessons with Linda and when I go about my daily life – errands and what not. I always speak Croatian then. I go into the interaction assuming they don’t speak English. Whether they do or not is irrelevant. By telling myself there is no other way to communicate, I force myself to speak Croatian even if it’s not perfect.
But those types of conversations are limited to 2 to 5, maybe 10 minutes at maximum. They aren’t long conversations. They are more like, ‘I need to make 5 copies of this key.” “I want to buy 10 eggs and these carrots. Oh, and how much is this cheese?” “Where is room 10?”
During this course, I could only speak Croatian and Linda spoke at a reasonable pace. It wasn’t too slow, and it wasn’t too fast. It wasn’t in dialect, which I’m used to dealing with in Split.
For the first time, I got to speak Croatian unfiltered, without judgment, without waiting in line for something or feeling like I must speed up.
When I was a kid, my family watched this American cartoon The Simpsons. On one episode, the son Bart got shipped to France. He was struggling for months to understand French. Then one day, he started to speak and understand – like a light bulb went on. I had that feeling. One day I was a toddler, and then the next a real-live speaking adult.
I will make a video in the next couple of weeks about my entire experience. Follow us on Instagram to see it.
4. What advice would you give anyone else thinking of doing this course?
Do it! If you want to be better at your Croatian, which is all of us non-native speakers, this will improve your Croatian. Period. It’s impossible not to improve after such an intensive experience. I feel like my DNA was changed.
It’s important to stretch your legs with Croatian in a safe place, for an extended period.
During my interview with Linda on the last day of my course, I asked her if you need to have a basic level of Croatian to come do the course. She said you don’t need to know anything because it’s all customized to the person.
Honestly, that’s what I’ve loved about working with Linda for the past year – it all feels customized to me. I hated being put into the same Croaticum textbook path that everyone else gets. We all learn differently and it’s vital that we are taught in the way that’s right for us.
To get the most out of it, make sure you don’t have to work that week, and at least a few days after if you can swing it. It does feel a bit like mental surgery and that requires recovery time.
I also recommend studying a bit during breaks, especially the vocabulary. It’ll amplify the entire experience.
I can’t wait to do it again! And I love Lošinj!
I truly feel like I’ve returned to Split a different person. It’s up to me to keep speaking at this pace. I must seek out opportunities to have conversations since they don’t drop in my lap every day.
To anyone who is married to a Croatian, use them to learn the language. Don’t use them as an excuse to not learn the language. That will get you into trouble.
When it comes to Croatian, nobody can learn this language for you. You can find the best teacher, but at the end of the day, you get out what you put in.
Thank you Sara, for your commitment to this course and to your Croatian language learning as a whole. It’s a joy to help someone like you on your Croatian language journey and see what a difference it makes. And it was great to see you and our leader enjoying yourself on PPP [Pet Pitanja Petkom], which we think has more of a ring to it than FQF! Here’s the link to that Expat in Croatia (@expatincroatia) • Instagram: Pet Pitanja Petkom
The Croatian Language school has a number of different immersion packages available at the school on Lošinj, all individually tailored to each student, for example:
- Standard: 20 lessons per week
- Semi–Intensive: 25 lessons per week
- Intensive: 30 lessons per week
- Language and Culture: 20 lessons per week + meet locals and learn about the local culture
Lessons are 45 minutes each and you can find out more here Courses in Croatia – Croatian Language School (easycroatian.com)
Find out more about Expat in Croatia by following the links below