Saturday, August 18, 2007

Flexing my vocab muscles

There was a time in my life when I believed that swearing was unnecessary. I was of the opinion that my lexicon had been enriched by a multitude of institutions and that surely I could think of a more intelligent way to express myself, and if I couldn't, well, I was just a result of poorly allocated governmental funds... Bearing in mind the rather high opinion I had of my linguistic ability, I smugly sifted through the pages of a discarded GRE book left in the Peace Corps office. In only took a minute for that smug expression to slide off my face, replaced by a look of disbelief. In that moment, the library echoed with a string of obscenities that more than compensated for all those bygone years...

Much like a fresh-faced 18 year-old, newly graduated from highschool, or the 20 something clutching the much-sought-after diploma, I've found the end of my Peace Corps experience to be surrounded by an unending and familiar refrain; "Wow! So, what are you doing to now?" Anticlimactially, I responded as honestly as I could, expressing frightening uncertainty about my future. Finally, however, I resigned myself to the fact that just choosing an option would abate the questioning from others, and on a superficial level, from myself. The choice: GRE preparation!

After some investigating, I realized that quite a few PCVs had found time during their service to take standardized tests such as the GMAT, GRE or LSAT, and that some of the testing schedules were as readily available as there are in the US! Step two was to find some good study materials and a study partner who would be more adamant in study behavior than myself. (As a college student I was notorious for taking test after reading through my notes once or turning in papers that were still warm from the printer. I once handed in a paper with math problems written on the opposite side, much to the amusement of my roommates who later hung it on the fridge.) My parents brought me a GRE book from the states, and I found a study partner after my friend Mladen told me that he wanted to study in the US.

Now, let's return to the vocab. Americans, evidently, use significantly fewer words in their daily lives than the average Bulgarian. Maybe we're lazy, or maybe we use more slang, but whatever it is, its been a great source of joy in my workplace. "How is it possible that you don't know all the English words?!?" they asked me. I tried to explain that a lot of these words are only used in literature (some aren't even used at all, I'd wager!) and aren't part of everyday speech. After another round of chiding, I pointed out that the word "ambidextrous" was conspicuously missing from the Bulgarian language...this was the closest I could come to redemption. My pride wilted once again after my first study session with Mladen. Not only had he studied about twice as many lists as I had, he also had a disturbing knack for giving pin-point definitions to the words that challenged me the most!!!! Further investigation revealed that a disproportionate amount of the words are exactly the same in Bulgarian. We (I) then decided that you have to be Bulgarian to get a good score on the GRE verbal...


The newest crop of PC volunteers (officially "trainees" and not "volunteers" until they earn their wings) arrived in country last week. I was asked to be a resource volunteer, which means that I will help during the training session to transfer skills and knowledge that we've picked up during our two years here. A few days before our first official meeting with the newbies, currently volunteers were warned that a new dress code was in place for incoming volunteers, and we were "strongly encouraged" to adhere to it as well. Normally, I like rules. I'm kinda into them. I think they make society run more smoothly. This time, however, I had a bit of a beef with PC. They asked that and PCVs who had visible facial piercings remove them before interacting with the new kids. The policy actually alluded to the idea that volunteers who were not in compliance with this policy (whether when interacting with the new people or working in their own cities) we not effective volunteers. Naturally, I got kinda fiesty and wrote some emails about the flawed policy implementation (you could, for example, have a purple mohawak, and that was acceptable) and received several phone calls, and finally PC stepped down! It was a pretty exciting moment though, and this is a highly abridged version of the event.


I never wrote about Spain! Spain was a pretty good time and I got to swim in the Mediterranean sea, meet up with a friend, go to clubs til 6am, eat some crazy food, see some awesome buildings, and survive 5 hours waiting for a train! I also saw a train dining car for the first time in my life, ran into a former PCV from Pernik, reveled in the availability of licorice, and saw an amazing classical guitar concert!! All in all, a pretty good time! :)


At 6:15 AM, Blogger Andrea said...

Go Tones!!!!!!!!! Here's to big words, piercings and espanol!!! (Sorry, I couldn't think of any cool slang like you would have!!)

At 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to regain your pride next time this topic comes up, inform your colleagues that the English lexicon contains far more words than any other language in the world, except maybe the character-based languages (which can't really be calculated the same way). Also, point out that Bulgarian uses the same word for "fingers" and "toes", which is ridiculous, not to mention the same word for "legs" and "feet". (I tease Petya about this all the time, although she likes to point ou that we don't have seperate words for aunts and uncles on our father's side and our mother's side, so prepare your defense now).

-Randy D


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