Thursday, October 22, 2009

Good Leadership

I came across this post on my friend Milo's blog the other day. Whether you're Croatian or American, good leadership can be refreshingly shocking. Milo's observations are valuable to anyone serving as a leader in any capacity:

I have spent the last 5 months in the Intensive care unit with my little boy Josiah Nathaniel. During this time, I have witnessed some things that can learned about leadership, and a working environment that may be helpful to your organization.

1. Everyone understands the chain of command, and the appropriate relationships within that chain.
2. The collective opinion of the leadership group is of great worth and value to those who answer to them.
3. Disagreements of opinions by those in leadership are resolved behind closed doors, then presented as a unified decision.
4. The opinion of those involved in the day to day work/care (i.e.. parents and bedside nurses) is regularly evaluated and listened to.
5. Every doctor and nurse has a training time when they arrive, but after that they are expected and encouraged to make their own decisions, and carry their own weight.

Numbers 6-10 here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hooked on Phonics

There's nothing better in language learning than a nice phonetic alphabet to get you started. Just ask anyone learning Croatian. As soon as you know the alphabet, theoretically you know how to pronounce every word in the dictionary.

So before I even moved to Croatia I was pronouncing Croatian words. After we moved, when I attended church, I was singing along to all the worship songs. I didn't have the slightest clue what they were singing about (unless it was a translated song) but I sang nonetheless.

But if you've grown up on a steady diet of phonetic letters, the English alphabet will feel like a punch in the gut.

The first English class I ever taught here was a lesson in this fact. I was going through the alphabet with some adult beginners. After I had shattered everything they knew about the letter A, there was one lady who became increasingly frustrated. Finally at "W" she lost it. At the time I had no idea what she was saying, but later one of the students told Petra what had happened and Petra translated:

"She was cursing you out Jeremy", Petra said laughing. "She couldn't figure out how it was called "double-U" when it looks like "double-V" and she definitely couldn't understand how if the letter starts with a "d" sound (Double-U) how the word "window" starts with a sound she can't even make!" (There's no "wh" sound in Croatian.)

And the lady never recovered. She came a few more weeks but then dropped the class altogether. Fortunately others have been a bit more patient, and thankfully I've learned how to deal with the fear and trembling that comes with the English alphabet since, but the problem makes sense. Consider the following:

Did you know that GHOTI could be pronounced like "fish"?

- If you take the GH from "enough" that gives you the "f" sound.
- The O from "women" gives you the "i" sound.
- And the TI from "nation is the same as "sh" in fish.

It's no wonder English learners have a hard time figuring out how to pronounce words. Anyone for a phonetic English alphabet?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

ID Please

Petra and I have had the opportunity to guest-teach English in the local High School here in Orahovica this fall. One of the topics we used to get students talking was "culture shock". What does it mean? We followed that conversation with an activity where the students had to come up with 3 things Americans would be shocked at here in Croatia.

Just about every class brought up alchohol. Some mentioned that Americans would be blown away by the strength of Croatian "rakija". Others noted how many people drink in Croatia. One person mentioned the legal drinking age (18) which is not strictly enforced.

And that's true. If I know where I could find underage drinkers on any given Saturday night, I'm sure the police do too.

But it got me thinking about the "legal age" a person has to be in order to do something.

For example, in Iowa, a 15 year old can get their permit to drive. Here you have to be at least 18 and pay an arm and a leg for that privelege.

In America you can't legally drink until you're 21. And you know what? That's not necessarily a bad thing. But think of all the things you can do (legally) at 18.

One friend in Croatia thought it seemed strange that an American 18 year old is allowed to join the military, kill someone in another country and come back to a celebration. But they're not allowed to have a drink. They may have a point.

On the other side of the ocean, Croatian law inforcement could easily lower the underage drinking rate. But what brings in the most money here? Bars, cafes and discos. Why stop now?

What dictates the legal age in a given country? Values? Money? Tradition?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Signs Part II

And then there's this one, which is not too hard to figure out, but probably has a good story behind it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Signs - Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

One thing I love about Europe is the signs. In America, we're so boring. We just write whatever it is that needs to be said, attach it to a post and put it up. But in Europe, where practically every country has a different language, they need to accomodate foreigners and create signs with pictures. As one of those foreigners, I've found many of the signs quite interesting. Like this one for example:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Who's Got the Floor?

As I was flipping through a book of suggestions for English teaching activities the other day I came across one that included the students sitting on the ground.

With hardly a thought I turned to the next page. "That one wouldn't work here" I said to myself.

Let me tell you a little bit about the death trap known as the "floor" here in Croatia. It's a place that must be quarantined. Whether it's slippers, rugs, chairs or shoes there has to be at least one degree of separation between your body and the floor - very often two or three.

I even heard from a reliable source that back in the day, Yugoslav babies didn't learn how to crawl. They went from laying down to practically running - a walker being their one mode of transition and transportation so as not to be overly exposed to the floor.

And what do I say about this crazy mindset?

Bravo Croatians! At least we have some sensible human beings among us on this planet!

I can remember being in 2nd or 3rd grade at one of those assemblies where the bigger kids came to put on a program for us youngins. On this particular day the 6th graders sang us the song about Joe - you know, the fellow who had a "wife and 3 kids and worked in a button factory".

Right about the time Joe was "working the button with his left foot" I was figuring out how I could misbehave in order to get the knot (caused by sitting on the floor) worked out of my left glute with a spanking. Who were these evil creatures called teachers who made us sit on the ground anyway? And why did they get to sit in chairs while we sat on a cold hard floor for hours at a time?

Here in Croatia students are not allowed to sit on the floor. Every student has a chair (and usually a pillow!) to sit on during larger school gatherings.

Many ask if it's safe here in Croatia. Sure it is. And as long as the floor situation stays the same, you, your bottom, and your feet will be much better taken care of here than in America.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Heart Croatia

A handful of recent posts may have given my readers the impression that there's a lot to complain about in Croatia. "Very little baseball", "difficulty with paperwork", "the language is so difficult", so on and so on. Jeremy, quit whining!

But the fact is, I love it here. And I'm not just saying that. Here are the top 10 reasons I love Croatia.

10. The beauty of the land. It is no coincidence that Creation and Croatian sound so similar.

9. The food.

8. The relative safety. A stranger came up to Enoh the other day and gave him a cookie after Enoh flashed a smile. We realized later, had we been in America we would have had some skepticism. Not here.

7. The climate. All four seasons like New England but a longer summer and less snow make it ideal for the Sensors among us.

6. The generosity of the people.

5. The education. This is a long story that many Americans living in Croatia (not to mention Croatians living in Croatia) wouldn't agree with. Post forthcoming with solid arguments.

4. Our job. We have wonderful bosses (see 2) who give us the flexibility to do what we feel called to. We have a sovereign God who has directed our steps. We are able to use the gifts God has given us for things we enjoy doing in a place we love to live. Financial security is a good thing, but it's not the most important.

3. Orahovica. There's no place like home.

2. Our church and our bosses. We have possibly the most godly man we have met as our pastor. His humility, wisdom and Christ-like example have made our local church what it is today - a fellowship that will have a profound effect on Croatia for years to come.

1. My wife. Croatia, its people, culture, beauty, tradition, education system, temperment and attitude have stronly influenced her. "Rough around the edges but undeniably beautiful" goes a long way to describing both.