Karlovy Vary is a spa town located about 2 hours away from Prague. "Spa" immediately conjures up feelings of relaxation and soaking in a hot tub until my mind melts and washes away all my worries. Two friends and I decided to go in high aims to experience a massage or some kind of spa treatment. And so we used the Student Agency bus and booked a one night stay in a hostel. By the way, I highly recommend using Student Agency to travel. Our bus had little personal screens so you can watch a film and they serve you hot drinks (tea, coffee, hot chocolate). I ended up sleeping the whole way, but next time I'll watch a film.
We arrived at around 4 PM and found a traditional Czech restaurant to eat dinner because we were famished. Afterwards, we walked around Karlovy Vary as the day turned into the evening. The night time turned Karlovy Vary into an image that will be difficult to forget because it did not look like the picturesque views we found on Google images. I grew up going to Disneyland with my family in California, and I must say, Karlovy Vary at night feels like an eery version of Disneyland at night when the amusement park is soon about to close.
Disneyland evokes a playfulness that the colorful buildings of Karlovy Vary also present ... but in the sunny day time. Once it hit dusk, these colors were not as vibrant and become muted. It's a similar process of turning from color to black and white, the transition between the two. The gloomy weather and cloudiness also helped with this effect. Compared to Disneyland as you exit when it gets close to midnight the Disney song "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" leads you out, Karlovy Vary did not have the music, just the fairy tale buildings. (look at pictures 1 and 2)
Nonetheless, Karlovy Vary was beautiful walking around at night. Even more beautiful in the daytime! Luckily, the sun was shining and the clouds dissipated. We woke up and went to a nearby spa and waited about 45 minutes to schedule an appointment for a classic massage. We should have called the day before, because the whole day was booked. We should have known since this is THE SPA town of Czech Republic. Looking up the numbers, 76,000 visitors come to this town each year just for the spa. We ended up walking to the Grand Pupp Hotel and enjoyed the beautiful scenario and the town where Casino Royale and The Last Holiday were filmed. (picture 3) We went to this building called Císařské lázně where it used to be a bath house but now it is being used as a place for meetings and ceremonies and is getting renovated. We sat in the metal bath tub and that was our "bath." The last picture is me and my new friend. The end!
Exploring a new city exemplifies living in a state of exhilaration. The city becomes your playground, your place to experience a culture other than your own.
Old Town Hall Tower
You can get to know its essence by sitting quietly and observing the residents passing by, or you can try your hand at speaking the language and interacting with the locals. Both of these are a form of immersion, and though sitting back while the city is full of life around you may seem at first glance to be a static activity, it is actually quite dynamic.
By definition, “dynamic” refers to a person or process characterized by progress, energy, and/or new ideas, and an activity that may be passive in other contexts is engaging when in a previously unfamiliar land.
You must be present in the moment while traveling as you observe your surroundings and take note of the differences between your home and this new area. There are differences related to the senses, such as the scent of the air, the aesthetic layout of the blocks, the architectural style of the buildings, and the native tongue being used by the locals.
St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle
On top of these variations, there are differences that do not stand out as quickly as the fragrance of a local market may. How did history unfold on the very ground you’re standing on that led to the current moment? How did the groups of people inhabiting this area change over time, and what are the traditions and norms of the current population?
Crosses marking where 27 Protestants were executed after the Battle of White Mountain in the 17th century
It is this requirement for constant engagement that has me viewing travel as a remedy. Experiencing a new culture softens a closed mind and expands an already open one. Walking down the street in a foreign city brings with it a sense of magic whereas doing the same at home may seem like just another part of your routine. Traveling reminds you that the world is much bigger than the little bubble that you occupy on a daily basis, which brings with it a sense of comfort. Travel is a remedy for a closed mind, for a routine, for the mundane.
View of the city from Prague Castle
I personally find myself feeling antsy if I stay in one place for too long, needing new experiences to nurture my mind. Though I’ve only been in Prague for a week, I feel accomplished knowing that I’ve made the most of each day. Here’s a rough outline of what I’ve been up to the last seven days:
5/26/14: Arrived in Prague after a 3-leg fight. The airport is small, and I was easily able to find the CIEE staff who then had a cab take me to my flat. I have 3 other roommates- two ladies in the program with me, and one flat buddy who is a student at Charles University. After meeting the other girls, I put away some of my luggage and rested in the flat for a little bit. Our apartment is in a great location, and is beautifully designed. I wasn’t expecting such a renovated apartment, and I can say with full confidence that this is a more than comfortable place to stay for the next few weeks. Once we were all feeling rejuvenated enough to walk around and fight our jet leg, our flat buddy took us around the city to explore. We became acquainted with the area around our apartment, walked through Old Town, and ended up at the John Lennon Wall. This piece of ever-changing art is particularly interesting because people began tagging it during the Communist regime here in Prague. The graffiti covering its surface started as a resistance against the order, and people have been writing on it since the 1980’s.
John Lennon Wall
5/27: During our first day of orientation, CIEE staff taught us about Czech customs and helped us understand the layout of the program. They have so many activities planned for us, including cooking lessons, trips to museums, cultural events such as seeing a ballet at the National Theater, and more. We went on a walk around the city after orientation with one of the flat buddies, and met at Petřínské Terasy, a restaurant, for a buffet-style dinner.
5/28: This was our last day of orientation, and we learned more about Czech history after going on a three-hour walk around Prague. We were guided by one of the professors, and her knowledge really helped us picture historical events that usually seem to be too distant to understand.
Astronomical Clock Tower with my roommates, Casey and Emily
5/29: Thursday was our first day of classes. I’m taking Psychoanalysis and Art and Survival Czech, both of which are extremely interesting. It’s remarkable how much more “at home” I feel in the city after taking just a few classes on the language! After our day at school, my roommates and I went to a department store to shop before getting dinner at The Louvre. We originally chose this restaurant based on a dessert recommendation, but ended up enjoying food + drinks on top of a raspberry sundae.
5/30: After classes, the Psychoanalysis and Art students stayed in the student lounge to watch a screening of “The Witches Hammer,” a Czech film based on a book of the same title. This is preparing us for our trip to Moravia this weekend, where we will see Freud’s childhood home and the site of the 17th century witch trials. We went to a club called Lucerna later in the evening, and much to our delight, danced to 80’s and 90’s music until the early morning. I obviously had to get the traditional Czech treat of fried cheese on the way back to our flat. I would try to put into words how delicious smažený sýr is, but will refrain from doing so because I will not be able to do it justice.
Lucerna with my classmates and new friends Nikole and Anna :)
5/30: My roommates and I slept in to fight the never-ending jet lag battle, and went to the Communist Museum in the afternoon. The pieces in the exhibit tie together the past with modern day Czech Republic, culminating in the film room. The TV was playing a movie with powerful footage from protestors and cops during the communist regime up until 1989. The film showed fighting on Wenceslas Square, and it was crazy to see how different the dynamic of this area was just a little over 20 years ago. This added to the balcony exhibit on communism in present-day North Korea to make for an overall heart-wrenching museum trip. I feel like I learned a great deal on how communism affects a community, and the many parts of the museum helped put a real-life context to a subject that I’ve only read about in text books up until now. On our way out of the museum, we saw a brochure for an underground tour of Prague starting in 15 minutes, so we rushed over to the ticket sales booth to join in. I love how it’s easy to be spontaneous here in the city- there is so much culture to experience, and there’s always something going on. The tour turned out to be fascinating, and we learned that the Old Town Hall used to house a prison in the cellar. Apparently people have weddings in the hall now, and the tour guide said that someone in one of his previous tours assured him that marriage was essentially the same as prison anyways. Coincidentally, my dad made the same joke when I told him of the tour. I would say “great minds think alike,” but I don’t think that phrase really fits this situation :D We had planned on going home after the tour, but got caught up in the street entertainment in Old Town Square. There has been some form of art-whether it be music or some performance-every time I’ve been through the square so far!
Postcard from Muzeum komunismu
Musician performing on Old Town Square
6/1: On Sunday, I went with my roommates and flat buddy to Costa Coffee to study and do readings for our classes. It was a nice and relaxing, but still mentally stimulating, day :)
6/2: Woohoo- one whole week! On our way to lunch between classes, we discovered an entire wall of flowers going down one side of the park by our school. What a gem to find! This stands in contrast to the cemetery that my roommates and I walk through every morning on the way to class (which, for the record, I find equally as interesting as the flower wall.) After classes, my roommates and I got Vietnamese takeout. We have been super tired, and have needed a rest day after all of the walking and exploring we’ve been doing.
Part of the flower wall
Well, that’s all for now. I apologize for the length of this blog- I shouldn’t have waited a whole week to make an update! I plan on posting every couple of days from now on.
After staying in Prague for a week, I finally got to venture over the Charles Bridge to the Kafka Museum. In fact, the famous writer inspired me to come to Prague years ago. Through his morbid stories and recounts of living in the city, I learned about Czech culture and history. Although the museum was only two floors, there was undoubtedly more than I had ever known about the author. As Kafka pursued his literary career as an adult, he simultaneously worked at an insurance company. Eventually, he earned a prestigious and authorities position within the company under accident prevention division, a rather difficult department compared to the rest. The museum collected a series of letters to his employer about temporary sickness that prevented him from working, even for extended periods of time. He frequently felt overworked. It was this relentless exhaustion that influenced his writing.
Interestingly enough, his short story, A Hunger Artist, is more reality than fiction. During the late 1910s, Kafka starved himself from a crippling disease. Food would not ingest in his stomach. He admittedly did not have a desire to eat. On top of this, he was also a strict vegetarian. Kafka often joked that vegetarians never went hungry, because they were too busy eating their own flesh.
Like Kafka, I, too, am a vegetarian. Prior to my departure, I researched traditional Czech cuisine and figured it rather challenging to maintain a balanced diet. However, I have made it work so far. A couple days ago, I found a vegetarian place not too far away from my apartment, called Beas. It specializes in Indian cuisine. My goal this week is to explore and find more with restaurants vegetarian-friendly dishes!
CIEE Prague programs offer plenty of trips and excursions, so we would like to focus this newsletter on these.
Central European Studies (CES)
CES academic trips are an inseparable part of the academic experience in Prague, as well as an inseparable part of the courses themselves. Each student has to go on at least 2 academic trips per semester. CIEE offers some 20 trips to various destinations, all accompanied by teaching faculty and CIEE staff and all carefully chosen to help the students better comprehend the course topics and to provide them as much cultural immersion opportunities as possible. We offer one-day trips as well as overnight trips and show the evidence of history, the communist legacy and the transformation of the Czech society into a democratic member of the EU with its current social and economic challenges. Students can also choose from a variety of cultural sites important to historical events, literature courses, art and architecture or even current environmental issues.
The trips provide students a unique opportunity to explore sites outside of Prague, such as concentration camps and historical Jewish ghettos, which are connected to history courses and Judaism, as well as to courses focusing on psychoanalysis – e.g., understanding Nazi propaganda and the cult of Hitler.Students also have a unique opportunity to have a deeper understanding of human rights, national identity and sociopolitical issues by visiting socially excluded localities and discussing it with local NGO and governmental representatives. In order to explore the communist past of the Czech Republic, students can visit and learn about the communist regime, the political persecution of that authoritarian regime by visiting former work camps with former political prisoners. Dealing with the outcomes of communist environmental policies, students learn about rural landscape changes. Last but not least, there are trips connected to a cultural immersive experience, where students have the chance to spend Easter in a village with a local family and to practice traditional (quite unique) Czech Easter customs.
Many trips and sites are so popular that they are run more than 4 times during the semester. A large number of students want to go to more destinations - beyond the CIEE academic mandatory requirement of taking part in 2 trips. Some trips maintain throughout semesters 100% positive feedbacks, and according to the students is one of the highlights of their experience in CIEE Prague’s program.
Film Studies (FS)
Despite of the fact that Film Studies students are especially busy throughout the semester, CIEE Prague believes that studying abroad is about outclass academic exploration as well. Therefore we offer a number of excursions and trips designed specifically for the FS program.
Barrandov Film Studios excursion
On Friday, February 14th, FS Coordinator Ivana took students for a tour to the famous Barrandov Film Studios. As every semester, students not only got to visit the props, furniture and costumes department, but also some representational premises for filmmakers, a stage set of Tudors show and postproduction labs were seen. Furthermore, we got access to two film ateliers with shooting in progress, so students had a blast taking pictures in a train where Donald Sutherland acted in Crossing Lines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_Lines). As always, a yummy lunch was provided. But let us share student feedback from this excursion:
“Barrandov was truly amazing. It was so interesting and I felt like I learned a lot. I loved this excursion.”
“BEST TRIP EVER. The day was pretty exhausting, but overall it was a fantastic visit. It is a opportunity to visit the Barrandov Studios where such famous people have walked the halls. I liked the extra bit of tour that we got, thanks to Ivana. Hopefully I will be back there again one day making my own film! The lunch was fantastic, also.”
“I really enjoyed it! It was laid back enough so we could really soak it up, and we got to see a lot of the studios. The most interesting part was seeing the costumes and props. I also really, really appreciated the donuts given to us in the morning.”photo courtesy of Jonáš Klimeš
photo courtesy of Katie Ratcliffe
Hafan Animation Studio workshop
On Saturday and Sunday, March 1st-2nd, students split into 2 groups and each spent a whole day in Prague’s Hafan animation studio. They created traditional animated short film and had a blast!
photo courtesy of Beth Winchester
Video animation students made together in 2 days
Karel Zeman Museum of Special Effects
On Monday, March 24th, CIEE 2nd cultural workshop was planned. We decided to connect it with an excursion to Karel Zeman Museum of Special Effects (http://www.muzeumkarlazemana.cz/en) which students enjoyed immensely.
video courtesy of Andie Eikenberg on a Moon rose, photo courtesy of Katie Ratcliffe
After the excursion, we continued to Dobrá Trafika, an underground coffee place which looks like a simple news stand at first. Over a coffee/yummy milk shakes and cakes, academic, professional, social and interpersonal goals that students set for themselves during the orientation were discussed. And it was time for more fun too - students tested their knowledge of Greatest Czechs in a memory game and they all did quite good!
But hear it in their own words:
“Cool, interesting, creative excursion + great gift shop! Workshop was a nice activity - glad I knew more Czechs than I thought!“
„Very interesting and reminded me of a set on a George Méliès film.“
Overnight trip to Moravia - workshop in Olomouc, Palacký University, Audiovisual department
The weekend of March 28-30, FS Program Coordinator Ivana and Program Coordinator Eva took students on a weekend excursion to the Moravian Region. The trip started in the city of Olomouc, a UNESCO heritage site- a local guide gave us a tour of the city center. After a yummy lunch we continued to Palacký University to join local students in the Audiovisual Department for a student television workshop. Students were given a simply task: introduce the city. You can see the result here:
After the workshop, local students took CIEE Film Studies group to a local restaurant and they enjoyed an evening together, exploring the city independently.
Photo courtesy of John Kim
On Saturday, the whole group transfered to Uherské Hradiště, where a summer film festival is held annually. We checked in to Hotel Koníček, had lunch and continued to Vlčnov village, famous for its „Ride of the Kings“ (http://www.czechtourism.com/c/unesco-jizda-kralu/). After visiting a Home Distillery Museum (part of The Museum of Moravian Slovakia), we were invited to a local home by a Vlčnov family. Moravians are known for their hospitality and they truly confirmed this reputation of theirs. Mr. Mikulec told us about the Slivovitz distilling process and his wife surprised us with yummy Moravian kolatche and traditional Czech party sandwiches.
Photo courtesy of John Kim
After this unique experience, we return back to Uherské Hradiště. Students were given couple of hours of free time to explore on their own and we met again for dinner. The local wine cellar visit followed.
On Sunday morning, we had a last site to visit: Moravian Karst with Punkva caves and the deepest gorge in the Czech lands: Macocha. Students were quite excited particularly due to the short train ride followed by a boat ride in the underground caves.
Photo courtesy of John Kim
More information from students perspectives can be found in FS blog (http://study-abroad-blog-prague-fs.ciee.org/).
Communication, New Media + Journalism (CNMJ)
Overnight trip to Brno
During a beautiful spring weekend in March, CNMJ Program students headed to Brno and other spots in Moravia with Amanda, Communication Program Coordinator. Our goal was to learn more about the media landscape in the Czech Republic and all by meeting local students and attending the human rights documentary film festival, One World (insert link: http://www.oneworld.cz/2014/ ).
Once we arrived to Brno on Friday, we stopped by Radio R at Masaryk University, Department of Media Studies and Journalism. Radio R is a very successful student-run radio station with over 100 volunteer moderators. They broadcast a variety of original programs covering politics, alternative music, and cultural events in and around Brno. CNMJ students not only had a discussion with student broadcasters, but also got to broadcast live themselves!
After our exciting live radio stint, we continued on with Radio R students and with hungry bellies to Výtopna Restaurant. Students were told there would be a surprise there. Výtopna is special thanks to a mini train which brings restaurant-goers their drinks! Surprise!
Our evenings in Brno were dedicated to the One World Film Festival, which is put on by the non-profit People in Need (in fact, we have one CNMJ intern working in their Media Department this semester). On Friday we saw The Great Night (insert link: http://www.oneworld.cz/2014/films-a-z/25305-the-great-night), which won the award for Best Czech Documentary at Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival last year. On Saturday, we saw a much more light-hearted film called, Everything is Possible (insert trailer?) about an 80 year-old Polish woman who backpacks around the world.
On Saturday we decided to explore the Moravian countryside and hung out in the village of Velké Bílovice. With 800 hectares of vineyards, it makes up the largest wine territory in the Czech Republic. So naturally after lunch, we walked through the village, greeting locals in Czech on our way, and ended up at a family wine cellar. After a short crash course in the ways of wine tasting, students were given several local samples to taste.
Our last stop on Sunday before heading back to Prague was Moravian Karst (insert link: http://www.moravskykras.net/en/moravian-karst.html ). We enjoyed a tour of the caves, which included not only the impressive Macocha Abyss (the largest such gorge in Central Europe), but also a boat ride through the last part of the caves.
Students had a great time! For more on this trip from a student’s perspective, please visit our CNMJ blog:
The very first academic trip for the Global AD program was planned to be only a few weeks after the student’s arrival so they could bond and get to know Adam Vukmanov, the ARCHIP Academic Coordinator, Petra, the CIEE Global AD Coordinator and other members of the ARCHIP faculty while traveling through beautiful sites of central and southern Bohemia.
The plan was to follow Vltava river cascades, starting at Lipno, which is very important hydro power plant built to protect the UNESCO site Český Krumlov and other towns and villages nearby from floods; we stayed atHluboká nad Vltavou, a beautiful little town close to Lipno and continued on the next day with touring 3 other dams – Hněvkovice, Orlík and Slapy.
Global AD program connects 3 European cities – Barcelona, Berlin and Prague. Students from all three cities were invited to participate in the Berlin Summit and aside from many other interesting things, to present what they have been working on so far. From March 26 to March 28, CIEE Berlin hosted students from Prague and Barcelona. It was a huge success and students left more educated, connected and satisfied with their achievements. Which city will host next? :)
On April 10, during the academic workshop lead by Alessio Erioli, an engineer and senior researcher at Università di Bologna, Petra took the group to a traditional Czech restaurant for a second cultural workshop. Alessio joined them as well. Aside from the amazing food and drinks, they all tested their knowleadge of Czech culture, especially what they knew of famous Czech people. Well, they still have a bit to learn. :)
Construction Site Visit
On April 11, the students, Adam and Petra visited basic construction sites in Prague that were in different stages of the process. It was a lot of fun and not only because we got to wear hard hats. We got a chance to see how different designing and building is in the Czech Republic and learn a lot about the specific constructions from top to bottom. Both were office buildings built by different companies.
Brown boots, knitted sweater, jacket unzipped as the cool breeze blows by. The perfect fall temperature – crisp but not cold. The smell of damp leaves permeating the air and the sound of chestnuts clattering to the ground and rolling down the hill along the cobblestones. Alyssa’s long blonde hair bouncing as she giggles in anticipation of our trip to Turkey in November.
The scents of cinnamon and doughnuts and hot dogs intermingle with the occasional cigarette as I wait for the tram. A scream of laughter from the park behind me. The now familiar station names in the effortlessly soothing automated voice. A good book and my travel mug for company as a light rain starts to fall outside the window.
Children yelling my name as they run over for a hug, little hands grasping mine and pulling me this way and that. Look at this drawing, let’s play that game. Anna is in the kitchen, putting schnitzel on the stove, potato salad ready in the fridge. Traditional Czech beer to drink and freshly picked plums for dessert. Reviewing Emma’s reading homework, getting help on my verb conjugations. Playing nonsense games with Jachym on the floor as Filip watches the news.
Falling asleep to the pitter patter of rain on the window, cuddled under a warm blanket with a book by my side. My door silently closed as Anna wakes to make breakfast for the kids.
I often forget how lucky I really am. Yesterday, as a group of friends and I were talking about traveling, one of them made the nonchalant comment that they aren’t afraid to travel alone. That comment shocked me, because I realized that there are people my age who are afraid to travel alone. Who have never navigated public transportation in another country (let alone another language) before now. I am incredibly blessed that my parents started letting me travel alone before I even had a sense of any danger (unaccompanied minors for the win!). For letting me travel to Japan for three weeks, twice. For giving me the freedom to learn independence and to test and expand my own boundaries.
I’m so lucky, not only to be studying in Prague, but to have done everything I have done in my life, to have had all the experiences I’ve had. To have parents who were willing and able to pay my way through college, so I can spend the money I earn as I see fit (namely, traveling!). To have had teachers that forced me to push my boundaries until I realized that I have no limits.
Sometimes, I think that maybe I’m too lucky, that too many wonderful things happen in my life. But I think the only way to face that issue is to take advantage of every opportunity I have. To embrace the experiences and make the best out of them all. This weekend, I’m taking that tact, doing as much as I possibly can. I’ll be watching traditional Czech cartoons tonight with a mug of homemade mulled wine in hand, hitting up the Prague Burger Fest and maybe a movie tomorrow, heading to Trebič on Sunday for a cultural experience like no other. Look for photos in my next post, and maybe even some book reviews, as I’ve been reading quite a bit since I got here.
The last thing on my list of expectations for Prague was to get
homesick. I expected to get stressed, to be confused, to feel
frustrated. But I did not expect to get homesick. I spent three months
in Australia and never felt homesick. I’m a Junior in college – I didn’t
get homesick freshman or sophomore year. I didn’t get homesick when I
went to Costa Rica; the last time I felt homesick was my very first day
of the second trip I took to Japan. I was 16 years old and completely
So last Tuesday, when Anna went to bed and turned on BBC, the sudden
wave of homesickness completely shocked me. I was feeling frustrated
with the difficulties of communicating in Czech, I was stressed about my
weekend trip to Oktoberfest, I was overwhelmed by the sudden onset of
homework in my normal classes. But I expected all of that. The longing
for NPR, for the San Mateo Farmer’s Market, for the bento box store on
the corner. That all surprised me. But there isn’t much to do about
homesickness, except to accept it and move on. So that’s what I tried to
I decided to embrace my feelings of cizinec (foreigner) status, and played tourist on Friday. I took pictures of Prague castle, of the famous clocks (orlej) around town and the cobblestones covering the sidewalks.
One of the first things I noticed when I got to Prague was the
cobblestone roads, and the cobblestone patterns. Everyone talks about
the cobblestones. About how hard they are to walk on (Don’t bring
heels!, they say), about how annoying they are, about how they ruin your
shoes. But for me, honestly, they are beautiful. I love the fact that
different streets have different patterns, and that there are new
patterns on every corner. I love that sometimes there is a loose
cobblestone in the middle of the sidewalk. (Although I’m sure I won’t
love that so much when I trip and sprain an ankle on one….) I loved it
so much when I got here that I took pictures of the ground, and my
fellow students became convinced I was crazy.
Prague has three internationally famous clocks – the most famous of
which is the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square. Prague’s
Astronomical Clock is the oldest of its kind still functioning. The
other famous clocks are the one in the Jewish Quarter, which runs
counterclockwise, and one on St. Wenceslas Cathedral in Prasky Hrad,
which actually has two faces – one for minutes and another for hours.
And then I spent the weekend at Oktoberfest,
which was actually perfect timing. I was feeling like I didn’t belong
in Prague, so I left for the weekend. I got to spend the weekend with
friends from America, kinda. Regardless, we spoke English all weekend,
and we wandered around Munich, and we visited the biggest carnival/beer
drinking festival/wedding celebration I’ve ever seen. It was a wonderful
whirlwind of tourism, and then I took the 6 hour train back to Prague.
And this post comes full circle.
On the train ride home, the first 3 hours is in Germany. All the
announcements are in German, all the people getting on and off are
speaking German to each other. I sat in a corner and worked on my Czech
politics/Czech and Jewish history homework assignments and tried to
ignore the fact that I had no idea what was happening around me. When we
got halfway through the journey, however, and crossed into the Czech
Republic, all of a sudden the announcements were in Czech first (then
English and German, which the Germans were not kind enough to provide).
And I understood the essentials of the Czech announcements! I knew,
before hearing the English announcement, the name of the next stop, and
what time the train would be arriving. When we arrived in the main
station in Prague, I understood that this was the last stop. And I felt
like I was coming home.
I didn’t feel lost or confused any more, and I knew exactly how to
get back to my bed, my house, my family. I realized, as I sat on the
train from Munich to Prague, that returning to Prague now felt like
And when I woke up this morning to the sounds of Emma and Jachym playing, I couldn’t help but smile. I was home.
My first week in the Czech Republic literally
felt like a dream. I had tons of time to explore the city, to discover cool
bars and pubs, eat Czech food, and just basically be on a European vacation. I
knew coming here, I’d have to study and that Prague would become my actual
reality, but I was so not prepared for the grueling battle of learning the
Before you call me lazy or say that chinese and
arabic are way harder (which they prob are) I am going to throw some Czech
words at ya and see if you can guess what they are without using google:
zmrzlina, čtvrtek, Německo. Just take an educated guess on what these things
mean. The first one to me looks like a pharmaceutical drug....that word means
ice cream. Just like take that in for a minute. That crazy word with a total of
5 letters in sequence without a vowel means a delicious, summertime treat. The
second word is just the hardest word to pronounce like ever. So difficult that
I want to write it phonetically but I have no idea what letters I would use. By
the way that is the word for Thursday. The last one is just not intuitive. I
would be thinking perhaps a type of nut? A tool for bashing my brains in? Nope
that means Germany.
I am a very typical American and I am really
only fluent in English. But I took French for 5 years and I have 3 quarters of
college level Spanish under my belt as well, so I’m not completely language
retarded. I actually understand a lot of both French and Spanish I just
struggle when it comes time for me to say an intelligent sounding sentence.
Unfortunately for me, Czech is a Slavic language meaning that it shares
similarities with Russian and Polish (both of which I don’t know) and the only
shared word with English is robot.
Having said that, my Czech teacher is such a
chiller. The people in my class may not agree, but I know she is really cool
under her elementary school teacher looking exterior. My friend Hannah actually
says she looks like Mrs.Puff from Spongebob...the resemblance is uncanny.
She really tries to help us with pronunciation,
and I have to say, she is one of the most patient people I have ever met. She
has been with us from 9:30-1:45 everyday this week and will be for another week
of hellish intensive learning. I just think about sitting in a warm, small
basement room with 12 college students who are completely slaughtering your
mother tongue for nearly a full day, for two weeks. She’s resilient I’m telling
Also the pace at which we are learning Czech
makes me feel like my brain is melting. In one day we learned the following:
2) numbers up to 100
5) social questions
6) how to conjugate verbs with the ending -ovat.
(emailovat is a verb...)
In addition to learning Czech I have begun
grocery shopping because I would rather spend money traveling than eating. Side
note: never thought there would be a day where eating wasn’t my financial
Grocery shopping at home is so easy! everything
has a section, things are in English, I know how to read indigent lists and
nutrition info and there’s peanut butter and hot sauce readily available. You
guys have it good! Shopping here if you didn’t figure it out already is the
opposite of all those things I just listed. Also you have to bring your own
bags or you’re gonna drop some bank. I bought a bag that is much too big. The
amount of things I can fit into it makes is a Mary Poppins bad but when it
comes time to take it home I’m up a creek without a paddle.
That’s the other grocery shopping kicker. My
closest grocery store is walking distance down a hill. Meaning I have to walk
up hill with my groceries. This walk was the worst the day I bought condiments.
Glass jars = me taking the elevator to my floor because I was ruining my
sweater and probably my posture lugging that stuff.
Although I can’t say I have taken these in
stride and been super mature about them, (no judgement from any of you until
you have a Czech quiz on a Friday morning) these challenges haven’t been
screwing up my life too badly. Having 200 other people facing the same
challenges makes it easier and more fun to complain about.
I’m a theater geek in a theater city, and I am trying to
take advantage of that as best I can. Last week, I bought $10 tickets to see
Madame Butterfly in the National Opera, and this week, we were given tickets to
see La Boehme. Then, over the weekend, I took Emma to see Swan Lake at the
National Ballet. Unsurprisingly, all three shows were fantastic, and I can't
wait to see more theater. There are so many things I want to say about both the
ballet and the opera, so sorry if this post is a little discombobulated.
Until this trip, I’d only ever been to one opera. I went
when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old with my neighbor, who had an extra ticket.
I honestly don’t remember what show I saw, or really anything much about it,
except that I didn’t like it very much. It was too hard for me to follow the
story, and I didn’t have enough of a sense of the skills involved in performing
the music to actually appreciate the talent.
This time, I am a bit older, a bit more experienced. I’ve
been to a few (hundred?) more shows, including a number at the professional
level. I’ve participated in enough shows to have an understanding of the work
that goes into the performance, both visible and invisible, to respect the
performance qualities regardless. And it definitely changed my perspective. I’m
not going to say that I fell in love with the opera, because that isn’t true,
but I could be talked into attending another one…
A big difference, and I think absolutely imperative, was
that both these operas had subtitles, in both Czech and English. Subtitles
meant I could follow along with the plot of the show, which really does make
all the difference. Sometimes I closed my eyes and just listened, but I also
often paid as much (if not more) attention to the subtitles as the actors,
because I often tried to decipher the Czech subtitles, using my limited Czech
knowledge. That was fun, and also exciting to see the difference that just one
week of Czech classes made - I could definitely understand more of the Czech
words and phrases in the second show than the first.
In terms of the shows themselves, Madame Butterfly was
okay. It wasn't fantastic, and I had a really hard time getting over the
stereotypical way the Japanese were portrayed. (If you don't know the plot, an
American sailor marries a Japanese girl of 15 before leaving for the states. He
returns three years later with an American wife and discovers that he has a
Japanese son. His Japanese wife (Butterfly) kills herself and gives their son
to the American and his American wife.) La Boehme, on the other hand, was
fabulous. I loved the casting choices, and the actress playing Mimi was
absolutely phenomenal. Also, I had no idea that Rent was based on La Boehme
(though it makes a lot of sense, seeing the number of references that get made
and all...). And then, of course, Swan Lake was gorgeous. I don't think I've
ever seen the ballet, but I know the story, so it was easy to follow. Emma
didn't understand the story at all, but she absolutely loved the dancing.
At the opera, we were sitting quite high, which many people
may not have liked, but I loved. At Madame Butterfly, I was far house right,
which meant that I could see a bit of the technical aspects of the show - I
could see the spot ops and the actors' video feed of the conductor, which was
fun. At La Boehme, I was sitting directly in front of the booth; though I
couldn't see much in the booth, it was fun to see that all theaters, big or
small, have the same materials in the booths. In the ballet, though, Emma and I
got to sit in the front section, even though I didn't pay that much for
tickets. Since Emma is so little, and was so excited, they let us sit somewhere
from which she could see. We were in the fourth row center, with not a soul in
front of us. It was fabulous!
We were so close that I could tell when the ballerinas were
really tired, and I could see everything. It was a fabulous experience.
Perhaps my favorite part of the National Opera was the set
designs. The stage has a rotating base, so the sets all rotate between acts. In
La Boehme especially, I really loved the way they completely changed the
setting of the space by rotating the stage around completely. I don't think
many people noticed the design of the stage, but I really liked it.
I can't wait to see more theater, especially the Black Light
Theater. But this is all for now!
Written by Sydney Cohen (University of California)
My last few days in Prague have been a complete
whirlwind of lectures, tram schedules, and jet-lag. Meeting new friends and
learning how to navigate the city have taken up all my waking hours, but when
the Jewish high holidays crept up on me I felt like it was only responsible to
take some time out of my day to go to services.
High holiday services are something I dread. I
don’t feel like I gain a lot of spiritual guidance or new insight on anything
and my only joy is spending time with my family in the back of the temple where
we can gossip and talk about everyones outfits. Doing the holidays alone I knew
would be hard, but not as hard as dealing with the guilt of not going. I
rounded up 2 of my new Jewish friends, Sarah and Sammi, and we ventured to the
conservative synagogue in Prague’s Jewish quarter.
After wandering between Hugo Boss, La Pearla and
Jimmy Choo for much longer than we had anticipated we found the synagogue. We
had extra time so the three of us sought out dinner. After dinner we walked to
the synagogue and rang the door bell. I had been warned that they would ask us
questions so I brought my passport, but I wasn’t prepared for what felt like a
After ringing the doorbell a man with a
prominent black goatee walked from across the street and asked how we knew
about the synagogue and where we were from and our names, all normal questions.
Then he asked what Jewish holidays we celebrated and what temples we belonged
to in our hometowns. After that, we were granted entry to a really cold room
which had a locked door both ahead and behind us and they told us that service
were on the first floor. If you’re reading this and you’re not Jewish let me
clarify this is so NOT normal during the high holidays. To put it in
perspective my temple at home holds services in a room that is expanded by
opening a wall to the outside. Yes that is right the actual out of doors where
crazies can enter if they please, but never do.
The services were familiar and surprisingly in
English. When it came time to do tashlich, the act of throwing bread into a
body of water symbolizing getting rid of your sins, we went down to the Vltava
River. I later described this to my parents as the coolest Jewish thing I’ve
ever done. The sun was setting and from where we were standing we had a perfect
view of the Prague Castle. If it hadn’t been such an inappropriate time to take
photos I would have and made it both my Facebook profile picture and cover
photo that’s how pretty it was.
The combination of the tunes I’ve grown up
hearing in Hebrew school with the grander of this beautiful city where I will
be living for the next 4 months (doesn’t seem like real life) actually made me
see how important these traditions are. It’s not just about renewal for yourself.
It is about the renewal of a global Jewish community. Once the site of German
occupation and the enslavement and execution of thousands of Czech Jews, the
Czech Republic now has a Jewish Community, although apparently under threat
evidenced by the extreme security, that can grow into something thriving and
This new year has a lot in store for me, and I
hope you all can follow along on my adventures through this blog where I’ll try
to post my most interesting tidbits as not to bore you. No pressure, but like
if you read it and hate it maybe don’t tell me, but if you do like it this is
where you can find me.
Shana Tova to where ever you are in the world
and I hope this year is full of good luck, happiness, adventures and health.
By Eleanor Klibanoff, George Washington University
am taking International Reporting, a class through the new Communications, New
Media and Journalism program that was launched this semester. The class is
unique in its hands-on nature. Students are given the tools to become foreign
correspondents and then sent out into the field to put their training to good
use. For our first, practice news assignment, my classmates and I were tasked
with writing an article about how the recent presidential election in the Czech
Republic was impacting the growth of the Communist Party.
that there was a new president, but that was as far as my knowledge reached on
the intricacies of Czech politics. I had no idea how my neighbors felt about
the election, but I assumed that if Zeman had won, he must be well-liked. Oh,
how wrong I was.
started interviewing Czech people on the street, I learned that it was much
more complicated than it first appeared. Most residents of Prague did not vote
for Zeman. He is well liked in the towns and villages outside of the capital,
and they managed to get him into office despite support for his opponent in the
seem very reserved at first meeting and are rarely overly expressive. But
during the process of writing my article, I found the hot button issue that
gets them talking: politics, more specifically, Communism. I spent almost an
hour at the Karlovo Namesti metro stop talking to an excited old woman with the
translation help of her young granddaughter. She had lived under Communism and
was very upset that the new president had made allusions to cooperation with
the marginal party. By the time I was done with the interview, I not only had
great color for my story but had spent an enjoyable morning getting the
political lay of the land from those who are living it: the Czechs themselves.