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4 posts from September 2013


The Czech language

Written by Sydney Cohen (California University)

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 Czech language.

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 you.

Also the pace at which we are learning Czech makes me feel like my brain is melting. In one day we learned the following:

1) letters

2) numbers up to 100

3) colors

4) foods

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 priority.

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.

Theater geek in a theater city

Written by Katherine Shield (Tufts University)

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!



Jewish town

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 Homeland-esque interrogation.

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 robust.

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.

Barva = Color

Written by Katherine Shield (Tufts University)

This is my first post for the CIEE blog, but I’ll be here a lot. Before I just jump into my life in Prague, a little bit about me. My name is Kathy, and I am originally from San Francisco, but I go to school in Boston. I am ethnically 50% Czech; both my father’s parents were born in Prague, so I have my fair share of relatives and old family friends here. I am conversational in Japanese and, before arriving in the Czech Republic, knew how to count to ten in Czech. I am studying Political Science and Chemical Physics at Tufts University, and I plan on graduating in January 2016.

My primary reason for coming to Prague was my ethnicity. I really want to learn Czech so I can speak with my grandmother and read the Czech documents she will someday leave behind. To accomplish this goal, I elected to live in a host family, which was absolutely a wonderful decision. There are definitely some difficulties associated with it (45 minutes to and from school, mostly), but overall I’m really glad I decided to jump in. I get lots of help with learning the language, I get to eat all sorts of traditional Czech meals, and I get to do typically Czech things, like making fresh apple cider and going mushroom hunting. My Czech family has a 3yo boy, Jachym, and a 6yo girl, Emma; neither of them speaks English, though both my host parents (Anna and Filip) are fluent.

This story is from my very first day in Prague, when I didn’t really know them, and they didn’t really know me.


Day 1 in Prague, and I have moved in with my host family. I speak basically no Czech. Emma speaks exactly no English. But we sat on her bed with her brand new coloring set, (It was her first day of school, and getting gifts for children on such an occasion is a typical occurrence.) and learned some colors. It was strange at first, because I kind of just went into her room and sat on the bed silently, and she continued lining them up by color, silently. But then, I asked Filip how to say "color" in Czech. Its barva, by the way.

So I picked up the red pencil, which got Emma's attention, and I said "Anglický, barva red." Which literally means, "English, color red." But she got it. She said "red," in an adorable little accent. And then I asked, "Český?" And she said "červený."

And so began our little game. I'd pick up a colored pencil, and say the color in English. She'd repeat, and then say it in Czech. Which I'd repeat. In true small child fashion, she'd laugh when I didn't pronounce it right, and continue saying it until I got it. I swear, talking to children is the absolute best way to learn a new language. It worked in Japanese, and it worked this afternoon in Czech.

My favorite part, though, was that Emma made our game harder. I was just going to do the rainbow - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. But she has a light green and dark green, and a light blue and dark blue. So we learned "light/světle" and "dark/tmavě." And then we learned black, brown, and pink, because they rounded out the set. So here you are. May I present to you, colors:

  • color - barva
  • red - červený
  • orange - oranžová
  • yellow - žlutý
  • light green - světle zelená
  • dark green - tmavě zelená
  • light blue - světle modrá
  • dark blue - tmavě modrá
  • purple - fialový

  • pink - růžový
  • brown - hnědý
  • black - černý