On the Monday mornings which I can drag myself out of bed by 8 am I often accompany my host mom, her best friend Ivana and their respective dogs on runs. Last Monday Ivana surprised me by inviting me along to her family birthday celebration for herself and her son. Other than my own host family Ivana’s daughter, Karolina, is one of the local people I’m closest to. She helped me conquer my fear of heights and brought me to a local rock climbing gym at the beginning of the semester. Unfortunately when she began at the Law Faculty of Charles University we both become very busy and haven’t been able to see each other. So hearing about this celebration I was quite excited not only to see Karolina again but also to meet the rest of her family. On Wednesday night Andrea (my host mom) and I headed down the street to their house a little later than planned so when we arrived everyone was already there. In addition to Ivana, Karolina and Ivana’s son there were uncles, aunts, sister’s in law, family friends and grandparents. A whole amalgamation of family members showed up for the celebration. Andrea brought her new coffee maker – which she is incredibly proud of – and became a barista for the evening. With Andrea busy in the kitchen Ivana introduced me to her entire family and friends who came. Due to the fact that Andrea and Ivana are so close many of the family members had also known other American students that Andrea had hosted previously. They were all incredibly welcoming and most had a good grasp on english so it was quite easy to converse with them. Still I felt a little awkward being the only outsider in the close circle of family and friends. This was only exacerbated when I made the faux pas of taking a sip of the champagne which had been passed out before the birthday toast was made. Taking a seat with some food I found a very welcome and interesting conversation partner in Karolina’s grandfather. After retiring from his job as a lawyer he bought and ran a farm but he wasn’t retired long before he got dragged back to work for the international service. He had studied several languages including Chinese, which I also study. We began to talk about many different things including his regular trips to Thailand along with my trip to China this summer. He didn’t remember much of the language but he did remember the story behind the character “安” which means peace. The bottom half of the character is the woman reticle and the top half is a roof symbolizing the house. The story behind this goes back to confucian values which said that the way to have peace was to keep the woman in the home. He and I had a good laugh about the randomness of both of us knowing the story behind this one character. All in all even with the slight discomfort caused by the language barrier and being an outsider the birthday party was really quite fun. I think it’s often forgotten in all the comments about how when you study abroad you should take advantage of all the chances you have to engage with the local culture how difficult and uncomfortable it can be at the beginning. I think a lot of people when abroad can get discouraged by a bad experience and they then don’t try to push and find common ground on which to start conversations and relationships. I don’t condemn this at all I think that all abroad experiences are difficult but I think it’s important when you are here to take a step back and say “will I regret NOT doing this?” Being abroad can sometimes get overwhelming and exhausting but some of the best times can be had when you push through the exhaustion to do absolutely everything that you can.