Castles, beer, school?!

Today I’m thankful for: castles, beer, school?

School: After 2 weeks of orientation, school has started, at last!! Although it was fun to be able to run around Prague with complete freedom for a while, it’s nice to be moving on to the education part of the semester (plus I think homework in Czech cafés might be more enjoyable than homework in the ice kingdom that is Walla Walla). A few classes I’m most excited for this semester include my Beginning Czech Language class (for ease of communication with my host family), my FAMU class “Filming the Unfilmable” (involves the process of adapting novels into screenplays), and my Czech Cinema and Czech Fairytales classes. Though the add/drop/class registration period was a bit stressful, everyone seems to have perfected their schedules—meaning that hardly anyone has class on Fridays so we can explore the continent on the weekends!

The academic atmosphere abroad is certainly different from Whitman in terms of big school vs. small school feelings. I’m always enjoyed the small seminar-style classroom experience at Whitman, so the transition to CIEE and FAMU’s smaller class sizes was simple for me; some of my classmates’ smallest classes at their home universities, on the other hand, consist of 1000 people seated in a single lecture hall. I’ve found the small class sizes to be really helpful and far less intimidating, especially when it comes to my (very difficult, very confusing) beginning Czech language class.

Castles: Who knew we’d be visiting so many castles?? One of our program’s required cultural experiences involves a trip to Prague Castle and then either Křivoklát Castle or Český Krumlov (both medieval castles & towns). I chose to visit Křivoklát on Thursday with thirty other students for a guided tour and a free lunch! Our bus ride to the castle was about an hour and half and also included a history lecture from one of our guides. About twenty minutes into the lecture, though, our guide whispered into the PA system, “It seems a deep silence has fallen over the bus. Goodnight,” and thirty students continued to nap. The rolling snowy countryside made for an excellent and hypnotic backdrop for sleep.

On Saturday, the eight other students in homestays and I made the trip by train to Karlštejn, one of King Charles IV’s residences. The trip was organized by some of our Czech buddies and really took the pressure off having to plan a day trip in an unfamiliar country…we’re all still getting used to public transit inside the city, let alone train trips outside of it. Karlštejn was my favorite castle we visited this week just because of its sheer size and the fact that our tour allowed us access to rooms like sleeping quarters and “toilets” so we could experience the castle more holistically.

I’m starting to figure out that castle tours in the winter, though beautiful, require many more layers than one would think; the stone halls and walls pretty much act like a giant freezer. Beer and goulash post-tour to warm back up are usually a must.

Beer: my gratitude for the beer here (especially Pilsner) is fairly self-explanatory—it is yummy and cheap and, as my housemate Sam and I found out, delicious in frosting for Pinterest-esque beer brownie cakes (below)!!

What’s next:

Although I’ve already made a few day trips outside of the city (the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora and the castle visits), this coming weekend is my first trip outside of the Czech Republic to Copenhagen! Several Whitties are enjoying their study abroad experiences there and I can’t wait to take EasyJet for the first time and discover the ease that is country-hopping in Europe. I often find that returning somewhere (like my homestay) after a trip elsewhere really reinforces that place as home, and I’m stoked to experience that feeling.

Other trips in the making for this semester for me so far include a weekend in Amsterdam, a trip to Budapest, and a *spa* weekend in the hot springs Czech town Karlovy Vary with a few girls who are also in homestays. Some of our CIEE classes require field trips over a few weekends as well, or at the very least day trips to various historical landmarks and festivals in Prague.

Til next week!!

Na shledanou,

Mary

Wifi, grandmas, this blog

Today I’m thankful for: wifi, grandmas, this blog.

It is unbelievable that I have been living in the Czech Republic for almost two weeks! My journey here was simultaneously a blur and the longest 30 hours of my life—not knowing the family I was living with, not knowing what my room looked like, not knowing how I was going to communicate and just getting on the plane was one of the hardest and scariest things I’ve ever done.

(My goodbye to my parents was a little anticlimactic. I cried and hugged them both, then walked into the security line as if I could hear the poignant airport farewell music rising up behind me, then promptly walked back to them and said “Hi” because the TSA agent suggested getting into another line at the other end of SeaTac. My parents laughed, we said “bye” for real, and I left the country?!)

I chose to live in a homestay during my time in Prague because I really enjoy existing in a family atmosphere. Living in a dorm during the first two years of college was difficult for me—although I love living with my friends and I can’t wait to do so senior year at Whitman, I also love hanging out with parents (including my friends’ parents when they come to visit). I was really into the idea of a Czech family and me “adopting” each other for a semester!

My host family is amazing. My mom, Lenka, is an English teacher at a school up the street, and I have two host brothers, Matyáš and Adriano. Adriano is younger and lives at home with us; Matyáš is older and lives elsewhere in Prague. Another American student named Sam is living with me as well, and we each have our own rooms on the top floor of the house. It has been so great to live with another American, especially when it comes to getting used to commuting to the city from the suburbs. We also have two cats and a dog, Biggie, living with us!

My favorite part of my day is eating dinner with Sam and our family. We’ve already enjoyed goulash (beef stew with dumplings), head cheese (look it up, we loved it, yum yum), minced pork and sauerkraut, soups, and lots of bread. And of course, there is always beer and wine on the table.

Living in this magical homestay has also allowed me a respite from the “American bubble” that is so prevalent in most large study abroad programs like CIEE. On any given night, popular clubs, bars, restaurants, and tourist spots are swamped with young American students, to the point where the space feels more akin to a typical American college experience than Whitman spaces do sometimes! Luckily, CIEE has implemented a Czech Buddy Program wherein Czech students live with American students in flats, dorms, etc. and act as a kind of unofficial tour guide (and friend!) during the semester. I feel lucky to have met some friends in the dorms and have some Whitties living in apartments so they can introduce me to their Czech buddies; this weekend, we’ve already explored some less “American” spots in Prague so that we can attempt to feel a little more like locals.

Back to what I’m thankful for: wifi, grandmas, this blog. 

Wifi is fairly self-explanatory: without coffee shops’ wifi and my maps, I wouldn’t be able to find the Metro; without wifi, I wouldn’t be able to FaceTime my parents, friends and boyfriend to give them a tour of my awesome loft room with skylights that *OPEN* (!!); without wifi, I wouldn’t be able to watch “Ocean’s 11” with Adriano on Netflix, inspired by our post-dinner poker game.

Grandmas—or rather, one grandma in particular, our host grandma—inspires a separate kind of gratitude. On our first full day in Prague, when Sam and I were jet lagged beyond belief, our host mom introduced us to our grandma and told us that she would be taking us through Prague’s complicated-at-first-but-then-not-really-pretty-easy public transit system so we could make it to CIEE’s orientation program on time. Our grandma doesn’t speak English but still cheerfully led us through the icy streets of our neighborhood to our bus stop (I almost slipped, twice, and had to grab on to my grandma for support….oops). We took the bus for a few minutes while she explained to us, in Czech and lots of smiles, what was happening. We still didn’t know what was happening, until we got off the bus, walked down some stairs to the Metro stop, took the Metro, transferred, took another Metro, and walked under a bridge and up some stairs and then we were greeted by a view like this as we approached street level:

This isn’t the exact street we saw, but the spires, the intricate detailing on the buildings, the lampposts, the cobblestones—you get the idea. Sam and I actually gasped, and our host grandma laughed, like, “What’s the big deal?” Then we exchanged kisses and hugs, said goodbye, and miraculously made it to our orientation knowing no Czech and having never entered the city before. I am thankful for grandmas!

Finally, this blog—I’m thankful I am able to write and share photos and videos, and my friends and family and classmates and professors can view it all. I am eager to use this space as a place to reflect on things like what the heck am I doing living in Prague?!!? and who am I? and what does it mean to be an American? and what happens if I miss my Metro stop and can I have a dessert with every meal and where is the nearest Burrito Loco and this coffee is better than Seattle coffee and what typical “American” meal do I cook for my host family and it turns out this blog is secretly only structured around food, so enjoy!!

Na shledanou,

Mary

My dog, all womxn, the ability to travel

written January 21, 2017—3 days before departing for Prague.

Today I’m thankful for: my dog, all womxn, the ability to travel. 

2016 was a rough kick in the pants for everyone, which makes leaving home this January of 2017 both exciting and incredibly scary.

Way too much loss. Way too many deaths, high profile and closer to home. Way too many health scares. Ongoing sexual assault cases and a slough of campus-wide druggings left many humans at my school feeling unsafe, and reminded those who already feel unsafe every day in this country just how often privilege can breed ignorance, even at a purportedly community-based, small liberal arts college.

The rest of it sounds like a bad movie that could be ranked right up there with Sharknado and Troll 2. A loud orange man was elected president, and his beautiful, malleable, Narcissa-Malfoy-esque wife is now officially First Lady (#FREEMELANIA?).

As I watch my 15+ year old mutt dog chase squirrels and fat cats in his dreams on the couch next to me, I strain to create a metaphor for this year. Even Biscuit has been affected by this man’s rise to power, I think. This little dog is unconscious, but he is restless. Driven. Smart. More people are marching for womxn today than were at this fascist’s inauguration; in my hometown Seattle, we’re over 100,000 people strong.

I’m excited that, on this day, I can be proud of my country. I’m sad that this has to happen right before I leave it in a few days. I’m nervous to answer Czech people’s questions about how I could possibly have let this happen, despite my #HillYes swag and the fact that I have felt perhaps just as helpless as they did in this recent election. I’m hopeful that eating, drinking, writing, studying, dancing, and existing in Central Europe will make me miss the best parts of home. I hope that this experience will give me the strength and perspective to (begin to) change the parts of it that contribute to The Great Catastrophe we’re about to witness stateside in the coming months.

I might be ~in limbo~ right now, but I’m stoked. I’m fired up and ready to go, ready to embark on this great adventure!