I had a lot of concerns before I decided to go to the Czech Republic. I wasn’t sure if I had enough money and I didn’t know anything about the Czech Republic or the program Project “New Eyes” ®. What was I thinking? I thought it might be better if I waited until next year so I could learn more about the program and the country. I was undecided for the longest time whether I should go to the Czech Republic or not.
I went to work one day really thinking hard about this question. Should or shouldn’t I go? I remember work was not that great that day and I then decided that I could either be rich and work at this job forever and have the same boring life or I could be poor and take some risks and have an exciting adventure. I took a risk and I decided to go to the Czech Republic not knowing what I was getting myself into. While I was in the Czech Republic I learned a lot about their way of life and I had a lot of fun in the process.
I. Flying Into the Czech Republic
The plane trip to the Czech Republic was long and really tiring. When I finally arrived in the Prague airport I was both relieved and scared. I was relieved because I was finally off the airplane but now I was scared because I now knew that I had to communicate with people in Czech. It was on the bus that I had my first experience with a real Czech person. His name was MiroslavBabka. I was so happy when he started to speak to me in English. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing here in the Czech Republic. I told him that I was here in the Czech Republic because I was with a study abroad program for my school and I was going to teach English and try to learn Czech. He thought it was a little strange but he seemed to be happy that I was there in the Czech Republic.
I missed the first bus heading to Sušice, so now I had to wait until the next bus that would come in about 2 ½ hours. I was hungry and tired and I was stuck in an unfamiliar place with all my bags. I laughed at this because I knew the Czech people surely could tell that I was a foreigner. I kept on thinking to myself whether this was really such a good idea or not. I missed all the comforts of home. I walked around for a little bit but I didn’t know what to do so I went back to the bus station and that is when I ran into Will. It was nice because now I wouldn’t be alone anymore and I had someone to talk to in English.
The bus finally came and we headed towards Sušice. As the bus pulled away from the station I said something to Will, closed my eyes and fell asleep. It was the first time that I was able get any sleep since I left my home in Utah. At this point in the journey I was still unsure what I was doing here but I was happy that I wasn’t alone.
II. Living with my Host Family!
One of the greatest blessings that I received in the Czech Republic was being able to live with a host family. This is true because everyone needs to be loved and taken care of. Despite all of the cultural and language barriers that make Czech people different than Americans there is one common theme that is true in every culture: FAMILY!
My host family consisted of my host mom Maria, my host dad Vaclav, My host sister Milenka, my host brother’s Vaclav and Josef my nephews Frantisek and Josef the cutest most adorable little niece Eliška and my host grandma whom I called Babička (Czech word for grandma).
Maria is a strong woman. She has dark black and reddish hair. Her strongest attribute is that she is full of love. She loves her family and while I was living with her family she loved me and I loved her.
Vaclav is a big friendly giant. He was at least 5 inches taller than me and when I first met him I was a little scared that he might not like me. I couldn’t have been more wrong he was a man that deeply cared about his family. I will never forget going to a small village called Pacjov with him to go and watch his oldest son play a game of football every Saturday.
Milenka was the first person of the family that I met. She is 22 years old and I have to admit she was really beautiful. She loves playing football and being with all her friends. Yes, she is very popular. She is very focused on going to school and graduating before she gets a boyfriend and dates anyone.
Vaclav and Josef are Milenka’s brothers and they are very athletic, tall and handsome young men. They both play on football teams in Pacjov.
Josef and Frantisek are Milenka’s younger nephews and Eliškais her niece. František has blonde hair that is parted down the middle; Josef has a dark brown mullet on top of his head; and Eliškalooks so cute with her curly blonde hair and her bigger than life attitude and personality. I played games with them all the time.
My host family was really active. They had me for only two days a week so whenever I was with them, they always had something planned. We played ping pong, went on a 20 Kilometer bike ride to visit a castle, visited the Fireman competition in Chanovice, went to a dozen football (soccer) matches, played Nojeball (soccer + tennis +volleyball), went country dancing, hunted mushrooms, took a day trip into the Šumava mountains, we had a couple outdoor barbeques in their yard and we even spent some time chopping wood and stacking it in a pile.
Before I left for the Czech Republic I was nervous because I learned that drinking beer is a big part of the Czech culture and not drinking beer is a big part of mine. I was nervous because I didn’t want to offend them and at the same time I didn’t want to change my culture either. I wasn’t sure how my host family would react. Many times they offered me some beer and I declined. My host family didn’t fully understand at first and told me that I wouldn’t really have lived in the Czech Republic unless I have tried it but they never pressured me too much about it either. I had already made up my mind before I left that I wouldn’t drink any alcohol and after a while they could see that this thing was very important to me. I once thought that my host family would reject me because of this but I found that they were very understanding and accepting.
One of the biggest lessons that I learned in this program is that learning about other cultures doesn’t mean that you have to change your own. There are some parts of the Czech culture that I am personally not going to adopt into my culture and other things that I am. I have often wondered if I would want to raise my future family here but since I have been here in the Czech Republic I think it would be a wonderful place to raise a family especially in Chanovice because the people are really nice.
III. The Dětský Domov
The Dětský Domov is an orphanage for kids but it is much more than that too. I lived in the DětskýDomov in Chanovice on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays with 8 kids: Milan, Honza, Eva, Martina (her husband Stefon) and her baby Kristian, Denisa, David and Sarka. The DětskýDomov is a well-oiled machine. It has four aunts who come and take care of the children at different times during the day. Each of these aunts takes time out of their own lives and families to be caregivers to these children. The kids have assigned responsibilities and chores but they also have plenty of time to be kids and run around and play games. The kids here act like they are all brothers and sisters, members of a large connected family. They are a lot like kids with families here in America – they fight, tease and play nasty tricks on one another, they go on trips together and they even look after and protect each other too. However, since they aren’t really brothers and sister there is the possibility for different relationships too. Milan and Eva act like they are boyfriend and girlfriend. Eva leaves to go to school in Sušiceeveryday and returns in the afternoon and Milan is always waiting at the bus stop to pick her up and walk her back to the house.
The children at the DětskýDomov love to play sports so I played a lot of games with them. Milan is a small 16-year-old kid but a fierce competitor. He is fast. Eva turned 17 while I was here in the Czech Republic. She has short hair and she acts like a typical teenage girl. Honza is 17 years old. He goes to Plzeň(the biggest city in the region) to go to school and to compete on a prestigious football team. David is 12 and he is a younger version of Milan. He sure does talk a lot. Denisa is 15 and she is tomboy. She plays football with all the boys and she has short hair. I actually thought that she was a boy until later on when we went swimming. I was so embarrassed. Sarka is only 6 years old. Because she is the youngest child in the DětskýDomov she gets teased a lot. She loves football but she also loves dancing and watching her favorite movie – High School Musical 3.
The DětskýDomov is an amazing place because not only does it shelter, feed and take care of these kids, but it also prepares them for life. They are trying to help these kids have a future. One of the biggest examples of this is Martina. Martina probably grew up a little too fast. Last year she was pregnant with Kristian and now she is a mother of a beautiful baby boy. She and her boyfriend/ husband have an apartment in Harazdovice but she spends a lot of time still living in the DětskýDomov. During the day when they are both at work the aunts baby-sit Kristian and take care of him. Taking care of a baby is a 24-hour job and it has really brought the people in the DětskýDomov closer. This is typical of this place that is designed, I believe, to prepare these kids for the future and ultimately the next generation and so forth. I believe that the DětskýDomov program should be implemented all over the world. It is a program that will thrive in any culture or language. This program made me realize how important kids are. Kids are the future and that is what the DětskýDomov is about.
IV. Teaching in the School in Chanovice
You would never imagine it but the castle in Chanovice looked like a barn 15 years ago and now it is a school. The school is the centerpiece of Chanovice. The classes are all located on the second floor of the castle, the library and the canteen is located on the ground floor, and there is a museum in the basement. There is a neat picture of the man that previously had owned the castle. He was German and was killed after WW II. He was killed because after the war when there were a lot of prejudices against Germans here in the Czech Republic. A lot of them were killed and this man was just one story.
I taught in this school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The students are very clever and smart. While I was here I taught 3rd graders, 4th graders and also a mixed class of 6th, 7th, 8th and a 9th graders for two hours every afternoon. The school is really small. There are no more than 80 students that go to school here. They have very close relationships with each other and with their teachers.
I am not the greatest teacher but I am not shy about teaching what I do know and having a lot of fun. I teach the students a lot of songs and we play a lot of games. My favorite game is when we played an acting game. I had previously written English words on strips of paper. I split the teams up into two and I had volunteers come up and draw a paper out of the hat. They then had to act out the word without using any words. The class had to guess what the word was in English. It was really successful because the kids were learning a lot of new English words and the kids had a lot of fun with it. We also played twenty questions, big booty and Simon says. Simon says was really fun. The students were really good and the game was lasting a long time. Time was running out and I had to think of an interesting way to end the game. So instead of saying “Simon says” I said “Sally Says.” All of the students moved except one and that student was crowned the winner.
In addition to teaching the students I also loved to attend some of the other classes the students have. I sat in on their Czech singing class and I actually joined them for their dance class. I believe the students were very glad that I was there because their usual English lessons consisted of Czech instruction and then English exercises which I think aren’t the most tactful way to teach a second language.
I got really close to some of the teachers. Eva is a really great principal/ teacher. Tomas and Hanna were the teachers that I worked with the most. When I said goodbye to all of the teachers they ended up giving me a milk cup. Previously they had offered me tea, coffee and beer but I told them that I didn’t drink any of that. They asked what I did drink and I told them that I really like milk and they were very kind and gave me a ridiculous milk cup. Well, I guess now I can drink my milk in style at least.
IV. Project “New Eyes” ® and Sušice
I was lying in bed after a really long day trying to go to sleep. I felt like it was all in vain. I was sharing a room in the castle in Volšovywith 5 other people: Jay Rowley, Emily Primrose, Heather Hirshi our Writing Professor, AlešKopecký and PavlínaŠpoutilová, our two Czech friends who also decided to stay the night. It was about two o’clock in the morning and all I could hear was this really loud snoring sound. Good glory! How am I ever going to get any sleep when all I can hear is this obnoxious sound? I clearly didn’t anticipate that someone would snore in this castle. I thought it would be a magical experience but it wasn’t that great.
The previous days activities had kept me really busy and in the morning I was planning on going back to Chanovice so I can spend some more time with my host family. Living in the Czech Republic hasn’t been very relaxing. I have been spending my time in the Czech Republic entertaining the kids at the DětskýDomov on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, teaching English in the mornings and afternoons, attending classes in Susice on Thursdays and Fridays and then spending my weekends playing football and touring parts of the Czech Republic on the weekends with my host family. I was so tired. I knew that this was a once in a life time opportunity and because I was leaving the Czech Republic and returning home in two weeks that I had to really live life to the fullest here in the Czech Republic. I just need to close my eyes and get some sleep before tomorrow!
After about twenty minutes I just about had it. Emily’s snoring had not stopped and it seemed to be getting louder. I could even hear Heather making “shhh” sounds. You see I was not the only one who was not getting any sleep that night. So I got out of bed and I quietly walked over to Emily’s bed and I leaned over and I put both of my hands on her shoulders and shook her.
She woke up abruptly and then realized that she was snoring and stopped for a while.
“Phew!” I thought to myself, “Now I can get some rest!”
I was finally getting really comfortable about to fall asleep when another bizarre thing happened. Jay’s bed collapsed. I quickly sat up and looked at him and then after realizing what just happened I lay back down and closed my eyes.
“Man it is going to be a long night!”
Now it is about 5 AM and I want to catch the bus back to Chanovice before it gets too late. I quietly get out of bed, pack my things and walk out the door. I approach the front door and I try to open it only to find out that it is locked! That is one thing that I have never been able to understand here. When the Czech people lock their doors here they are not only keeping the bad guys out they are keeping us in! In America we lock our doors so people can’t get in but in the Czech Republic they lock there doors so the people can’t get out. I don’t know if that is a cultural thing or a building code that all Czech people must live with.
“Oh my goodness! Why? I need to get out of here!”
I walk around the castle trying to open a window only to be disappointed again and again. How am I supposed to get out of this place?
I didn’t want to wake anyone up so I conceded and I went back to bed. To my surprise Emily’s nasal chorus has not stopped and she continues to snore louder and louder. Maybe I should try to get some sleep out in the hallway or something.
This story highlights one of the many interesting experiences that I had with the other members of the group. I believe we have a really unique group of Americans here. I always knew that when I got into the Czech Republic that I would experience a different culture but I learned that even among our little group of 15 people how different and unique everyone is. We all go through different experiences and these experiences help shape and define us. I believe that cultures can evolve and change and why not? They should! If we open up our eyes we will see that we have a lot that we can learn from each other.
One of the things that we have been studying in this program is the history of prejudices and bigotry in American and Czech cultures. A lot of these prejudices are caused because of closed mindedness and because people are afraid of differences. For example someone might say, “In my culture we do this and if you don’t do this you must be an outsider and you don’t belong in my culture.” However, a closer examination would conclude that we are a lot similar than we think. Is it true that the American culture is all that different than the Czech culture? Yes! Are there some similarities? Yes!
Project “New Eyes” ® took us away from home and placed us in a different location. While on this journey we learned and we grew from each other. I learned just as much from my fellow peers as I did from anyone else. I learned from Amanda that I shouldn’t be afraid to speak in the Czech language. I learned from Klinton, Kevin and others how to have fun and enjoy myself while I was in this foreign land. I learned from Jay and Allie how to be outgoing and see and do as much as you can in a different country. I learned from Heather not only how to write but also how to listen. Each week we would take turns checking in and telling each other how our week went, the things we had learned and also our different challenges. I didn’t enjoy reporting on myself; I enjoyed listening to others. I learn so much about myself – my likes and my dislikes, my passions and my boredoms by taking the time to learn about others.
VI. Chanovice: Social life, Nature and Sports!
After I returned to Chanovice after my adventure in the Volšovy Castle, my host family took me to the community Fireman Competition. The Fireman competition is an event where the entire village comes and they have competitions where teams will run relay races and timed fire-hose spraying drills.
The Czech Republic does not have a professional fire department so every village has volunteers who will do the work of a normal fire department. It was my very first experience with anything like that.
The relay course was situated in front of the bleachers where the fans could cheer on their favorite team. A relay team consisted of 4 people. The race started when an official would fire his gun and the first runner with a flashlight in his hand would run down the line and jump through a window frame and continue until he reached the end of the line. He would then hand of his flashlight to the next person who would race down the line and jump over a ten foot wall. He would then run to the end of the line and hand off the flashlight to the next person. The third person would run over a balanced beam with two hoses, once off the balance beam he would connect the hoses and after he had completed the task he would sprint to the end of the line and hand off the flask light to the last runner. The last runner would run and pick up a fire extinguisher and run and place it on a piece of board and then would sprint to the finish line.
All of the teams were competitive. There were boy and girl teams both old and young. My favorite team was the one that included the mayor of Chanovice. It was really amazing to see Petre (the mayor of Chanovice) run in the relay. He is the coolest mayor I have ever seen in my life. He is so cheerful. I have never seen him without a smile. I can only imagine how awesome it would be to be the mayor of such a wonderful place and to be able to compete in such an amazing tradition. Everyone in Chanovice seams to be really involved in the community.
Later that night my host family took me to the Czech country-dance. This dance was so different than anything I ever imagined. In my entire life I have never been to a dance where the adults dance more than the teenagers or the younger adults. Everyone was up and dancing. Everyone was having a good time. The culture in this town is one that is very sociable and community oriented.
During my second weekend Milenka took me to the local pub in Pacejov. After about thirty minutes the guys at the pub decided to play Nojeball and they wanted me to play with them. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I was willing to try anything and so I decided to play with them.
Nojeball is a soccer/volleyball/tennis game that is played on a tennis court. The game is a battle between two teams that consist of 2-6 players. The game starts when someone drop-kicks a soccer ball from behind the baseline to the other side of the court. The ball must land first inside the first half of the court next to the nets just like in tennis. The people in the back would then ‘head’ the ball up in the air and the receiving team would try to return the ball to the opposite side. You can only let it bounce once in between each kick/ hit. You have three kicks/ hits to get the ball to the other side of the court. Like soccer you are not allowed to use your hands and so it was really hard for me because I am a basketball player and I am used to playing with my hands. They usually had me play close to the net because I am not very good. They would get it close to the net and I would either kick it over the net or I would use my head and head butt it to the other side. We played all evening and it was really intense.
VII. Good bye you awesome Czech Republic you!!
During my final week in the Czech Republic my host family took me to the Šumava Mountains and we explored the Ottava River. The Šumava Mountains are the mountains that separate Germany from the Czech Republic. They are very beautiful. One of the biggest things that I am going to take away from this place is a greater love for nature. The Czech people live in it. I love waking up in the morning and going outside to get some fresh air.
I remember earlier that my host father Vaclav took me into the grove of trees next to the house I am staying at and we hunted for mushrooms. The conditions in the Czech Republic are just perfect for mushrooms and it seems to be every Czech boy and girl’s favorite past time to go hunting for them. Vaclav gave me these huge boots and I put them on and we went searching for the fungus treasure.
I also remember finding a large strawberry patch while walking through the woods. There are places in the woods here that you can go and pick thousands of small delicious strawberries.
In the Šumava Mountains we went hiking along the Vltava River. The Vltava River is full of really big rocks and my favorite memory is jumping on all of them with Josef and Frantisek. It was getting late and Maria wanted us to hurry but Josef wasn’t able to find enough rocks to get him to the other side of the river. As I was trying to help him get across I remember slipping and falling into the river and getting my shoes and pants all wet. It was fun and it made the rest of the trip more interesting.
The last thing that I remember doing with my host family is having a barbeque outdoors. It is only fitting that we have a barbeque in a country that is all about the outdoors and nature. I spent most of the time playing with the kids. Eliškaand I were busy making animal noises. I didn’t know this but not only is the language different but animals seem to make different noises in different languages. Instead of the dog saying ‘woof-woof’ or ‘bark-bark’ it says ‘huff-huff.’ The cow says ‘boo-boo’ instead of ‘moo-moo’ and the rooster says ’ki-kitti-kee’ instead of ‘cock-a-doodle-doo.’ I loved this game. One of my favorites is when I asked Eliškawhat sound an elephant makes? She wins! She made a sucking noise with her mouth as if she was sucking up water and then she would point her hand at me and she would make a spraying sound. I laughed so hard! Josef, Frantisek and I spent some time playing some football with Milenka’s older brother Vaclav. It was Vaclav and Frantisek versus Josef and I. We played for about an hour but Vaclav and Frantisek finally came away victorious. We ate and we visited and then that was it. I left and I haven’t seen them since.
I wish I could express my emotions more visibly. I tend to hide them. I really am going to miss this wonderful family. This family may live in the Czech Republic but it reminds me of everything that is good about my family. Even though our cultures are different the family is the one thing in this world that is universal. I can feel love when I was with this family. I really wish I could have spent some more time there. I feel that Project “New Eyes” ® is cruel. They send you to a wonderful place and you meet a lot of wonderful people and then after only one month they send you home. Good glory! They should seriously lengthen out the program. Come on! I would like to see it to be 2 months long at least! Professor Sternfield we need more time here!
VIII. Visiting Prague and Going Home
The following day I got onto the bus and I went to Prague. Prague was different. I was not the only tourist here and I found a lot of people who could speak English and I yearned to hear some more Czech. I spent one day in Prague seeing all the sites but it did not last and after only one day I left and I flew home to Utah.
Returning to Utah has been both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because I am enjoying being with my amazing family and friends here but it is a curse because I absolutely loved my experience in the Czech Republic. After I arrived home I actually went straight back to work. It was terrible. I was obviously tired from the flight and I really just didn’t want to be there at all! Not that I do not like my job. I really appreciate having a job. I just feel that in the future I want to do something else with my life. I want to help people and work with people. That is why I am in college and that is why I chose to be a part of Project “New Eyes” ®. Not only did I learn about their culture and language but I also learned more about what I want in my life. I want to get more involved in my family and community. I also want to spend more time enjoying the outdoors. I believe that Project “New Eyes” ® accomplished its purpose and has given me a new perspective about life. I hope to use that perspective to improve myself.