by William Hugie
When I arrived in the Czech Republic the first thing I said was “why in the hell didn’t I upgrade to the economy plus”. My second thought was what am I doing and is it going to be worth it? All I can say is yes it was worth it and Pivo (beer) and Zmrzllina (ice cream) is some damn good stuff. If you are thinking about travelling to the Czech all you need to do is learn these two words and you can survive.
I should begin by explaining how I came to be involved in Project “New Eyes” ®. I was in English class bored out of my mind. (Sorry Heather but it’s true, I have a short attention span and I guess that day was a rather boring one for me.) Since I was enrolled in a bunch of other equally boring classes I was pretty tired of the same routine. Towards the end of class Steve and one of last year’s PNE members showed us a video about the Project “New Eyes” ® program. Honestly, I wasn’t even remotely interested in it that day. But after I went home and did some research I found the idea so compelling that I applied the next week.
Before I left for the Czech Republic I had very little communication with my host, Jarda. So I had no clue if I still had a host family the week before I left Salt Lake City. I posted on the PNE forums and asked if anyone knew of Jarda and where he was because I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen. Finally, the day before I left, Steve got in contact with me and asked me to call him after I arrived in Prague. He said he’d heard from Jarda and things were going to work out as planned.
So that’s what led me to fly for eighteen hours halfway across the world and across nine time zones. It’s very odd to fly across the ocean at two AM (my time) and see the sun shining; it was a very strange feeling. This was my first overnight flight and this was also my first time to leave the country, but eh, if you are going to do something do it totally overwhelmingly and psychotically. Take yourself completely out of your comfort zone and open yourself up to the experience. I was rather fearful when I arrived at the international airport in Prague, due to the fact I read a book about how many pickpockets live in Prague and that you can have everything stolen. I was nervous that I would find my belongings gone and myself stuck thousands of miles away from home with no resources. But I made it successfully to my hotel. Smart idea: booking a hotel very close to the airport makes it a little easier to acclimate after the trip.
After arriving at the bus station to catch the bus to Susice I happened to meet David Nisslen who had also just come off his flight from the US. After boarding the bus and riding for about two hours we arrived on the out skirts of Susice. However, not knowing anything about the town or the layout of the streets, David and I got off at the wrong stop. Since we also didn’t know any of the language we pulled out the map they gave us earlier and tried to figure out where we were. After looking at the map we chose a direction and headed towards town; at least we thought it was towards town. As we walked down the road dragging our suit cases (to make life easier think about investing in a back pack) we met a very nice Czech man who spoke only a few words of English. After a few minutes worth of hand gestures and pointing, we started in the right direction and continued up the road (another note: make sure you get off at the correct bus stop, it’s the very last one). Once arriving in Susice’s town square I still had no clue if my host family was going to meet me there and I also had no clue where Steve’s apartment was located. But, after calling him on David’s cell phone and wandering around for a few minutes I finally arrived at his apartment where I met up with Jarda.
So who is Jarda? My first impression after seeing him was oh my god another punk who thinks he is the shit. So why do I say Jarda is a punk well when I was younger I dressed like him black sweatshirts Levis and long hair. Jarda is about 6’4” give or take a little and is very skinny. This is interesting because the Czech diet consists mainly of meat and potatoes. Jarda has black hair and an interesting thing is the tattoo on his hand that reads “Never Land”. I asked him what it meant and he told me it was his way of living, never give up on your dreams. His dream is to move to and live in America so in a sense America is his never land that he is trying to reach. I think he will reach his goal of immigrating to America someday and I am trying to help him get here by finding him a job. Jarda went to school to become a car mechanic. I am not positive if he really enjoys it but he likes to fix cars, just not at the fast pace they require him to do it at.
After talking to Jarda for awhile I discovered that he is a very nice guy. As they say, never judge someone by first impressions. Jarda is a tall 20 year old man with dark hair, he dresses like most Americans in t-shirts and jeans. Jarda speaks excellent English for someone who learned most of the language by reading Stephen King and watching American movies. His dream is to come to America and own a 1967 Shelby gt 500 (the one from the movie Gone in 60 Seconds). If you love cars then you will love Jarda, his current car is a Clebra which doesn’t look very good from the outside but the car runs really well and Jarda keeps it in great shape. He also likes to drive it like the rally car drivers do as he races along the back roads of Czech Republic.
One day Jarda took me out for a ride in his car on his favorite rally car road. So what is it like racing along the back roads of the Czech Republic? Jarda’s Rally road is broken in 3 parts you race from one town to another. Because speeding through a town is very bad due to the fact that house are built almost on top of the road you have to slow down and obey the traffic laws or risk being ticketed, fined and even losing your driver’s license. So I guess I will tell the story of my rally road drive at high speed. Mind you kilometer is about double the speed of a mile per hour.
The day started out kind of mild, I believe it rained either the night before or the day before. Its kind of hard to remember since it rains a lot in the Czech Republic. The rally road is a back way into the city of Klatovy and there isn’t a lot of traffic. As we began heading down the road Jarda asked “Are you scared of going fast?” “Well no”, I said “of course not”. I have been driving fast and going fast since I first began driving. As we started out Jarda mashed the gas petal to the floor and you could hear his small 4 cylinder 2.0 liter engine began to roar with the flood of petrol to the small engine. The rpm’s began to pick up as the small yellow car’s speed increased. We hit around 140 kph as we entered the first corner and Jarda pushed down on the brake and clutch and pushed the gear shifter into a lower gear as we entered the corner. The tires began to squawk as their grip on the pavement started to fail. Just when you felt like the tires were going to give out we came speeding out of the corner and Jarda jammed the small gas petal to the floor again and pushed his little car harder and faster. As we roared up to the next corner he shifted down a gear and this time accelerated into the corner. You could feel your organs and body began to shift to the right as the G-forces from the sharp corner were applied to you. We came racing out of corner after corner, by this point I was having a great time. Jarda is a highly skilled driver who enjoys pushing his car to its limits. As we approached the railroad tracks Jarda said “hold on we are going to get some air going over them.” We powered up the hill as if we were trying to get enough speed to take off. Then we came over a small hill and caught some air. It gave me the sense of flying sudden the utter lack of g forces made my stomach roll over and feel good. As the car landed with a hard bounce and kept on moving. This was all fun until we rounded a corner and spotted a group of cyclists in the center of the road and not in the proper lane. As we bore down them at full speed, Jarda slammed on the brakes and turned to the side. Unfortunately, the bikers turned into the path he was going. My heart was racing. Just when we thought going to hit them the car finally stopped about two inches from the of the bikers. After a few words (I guessed cuss words) were exchanged we were off again and almost back to Klatovy.
Just to drive through the hills of the Czech Republic is a unique experience. Riding on a bus and walking can give you a glimpse of your surroundings but to cruise through the hills is a completely new feeling you must experience.
So what does the Czech Republic look like you ask, well it is very green. Coming from southwestern part of Utah where everything is orange and brown to a place where it’s very green was probably the biggest shock. The hills are low and rolling and heavily wooded though there are many open areas with farms or crops. Many of the fields grow plants for canola oil and their bright yellow flowers dotted the landscape. A distance of several miles often separates the villages, while the larger towns are compact with growth trending upwards instead of sprawling outwards.
I have decided to discuss the idea of family. I love my family and going over seas for almost two months was going to be very hard on me due to the fact that I was not going to be around my family. Where I was going to originally stay didn’t work out because Jarda’s family was doing some work on their flat. So I went to live with Jarda’s aunt in her flat in Klatovy. I was worried because now I felt I was being pushed on to someone who didn’t really expect to have a foreign student staying with her in her house. But when I first met her she was very open and warm to me, though neither of us could understand what the other was saying.
(My father, Teta and Jarda in Tete’s flat)
This led to a lot of laughing and joking and reading of the dictionary. One of the funniest things Teta did was after I had the word down for pivo (beer). I was eating and I think Jarda was late or something, so she stuck a beer out from the kitchen and began move it up and down saying
“Ppppppppppppppppiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiivvvvvvvvvoooooooooooooooo” which just made me laugh my ass off. I would tell her no then after a few minutes she would do it again. I could hear her in the kitchen giggling every time she would do it. After awhile I gave in and she handed me a beer. The Czech people love their beer and I can see why. It’s very good, well it’s damn good. We had a few non-drinkers on our trip and it must have been hard for them to live in a culture where drinking is accepted as very normal. Living in Utah most of my life, I understand that drinking is frowned upon and going to culture where drinking is part of life such as having a beer for lunch and a few for makes you really think about things like how much culture fashions our cherished opinions.
So the reason we actually traveled to the Czech Republic was to teach the English language. Let me start off by saying that teaching the language you grew up learning is very difficult. The reason is you know how the rules work but you don’t know how to explain those rules. The hardest thing for me was trying to learn how to do this and was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Kevin (another PNE volunteer) and I were the only two to have lived in Kltovay since the beginning of Project “New Eyes” ® and after the residents found out that their were two native English speakers available for teaching our schedules became very busy. On Mondays I taught English to first grade children. I never thought I would like teaching children that young because I remembered how I behaved when I was that young. But these children were very shy. After a little while they began to open up towards me and they seemed to have loads of fun learning the English language.
This for me was my best time teaching thanks to Martina Searles (she was Kevin Kau’s host family). She was a great person and I was thankful she allowed me to join her in her classroom. On Tuesday I also worked with Martina in the offices of adults who are trying to teach English for their business this was also very fun. The one story that comes to mind was about an older gentleman who spoke very good English. He was looking at some pictures of people. One of them had long hair and looked kind of grunge. He stated “This guy is probably homeless, loves his beer and needs a damn hair cut you hippie.” I couldn’t stop laughing at this was the funniest thing I have ever heard.
On Wednesdays I was at usually a different school helping teachers or just sitting down and talking with classes about English and asking the children questions.
Klatovy is a rather a large city I don’t know the actual size but I think there is approximately 50,000 people who live here.
The family I stayed with was very close to each other while Americans tend to be more about friends. On the second day in Klatovy, I visited Jarda’s grandmother. Even though she spoke little to no English she was very nice. She reminded me of my own grandmother. After traveling half way around the world to a new place where I spoke little to none of the language, I met people who didn’t know me but welcomed me with open arms and hearts.
I didn’t really feel much homesickness because all the people around me took such great care of me. Even though I didn’t understand much of what was said they always had a smile on their face and tried to help me learn the language and help me any way they could. I remember one day I was having a hard time with my allergies and Tete, Jarda’s aunt asked if I was sick and then she went and made me some special Czech tea to help with my congestion. So I found that even though I travelled clear across the globe that no matter how much things are different, family is always the same. The acceptance of those who have never traveled so far away to live in a culture they know little about is really amazing. The part that gave me my New Eyes was that yes, all around the world there are wars and genocides happening but when it comes down to it family is still family.
In conclusion, I am very happy that I decided to join Project “New Eyes” ® it was a great experience for me. To live with a family in another culture gives you so much more than simply being a tourist. The insights I gained in the Czech Republic will stay with me the rest of my life and no matter where I travel to next, I will know that people all over the world are very much the same.