It’s Never Over: The Return (Part Two)

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I touched down in Chicago 15 days ago and have spent the time between then and now wondering if and when I would find the appropriate words to reflect on the past six months. I was also diagnosed with mono, which explains that whole sleeping-through-my-alarm-on-my-last-morning-in-Prague thing (a humiliating mistake I had previously attributed to too many rum shots the night before; thankfully the walk-in Walgreens clinic gave me a much better scapegoat in the form of the Epstein-Barr virus). As a result of the diagnosis, I had to back out of the summer plans I made back in March and have since spent my waking hours wallowing on the couch in my living room, doing everything in my power to avoid writing this post. It’s been two weeks of detoxing from what had become my average beer consumption (1.5 liters/day) and reintroducing drip coffee into my life, all the while pondering how I’ve changed, if I’ve changed, and whether or not those changes will remain apparent in the weeks, months, years to come. It’s impossible to say, obviously, and I don’t want to bore those of you who have so patiently followed my misadventures for the past six months by waxing poetic about how much study abroad changed my life and yadda yadda, so I’ll save it for my diary.

The sole purpose of this post is to wrap things up, as was implied by the fact that I titled the previous post “The Return (Part 1).” I had hoped that by now I would have at least an inkling of how to do that, but I don’t, so I will instead leave you with a song that says it better than I ever could and a very sincere thank-you for reading.

Zatím čau!

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The Return (Part 1)

This post is brought to you by jet-lag.

I don’t want to talk about it.

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Indeed, my plane touched down at O’Hare’s international terminal at approximately 8 PM CST on Saturday, but rather than lose myself in a jet-lag-induced miasma of postpartum misery and finally alienate every reader I’ve gained during the past five months, I’m going to apologize for the lack of posts in recent weeks and give you a long overdue update of exactly what I’ve been doing since I returned from Morocco.

Smash-cut to:

My dad and his girlfriend Sally arriving in Prague.

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After recovering from the culture-shock that was Morocco by watching television in my underwear for two days straight, I turned 21 and my dad and Sally flew all the way to Prague to celebrate with me. They were in town for five days, during which I and various tour guides dragged them to all of the necessary sights. Then my brother arrived, Dad and Sally took a train to Vienna, and Jake and I boarded a different train, marking the beginning of a two-week siblings-only train tour of Europe that began in Amsterdam and ended in Munich.DSC01040

I had never spent so much one-on-one time with my semi-adult brother, and when I pitched this trip to my mom in mid-March, I believe I said something like, “think of how close Jake and I will become by the time we get back to Prague,” not really believing it myself. But, it turns out that my brother is not just That Kid Who Plays Guitar but a veritable encyclopedia of useless facts with impeccable comedic timing. I learned this about him while navigating Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, Florence, Rome, Venice, and Munich on foot, which Jake and I agreed is the best way to see any city.

We also went to museums, despite the fact that I really don’t enjoy museums all that much. Another thing I learned about my brother, though, is that he does. It was because Jake really likes museums (and zoos) for some inexplicable reason that we visited a museum (or zoo) in every city we passed through. I have to hand it to the kid, though: I wouldn’t have seen David Bowie’s coke spoon or learned what tortoise sex sounds like without his insistence that we go to one more, just one more museum (or zoo) today.

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We arrived back to Prague two weeks later, a little worse for wear but full of stories about shitty hostel roommates. My mom landed in Prague about an hour after our return, and like that, I was off on Phase 5.3 of my grand European experiment, walking around with my (real) mom and brother in tow like it was the most normal thing in the world.
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I expected the merging of families to be a jarring experience, but it wasn’t at all. I split my last two weeks in Prague between showing my mom and brother around during the day and hanging out with my sisters at night (or, as long as we’re being honest, watching Gilmore Girls in bed). It was, I think, probably the best scenario to ease me into the idea of returning to my bed in Chicago where I sit now, unable to sleep, writing this.

So, there you have it: four weeks of family (both Czech and American) in one bite-sized post. They were, without a doubt, among the highlights of my time abroad–especially that whole David-Bowie-coke-spoon thing.

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Queendom of Tara

Fez was difficult.

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Here’s the thing about women’s college. It makes you feel like you can do anything, and while after three years at Barnard I recognize how amazing it is that I (at least feel like I) have a license to do whatever the fuck I want, Morocco did everything it could to nip that self-confidence in the bud. Turns out, it’s not advisable to go to Morocco with only your (female) best friend for company. Meredith and I garnered a lot of attention just by existing in Fez, which started to wear us down after a while. You can only hear “nice pussy” so many times in the span of ten minutes before the most appealing option is to just turn around and go home.

A lot of people expressed concern that we were going to Fez without a male companion, and after our first, second, and third time being followed through the winding streets by a bunch of Moroccan teenagers, I can understand why. Really, though, they were just boys trying to make a buck, and once I realized that if I spoke Czech, they would run in the opposite direction, they became less of a problem.

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Harassment is a real issue in Fez, but as my host mom pointed out upon my arrival back in Prague last weekend, I saw a different culture, and wasn’t that the point? For anyone thinking about visiting Morocco, a place I’d never considered visiting before Meredith mentioned that it held a coveted spot on her World Travel Bucket List, I’d recommend Fez. According to the tour guide who took us around on the first day, it’s a much more authentic Moroccan city than Marrakech. The Medina, or outdoor market, in the old city of Fez is a winding labyrinth of vendors hawking their wares: shoes, leather bags, olives, whole chickens–you name it and you can probably find it in the Medina. Meredith and I spent our four days getting lost, getting swindled, and getting the dead skin scrubbed off our naked bodies at a public hammam.

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I’d never heard of a hammam before going to Morocco, but it turns out that it is the place to be if you’re a woman. As a rule, women don’t hang out in cafés in Fez (or really in public, come to think of it). Rather, you can find them chilling in one of the local hammams or bath houses hidden throughout the Medina. Meredith and I decided early in the week that we wanted to visit one, but we continued to put it off, not knowing what soap to buy or, really, how to find a hammam that wouldn’t just laugh us out the front door.

Luckily, on our last day in Fez, we were lured into yet another shop, where we bit the bullet and asked for what supplies we needed for an afternoon scrub-down. When, after spending way too much on a Tupperware full of olive oil soap and scrub-gloves, we revealed that we were not planning to go to a hotel bathhouse like most tourists do, one of the guys at the shop spoke up.

“My mom works in a hammam!” he said. “I’ll take you there.”

And like that, we were chasing this man through the streets to a nondescript tiled doorway, where he shouted until his mother emerged. They spoke in rapid Arabic, but I believe the gist of the conversation was “Mom, I just overcharged these stupid white girls. Please, please, PLEASE just wash them. Please.”

Disgruntled, the old woman, who didn’t speak a lick of French or English, pulled us inside. She took her clothes off. We took our clothes off. Then she grabbed my hand, I grabbed Meredith’s hand, and we were led like kindergarteners into the damp old bath house.

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What followed was essentially what I imagine being bathed as a baby in a sink was like, with a few exceptions, such as the ferocious removal of dead skin cells and the massage on the hammam‘s tile floor. Basically, though, I had paid to get my hair washed and to have plastic buckets of water dumped over my head. It was an experience that has inextricably bonded me and Meredith for life, in case any of you were worried about that.

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Other highlights of Morocco included the cat who lived at our Riad, whose name was Tara, and a precocious nine-year-old boy named Indigo whom Meredith and I ran into twice at Café Clock, a restaurant better suited for San Francisco than Fez, Morocco. Because women are discouraged from painting the town red, Meredith and I spent most our nights at the Riad, creating monologues for the cat, who was from France and who was, therefore, a total diva, and reflecting on the fact that we were, indeed, in Africa.

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I’ve been back in Prague for three days, recovering from what was my most jarring cross-cultural experience to date. (Read: I’ve been back in Prague for three days binge-watching Archer and Hannibal.) On Monday, the only words I spoke before 6 PM, were those necessary to order a burrito in Czech. Yesterday, my host dad drew a portrait for me as a birthday present. And today, I turn 21 years old. I’m about to leave for the airport to pick up my dad and his girlfriend, who have come to visit, thus ushering out Phase Four and welcoming in Phase Five of this grand experiment.

May the family vacation begin!

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Goodbye for Now

Somehow, it’s May 17th.

When I arrived in Prague on February 1st, the future looked murky at best. I remember too well our first night out as a group, where someone suggested we go around the table, and say our names, our schools, and our majors. Friday night, our last as an official unit, Chris pointed out that these three-and-a-half months have been bookended by signatures. Sometime during orientation week, we signed our names to a contract saying that we understood the program’s rules. This week, we signed another piece of paper and, in doing so, we signed off the program.

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Post-finals lemon ricotta cake at Café Louvre

But before I get into that, a brief glimpse of the past few weeks. After finishing my month in Nové Mesto, I returned to Prague to hurriedly complete my final project. “What do you like for breakfast?” Second Language Acquisition in Nové Mesto pod Smrkem was born on May 9th, presented on May 12th, and put to rest on May 13th. We had a goodbye dinner to thank our host families for having us (even though I’m blessedly still living with mine), and on Wednesday morning, the ten of us shipped out with our Academic Director for one last hurrah in Moravian wine country. Despite the disappointing weather, the retreat was the perfect note on which to end this indescribable program, even if I did almost die on the bus back to Prague from the resulting hangover.

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I got college credit for this.

The 103 days of my (official) study abroad experience are all equally vivid. I remember the conversation I had with Ally over doners in Dresden as well as I remember my first English class in Nové Mesto. It’s as if each of these days occurred simultaneously, occupying the same 24 hours. The realization that it’s all over is a surreal one, and today, as I packed for my next adventure, I had a lot of time to reflect on everything that I’ve experienced since February 1st.

Though I feel an obligation to record those reflections here, I’m also well-aware that people are about as interested in hearing about the “lessons learned” during a semester abroad as they are in hearing about my anxiety dreams. So I’ll keep this brief.

Since February 1st, I’ve acquired two new families, I’ve gained about ten pounds, and I’ve slept in twelve different towns and cities. And although I couldn’t have anticipated how all of these experiences would affect me, the cliché holds true. I am an entirely different person than the one whose flight to Prague didn’t exist on that heart-stopping morning in Charles de Gaulle all those weeks ago.

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I owe this truth to my nine classmates and de facto siblings, who have been my mirrors for the past months. The fact that I laughed myself into a legitimate fit of sobs last night while we all marveled at just how quickly time has passed feels like the most appropriate goodbye possible. It’s heartbreaking to think how unlikely it is that we’ll all ever be in the same room again. You’d think five years of stage managing, of cycling through theatre families would have prepared me for this, but the fact of the matter is that there was simply no way of knowing.

Luckily, however, I have a distraction on the horizon, for May 17th also marks the beginning of my unofficial study abroad experience. Up next? Phase Four, or Meredith and Shelby take Morocco.

Stay tuned.

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The Golden Bees

If you’d asked me three days into my ISP period how I was going to die, my answer probably would have been “boredom.”

Now, two-and-a-half weeks and equal amount of near-concussions later, I know that I will actually die from knocking myself unconscious while doing my morning sun salutations. The sloped ceilings in my bedroom are deceptively low.IMG_0647

When I’m not self-diagnosing my head injuries on WebMD, I’m teaching English to four different classes: 9-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds, and 15-year-olds. Today one of the 9-year-olds put her arm around my waist after class and said “have a nice day” to me, so I think the lessons are going well, all things considered.IMG_0637

Two weekends have passed since I moved here. During the first, I returned to Prague for Easter, which I spent gallivanting around the Czech Republic and braiding pomlazky with my host parents. I also got the chance to visit their nephew’s property (read: collection of decked-out, rentable train cars-turned-love-nests) near the German border, where I drank hoppy beer and watched this little guy eat yogurt out of a frisbee for the better part of an hour:

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I returned to Nové Mesto after Easter and spent the week teaching English and avoiding my ceiling before it was time to pack my bags again. Last weekend, I joined my advisor, Yveta, and seven strapping young Czech lads on a trip to Lítomerice for Zlatá Vcela or The Golden Bees. As I mentioned in my last post, Yveta runs the local children’s center, and a large part of her role of director is overseeing the Young Beekeepers of Nové Mesto pod Smrkem.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Now, I was looking forward to seeing these 10-year-old beekeepers in action (and secretly hoping that I’d get to try on one of those sexy beekeeping costumes myself), but it turns out that Zlatá Vcela 2014 is actually a region-wide test of the kids’ ability to identify plants and to, as far as I could tell, talk about the inner-workings of a beehive. Basically, it was an indoor version of boy scouts, and although there were no actual bees involved, it was totally awesome, since I spent the whole weekend talking to the boys about Doctor Who, a television program with the power to transcend language barriers (insert TARDIS joke here).IMG_0696

Still, after the boys were awarded their ceramic medals and certificates of participation, I was happy to return to my little apartment that could and prepare for my last week on the job . I’ve come to enjoy my solitude during my time here, but I’m looking forward to heading back to Prague next week and wrapping up this phase of my adventure.

How to Live Alone

With a population of just under 4000, Nové Mesto is not the smallest town I’ve visited in the Czech Republic, but it sure as hell feels that way. The main square is two feet from my front door and is made up of four convenience stores (potraviny), a tabak, a café, an eternally vacant Asian restaurant, and a Czech restaurant where, twice, I’ve eaten a three-course meal with my advisor Yveta for under four dollars.

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Hlavní namestí

When I’m not potraviny-hopping, I’m at the children’s center where Yveta works, vaguely participating in the after school programs offered and attempting to soak up as much Czech as possible. With Easter on the horizon, this week’s activities revolved around dying eggs and decorating rabbit-shaped gingerbread cookies. Since I have yet encounter anyone my age (I have a feeling they all fled to the nearest city, Liberec, upon graduation from gymnazium) and therefore have no friends to speak of, I get all of my social interaction at the children’s center. I’ve come to enjoy gossiping with the older Czech ladies who work there, and they seem to get a kick out of me as well. As a result of all of this, my Czech is improving apace, but man, is it tiring to think in one language and have no choice but to speak in another.

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The young beekeepers’ mascot

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Baby beekeepers

Nights are the hardest.

The town shuts down at eight PM, leaving me in my sweet little apartment with nothing but an Ethernet cord, a yoga mat, and my tireless brain for entertainment. This came as a bit of a shock to me when I arrived on Monday night. On Tuesday night, I began to panic. I feared my own company and was beginning to resent my decision to move here rather than stay in Prague with my friends. I paced around the apartment. I made dinner. I tried meditating. And then, finally, when all else had failed to distract me from the humming of my brain as it insisted that I had made a huge mistake in coming to Nové Mesto in the first place, I sat down and I watched The Lord of the Rings.

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Anyone who has spoken to me for longer than ten minutes knows that I’m not big on movies. I’ve never seen Star Wars or The Godfather. In fact, my New Year’s resolution was to work my way through the classics of my time, because I felt my lack of movie knowledge was excluding me from some neighborhood of the pop culture world that I proudly inhabit. Although I’d made some progress since January 1st (Blue Velvet, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction), I just couldn’t bring myself to watch Peter Jackson’s trilogy. I mean, come on. When would I ever have time to sit down and watch white guys fight orcs for ten hours?

The reality is that, ninety percent of the time, I would rather be by myself because I hardly ever am. Usually, what I want most is a free day to do yoga, make brunch, listen to a podcast, write something, cross a movie off my list, and go to bed early. Yet when faced with the astounding opportunity to live like this not just for one day but for three-and-a-half weeks, I was horrified. The city-dwelling student in me is so used to feeling like I ought to be doing something else (in New York, this means working, but in study abroad world, it basically means going to clubs and meeting strangers) that I forgot how to do the things that I actually enjoy.

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Welcome to my hovel

Needless to say, I loved each of the Lord of the Rings movies and felt this tremendous sense of accomplishment when the credits rolled at the end of Return of the King. I had survived not only Middle Earth but also my first-ever week of living completely on my own. It’s an experience I’m not sure I would have had otherwise (I am not, nor will ever be, in a position to live in New York without a roommate and/or sugar daddy), and because of it, I’m finally learning what makes me tick. My anxiety’s at an all-time low, I’m becoming my own best friend, and you know what the kicker is?

I’m actually pretty great company.Image

Phase Three

I’m not afraid of finals.

That’s not to say that I enjoy sitting for exams or writing analytical papers. To the contrary, like most of my peers, I loathe these tests and spend more time questioning their purpose than studying for them. In recent years, I’ve adopted something of a “fuck it” attitude when it comes to exams. This usually plays out with me studying the minimum amount, getting the grade I deserve, and watching a lot of Mad Men in the interim.

I am okay with this.

IMG_0571Still, it appears that nothing, not even the Atlantic Ocean, can separate students from the finals-induced anxiety so coveted at our home universities. This led to a tense week at the SIT clubhouse, so I was elated when Thursday rolled around and presented me with a reprieve in the form of one Miss Meredith B, my girlfriend/soul sister/platonic life partner, whom you probably remember from my adventures in Paris lo those many months ago.IMG_0597

One of the greatest parts of my study abroad experience thus far has been my host mom’s cooking, but every now and then, I get a craving for Thai food so intense that I stop doing my homework in favor of reading Yelp reviews of Thai restaurants in my area. What can I say? The New Yorker in me misses going out to dinner. So when Meredith came to town, I took full advantage of the situation and brought her to a Czech restaurant almost immediately following her descent into Vaclav Havel Airport. The weekend began with goulash in a rye bread bowl (because you can take the girl out of America…) and ended with a klobasa from the stanek at the bottom of Vaclavské namestí. In between, there was honey cake, beer, and even–wait for it–some vegetables. Basically, it was Paris all over again, only cheaper.

When we weren’t stuffing our faces, we wandered around the city. In the three days that Meredith was here, we saw what felt like every corner of Prague as well as a walled-garden full of peacocks. And like the old ladies we are, we fell asleep every night at midnight, our feet swollen from walking on cobblestones all day.

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After meeting Meredith on Thursday night, Corinne asked me how I was doing, wondering if it was stressful to introduce someone from home into my new environment. And I have to say, while I expected it might be weird to have a drink with my best friend of 13 years and my nine new siblings simultaneously, it wasn’t in the slightest. Meredith’s visit was the perfect conclusion to the ten weeks of classes leading up to my Independent Study period and to the second chapter of this journey. Indeed, it wasn’t until she left that I truly realized how much I will miss Prague during Phase Three of my European adventure, which made my bus journey this afternoon feel that much more cinematic.

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I’m coming at you now from my new digs in Nové Mesto pod Smrkem, a spa town in the north of Bohemia just two kilometers from the Polish border. I decided to take my own advice from a few posts ago, throw all caution to the wind, and spend my four-week Independent Study period teaching English and, when I’m not doing that, practicing my Czech. I didn’t realize exactly how far I had strayed from my comfort zone until, immediately after disembarking my train, my lovely host Yveta brought me to the local Sporthaus to play basketball with a bunch of Czech 13-year-olds. I mean it when I say that I have never in my life felt so out of place (I have the hand-eye coordination of an infant), a sensation that worsened when I overheard some of the girls on my team say in English, “she’s so scary!”

Maybe it’s time to retire the red lipstick.

At this point, I feel the need to apologize for the quality of this post. This is the first day of my life where I’ve spoken almost exclusively in another language, and my brain is working overtime to (literally) translate my thoughts into vaguely-readable English. That said, the fact that I conducted an entire dinner conversation in my second language was nothing short of amazing. I might even compare it to those two baskets I scored during warm-ups this afternoon–though, given my level of athletic finesse, that was really more of a miracle.IMG_0602

 

Jaro

Last night, in an astounding display of youth, I actually put on pants and went to a bar. When I returned to our apartment at 1:30 AM, I found that my host parents had returned from their weeklong vacation and were catching up with my host sisters in our living room. I stayed up to ask them about their week while making the poor decision to have a glass of scotch instead of the gallon of water my body was begging for. I told them about my night. They told me about their trip. I finished my scotch and then, after placing my glass in the dishwasher, excused myself to pass out with my lipstick still on. This morning, while I attempted to scrub said lipstick off my chin, my host mom looked up from the bread she was kneading as if she’d just noticed that I was there. It hadn’t occurred to her the night before but now she was confused. Wasn’t I supposed to be in Amsterdam this weekend?Image

Seeing Amsterdam has always been near the top of my European to-do list for obvious reasons, and initially, Corinne and I had planned on spending this past weekend there. As she is wont to do, however, that gleeful bitch named Academia showed up and handed me an anxiety-inducing amount of work, the likes of which I haven’t faced since December. Couple that with the startling price of tickets to Amsterdam in April (it is tourist season, after all), and our weekend in the Red Light district was over before it started.

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at The Meet Factory

When Rut asked me why I wasn’t in The Netherlands, I had to laugh. I’d forgotten my promise to text her about my weekend travel plans. I explained to her that I’d been writing for most of the weekend (I’m doing a reading of my short fiction for my classmates on Tuesday), but as I told her this, I became acutely aware of just how relieved I was that I hadn’t spent my weekend in a different country. In between furious bouts of revision, I’ve spent the past three days bouncing around Prague. Over the past two weeks, I’ve become quite partial to taking walks along the river, particularly on the Malá Strana side, while listening to The Moth radio hour. This afternoon, after a particularly exhausting attempt at literary analysis (like I said, it’s been a while) and the resulting two-hour nap, I picked my ass up, changed out of my yoga clothes and into the red plaid shirt Anicka had mistaken for her brother’s two weeks ago, and walked over to Kampa Park, where I collapsed in the grass with a book and a plastic cup of beer. Rather than reading, though, I played peek-a-boo with an adorable infant (while likely alarming his mother) and eavesdropped on a group of Czechs and Americans as they made plans to go to Las Adelitas for dinner (ed. note: bet you didn’t know there was good Mexican food in Central Europe). I did these things while marveling at the fact that somewhere between revising my stories and analyzing contemporary Czech poetry, spring had arrived in the city of 1000 spires, and I’d only just noticed.Image

This also made me sad, I admit. This is partially because my mood tends to dip when I spend time alone in parks (it just doesn’t fill me with the kind of meditative contentedness I often hear my friends describe, despite my best efforts) but also because this is, in a sense, my last weekend in Prague to do whatever I want, to take those long walks and to lose hours of my day working on a story while listening to the rowdy Italian tourists outside my window in Josefov. That’s not to say I don’t have a lot to look forward to, because I really do. On Thursday, Meredith is coming (!), then I’m shipping out to northern Bohemia to teach English and hang out with some 8-year-old amateur beekeepers (more on that later), then, well…

It’s a relentless cycle, this future-tripping, so I’ll stop myself there and instead express my gratitude for the fact that I spent this weekend in Prague: with my classmates at Letná beer garden on Friday afternoon, with some friendly strangers at the Meet Factory in Smichov last night, and alone in Kampa this evening. Somehow, this city keeps finding ways to charm me, and while I’ve no doubt in my mind that Corinne and I would have burned Amsterdam to the metaphorical ground, a selfish part of me is happy that we didn’t and that I instead spent these days falling harder for Prague than I ever thought possible. Maybe it’s the fact that you can drink in public, but there’s something in this city that’s giving me butterflies. It could be that first taste of spring, but I think I’m in love with this place.

All I needed was a commitment-free weekend to realize it.

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Home

Apologies for the radio silence, cyber kittens. Things have been a little crazy over here in Central Europe, by which I mean, of course, that I’ve been in Poland and Slovakia for the past week and have only just gotten over the plague that resulted from the journey. Oh, I was also posing with this wonderful creature, so naturally blogging was the last thing on my mind.

 

Thanks to my lady Skye for this one

Thanks to my lady Skye for this one

Rather than spend too much time talking about Slovakian folklore tradition, I thought I’d take this opportunity to catch the world up on what exactly I’ve been doing for the past seven weeks (has it really been that long?).

It occurs to me that I’ve written hardly anything at all about Prague itself, so I suppose I should start by saying that I love it here. I spent last weekend in Moravia, the other half of the Czech Republic, with Will and Corinne, and while I enjoyed Brno immensely, I could not wait to return to Prague on Sunday morning for lunch with my family. The feeling of arriving at the Florenc bus station and knowing exactly how to get home without resorting to my smartphone for assistance helped me realize just how much this city has become my home during my two months here. I love nothing more than chatting with my host family in our apartment in Josefov; waiting for the 17 at Pravnická Fakulta; and knowing where the nearest worthwhile pub is, regardless of my location. While I may not be having the study abroad experience that Europe is known for (though I suppose I could be going to clubs and am just choosing not to), I am having the study abroad experience that I want.1797506_10152341895752216_1768265168_n

On an SIT program, every day is a little bit different. I am, in fifteen minutes, going to leave my apartment to head down to Prague 4 for a private Q&A with a contemporary Czech poet. Tomorrow, I’ll be watching a movie at MAT studio with my classmates. And, scarily enough, on Friday, the first draft of my Independent Study Project (ISP) proposal is due.

The program culminates in the ISP, where each of us goes out on our own for four weeks to do research into a topic of interest. I’m proposing a project wherein I teach English to Czech children in a smaller town in northern Bohemia, because I have apparently become the kind of person who’s comfortable doing that sort of thing. It hit me, though, when my classmates and I were discussing our potential ISP topics that it is, in a sense, the final phase of this once-in-a-lifetime program. (I can hear them yelling at me for mentioning this already, but this is the way my anxious brain works.)

How do you go back to reality after a program like this one?

Thankfully, I am fortunate enough to have a grace period between SIT and America. After the program, I’m heading to Fez, Morocco with Meredith; then I’m going around the world in 15 days with my brother (details to come); and afterwards, my mom is meeting us in Prague for what I believe will be a blissful 10 days of beer-drinking before I have to board the plane back to Chicago.

Whenever I look forward to these moments, though, the thing I am most excited about is not Morocco. Or my Eurotrip with Jake. Or my summer in the States. It’s the prospect of showing the people from my old world–Meredith, Jake, my mom–this new place, this city that has, in such a short period of time, become a fundamental part of what makes me tick. I can only hope that they love it as much as I do.

 

 

Osvračín

Whoever said that study abroad was all parties and drunken exploring was only partially correct. SIT packs so much into a single day that I’ve had trouble finding enough time to do my homework, let alone update my blog. My yoga mat is collecting dust on a shelf. My clothes are all over the floor. And, oh yeah, I moved to an Underground community in Western Bohemia, sans Internet, for a week.IMG_0358

The idea behind the Regional Homestay is to immerse us in another part of Czech culture, so off I went with Ally, Will, and Corinne for five days of working with clay in Silva, our amazing host’s, ceramics studio; taking long, long walks through nearby villages (the smallest boasting a population of only 26 people); and crashing birthday parties at the local pub.IMG_0356 IMG_0372

It’s not easy for me to leave the city. I know this, and I know that it makes me look like a brat when I start complaining about the lack of a 24-hour pharmacy or cart food. For this reason, my time in Osvračín was humbling and incredibly important. It allowed me to take a step back and assess why it is that I feel most at home on an overpopulated island 13.4 miles long. Why do I break out in hives when the chorus of birds outside is louder than the sounds of traffic?

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Of course, the easy answer is looking down my nose at non-city dwellers, but it’s not the correct one. The reality is that I am afraid. I am afraid of spaces like these villages because I don’t have the option of constantly plotting my next move. I can’t bounce from therapy to class to lunch to class to the box office to rehearsal to the library. And, bringing it back to Prague, I can’t jump from a book launch in Vinohrady to a wine bar in Žižkov before passing out around 1 and starting my day with Czech homework on the tram to school.

Instead, I have to sit.

I have to go on long walks and actually enjoy the view (and the beer at the halfway point). I have to question my position as a cosmopolitan individual and realize that that does not in any way make me better, smarter, or more interesting than the girl from the village of 26 people. On the contrary, my host, Silva, is the most incredible and inspiring woman I’ve ever met, for reasons difficult to put into words. What I will say here is that she is special. She lives in the moment, and I think I would do well to take a lesson or two from her.

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