Dyje River Znojmo

Small Town Excitement

For the first time since arriving in the Czech Republic, I felt busy this week.  This morning (Sunday) was the first time I was able to really “sleep in” and my body definitely appreciated the full 10 hours.  At school I began teaching more lessons and getting to know my students better. I met with 4 students at the first meeting of my “American Culture Club” and they took me to the famous St. Nicholas Church lookout and then to a popular café called Na Večnosti.  While we mostly just talked about American and Czech lifestyles, we also read through some lyrics of Don McLean’s “American Pie” and talked about American history and culture through the lens of the song.  I think they enjoyed it and we are meeting again this week!

I also was trusted this week to plan some lessons and I loved being able to plan fun activities for the students. One class was learning about shopping vocabulary so I planned an activity to simulate going to different stores to complete a shopping list. Another class was discussing stereotypes so I printed out pictures of different American stereotypical groups (cowboys, hip-hip gangstas, surfer dudes etc.) and had the students talk about the geographical locations and attire of these different types of Americans.  We then compared some general stereotypes/perceptions of Americans and the US to those of Czechs and the CR (their self-perception was very negative). Some items on the lists:

Americans

Czechs

Fat/Lazy

Meat and potatoes

Optimistic

Socks and sandals

Hardworking

“Village Idiot”

Fast food

Traditional

Gay-marriage

Intolerant

Overall, all of my students are very interested in learning about American life and I have had many amazing conversations with people here of all ages.  People are also very interested about how Americans perceive Czechs.  While I have had to admit that most Americans are terrible with geography and many still think the Czech Republic is Czechoslovakia, I usually share that Americans are stuck in the Cold War era when they think of this region.  Many American adults I talked with before coming asked why I would want to live in a place that was so gray and gloomy with unfriendly people.  This is definitely not the case and Jana was shocked at first when I told her about this perception.  However, one night an old Communist propaganda sitcom from the 1980s called, “Okres na Severu” was on television and it became more apparent where some of these ideas came from.  These shows are recently aired on Czech TV as reminders of history, but most Czechs watch them as comedies.

Billboard for "Cats" in Brno
Billboard for “Cats” in Brno

One amazing thing is how friendly people have been with making me feel at home here.  On Monday I taught my first lessons at the business school and the head of the English department invited me to go see “Cats” (Kočky) the musical in Brno on Tuesday night with the other main high school in Znojmo. Even though all of the words were in Czech, the dancing, singing, and staging were amazing. Also I must mention that we literally sat in the first row, dead center! It is really impressive how highly regarded the arts are in the Czech Republic.  Even the fact that they translate American musicals into Czech for the enjoyment of the small percentage of Czech speakers in the world is very special. I am looking forward to seeing more upcoming shows at the theater this fall, such as “Chicago“ and “Flashdance.“

On Friday I had my first Czech lesson with one of the Czech teachers at the school and the other foreign exchange students in Znojmo this year—Elizabeth from Canada and Valeria from Mexico.  Czech is an extremely hard language with word genders, weird pronunciation, 7 cases, and the different tenses all interplaying at once.  Our lesson was definitely challenging with each of us communicating in different languages:

  • Teacher: Czech, French, and minimal English
  • Elizabeth: English and minimal French
  • Valeria: Spanish and English
  • Me: English, Spanish, and minimal Czech
Burčák and a Winefest Wine List
Burčák (yellow-ish wines) and a Winefest Wine List
Me with Students at Winefest
Me with my Students at Winefest
Watching some Medieval Jousting
Watching some Medieval Jousting
Fireworks and the Moon in Masarykovo Naměsti
Fireworks and the Moon in Masarykovo Naměsti

The week concluded with the annual Znojmo Historic Winefest (Vinobrani) to celebrate the drinking of burčák, or half-fermented wine.  This is a specialty in the region because the burčák is only ripe for drinking for about 3 weeks before the fermentation process advances too far.  David and Andy came to visit for the festival Friday and Saturday, and some of my students took us around on Friday evening.  The festival featured many modern and traditional bands, medieval reenactments of sword-fights and jousting, a whole amusement park, traditional Czech festival foods, burčák everywhere, and a large parade complete with medieval costumes, fire-breathers, jugglers, horseback riders, and even camels.  Even though the weather was pretty bad, we had a great time wandering around and trying lots of the different food and wines.  The festival ended with a fireworks display.  I watched with Jana, Anna, and Honza from the center of town.  It reminded me a lot of Grand Illumination in Williamsburg, with the whole town (and many visitors) out to watch.  Czechs always have music—usually from American movie soundtracks–for their fireworks, which I think made the show seem a lot more beautiful.  Now the town is back to its quieter self for another week of teaching.

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2 thoughts on “Small Town Excitement

  1. What a full week! Your town looks so idyllic. Love the idea of you teaching about American culture through song lyrics! Fantastic. Maybe you can teach them to make smores….
    xoxo

  2. Dear MsM: You may want to be a writer; you certainly are talented. I enjoyed every word. It is such a different experience that you are having since you socialize with your students; by the way, your high cheekbones resemble those of your students..you look like your all related. Have fun, we’re off to Ireland. Stressful preparing; can’t wait to board the plane. Love from gma and gpa (who is still figuring out how to open your blog)

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