Grappling with Gratitude

Znojmo sky

While it is definitely still far from being Thanksgiving, I would like to dedicate this post to the amazing things and opportunities thus far in my Fulbright experience.  Several times this week I felt elated and overly happy, yet frustrated with the inability to show proper gratitude for people and things here.  So maybe this may sound like I am bragging, but here are some of the reasons why I am grateful to be exactly where I am right now:

Housewarming Gifts
Housewarming Gifts
  1. The amazing people who have gone out of their way to get settled here.  From the Fulbright staff, to the other teachers in Znojmo, to my students who show me new places in town each week, I have been so lucky to meet such friendly and accommodating people. Beyond simple invitations to see musicals, take trips, learn new things, and get coffee, I am so thankful to all the people who have so far let me into their lives here. I have noticed that sometimes in these situations I become uncomfortable and feel powerless to appropriately repay peoples’ generosity. I also constantly question if I were in their shoes, if I would be doing the same for a foreigner in my hometown in the USA.  I would like to think so! Even the simplest acts of sharing a small story or giving me some apples from the family garden infinitely make me feel more at home here. Last week I invited the students of my American Culture Club to my apartment to watch a movie and as I served them soda, popcorn, and tea they each presented me with a small housewarming gift. I wanted to cry and give them all hugs. While I am still trying to figure out the best way to repay these small actions, I have started by baking cookies. Most people who know me know that I rarely bake, and when I do it is definitely not from scratch.  Yet, in the past week I have made two batches of cookies and shared them with all my fellow English teachers and some students in a small effort to show my gratitude and share some American edible culture.
  2. New perspectives. As I have mentioned before, living in another country and constantly meeting people from another culture challenges me to think and see average things in an entirely different light. For example, last week with my Culture Club we watched the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  This is one of my favorites and I have definitely seen it about 20 times. Yet, throughout the entire movie alongside my students my brain was churning at how many idioms, slang terms, Chicago city sights, and American cultural references can be gleaned from a simple high school comedy. I wanted to pause the movie every 30 seconds to point different things out. Since last watching the movie in April I noticed a hundred new things.
  3. A surreal teaching experience. I can confidently say that I am thoroughly enjoying teaching.  At the same time I know that the experience I am getting as a high school teacher is miles away from the realities of being a career teacher in the United States. I work with genuinely kind-hearted teachers, intermediate-level students who express strong interest in my lessons, and a great schedule of thirteen lessons per week. In addition, I get to prepare fun lessons about aspects of the United States: stereotypes, main sights to see, New York City and Washington D.C., American foods, high school life, political system, healthcare system, and American advertising.  While I am no expert in a lot of these areas, it is strange to think that normally a teacher would simply explain these topics based on reading a book or a website. I feel I learn so much from preparing for these lessons and also seeing my students’ reactions.  As a result, everyday is exciting and very rewarding.
    Running Towards Home
    Running Towards Home
    Running Under the Railway Bridge
    Under the Railway Bridge

    Swans on the River Dyje
    Swans on the River Dyje
  4. A beautiful place to live. This week since moving into my new apartment I have started going on runs by the river that have turned into mini-hikes and general awareness of how gorgeous this small town really is.  Just by walking around in general I am so appreciative that I live in such a historic place.  Also, the proximity to nature has been really nice for exploring. I feel invigorated every time I stumble on a new view or path to see.
  5. A great apartment. Internet, hot water, a shower, lots of space, a comfortable bed, and affordable rent… the list could go on and on.  Special shout out to the forces of the world that did not allow the house to burn down when I left a candle burning for almost 24 hours.  Still feeling grateful for that one.
    Designblok Fashions
    Designblok Fashions
    Hidden Statue Behind the McDonalds in Prague
    Hidden Statue Behind a McDonalds in Prague

    Post Rainy Sky Outside the National Theater
    Post Rainy Sky Outside the National Theater
  6. Proximity to Prague. After doing 2 presentations about NYC this week I was feeling a little homesick for my favorite city. Luckily, my other favorite city is only a 3-hour bus-ride away.  When I left Prague in May 2012 I never thought I would have the opportunity to live so close to such a magical place again.  Yet, on Friday night I casually went to Prague just for the night and found myself grinning ear to ear despite the gross rainy weather.   To top off getting to see the other Fulbrighters and some older Prague friends, it also happened to be “Designblok” or an exhibition of Czech interior and clothing designers. Once again I felt like I was right where I was meant to be 🙂
  7. Time to do every hobby I have ever wanted to do. A light work schedule and strong desire to meet new people means I have jumped on every opportunity to try new things—many of which are things I have always wanted to do, but never had time. My weekly schedule now includes dance class, Spanish lessons, Czech lessons, guitar lessons, and maybe even ceramics class starting this week. In addition, I have a designated “painting table” in my apartment, am training for a half marathon in April, and am volunteering for a non-profit that connects travelers with classrooms in the United States. I feel so lucky to have all of these opportunities and to self-improve over the course of the year.

So I guess I will stop here.  While I am still figuring out how to appropriately express my gratitude for this experience, sharing with you, my readers, is my first small way of thanking the powers that be.  Here’s to 9.5 more months of good luck (knocking on wood)!

4 thoughts on “Grappling with Gratitude

  1. Dear ms.M. You don’t have to worry about showing gratitude; your kindness and radiant presence surely projects to your new friends. We are so impressed by everything that you’re doing. Love you gma

  2. Good morning. Your letter this week is delightful. I am curious about how well you are speaking and understanding another language after some time has passed. I believe that many of the people you interact with speak English but not all your encounters are like this. Xxx Auntie

  3. Once again, I delight in and marvel with all that you share of your experience there, Mariel. While Thanksgiving in the States may be a usual time for people to reflect on their blessings, I know and see now that you do too, that we are blessed to find them day in people and events that surround us and can give thanks every day for the bounty of those blessings to our lives. God bless you and keep you every day!

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