One of the first events I was invited to upon arriving in Znojmo and starting to teach was the Ples. I was told over and over that this could be considered the Czech high school prom. So with small warning and description of what to expect, I went into this weekend expecting something like an American prom. Wow was I wrong! The two Ples I attended this weekend were like graduation, prom, a variety show, and a family reunion all rolled into one! I had an amazing time and am happy to share this special Czech rite of passage with you.
The focus of my American Culture Club the week before, was to teach about American proms. I was puzzled with how to wrap all of the preparation of American prom into an interesting activity for my students, rather than me just listing off what Americans do for prom. Inspiration struck the night before, and I designed a version of “The Game of Life,” except about American proms. While I made it a little too complicated, the point got across and sparked some interesting conversation about the differences between proms and Ples. Yet, even after about two hours of our meeting, I still was unprepared for what to expect that weekend.
At my school there are different “tracks” of students depending on how many years they have gone to the school and if they are specializing in a subject or simply at the regular grammar school. Each track has one class of students per grade level, so there were 4 classes celebrating their final years at the school between the two Ples this past weekend. Friday night was for two of the classes from the pedagogical school and Saturday night was for the two grammar school classes. Unlike American proms, the students of the graduating classes are in charge of everything—from the entertainment to the decorations. Also unlike American proms, there is no food, families are present, there are no dates, and there is a lot of alcohol.
Here’s a rundown of how each night went:
- 6:30pm-8pm: Ceremonies for each of the graduating classes. Students file in wearing ball gowns and suits and stand in an arc on the dance floor. Students are called one by one and are presented with a sash, ribbon specific to their graduating class, and flower by their class teacher and the headmaster. Students present their teachers and headmaster with appreciation gifts. Students make a speech usually involving inside jokes about their class and their teachers. There is a toast where all students drink a glass of champagne. On Friday night party guests then threw coins at the students for them to then pick up off the floor (I thought this must hurt and is slightly strange).
- 8pm-9pm: Commencement of drinking, dancing, and raffle ticket buying, called the Tombola. The tombola tickets are little folded slips of paper sold by students throughout the night. You can buy a certain number and open them up either to find a “No luck” symbol or a number indicating that you won a prize. On Saturday I won a men’s shirt and a mug, but the main prize was a voucher for a live pig! There was a band in the main dance hall playing Czech dance songs and then a folk Czech band in a small room upstairs where the tombola prizes are held and distributed by teachers. Also, in this room was a wine tasting area.
- 9pm-10pm: Entertainment organized by students. Friday night featured some students of the graduating class performing a fire show outside of the event hall. Saturday night featured a fashion show of clothes designed by one of the graduating students.
- 10pm-11pm: Performance of the “midnight surprise” by the two graduating classes of students. Each class performs a choreographed dance together that they have been practicing over the past months. Everyone else watches and cheers and to be honest the students looked like rockstars.
- 11pm-12:30 am: More drinking and dancing to the two bands. Students, teachers, and parents all dance together as if at an American wedding.
- 12:30am-?: DJ comes and students stay out until all hours dancing and drinking the night away.
While I had a great time at both Ples events, Saturday was particularly special for me. The Tuesday before, the student who designed the fashion show approached me to ask if I would be a model. I thought “Why not?” and was thanked because “I have a great figure.” This made me slightly uncomfortable, but I thought, “Hey, I’m only in the Czech Republic in a fashion show once right?” Little did I know that the student designed Victorian attire—mainly corsets, long skirts, and mildly gothic jewelry. Add to the mix changing into this outfit in a freezing cold room with the other models, who all happened to be my students. Also, as I was changing some of my boy students of the graduating class came in and out of the room to get to their baggage, stored in the room. Again, I felt slightly uncomfortable, but this did not appear to be a problem for anyone. As I walked down the “catwalk” to cheers of my students, work colleagues, and general Znojmo residents in a corset I couldn’t help laughing. One of the many moments where wonder how did I possible get here?
Also as I was changing into this outfit, I was requested to step outside the changing room to see one of the students from the graduating class. Although, I was not entirely comfortably “decent,” it appeared to be a matter that could not wait. I walked out to meet three students who presented me with one of their class ribbons from the ceremony. Each class in the Czech Republic has ribbons like this and they are very symbolic of the years and unity of the class. Students and teachers have told me that it is something that students here keep for their entire lives. The students explained to me that their class is so happy to have me here and that I am something special for them. They wanted me to have their class ribbon to always remember them and my time here. As I stood there being “pinned” with my bra half out I wanted to cry. It is moments like these where I remember why I am here and why I am so lucky to have this experience. These students could not possibly imagine how much these small acts make me so happy and reassure my will to be here each day. While hugs had to suffice to show my appreciation, like my students, I will definitely treasure this small ribbon forever and it will be my motivation through the upcoming cold winter months 🙂
Here is the video of my G8A class’s midnight surprise
Here is the article I wrote for my school’s website