Amidst a flood of metaphorical roadblocks last week my fellow teacher turned to me and commented, “Wow I can’t believe how optimistic you are.” Maybe it’s the tendency for Czechs to be realistic to the point of pessimism, or the American belief in the light at the end of every tunnel, but I think that traveling, especially on your own, takes a great deal of positive thinking and looking for the bright side in every situation.
So for my first truly bumpy week of Czech life I had to deal with issues at the bank, the post office, with my landlady, and with students and teachers at my school. What are the odds that all this would coincide in about 48 hours?! Not to mention the general post-spring holiday funk permeating the halls of school each day for both students and teachers alike. It was definitely rough, but luckily everything was resolved.
I will take a moment to elaborate about the student-teacher drama that I found myself in the middle of. I was asked by one teacher to join her class for their video project presentations, only to arrive and have every student admit that they hadn’t done the project. The dilemma was this: the teacher assigned a creative video project that could be submitted to a contest for a prize, however the students didn’t see the point in doing the project and were embarrassed to make the effort and therefore decided as a group not to complete the assignment. Czech students are almost never asked to do projects like this and this particular class told the teacher they didn’t understand why she thought they were capable of doing something creatively advanced. From this point of view I sympathized with the teacher, it was right of her to push the students, give them a creative outlet, and see the best in them. Yet, from the students’ point of view I could see how a better assignment structure with sub-deadlines, a group format, and a rubric from the teacher could have helped to make the project seem more manageable and fun. I was asked for my opinion from an American point of view and realized that while I always groaned at projects like this as a student, there was no question about not doing it and even last year as a senior at William and Mary I had to do a video project. I think this comes from the greater emphasis on homework and grades in American education our more inclusive and holistic approach to learning.
However, my week took an upward turn with the arrival of one of my best friends from home! We went with our other friend from William and Mary to Prague and did all of the wonderful sightseeing, again with wonderful weather. The best part about having friends from home come to visit is to show them my life here and introduce them to the people that I will definitely be so sad to leave. Luckily, my two friends this weekend got to meet all of my Fulbright friends while we celebrated a few birthdays and somehow my half-birthday got thrown in too. I’ve realized that since I’ve now been here for 6 whole months, I’ve started to forget what makes the Czech Republic so different from home. My life here now just seems normal and not really so crazy and exotic. Yet, my American friend’s awe and continuous comment that “everything is so different here,” both somehow validated that my experience here is really unique and also renewed my fear of how much reverse culture shock I will have after 4.5 more months before going home.
Monday was Masopust in Znojmo, the Czech equivalent of Carnevale, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday etc. It ended up being a really fun day and a perfect day for my American friend to be in Znojmo for a visit. A lot of my students were out and about to enjoy the sunny and 50 degree weather, and a lot of them took part in the Masopust parade that was organized by our school. It was almost like Halloween, but with a slightly more structured tradition. The students dressed up either in the Masopust costumes or as whatever they wanted. Then there was a skit (no idea what they were talking about) in the main square followed by a parade around town, stopping at restaurants and bakeries. At each stop the people in the traditional costumes would speak, sing, and dance followed by the restaurant or bakery offering pastries and meat to the people in costume and a polka band sparking a dance of anyone who wished to take part. It was really fun, entertaining to watch, and yet, seemed so normal after all of the strange and different holiday traditions I have experienced this year.
While always trying to find the silver lining of the clouds can be exhausting, I think one of the best strategies of dealing with cloudy days of traveling is by looking at it all as an adventure. In addition, this adventure has definitely taught me to appreciate the little things. All it takes is one friend, one conversation, or one small gesture to brighten your day. The biggest thank you for helping me last week goes to Jana, whom I would be have been helpless without. My other thank you’s go to friends and family who checked in with me throughout dealing with everything, my friend who works at my favorite café who gave me my cappuccino on the house, and the sun for rising at 6:30am and not setting until 6pm now. After the dark Czech winter, I have never been so happy for longer days 🙂