Please be sure to read the final paragraph of this post to #SaveFulbright!
Since my last post the weather in the Czech Republic has turned amazing! The past week was 50s and sunny everyday and it seems as if the sleepy winter mood has lifted. People are out and about, flowers are starting to pop out of the ground and it’s so much easier to get out of bed in the morning when the sun is already shining. It’s hard to imagine that when I arrived, 7 months ago, the weather was similar to this. It feels like ages ago and when I think back I knew so little then about what my life would be like. The cute restaurants along the river that I have been waiting all winter to open were completely unknown to me then and now I’m glad I will have some months to enjoy outdoor activities and Znojmo in summertime, in general.
The gorgeous weather made a pretty excellent backdrop for the visit of my wonderful grandparents this past week! I think I would describe their visit as a UNESCO whirlwind as we saw a large portion of the UNESCO World Heritage sights in the Czech Republic: Prague, the Jewish Quarter of Třebíč, Villa Tugendhat in Brno and Telč. I must say we kept very busy. I think my favorite day was this past Tuesday when we had a very jam-packed schedule. We woke up in Znojmo and first went to Karlova Pékarna, aka our breakfast spot in Znojmo where we ate everyday because it’s maybe the only place in town that serves “American style” breakfast in the form of a plate of eggs. Next my grandparents were a huge hit at my school where they had an official reception with the school headmaster and then met one of my favorite classes of students. We were only supposed to stay in the class for 15 minutes for them to introduce themselves and answer some questions, but we ended up staying for the whole 45! The students were so interested, which really goes to show the impact of how language can come alive with the cultures, history, and reality behind the grammar and vocabulary.
Our day continued in Brno where we went to the Villa Tugendhat. Historically, the Tugendhats, a wealthy Czech Jewish family, had this house constructed in the 1920s, yet were forced to abandon it to escape the Nazi aggression. Architecturally, the house is an amazing example of modernist minimalism and the architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, aimed to connect the interior and exterior in one free-flowing house structure. I’m not a huge fan of this architectural style, but the house is breathtaking and has an amazing view of the city. Our day concluded with watching a performance, front and center, of Flashdance the Musical in Czech, at the Městké Divadlo Brno. In the words of my grandparents, it was a day “we’ll always remember.”
A little over a week ago I was lucky to see the one showing of 12 Years a Slave at the Znojmo movie theater, the week after the Oscars. It was a full movie day as my students and I watched clips of the Oscars in the afternoon and then I met some of my fellow teachers that evening to watch this film. While I was hesitant and braced myself for an emotionally stomach-turning movie, I felt compelled to see the film after being invited by my Czech colleagues and knowing that an American best-picture winner on this topic was something important to see. Yet, despite all of my U.S. history courses on the horrors of slavery, I walked out of the theater as shocked and disturbed as the rest of the Czech audience, who aren’t conditioned to know about this topic as they grow up. In many ways, I felt embarrassed about such a dark and morally wrong part of our country’s history. However, as Jana responded, Czech people have similar things in their history that are even more recent. Although it was a tough movie to see, I understand why it won the Best Picture Award. The cinematography and camera angles were extremely and beautifully creative, the acting was amazing, and Hans Zimmer provided a moving score. According to my Czech colleague who studied about films, this made it more of a “European” style for her, than the typical American film. I would definitely recommend this movie and think it goes above and beyond other slavery/civil rights period films I have previously seen.
It’s hard to believe that I only have 3.5 months left. It is beginning to come as an inescapable topic of conversation both with regards to end of the school year things and questions about what I will be doing next. I cannot ignore that I will be going home, but at the same time I’m not ready to stop putting efforts into my relationships with people here. I can see in some students or teachers faces that the reality of my temporary place here is becoming more prevalent. Yet, each week brings hundreds of new opportunities to make an impact and break the language and cultural barriers I have been battling all year. The progress many of my students have made with their conversation skills and comfort levels is undeniable. I’m really so proud of them!
This past week we received notice that Obama’s new budget proposal for 2015 plans for a $30 million (13%) budget cut to the Fulbright Program. Although, Fulbright is marketed as the USA’s premier international exchange program, currently, foreign country partners pay a large amount of the funding. In the Czech Republic, the Czech Fulbright Commission and Czech government pays over half. In my opinion, the Fulbright Program is the best academic and cultural exchange, diplomacy, and international partnership program we have. It requires cross-cultural collaboration at the governmental, non-governmental, academic and individual levels. My year as a Fulbright secondary school English teacher in Znojmo, Czech Republic has been AMAZING for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of the wonderful students, teachers and new friends I’ve met here. If we look at the current political drama of Russia and Ukraine it is easy to see why forming these relationships and having representatives of the USA in post-Communist countries is extremely important. I truly believe it would be a terrible loss for the USA to give up on decades of international collaboration and the impact of seemingly small-scale personal connections that make this program so extremely successful. If you have enjoyed reading this blog, feel you’ve learned something about the Czech Republic, or simply believe in the power of travel please take the time to write to your Senate/Congress members before April 4 to revise this proposal!! Thank you! For more information click here.