A Taste of Home

North Laine, Brighton

Since my last post, I have been closer to home both in my activities and in my literal location. It started 2 weeks ago with a really awesome week of teaching. On Tuesday I had a day where I literally couldn’t help thinking: I have THE COOLEST job ever!! This was my day:

  • Woke up at 7:30am and went for my last early morning run before my half marathon (this Sunday April 13th!)
  • Learned some Czech in my weekly Czech lesson
  • First lesson: taught my students how to play American football
  • Second lesson: taught my students how to make animal sounds in English (they’re actually different in a lot of languages—who would’ve known?)
  • Celebrated “Teacher’s Appreciation Day” with my lovely colleagues, coffee, cake, and (of course) Moravian wine

Teaching my students to play football was probably one of the most hilarious things, especially having not seen many of them outside of the English classroom, let alone doing something athletic. They actually got the general flow of the game down, but there was a lot of frantic throwing and running with the ball. Also at one point, one team’s defense involved making a chain and storming the opponent. Needless to say we all were laughing a lot and I had a lot of fun blowing my “rape whistle” (thank you WM Greek Life) and being the referee. My “school week” finished up with my weekly American Culture Club meeting where we made grilled cheese sandwiches. In Czech culture, “grilled cheese” literally means putting some type of cheese on the grill and sandwich bread is really rarely used in general. The meeting had really great turnout so now I’ve determined that American food is really the way into my students’ English speaking brains.

With my fellow Janas on the Callais-Dover Ferry
With my fellow Janas on the Callais-Dover Ferry
A British Scone and American Coffee, Worthing
A British Scone and American Coffee, Worthing

Then this week was the much-awaited school trip to England that I literally first learned about the day I arrived in Znojmo, 7 months ago. Our group included 4 Czech teachers (all named Jana), 2 North Americans, 2 Czech bus drivers who knew little to no English, and 2 full buses of Czech teenagers for our journey of two 22 hour bus rides and 6 days in England. Being in England was slightly surreal. I think the most exciting thing was being in an English speaking country! The fact that I could talk to people, eavesdrop, read signs, and actually communicate felt amazing. The next most exciting thing was food. I ate a bagel, had spicy Indian food, a soft cookie, Reese’s peanut butter cups, eggs Benedict for BRUNCH, and a salad called “California Sushi Rice Salad with Oak Smoked Salmon.” Come to the Czech Republic and you’ll understand my excitement.

Millenium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral
Millenium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral
Big Ben and Parliament
Big Ben and Parliament
Pondering Racial and Gender Identity at the Tate Modern
Pondering Racial and Gender Identity at the Tate Modern, Lona Simpson

And lastly, the 2 days we spent in London were splendid. While I was sure to cynically compare everything about the city to the far-superior New York, I cannot deny that something about being in a city just gets me. I love people watching, cute shops and restaurants, street performers, the diversity and variety, the motivation to be doing something, and ultimately, the possibility of stumbling on something, someone, or somewhere awesome. For example, I happened to notice a poster for a free exhibit of photos focused on the rebirth of Rwanda, shot by Rwandan photographers. The photos were beautifully inspiring and now I have learned about and formed a new interest in a place I’ve never known much about before. Pretty cool.

Czech Students Flocking towards the Sea
Czech Students Flocking towards the Sea, Hastings

While these were some of the highlights of my trip, it was particularly interesting to see a different culture (especially one so similar to home) through the eyes of my Czech students and colleagues, many of these whom I had never seen outside of the English classroom. Naturally, a lot of them were shy and extremely hesitant to speak. However, what was most interesting was to see what made them the most excited and what was the most shocking.

  • Excitement: Primark (a store of cheap and trendy clothing which was the first stop in almost every place we went), Bookstores (I can name 3 students who bought the Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes in English), McDonalds, Burger King and KFC, England souvenirs, the outside of the 221 Baker Street Sherlock Holmes Museum (to quote the words of one student, “I can die happy now”)
  • Shock: Eating a smaller lunch and big dinner, modern skyscrapers in London, the number of people in London, people of color

Yet, I think I can say that something in common was that we were all super enthused to see the sea.

Look at my Science Project Mom!
Look at my Science Project Mom!
The HMS Warrior, Portsmouth
The HMS Warrior, Portsmouth
Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

The week was spent traveling to the Southern cities of Hastings, Worthing, Portsmouth, Salisbury, and we even got to see Stonehenge. During these days we stayed in homestays in Worthing and then would go on afternoon trips. My Canadian friend Elizabeth and I stayed with an experienced international student host family comprised of a British man, Japanese woman, and their 2-year-old son. After they adjusted to the surprise that we were not Czech, I think they were still equally fascinated by our North American cultures. Yasuko, our “host mom,” was particularly interested in the multicultural nature of the US and Canada. Like in the Czech Republic, Japan is pretty uniform in the culture, background, and appearance of its people. She even mentioned how when her brother first visited England, he was shocked to see people simply socializing at work. Our British “host dad” had some interesting perspectives about the diluting of national culture through immigration and through the integration of the European Union. I had never really thought about the true local British culture before, given that in my mind this country is so similar to the US. It was hard to relate given the lack of uniformity in the US—in addition to the diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds that are present in our country, even the different regions in the US have drastically different cultures and lifestyles. This fact comes up a lot when I’m teaching, and while it seems so normal to Americans, it is really a foreign concept to Czechs, Japanese, and many people who come from such historically rooted and concentrated cultures.

As a semi-chaperone on this school trip, I couldn’t help but notice the drastic differences between American school trips and this Czech school trip. In general, the relationships between students and teachers in the Czech Republic are much more open and honest than in the US. This meant a lot more freedom on the trip than I ever experienced as a high school student. In each town we went to in England, including London, the students had 2-5 hours of free time. This meant literally setting loose almost a hundred, Czech students, some of whom have very poor English and many of whom have never been to a major city before, with a simple meeting time and location to come back. Luckily, there were little to no major incidents, but I could not imagine this kind of trust in the US. Maybe this is because I am a child of 9/11 paranoia, but we were barely taken 2 hours away from school, let alone to another country or even to NYC. My only high school field trips included extracurricular Model UN conferences, where we were in major cities, yet spent most of the weekends in hotel conference rooms. When we asked the principal to consider going to an international conference, he told us not to even bother trying. While I’m still not sure how much education the Czech students got from our England trip, I can only imagine that their vocabulary and global awareness at least expanded a little bit. One of the Czech teachers asked me, for your French or Spanish classes in the US, do you travel to Canada or Latin America? I couldn’t help but laugh. Quebec could be a possibility, but the thought of most typical American parents signing off on their children to go to Mexico and immerse in the local culture seemed pretty funny. Maybe some sort of trust in travel could help revive American students’ interest in global education and foreign languages, which are only becoming more important in the globalized world today.

To leave you with a funny story…

One month ago the Janas of my office told me that 2 students who are in a relationship requested to live together in the host family. I thought this was crazy (never would be allowed in the US), yet their parents, teacher, and the travel agency all gave permission. When they arrived in the host family, the girl of the couple asked the host mother, “Do you have any pets?” since she is allergic to cats. However, the British woman heard this as, “Do you have any beds?” The British woman took the 2 Czech students to see the bedrooms and asked them, “Are you two cousins, or brother and sister?” When they replied that they were dating, the woman was horrified. She promptly called the travel agent and requested for them to be moved to another family.

I guess when it comes down to it, grammar and vocabulary are nice, but pronunciation is really the most important language skill 🙂

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2 thoughts on “A Taste of Home

  1. So happy the trip was fun. How was the bus ride??? Before you know it, your next guests will be arriving. Love gma

  2. Dear Marielle, I found this most recent post particularly exciting and interesting. I think it had to do with the immediate juxtaposition of the life you have been immersed in and a world made accessible simply because of language… To read and hear and speak English must have been an amazing flashback…a memory jogged. At any rate you r amazing. Uncle Steve loved it as well.

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