This week I had another great Znojmo and traveling week (do I sound like a broken record yet?). It’s hard to believe how fast time is flying and that the things that I had planned so far in advance are now happening and becoming the past. Even scarier is that the official three-months to go mark is approaching tomorrow. Znojmo really has become home, and a great one to come back to each time I leave for a week or weekend. After living in Virginia for 4 years for school and at home in NJ only for the summers, it’s hard to admit that this chapter is ending, given that there’s no specific place that I know to be my future home. As I start my job search, the big wide world seems quite overwhelmingly full of possibilities. Yet, I can practically assure that Znojmo will most likely never be my “home base” again. And that’s what makes the next less-than-3-month period stranger than ever.
Many of the Znojmo highlights of my week brought with them strong flashbacks of childhood and high school memories:
- American Baseball: Speaking of “home bases” this week I played baseball with my oldest class. Although, I didn’t realize they had never formally played before, they got the hang of it with just my minimal explanation of the rules. Interestingly, almost all of the students insisted on batting lefty, despite being right-handed. This was simply their instinct of how to hold the bat with no formal baseball coaching experience. I couldn’t help thinking back to the disorganized excitement of my GRAA in-town softball games when I was little—everyone running around and laughing with only half an idea of what to do.
- Easter Egg Hunt: For my American Culture Club this week, I organized an Easter egg hunt for my students and the two little girls who live above me. Shout out to my friend Afsoon for bringing the empty plastic Easter eggs from the US, since they don’t sell them here. My two little neighbors had the greatest time announcing, vajíčko, or little egg, every time they spotted an egg and bonbonky each time they opened an egg to find candy. While only one of my Czech high school students came for the hunt, I think her excitement almost equaled the two little girls. There’s just something about finding something and opening it up to find a surprise inside that equals universal happiness 🙂
- What Thing in the World Means the Most to you? This is a pretty daunting question to ask kids in their native language, let alone to ask the equivalent of tenth-grade students to answer in their second/third language. Watching the three-minute oral presentation and grading process of a class of my students was one of the most amazing and uncomfortable experiences. On the one hand, the students were unbelievably insightful. While I could only imagine Americans high school students in a Spanish class responding with familia or amigos, these students discussed their personal philosophies about happiness, love, friendship, health and even imperfection as the most important things to them. Their eloquence and insight was remarkable and there was no embarrassment for being vulnerable or personal. I can remember having assignments like this and spending hours trying to pick the right topic that would both be meaningful enough to get a good grade, yet superficial enough to look “cool” in front of the rest of my class. However in this class, if someone had picked money or their computer, they would have looked like a shallow fool. On the other hand, the Czech system of grading and feedback made me cringe. It is typical for teachers to openly and immediately critique students before deciding and announcing their mark to the entire class. Watching my students’ nervous delivery and composed acceptance of their grades brought me back to spending the whole day dreading having to public speak before class. I watched as this teacher gave the student some feedback, took a moment to think, and then assigned a grade—sometimes by asking the student or the rest of the class what they thought the appropriate mark should be. In the US, this would result in some student tears and a large number of parent phone calls…
My week was also quite theatrical in Znojmo with taking part in a spontaneous flashmob and going to see my student’s theater performance in the Znojmo Town Theater. Sometimes my life here feels like a fairytale, but this week it felt more like a feel-good musical.
And then the grand finale of my week was running MY FIRST HALF MARATHON!!!!!! After mentally deciding to do it the week before I arrived in the Czech Republic, 14 weeks of diligent training, waking up at 7:30am to run alone, running on snow and ice in 10 degree weather and running through the fields of Znojmo like a crazy person, I am done! The weekend was a really great experience with 3 friends to run with and my dad coming to watch and take part in the festivities. On Saturday we went to the sports fair to pick up our race documents and take part in all athletic hype and then went to the race pasta party in the gorgeous Vienna Rathaus. Then the race was Sunday with more than 40,000 participants for the half marathon, full marathon, and relay marathon. The atmosphere was amazing and while the middle miles were tough, it was so nice to have friends by my side and the beautiful sights of Vienna all around. My legs are definitely in pain today, but to be done feels great!!!
Out of all the happy and encouraging messages I got yesterday, one of my favorites was from Jana, who is essentially my Czech mom. Within a few hours of finishing the race, she had already looked up my finishing time and place and congratulated me on being a “brave American girl.” Most people who know me know I would rarely describe myself as being “brave” or even typically “American” for that matter. Yet, doing this half marathon maybe did have something to do with the quintessential notion of American hard-working optimism: that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything.
Training for this brought me back to my one year on my high school lacrosse team when going for a “long run” of 3 miles felt impossible, and my coaches made me feel invisible. Ever since then, my running distance maximum was an 8K and that 14-year-old defeat was always present when trying to run. However, thanks to my inner American spirit, I had no doubt that if I worked for it, I could run the full 13.1 miles yesterday. While I think I’ll stick to running for fun now, I feel lucky to have grown up in a culture and with a mindset that has taught me to believe in myself and to believe that anything is possible.