May has meant official “spring” weather in Znojmo. The week I returned from Copenhagen was rainy and chilly, although apparently this is an annual event related to saints and like St. Martin’s Day in November, it signals the official coming of warm weather and the time to plant your flowers (according to Jana). Then, last week was sunny, gorgeous, and HOT! It was perfect for the main excitement of my week, which was that my best friend Shannon came to visit me 🙂
Although Shannon’s first trip to Europe began with a rainy, jet-lagged, and slightly ill weekend in Vienna, the rest of the week was jam-packed! We crossed off a few of my Znojmo Bucket List items, visited Brno, and generally spent a lot of time outside, enjoying the warm weather. I think my favorite day was Friday, Shannon’s last day in Znojmo. The day started with my first time going into the Znojmo underground—a really impressive 4-floor system that extends beneath the whole city center and was built as a defense against the Swedes invasion. We got to wear funny adventuring outfits for our “adrenaline tour.” Then the rest of the afternoon was spent tanning in my friend Hana’s pool and making summery food and drinks. In the evening we went to an open night at Znojmo’s small castle and then spent a long night celebrating with my students who finally passed their exams and are officially done with school. The students were fundraising all year for the party and took place in cave-like wine cellars with students, teachers, and A LOT of alcohol. Disclaimer that all my students are of legal age to drink and read on about Maturita to understand the reason for so much celebrating…
When Czech students finish high school they must pass their Maturita exam. The notorious Maturita has been something I’ve been hearing about ALL year, as this is really what their entire education comes to. Good grades, attendance, and participation for 4-8 years mean nothing if you fail a part of this exam. Students first spend a week doing the written portions of their subjects and then must pass oral examinations in Czech and two other subjects that took place last week. All week I watched students nervously sitting outside the examination rooms, hoping their weeks of preparation would be enough to respond to whatever random topic they might pull from the bag. For Maturita both teachers and students dress up formally for the exams with boys even wearing suits and ties. In the United States we really don’t have anything so formal, pressured, and determinative—even with the SAT/ACT you can still apply to college with a lower score. Meanwhile if they fail a portion of Maturita, Czech students can only apply to school with late start dates (after they can try again in September), or must wait another year before applying. Pretty scary!
Luckily, one of my students agreed to let me watch him do his English oral exam. I practically could recite the examiner’s instructions by heart after doing so many practice exams with students throughout the year. The topics for English range from talking about family to talking about things as specific as New York City or Shakespeare. My student confessed he was glad that he didn’t choose a topic about the United States when he knew I would be watching. However, some of the teachers told me the have learned some pretty interesting facts about the US during these exams, such as that the Statue of Liberty is in Washington DC or that the name “The Big Apple” for NYC comes from the fact that the first apple trees were there.
One of my most fun lessons that I have done twice in the past weeks is about the geography of the United States. Most Czech students do not know much beyond California, New York, Los Angeles and Miami. However, in these lessons I had each student choose a random state and then we did several activities based on their capitols and United States history. Finally, we all listened to the song “Fifty Nifty United States,” which you should check out if you’ve ever wanted to be able to sing all the states in alphabetical order 🙂
Another American geography lesson this week for the people of Znojmo came from my appearance in the local newspaper, “Znojemsko.” I was interviewed a few weeks ago (in Czech) about my experience here and the A1 Czech exam I took about a month ago. After a slew of double-checking and small drama, the last change was squeezed in right before the publication: New Jersey is NOT a city in the state of New York, and in fact, it is not a city at all! All year I have been correcting people about New Jersey being a state NOT a city and I couldn’t help but laugh at how defeated I would be if it came out in a newspaper in the wrong way. Luckily it was changed in the nick of time and hopefully some Czechs will stand corrected.
Why might you ask is NJ often confused for a city? The reason is hockey! Jaromír Jagr, the most celebrated and famous Czech player plays for the New Jersey Devils. And because most sports teams represent cities, it is assumed that NJ happens to be a city too. Hockey is the #1 Czech sport and this became extremely apparent last week because it was the World Hockey Championships. Apparently this is an event that takes place every year, which I had never known about. Yet, last week I quadrupled the number of hockey games I had ever watched in my life. First, I watched the Czech Republic beat France when at a really cool pivnice in Znojmo on Tuesday, watched them beat the USA with my students on Thursday, and finally I found myself voluntarily streaming the CZ vs. Finland match on my iPhone on Saturday. I guess I’ve changed my opinion on hockey, or rather I just got caught up in the most patriotic and nationalistic event I’ve seen since I’ve been here.
I remember back in January thinking how much time there was still to go. Then February hit and it seems like time has been slipping away since then. It’s truly hard to think about where the it has gone, especially, as I’ve reoriented my brain towards going home, finding a job, taking the GRE, and “figuring out my life.” At the same time, I’m trying to cherish every last moment I have in this wonderful place. There’s a lot going on. 1.5 to go…