Wow since my last post it seems like so much is happening and time just seems to be slipping through my fingers. I’m now officially less than one month away until my arrival back in the USA. Each day that starts out empty gets filled up and the little excitements have come to feel like just a normal Znojmo day at this point. I’m going to briefly recap my adventures of the last week or so, although to do the “last month” drama justice I think I would need a few hours that I can’t seem to find at the moment.
I finished the week of my last blog post with a really amazing experience heading off to the “school at the end of the road” in a small village called Břežany near Znojmo. The village literally has 2 shops and a lot of abandoned wine cellars from the post-WWII German expulsion. I had been invited a few months earlier by their English teacher to come and speak about the USA and to be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Yet, it turned out to be an amazing experience! Of course I spent each lesson introducing myself and talking about my family, home, NYC, WM etc. Many of the students had never met an American or a native English speaker for that matter. I knew I was a piece in the English teacher’s puzzle to motivate his students to see the value in English, but all the same seeing their excitement made me excited too. One of the greatest moments was in between classes a bunch of students came to the classroom and put on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and a cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” with the lyrics up on the screen and just sat and sang their lungs out. Their boldness was quite amazing and gave me goose bumps. Another awesome moment was when speaking to the entire school of elementary school students and one boy was so excited to translate what I said and even asked me to show him where Roosevelt Island and the Empire State Building were on the NYC map. While it’s always a bit weird to meet students like this just one time, I couldn’t help seeing some of my students from GPOA this year in the little faces of these smaller kids. Who knows how they’ll grow up…
That weekend was my friend Hana’s birthday for which she had a backyard BBQ. The weather was a bit chilly, but we enjoyed home cooked meet over a cool bonfire contraption. For me, it was quite an interesting cultural experience because English was not a language option at the party. My main options were listening to Hana’s friends speak Czech and attempt to communicate with my basic Czech or talk with Hana’s boyfriend who speaks Spanish. Needless to say it was pretty difficult and after 2 hours, my brain had turned to mush and I was a zombie. I definitely take for granted that I can get by with English in many places and now have a new appreciation for people who come from countries like the Czech Republic and must only speak a second or third language when traveling. It’s hard work!
Last Thursday was a great, yet random day. I arrived at school to find out that a group of Malaysians were there to tell us about their history and culture. The school went wild and I’m pretty sure most of the students and teachers now have a desire to move or at least travel to Malaysia. The people were really friendly and talking to them in small groups was really interesting. It was also cool to watch my students ask questions (in English) and learn about another culture after I had been telling them over and over about America all year long. Maybe I’ve destroyed the mystical wonder of the United States by beating it over their heads all year long. Yet, while I was proud of their insightful questions, I could see myself fading into the list of foreign visitors they’ve met throughout their lives. It was strange to walk around school knowing that I would probably never see a lot of their faces again.
The day continued at my student, Kate’s, house where I made traditional babovka and strudel with her and her sister Jana. It was really fun to cook, see their house, and share music and videos with them. Also, I loved seeing their father’s personal antique collection above their garage. I had no idea what to expect as we went up, but the entire loft was full of old motorcycles, irons, bikes, typewriters, photos, and documents. It was like being in an antique store, except that this one had personal value. There were photos of their family and working documents from the times of Nazi and Communist occupation. Downstairs there was even a 1950s Soviet jeep and cooking trailer. Pretty cool and a nice surprise for a Znojmo suburb.
In the evening I went with Kate to see the Malaysians perform a concert. I was expecting some more cultural exhibiting and traditional dancing, what we got instead was a Christian rock concert. I couldn’t help but laugh. Here I was in Znojmo, watching a Christian rock concert, performed by Malaysians, and surrounded by non-native English speakers all singing about Jesus in English. Before feeling super uncomfortable, I had to leave to go meet Hana and her boyfriend for our eating challenge of eating 2 baked pig knees for the grand price of $13. Only in the Czech Republic…
My latest adventures finish in Karlovy Vary this past weekend where I met 2 of my Fulbright friends. The city truly was beautiful and probably the closest other Czech city to the beauty of Prague. We enjoyed some solid Indian and Japanese food, went swimming in one of the famous lazněpools, went to the Becherovka museum, and sampled all the thermal spring fountains. Let me officially say that health does not always taste good. I think my favorite activity of the weekend was photographing our faces of disgust upon tasting each fountain. It was strange to really come full circle from our first Fulbright travel adventure then to the last. The next time we see each other we’ll all be back in the US. This mythical place we’ve been fantasizing about for 10 months.
It really has been a long and amazing year. I think the weirdest part about coming home is that the only time I really have been an independent adult was when I was across an ocean from everyone I knew. While it was hard at first, now it feels normal. And to be honest, 10 months later, it’s hard to remember what exactly I missed in the United States in the first place. Of course, I will look forward to seeing my family and friends, but I think the scariest part is to not know if after those initial reunions, will I be happy to be back? Will I feel like I’m finally getting home or that I’ve left it? As I’ve started to say my goodbyes and prepare for the ones that will be harder, I’ve come to realize that the hard goodbyes show us which experiences in our lives are really worthwhile. I think this has been the most worthwhile one yet.