People tend to say that the last few weeks/days you spend in any place tend to have a golden glow around them. You do everything you wished, see the people you love most, and eat everything with no guilt. Maybe my last week in Znojmo/Czech Republic felt amazing because of the “leaving effect,” but I really think it felt amazing because it’s a place I really enjoy living and with people who I really connect, despite language and cultural barriers. So, here were the highlights of my last week.
Monday-Friday from 8:30am-5:30pm I worked at my friend, Tereza’s, Indian Summer Camp. Czech people are strangely fascinated by Native American culture and it shows up in the number of Western films playing on TV, characters in advertisements, and even a theater performance of some of my students. I am by no means an expert of Native American culture, yet I had to laugh at how stereotypical our Indian theme camp was; we wore feather headbands, painted tribal marks on our faces, built a totem pole and even had a really huge teepee. The summer camp was also centered on learning English so we mainly spoke English to kids ranging from 2-11 years old of all different levels. There were Alexandra and Eliška who had an American father, or Anna whose Czech mother raised her with British/American/Czech English, Kašpar with a Czech father but lives in Norway, or little 3-year-old Elinka who was too shy to even speak Czech. So while the kids were picking up on some English, I definitely picked up on some new Czech vocabulary I didn’t quite learn while teaching in a high school. I now know that musím čurát means, “I need to pee,” skakát means, “to jump up and down repeatedly,” but this is definitely not to be confused with kakát, which means “to poo.”
In comparison to any American summer camp, the Czech Republic did not fail me again in the lack of uptight rules and restrictions that would need to be followed. For 12 kids we were 5 adult counselors, but none of us were lifeguards and I’m not sure if anyone was even CPR trained. Yet, we all swam in the river, played games, did crafts, made string bracelets and no one got hurt. Also, especially because the first days were extremely hot, most of the kids spent almost the entire day naked. Boys, girls, little kids, older kids, everyone just took their clothes off, went swimming, and then continued to walk around free and wild. Overall, it was really fun to “be a kid” for the week and even though some of the kids could barely understand me, it was a perfect way to spend time with my fellow counselor friends and distract myself from the gravity of leaving.
Wednesday was the start of Znojmo’s annual classical music festival and I’m really glad I was at least able to catch the beginning of the 2-week event. Each year the festival focuses around a specific composer for the theme and the grand event is an opera by that composer that is performed for the first time in the Czech Republic. While I will be long gone before the opera, I was happy to attend the opening night event, a Řiční Koncertduring which the Brno Philharmonic performed 3 Czech compositions about 3 different rivers with the grand finale being an original composition for this event about the Morava river of Moravia, by the entirely tattooed previous presidential candidate, Vladimír Franz. The entire evening was really great, I took Jana as my date and my student and friend who works for the festival helped me arrange the tickets. The concert took place near the big, and old Louka Monastary, which also happens to be right next to Znojmo’s river. The music was truly beautiful and it was really special to hear such famous Czech compositions performed in my Czech hometown and surrounded by people I have come to know and love. In a room of 900 I looked around to see dozens of familiar faces from students, to fellow teachers, to random people from around town; pretty different than 10 months ago, if I had attended the same event. The catchphrase of the festival is appropriately, festival jak víno, or “festival like wine.” As I listened to the music, drank my Znojmo wine (with an extra glass from my the guy sitting next to me), and looked around I really just felt happy to be in such a wonderful place.
My musical week continued with my friend Tereza’s awesome organization of a drumming event for Znojmo. I really had no idea what to expect and as the weather fluctuated all day, the stress of weeks of planning was starting to show. In the end, the event was amazing! It ended up being in the Louka wine cellar with dozens of people sitting in a circle and learning how to drum and make music with the instruction of one guy. We each had a small drum and a tuned plastic pipe that when we all played different rhythms sounded like a pretty cool song. After the exhaustion of the week at camp and feelings about leaving, it truly was one of those things that just makes you feel united with all of humanity. I’ve realized that when you are speaking to people from other languages or specifically certain things when translated from Czech sound super cheesy or weirdly deep when you say them in English. Maybe it’s because when you’re fighting a language barrier you just have to be more direct or maybe it’s just the fear in American of being vulnerable. But in the words of my friend Hana, “there was just this crazy energy in the room.”
And so began my last 36 hours in Znojmo, which was all clichés of golden and perfect. My last night out started with a part of the music festival that included one of my student’s traditional cimbalka groups, seeing lots of familiar faces around the festivities, and watching fireworks with some of my best and most amazing Znojmo friends in the square. The night then went quite late, but included an amazing group of friends speaking English, Czech, Spanish, and even German, drinking Czech beer, singing, dancing in the street, and general happiness. As I looked around I couldn’t help but smile. To think that when I first arrived I started with one person and somehow met all these wonderful people who were out that night and enjoying each other’s company simply because they all had one person in common, me. I don’t know if they’ll even see each other again, or how much I will talk to everyone, but it was a great night where I looked around and after 10 months finally felt like I belonged. To anyone who is out on a similar solo adventure, it takes time to make a network, but be patient because once it’s there it’s made of strong people.
Then to carry on the wonderfulness, my last day in Znojmo was appropriately bittersweet. I first walked around the city with Jana and family and ate lunch at one of Znojmo’s best restaurants, La Casa Navarra. I then had coffee with 3 of my best friends at my favorite coffee shop and really everything felt normal. We had normal conversation and talked as if there wasn’t anything that would change as soon as we got up to pay. Yet, once we left and I had to say goodbye to one, the tears just started to come. As we made my last walk around town to the castle and rotunda and cathedral and lookout over the river I just couldn’t stop. It was crazy to think how much has happened in a year and how far I’ve emotionally come since my first weeks looking at the same places and that soon they would all be so so far away. Znojmo didn’t feel like home at first at all and then by the end it felt like so much more than that. Once I gave in to leaving the center to go say goodbye to Hana’s parents we went to her house and I became slightly less of a sad mess. We spent our last hour sitting at the back of her yard, behind her vineyard just talking until it started to rain. And then there was a rainbow and we laughed at just how cliché could everything get. Finally, my tearful last day ended with a lovely evening with Jana’s family with a typical Czech barbeque, listening to Czech radio, and getting excited about their trip soon to the USA!!!
My last Czech 36 hours were spent back where all of my adventures began, in Prague. While I had planned to sentimentally walk around, I actually just ended up passing the time there as if I was going to be there for the rest of my life. I was able to grab sushi for dinner with a friend from my study abroad program who just arrived to live in Prague and teach English for the infinite near future. It was strange after not seeing her for almost 2 years and being at opposite ends of the living abroad timeline. We then hung out with 2 of our Czech friends from our semester in Prague as we all watched Germany beat Argentina in the World Cup final. The atmosphere was definitely charged and there was quite an international group gathered at the huge biergarten to watch. My awesome Czech friend who was my host for the 2 days introduced me to two of her friends who were quite international themselves and instead of dwelling on the past, I spent my last 24 hours doing new things with entirely new people. For my last day I went to my favorite coffee shop and ate my favorite stereotypically Czech dinner, but also just went to the movies, celebrated Bastille Day with my new French friends at a French festival, and sat in the park for a picnic and talked for several hours. We were a group of American, Czech, Australian, Swiss, and French girls who all happened to be in Prague for various reasons. It was so interesting to listen to them talk about their various world experiences and places they’ve lived, interests in film-making, one of the girl’s family relationship to Miloš Forman, and generally just bond over our love of that one amazing city. The only difference was that while they were all staying for the time being, the clock was silently ticking for me to leave again.
Then began my hell of a return home. I won’t go into so much detail but in the course of about 30 hours I had 2 cancelled flights, 1 delayed flight, 2 successful flights, was in 4 different airports, in 3 different countries, in 2 capital cities, had 2 lost bags, 1 $12 taxi ride in the CR vs. 1 $85 taxi ride in the USA, spent the night in DC, slept for probably a total of 12 hours, and finally took at 3 hour train from DC to Newark. The main outcome was that I survived and my bags at least finally showed up a day later at my house in NJ.
Thank you to everyone who stuck with me over the past 11 months! I have loved reading all of your comments and sharing my journey with you. While I mainly wrote this blog as a way to stay sane and give myself something to do, it has ended up being really helpful for me to stay in touch and remember and reflect on my year. Lookout for my next post about reverse culture shock and hopefully many more adventures to come!