Today marks one month since I returned “home” from my “homecoming” trip to the Czech Republic in September. The past 2 months have probably been the busiest in a while, with both a lot of positive change and not a lot of time to reflect and process it all. In the mix, my trip to the Czech Republic didn’t really feel like a trip at all and in the same way, it has become blended into my daily NYC life to the point where it doesn’t even register that an 8-hour airplane ride to another continent was a disruption or vacation.
I arrived in Prague amidst Czech humor on my flight from Munich and almost couldn’t believe it that after a year and 2 months I was back. Disbelief was a common feeling to the point that I almost felt like I was dreaming and had to keep reminding myself that I was actually living this experience. I had a lovely Airbnb host and took the opportunity to explore a slightly less familiar and up-and-coming part of the city, Žižkov, where I stumbled upon an American-run expat community center and was recommended amazing Czech pastries. Throughout my few days in my favorite city, I tried to blend the nostalgic with the unfamiliar by both visiting my favorite places and trying to see new things.
Most of all, my time in Prague was marked by great conversation. Essentially, my schedule for 4 days involved meandering around on my own interspersed with extended meals with different friends. Each meeting seemed to teach me a new lesson and touch a different point of my life. With my study abroad program and the Fulbright office, I was able to speak the language of international education and how my experiences in Prague have shaped my career path thus far. With friends who I had only previously met for one day before, we shared the happiness of fate that brought us together and the common perspectives of like-minded people facing the adjustment and excitement of living out of your comfort zone. Finally, with good friends I was able to catch-up and share life experiences, make jokes and exchange more information about what life could be depending on location. Walking around the city on my last night, I realized I am lucky to have such a beautiful place where I am lucky to know so many thoughtful people.
Going to Znojmo was another emotional roller coaster altogether. Driving into the city was a surreal mix of excitement, anxiety and calm. So much was the same and yet a whole year had gone by without me. Already the clock seemed to be ticking. While there were no grand ceremonies and my small plans to see everyone fell into place perfectly, the familiarity and happiness from the ordinary was strangely emotional. Sitting in my place at different family’s kitchen tables, watching “Mean Girls,” walking the dog, standing in line at lunch, sitting on the ledge looking over the river valley and hearing my name whispered around school hallways felt so normal, yet the moments passed by too quickly. I managed to see everyone and relive so many nostalgic experiences, yet felt dissatisfied. In terms of doing things, the familiarity distracted from the novelty of my visit, yet with people the realization that each meeting was only temporary overpowered and left an unsettling effect.
Overall though, every day was filled with so much happiness. Wednesday I went back to school, talked to my classes, had coffee with my teaching family and then went to dinner with my extended family. Thursday I went on a new day trip to Valtice, toured the chateau, had coffee with a good friend, walked around Znojmo in the calm, walked the fields by sunset and then watched “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 3D. Friday I visited my friend’s new English kindergarten and went on a beautiful walk through the fields and forest.
Then, Friday night brought the main event of the weekend and the Znojmo calendar year, Vinobraní or the wine festival. While 2 years ago I was so overwhelmed by the huge influx of people to the town, this time I had such a great time visiting with different friends throughout the festival. Mostly, it was great to have the chance to see some of the Moravian culture that I have been missing—cimbalka music, my students dressed in costumes for the parade and theatrical performances, famous Czech band performances (where I actually recognized some songs), typical Czech festival food and of course, all the wine-tasting. While some days I felt so much a part of everything, there were also the times where I naturally felt like an outsider. On the whole though, it was amazing to be back with so many good friends again making new memories to last another 2 (?) years.
Going back to my second home was definitely a bittersweet trip, however the thought of not going back seemed and continues to seem impossible. Most of all, traveling reminds me of all the things I still have to learn from the different people I meet around the world and also how much I am able to share. It’s hard to feel like I’m in two places at once, but I’m lucky to have both a home and doma, family and rodina, friends and kamarády that I can be with no matter the distance.