Week 5: A New Definition of Culture and a Weekend in Poland

Published:

Countries

Demographics

Majors

Regions


Hi there! 

Check out this week’s highlights and recommendations for what’s awesome in Krakow, Poland and Prague, Czech Republic.

What I did this week:

I watched Swan Lake at the Prague State Opera. Absolutely. Incredible.The costumes, dancers’ precision, and the orcheastra’s playing were completely mind-blowing. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to witness world-class ballets, operas, and theater here in Prague for the price of a Whopper per show.

Went on a Prague tour given by a very intelligent, hilarious, poetry-loving tour guide throughout the streets at night. Oh. And he’s homeless. With the Pragulic tour company, me and friends were given the chance to see Prague through the eyes of the homeless. He told us his story about how he became homeless (a messy divorce and a series of floods that inundated Prague up to fourteen feet deep in 2002). He shows us this cheap, pay-by-the-month community office space where he survived the past dozen winters, paid for by scouring Prague’s trash for discarded books, which he refurbished in his workshop and sold to second-hand book stores. He gave us an alternative history lesson about various buildings and statues around Prague and he showed us into this very cozy, neighborhood pub where one of his favorite authors used to write. This guy is absolutely, hands-down, the most interesting person I’ve met so far.

I may also have a chance to volunteer with the Mezipatra film festival! This is a queer and transgender-themed film festival taking place here in Prague where I’m really hoping to contribute my English-speaking abilities, meet interesting people, and of course also get in a free movie or two!

I toured around Prague and visited St. Nicholas Church. More beautiful, ridiculous churches with histories of wealth, violence, and praise. I’ve attached some pictures here because I feel they speak much more loudly than words can.

I went to Krakow, Poland and visited Auschwitz and Birkenau over the weekend. I usually have a hard time grasping the gravity of what happened during the holocaust (understanding it as more than just history). But during this trip, I began to see Nazi prejudice against Jews in terms of present day prejudice against minorities–it felt much more real to me. It made me feel grateful in a lot of ways, one of which was a very physical feeling. After seeing the starved and naked bodies of these prisoners, I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky I am to have a strong, healthy body. And lots of other thoughts and ideas that I’m processing.

 

The city of Krakow was incredible and fun, albeit a little touristy. Here is what I did this weekend in a nutshell:

            -Rented a bike and rode along the river to the Jewish quarter’s flea market where I bought a silver ring and delicious Polish food.

            -Sang karaoke in a local bar and sand American classics next to some Polish ones too.

            -Visited the Wieliczka Salt Mines and journied 36 stories underground for a tour through the trails and a chapel.

            -And of course, saw tons of churchs, cathedrals, a giant castle on a hill, and the royal crypt, where tons of Polish royalty is buried.

And I’ve met so, so, so many people that have each changed my world in slightly different ways:

A costume girl for comercials in Prague–her last gig was for Stela Artois *fingers crossed she gets back to me about helping me be a production assistant on her next job*.

Jirka, a Czech friend with whom I’m ready to consider a fifth brother. We’ve played ping-pong, talked for hours about film and philosophy, and danced—the basic requirements for being a brother of mine.

A German friend named Tobias whom I roomed with in Poland. A student of psychology in Frankfurt, he is incredibly smart, caring and incredible curious. We’ve had some awesome conversations.

Big lesson of the week:

Remember when I said that I was starting to get Czech culture?

I changed my mind. Or rather…

I’ve changed my definition of culture.

The more I learn about this city (and others), talk to its people, and walk its streets, the more I understand that culture is not something as static as I thought. To understand a country’s culture isn’t to understand a series of stereotypes that reflects a majority of its inhabitants. Countries have hundreds or even thousands of different kinds of cultures in art, business, circles of friends, families, etc. that all interact with each other. Prague culture is different from Brno culture. Different Prague neighborhoods have different culture. I would even go so far as to say that even different families have their different culture, influenced by the city they live in and the city’s they’ve been to, the people they’ve met, and a thousand other elements.

To immerse yourself in a city’s/person’s/street’s culture, I think, is partially a matter of being a part of its minutiae: standing beside someone on the tram, paying for bread and cheese at the store, listening to a snipper of violin playing on the street. How do people interact with their children? Do people kiss on the street?

The other half of really understanding a city/country’s culture, I think, is understanding its history, whether it be through literature, music, theater, or history books. Being able to draw comparisons between these two experiences of culture (history and present) is what makes study abroad so important.

You can understand a culture through books and you can see it being played out on its streets.

To end, I wanted to share some new questions that I’ve been reflecting on A LOT recently regarding my own sense of culture. These came up as a result of my shift in understanding.

What does it mean to me to be an American?

How is the culture of the city I grew up in (Miami, FL) different from the rest of American culture? How has that influenced (or even limited) my tiny perspective of my country? What about the city I was born in (Asheville, NC)?

If I had to show someone a representative example of “American culture”, where would I take them? Miami or Asheville? What would I show them? What would I feed them?

If I say that I am proud to be an American, what am I saying I am proud of? The actions of its government? Or the actions of its people?

So many questions.

Very few answers.

…for now.

Hope for elucidate them in later blog posts.

Thanks for reading!

Nick