Week 4: From Small-Town Moravia to Charles University Internationalism

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This week I went on a weekend trip to Moravia and started classes at Charles University.

Whelp. That was weird to write.

What I Experienced:

My Moravia experience in three phrases: breath-taking churches, abundant wine, and cave-exploration. Let me start by saying that I’m not really a wine person at all, but having the chance to do a wine tasting in a winery run by a family of vineyard owners was extraordinary. The owner, in his broken English, did his best to step us through the process of making wine, even showing us an older technique using a man-powered press. At night, we had dinner in a nearby restaurant, where we feasted on local food, got a quick lesson in Moravian dance moves by our assistant program director, and did our best to learn a traditional love song. This night was definitely among my favorites. The following day, we visited the Pearl of Moravia, which is 100% definitely the most beautiful church I’ve ever been in (see photo!). After a brief tour through the city of Brno (the second-largest in the Czech Republic), we had a chance to wander a bit through its version of Prague’s Wenceslas Square, stopping by a collection of local stands serving wine, food, and desserts (I was still overflowing from the previous night’s cheese-a-thon). 

-Here’s one experience I had that my program director described as “typical Moravian”: at one local restaurant that our American group stopped at for food, one of the students asked for ketchup. Within twenty minutes, there were two brand new bottles of ketchup circulating our tables. It turns out that the restaurant didn’t have any ketchup on hand (these are tartar sauce people), but instead went for a quick grocery run to pick some up, just for us! It seems that the Southern hospitality stereotype in the states has some serious competition from the Moravian hospitality stereotype.

Afterwards, we got back on the bus, drove into the mountains, and went for a stroll through a collection of underground caves called Moravian Karst (see photo! Outdoor cavern photo: they were actually playing intense choral music through speakers for dramatic effect for this photo). I was pretty blown away, particularly while going on a boat tour through an underground river. For anyone visiting Prague or the Czech Republic, I would definitely recommend visiting the areas surrounding the city of Brno, as it is a pretty different experience.

I’m absolutely loving all of my classes and teachers. I don’t know if it’s the school or the department, but almost every single one of my teachers is some kind of special genius in their field. I couldn’t be happier. My photography teacher was a Fulbright professor, worked in diplomacy, was a translator for Václav Havel (the first president of the Czech Republic and a national icon), but is now a professional photographer. My Soft Skills in Social Psychology teacher is a life coach and an amazingly good listener (my favorite class so far). My Czech and Slovak Cinema teacher knows pretty much everything about everything. We had a great conversation about Czech folklore today. And my Surrealism in Cinema teacher makes us do these interesting exercises in story telling and psychoanalysis to help push us farther off our rockers (in a good way). The classes are also much more demanding that I expected; I’ve often heard that courses while studying abroad are easier—that is totally not the case this semester.

-Continued to become acquainted with the city. Played table tennis with some friends from around Europe (and one Thai guy). Went to a film screening for the Nordic Film festival and saw a Finnish romantic comedy (it was VERY interesting). Did laundry in the dorm laundry room and hang dried my clothes for the first time (I think this might be an energy-saving technique that I’ll take home with me). And so much more…

What I learned:

-I noticed that the locals I met here in Moravia tended to be nicer than the ones I have come in contact with in Prague. This is probably because Prague is a large urban city and is probably sick of tourists all the time. A Londoner named Josh said that, in his experience, Prague people at work are much less pleasant than when they are at play. I guess that makes a lot of sense anywhere, although, because a lot of the customer service jobs here are less tip-based, maybe there is less incentive for Prague waiters and barristers to act happy all the time.

-Here’s how I met Josh after my Surrealism in Cinema class one night. I paced out onto the front of the Charles University steps and found a group of fellow classmates smoking cigarettes in a huddle nearby talking about the class. I struck up a conversation with Valentina, an Italian girl studying philosophy and she voiced how she wasn’t a fan of the Czech and Slovak Cinema teacher. A few minutes into the conversation, I realized that I’d been walking along beside her down the street, along with the rest of the group. I had some idea of where we were going. Some banter, a few crosswalks, and a discussion about surrealism in everyday life later, we arrived at a pub and I sat down at a table with my classmates: two from Iceland, two from Italy (unrelated), a Polish guy, a Londoner (Josh), a Spaniard, and a girl from Croatia. Half of us majored in film, the other, in philosophy. I felt extraordinarily privileged to be among such diverse, yet like-minded thinkers. Despite the bumps and bruises from running into the language barrier a few times, the conversations were great, particularly when recognizing things in common. The girl from Croatia mentioned how she learned a good bit of her English by watching American cartoons like Adventure Time without Czech subtitles. I responded that kids in the United States kind of learn the same way.

Aaaaaaaaaaadventure time!