There are fewer events to talk about this week since I included Krakow in my last post, so are a few things I’m so grateful for about being in Prague along with some reflection.
A few things I’m grateful for:
Learning about Dutch culture by talking to my friend Iris from Amsterdam whom I met in my surrealism in film class. We went to Cross Club (See week 3) and found a quiet corner to chat on the third floor of the rebar balcony structure. She shared some Dutch recipes, one being a rice dish cooked with milk, sugar, and cinnamon and another of potatoes and vegetables smashed together. We talked about relationships and the universe. She told me stories about her and her friends in high school. We swapped little lessons about our countries’ different cultures (me: LA film industry. Her: The Netherlands’ theater scene) and even our political systems. She is definitely a friend that I’ll keep in contact with when I leave Prague.
Taking informative, challenging, and incredibly interesting classes with brilliant professors. Although they are a lot harder than I was told they’d be (thought not quite as hard as they are at home), they are really rewarding! My Czech and Slovak film teacher is a teacher from the University of Chicago and teaches every film with a perfect balance of history and theory. My surrealism class is truly surreal–the teacher is always trying to blow our minds with his crazy emails (“Homework assignment 2: practise rebelling against all restraints on free creativity. [This should take you about 4 hours and 23 minutes with or without the help of a spoon. If you takes you longer, please consider seeing a doctor – or buying a better spoon.]”). I love film storytelling. I love surrealist film. I love talking about film. And I love that I get to watch and talk about film for most of my waking hours. It’s. Been. Awesome!
The low cost of living. Food is SO cheap. I get to cook using all of the produce that I want and don’t have to worry about possibly running out of cash by the end of the semester.
How international this city is. Germans, Dutch, Vietnamese, Americans, ALL kinds of people everywhere! On a given night, I can talk to people from three different nationalities and not leave that one pub.
Bread and cheese. Yes. It’s that simple.
And so much more, but I’ll save some gratitude for later posts.
WARNING: VULNERABILITY AHEAD.
So the honeymoon period is over and I’m more acclimated to living in Prague permanently–but not until after having a bit of an “adjustment period”. And by adjustment period I mean having kind of a hard time. Adjusting to new patterns of living, constantly having to overcome the language barrier, and facing the New Yorkesque standoffishness of Prague inhabitants towards foreigners makes for a vulnerable Nick. See? I even had to make up words to communicate that thought.
It is also a particularly fertile environment for homesickness. On the one hand, it has made me really excited for all of the plans and hopes that I have upon returning to Orlando, but at other times, I can’t help but feel guilty for thinking about home sometimes. I say to myself: “Are you crazy, Nick? Why are you wasting your time thinking about going home? It costs a lot of money to get you here! You are only going to be here for a nine more weeks! Stop being so weak!” And it doesn’t help when all of the study abroad administrators are pressuring us students to avoid spending too much time around Americans/Westerness and to constantly strive for Czech cultural immersion (which I’m still not totally sure is, but I’m confident it’s happening). But the truth is, most of my most gratifying moments here have been during awesome conversations with people (Americans and Europeans like) about things that may not explicitly have anything to do with culture. I’ve really loved connecting with people. So why should I feel guilty about being satisfied by what really gratifies me (talking to my Dutch friend Iris about the universe), instead of doing all of the cultural things that I *think* I should be doing (seeing each and every church in Prague)?
Another thought I had: what if talking to my friend from London about modern Western philosophies is also an engagement of culture (a culture that we share)? Instead of us having to solely guide the conversation towards talking about our cultural differences, is it okay for us to talk about our cultural similarities? By learning about our similarities, am I not also learning about his culture? Prague is, after all, a very Westernized city which has adopted lots of American culture, so to constantly seek out only the “Czech things” in this city might actually be a misrepresentative way of learning about it.
All of this to say…
I didn’t give up on Prague and I’m not going to spend all of my time in a Starbucks eating pizza all day.
In fact, I mean to do the complete opposite. By recognizing the similarities between Prague and American culture, I feel more confident in pursing Czech culture off the beaten path. And to prove it, here’s a list of Czech experiences I mean to brave in the coming week:
-Staying the night in StÅ™íbrná Skalice, a small Czech town, for a local music and folk dance festival this Saturday.
-Going for a day trip outside Prague to Pruhonice Park, castle, and botanical gardens, where there are the most idyllic spots for picnics in the universe.
-Visiting the various light exhibits around town during Prague’s Signal festival this weekend.
-Going to a concert by the band called Tycho at Roxy here in Prague tonight.
Some final notes:
I’m happy to not be alone in this.
Lots of other Americans that I’ve talked to about their uncomfortable adjustment periods have voiced similar concerns (“Am I doing enough?”), while I don’t think European study abroad students worry as much (because they live so close to other European countries already).
But not only do I feel connected to other Americans regarding the discomfort of going out of my comfort zone, but I also feel connected to all people who have had to travel or do something new and challenging.
Making stuff up as you go along. Trusting strangers. Taking risks.
We share in our fear and anxieties about the unknown.
And although at times I feel weak or inadequate for being uncomfortable as I adjust to new environments (“Why am I not okay right now?”), I remind myself:
Nick, if you’re always comfortable, you’re probably doing something wrong.
I remind myself that I’m SUPPOSED to feel off. I’m SUPPOSED to feel uncomfortable.
It’s NOT supposed to be easy.
All of the study abroad students who write blogs that only include perky, happy, and perfect moments of “growth” and “learning,” they’re either 1) not truly learning anything or 2) lying about always being happy.
True, extreme growth doesn’t happen unless you’re some sort of uncomfies. (I think).
All of this aside, I am extremely happy now. I’ve learned a lot and see that there is a lot left to learn.
But more than ever, I’m more comfortable now in knowing that I don’t know a lot.
And for that I am grateful,