Written by Kylie Fuller (Johns Hopkins University)
Central European Studies in Prague, Student Correspondent, Spring 2013
Part of the requirement for being in the CET program is that all students in Central European studies and Jewish Studies must take Czech twice a week for the entire semester. This class is to be preceded by a weeklong intensive Czech class. I have taken Spanish for most of my education career, so how hard could this be? It turns out that Czech is very hard. We sat down our first day of intensive Czech to meet our teacher, Jiří. He was tall, friendly, and extremely good at Czech.
Only half of us were in this room, while the other half met their new teacher on the other side of the building. We were handed our new Czech workbooks, and began right away. Although the letters were the same as the English ones, they had funny accent marks on them and made sounds we swore our mouths were physically incapable of making. Stressed, we tried to pronounce words with three or four consonants in a row. It would be an understatement to say it was unsuccessful. As hard as it was, after a week of class 4 hours a day, we could count to 100, say hello, and order food. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a HUGE accomplishment.
As the semester went on, our class grew closer over the hardship of learning this language. We finally got to the point where we could say a few sentences, so I tested them out on my Czech Buddy, Denisa. She could not understand a word I said, and when she replied it was a similar situation. Frustrated, we decided to stick to English.
Although that attempt was unsuccessful, when my mom came to visit over Easter I got to show off a few of my new skills. I ordered food for them in restaurants, and pretended to speak to a guy at one of the booths at a farmers market. I say pretend because I had no idea what he was saying, but just continued to nod and smile and say “Ano” which means yes. Although it probably didn’t fool him, my mom and my brother stared at me with wide eyes of amazement. My brother asked me what I had said, so I had to make up an elaborate story. Luckily they were only in town for the week, so I was never caught!
When finals came around, everyone started to panic about the Czech final. Although we had now been taking the language for over 4 months, it still felt as like all we could do was say hello and order food. I can barely even count to ten anymore! Students were furiously studying the week before the test, worried that once we began to take it that everything we learned would disappear.
Our class was lucky that we only had a written test, and it went much better than expected! It turns out I remembered more than I thought I did, which was a huge relief. The other Czech class had a written and an oral exam, and they were not happy about having the latter. I’m not sure how my grade would have turned out if my class had had an oral component. I have tried a few more times to communicate with my Czech Buddy, all of which have continued to be unsuccessful.
I am glad I have learned another language as difficult as this one, but it leaves me wondering if I will ever have a need for it again!
Hello interested internet readers!
The events, memories, and experiences are growing exponentially by the day. Each day I experience something new, and there is something refreshing about a place where you can always discover something new (Mind you, the size of it is sometimes also be overwhelming). We have finally developed a pattern. Our days have a certain rhythm that we have become familiar with, but as familiar as the routine days are becoming, surprises are just as frequent. Allow me to elaborate:
We attend formal classes five days a week: Chinese for two hours in the morning and other elective courses in the afternoon. I hope that as you read this, your mind does not stray to the routine college classes where you can sleep in if you want to, you weigh out how many quizzes you can drop or time you can become “sick”, you can camouflage in a class full of students and day dream…no. It’s a natural mistake, as I also expected at least some of the routine college classes when I arrived here, but it has not been routine- organized and logical, yes- but not ordinary in the least. It is any scholar’s paradise: small classes, teachers at your disposal, and the freedom to think independently. This is what waits behind the mystical doors of Beijing.
The other weekend we went- by ditie, of course- to Tiananmen Square (天安门). The fantastic thing about China is how the past meets the present, or I guess, a better way to say it would be, the past is, in fact, still the present (or the present is still the past, you understand)- “古今并存”. We read about Tiananmen in out Beijing in the 21st Century class and it was interesting then but still just “history.” It was when we stepped inside of Tianmen that it all came together and the reality of the events hit.
Besides academia, there is also stardom in Beijing. Go anywhere, practically, and become famous instantly. At Tiananmen Square, after being there for no more than ten minutes, three men- one a paid photographer- walked up to me and asked to take a picture with me. I looked around awkwardly at first, but then agreed. I mean…this was my Beyoncé moment! The photographer took a few pictures, my friends took a few pictures, and I stood, awkwardly making the peace sign, in between two men that looked like just ordinary businessmen. After that, at least four other people came up asking for a picture of my classmates and I, either with them, or, as one old lady did, picture-after-picture directly in my face.
Later on in the day we took a stroll with our teacher, David Moser- who is “nearly a house name in China” (a Chinese person’s words not mine)- to have lunch in Qianmen. After lunch, we found my favorite street sweet… tanghulu! This is truly an underappreciated delicacy in the world! Perhaps I’ll bring it back to the states? At the least, anyone who hasn’t tried it and has a taste for the sweeter things of life MUST get a hold of this! It can be found on most street corners in China; just listen for someone calling it out or look for the sticks!
Carpe diem is true here. I wake up strangely early (I am not a morning person at all.) It may be because I have an awesome roommate? Or maybe the delicious zhou and baozi that await me in the Muslim cafeteria each morning? Or both?… Either way, I wake up early to grab a delicious breakfast with my roommate and study a little before Chinese class.
The roommates and people we are meeting here in China are the best. This past Sunday we went to “farm” and BBQed with our roommates. The morning started off slowly as we had to wait for people to get dressed (or wake up), but once it began, it was a blast from beginning to end! We rode- 14 students, hip-to-hip and one person on my lap- almost an hour to arrive at the BBQ place, where we found pool, ping pong, badminton, and plenty of food. The roommates began work on the grills and soon everyone was grilling food, passing it around for others to try their creation. It was the perfect picture of an international family reunion!
We have been asked by countless Chinese students to help them with their English. I love these opportunities! I am not only able to help someone else improve in an area where I am comparatively more proficient, but I make a new friend out of it and get a Chinese study buddy too. I think that this is important to do anywhere you go: interact with the locals, make friends, and engage in cultural and linguistic exchange!
Some of my classmates teach English to older people in and around Tuanjiehu on Fridays. That program has a brother-program on Sundays that I attended last Sunday…talk about a great time. For two hours we were able to talk and share stories with people of all ages. One five and a half year old girl told English stories in front of the group that would have put child-Omega to shame. An older guy named Bill kept conversation constantly moving and even acted out a meeting with a foreigner on the ditie for the rest of the participants. It was a fantastic time!
China is a fascinating place full of wonder and many discoveries. The city would be dull to me, however, if it wasn’t for the aforementioned people and events. My days have been full on much joy. Of course I feel homesick; I believe that this is especially true because so many things here I would love to share with my family, but my community helps me push through it. I am building a new family here in China that is unique to this program and place, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. This is only a little over a month and a few ditie rides in. I can’t even imagine what is in store at the next “stop”…
Written by Kylie Fuller (Johns Hopkins University)
Central European Studies in Prague, Student Correspondent, Spring 2013
Driving through the streets of Prague on a bus with twenty kids I didn’t know, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from my abroad experience. All of the students were talking and giggling away about where they go to school, brief likes and dislikes, and where they were originally from. As I turned back to look out the window, I suddenly became overwhelmed. I took a few deep breaths, and began examining the countryside. The buildings were all dark colored and square, with symmetrical block windows covering the front and sides. The cold, snowy winds could be heard whipping over and past the bus. To be honest, the sight was bleak. There was little creativity, color, or even signs of life. I wondered if this was Prague; if this was what I had signed up for.
As we gradually dropped more and more students off at their new housing, the scenery began to change. The buildings became larger and more decorative. The colors were more pleasant pastels, and the landscape was softer. When we finally reached the center of Prague, it was more beautiful than I had hoped it would be. I knew instantly that I would be able to adjust to this wonderful city quickly and easily.
The first week and a half was a blur of new faces, friends, customs and languages. The first half of this time was dedicated to meeting new people and getting settled in. For the first time in my life, I was going to live in an apartment with more than one girl. In fact, there are five of us living together in Prague Center! As we walked in the first day and saw the one bathroom, it was clear that this was going to be a challenge. But right away we were on to something else so there wasn’t much time to pout about anything or even be homesick for that matter!
The second half of this initial time period was devoted to intensive Czech. And yes, it was as difficult as it sounds. We were separated into small classrooms, and the four hours of class began. It was comprised of basic numbers, greetings and vocab that would be useful during our stay. As hard as it was to try to shape our mouths in ways that would create these foreign sounds, many laughs were had as people tried out their new accents in our group dialogues. After all of that time, all I concretely remember how to say is “jak se maš?” [what’s up?] and “tlusty” (fat)! Regardless, it was a great environment for bonding with my new prospective friends.
After this twilight period, real classes began. Our Central European Studies group was once again chopped up into various groups for different classes that we had selected months before we had left for Prague. The professors work and teach at Charles University, which is primarily constituted of Czech students. Most of them have taught American students before, but the class environment was still going to be new and unfamiliar for both parties involved. We were given a heads up before our first class about what to expect from this new style of teaching. A few of the ground rules were: No eating in class (hardest rule ever), no feet on the chairs or the table, and no computers. I am still struggling with the no eating food in class. But, I understand the rules and believe that they make perfect sense. Also, the classes are more lectures than discussions. Having said this, the professors definitely try to encourage class participation.
As we are heading into our fifth week of classes, there is definitely a new sense of comfort between the students and our new lifestyle. And although we have only had the opportunity to travel a little so far, I am excited to see where the rest of the semester will take me!
“What is he looking at?” I thought as my professor stared intently out of one of the massive windows, which define so many of the FAMU classrooms. I say this rather metaphorically. I knew what was outside; it was the longest river in the Czech Republic named Vltava, which bordered the magnificent ridge known as Petřín (both depicted in a picture below). It was an impressive sight. Still, from the gleam in my professor’s eyes and the truth of his words, I felt his actions were beyond simple admiration for the view. He seemed to be waltzing around in his head, speaking through his heart and his soul. The lecture was unscripted, honest, and informative. And how refreshing…the words flowed and weaved, much the shape of the river outside.
This was the Czech way. And I like it.
It dawned on me. Is this why so many people in the Czech Republic smoked cigarettes? To appear more pensive and furthermore, to attain an aura of mysterious contemplation? I can see the allure (but I’m no smoker). I heard a joke once how it is easy to judge a tobacco-less loner staring into the distance at a social function. But if that man were smoking a cigarette, yet still alone, he would appear as a distinguished philosopher. No wonder this city seems to be crawling with such bright minds…
But besides its terrible health consequences, cigarettes have often been used as a symbol of luxury, individual freedom, personal reflection, and as an aid against hardship (at least it is in film). It is natural then that a society so recently repressed by war and politics would indulge in vectors so closely tied to self-expression and cathartic release. In fact, the smoking metaphor seems spot on for this city and its people. Prague appears to still be redefining itself. Without the presence of tobacco, the landscape, the architecture, and the people seem to personifying a sort of cinematic beauty and curious inexplicability.
I’m observational. I like to pass the time by taking a moment to absorb my surroundings and try to understand them. When I’m packed into a crowded tram on the way to school or stuck in the grocery checkout line, I think, “What lies beneath these stoic faces and often tired eyes? What are you saying when you chatter in a cryptic, yet beautiful language? And what do you think of me?”
It is a pleasure then, to sit for a few hours a day and absorb the lectures taught by compassionate Czech mentors. They help fill the gaps that are created in daily life while living in a foreign country. The talks are full of new perspectives, harsh and enlightening truths, and best of all, the secrets of film.
Like I said before, this is the Czech way…
Stay tuned for videos, more pictures, and a detailed excursion to the hidden contemporary art spots around Prague!