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!
It’s hard to believe that I have been in Vietnam for almost two months now! While I’ve missed my friends and family, I have really embraced life in Ho Chi Minh city; enjoying a cà phê đen đá in the park with my new Vietnamese friends, trying street food, and discovering my all time favorite Vietnamese meal: banh mi, and learning how to cross the crazy motorbike filled streets.
The past two weeks have been especially exciting, as I joined the CET group, met my classmates and our Vietnamese roommates. Our first lunch together, the CET students and the Vietnamese roommates, was a true testament to how well we all get along, as we enjoyed fresh sugar cane juice and chatted over bowls of noodles and beef.
My roommate is one of the sweetest, most helpful people I know. Her name is Thao and she is a recent college graduate, from the city of Quy Nhơn. We have fun listening to music together. She has introduced me to K-pop, a very popular music genre among the young Vietnamese, and I have shared some of my favorite classic rock tunes with her.
One of the things I look forward to most is my Vietnamese class. Co Dung, our Vietnamese teacher is the best! Her patience and reassuring smile has given me so much confidence, and after every class I hurry down to the campus café to practice by ordering my coffee and lunch in Vietnamese.
This weekend we went on a trip with some of our language partners and roommates to Petra, the Dead Sea, and Mount Nebo. I had heard of these places before and even visited Petra briefly with my Archaeology class but being able to spend time in these places was well worth the bumpy bus ride. Before I talk about the places themselves: on the subject of buses… This is definitely a cultural point to note when talking about Jordan or Irbid, but buses are not places where everyone just puts on the headphones and reads or sleeps. Buses in Jordan are places where people on the radio and dance and sing or just talk about the events of the day and life in general. Needless to say, having our roommates and language partners around kept everyone busy and we were able to continue learning and using Arabic even though we were stuck in a bus.
When we arrived at Dead Sea the weather was a balmy 70 degrees. This is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been there – the Dead Sea is a very strange place. I’d heard that because the water was so salty that you would just float but then we you start walking and then realize you can’t touch the bottom even though the water isn’t that deep, it is a strange experience. The water has an oily quality to it too and it is inadvisable to put your face or eyes in as it can be very painful. After the Dead Sea we headed to our hotel in Petra where I later learned to play backgammon in a cafe that night. It was difficult learning a complex and strategic game in Arabic, but I thoroughly enjoyed smoking hookah and relaxing before what we all knew would be a long walk into the Petra ruins the next day.
Petra requires a lot of time. The first time I went there I was able to see some of the main sites like the Treasury and the City, but there is a real treasure high up in the mountains that you can walk (climb) to if you take the time. Some of my friends and I decided that we would make the hour and a half hike upwards to a massive stone monastery located above the city of Petra and go to a viewpoint known as “The End of the World” where you can see all the way to Saudi Arabia. The way down was much more pleasant although every peddler will try to lure you in by telling you that everything they’re selling is one dinar; then you stop and they let you know that everything is one dinar, except for mostly everything which is either three or five dinars. Despite the commercialization of the area, there is a clear reason why Petra is one of the seven wonders of the world. My favorite part of the trip was climbing those thousands of steps to the Monastery and making it to the top of the world…I recommend water and a strong exercise regime.
Written by Danielle Ortiz-Geis (American University)
Central European Studies in Prague, Student Correspondent, Fall 2012
I have always known that time flies by quickly, but I was clearly underestimating the speed of time abroad. It’s weird that I actually refer to living in Prague as living “abroad” because it’s so easy to forget that this isn’t my real home. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what life was like before living here and I’m really dreading the day when I will have to go back to my old life back in the states.
I feel as though I have done a pretty good job of emerging myself in the culture around me. Replacing the word “so” with the Czech version, “tak” has become so second nature, for example. Without hesitation, I can also now easily order my “malá kávu” from the woman at the Coffee To Go stand inside the Muzeum metro. Aside from learning small cultural nuances such as these, I also feel like I have become less of a tourist and more of a local, as I can now decipher where to go for the best food, the right times to shop at Alberts and also the most fun and affordable pubs to hang around in at night.
Aside of the planned excursions with CET, my friends and I (with the help of our “Czech buddies”) have also had quite a few adventures of our own.
Last month for instance, we had a really eventful day at the Karlstejnske Vinobrani Festival in the Czech Republic.
The festival was crowded with people of all ages who were eager to drink sweet burčák (young Czech wine), eat delicious food and see the medieval influenced festival which took place around the castle.
As if that was not eventful enough, we also had a great experience a few days later when our Czech buddy Pavel took us to a student concert for local Czechs. The event, which housed thousands of students, inexpensive beer and food, live music and even a make-shift club. The event was held near the old Strahov Stadium in Prague 6.
Highlights from this concert include jamming out to the band “Support Lesbians” (which you should check out when you get the chance) and dancing inside of the dome club that was made just for the occasion.
From my experiences, I have also learned that I never have to look to far for entertainment, as living so close to Prague’s center has put me in the position to always inevitably encounter any big celebration that is occurring here, such as the St. Wenceslas Day Festival, for example.
Another lesson gained is that traveling through the Czech Republic (and around Europe in general) is really inexpensive and efficient thanks to Student Agency buses. So far I have relied on them to get me to and from Berlin, back from Bratislava (which I will elaborate on later when I blog about my traveling seminar) and also to and from Jičín.
Czech Paradise, which is in Jičín is definitely worth visiting if you’re interested in hiking and seeing a beautiful landscape. The small town is about an hour and a half away from Prague and the hiking trails are about 15 minutes from the main square. Little did we know that local buses in Jičín would be closed on weekends, but luckily we were able to find a cab for less than $5 each, which dropped us off and picked us up from Czech Paradise.
Once we finally arrived to our destination, we spent the whole day hiking through the beautiful nature reserve which was filled with enormous sandstone rocks. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie, to put things into perspective.
I feel like everyday here is an adventure because in reality, it really is. I don’t remember the last time I have felt this alive, or more importantly this happy. I can’t wait to share the rest of my upcoming experiences with you. For a daily update on my time abroad, please follow my personal blog which can be found at http://travelersbloginprague.tumblr.com/