“Great things never came from comfort zones.”
Hello! Dobrý den!
On Friday, I woke bright and early, hours before I needed to be awake. My heart and mind were swimming with emotions: excitement, fear, joy, sadness, and angst. I had to say my final goodbyes. First, I said a forever goodbye to my cat Toby, whom I love dearly. He is 20-something years old, mostly blind and deaf, and I fear he may pass on before I return. Then, my sister/best friend, who I never go longer than a week without seeing. I hugged her for what felt like forever, and still it was not enough.
At the airport, I sat with my closest friends until they began shutting the airplane doors. With tears streaming my face I pulled away, repeating over and over to myself “it’s not that long!” After that, there were planes, airports, and more planes. For those who don’t know, my amazing parents made the journey to Ostrava with me, all of us flying standby.
We got lucky at LAX and all got first class seats. We (mere pilgrims) would be sitting with the royalty! We boarded the plane and immediately went to pushing buttons, pulling out the “presents” left on our seats (blankets, pillows, etc), and quietly observing those around us so we could fit in. The flight attendant asked us all, by name, if we would like complimentary pajamas…PAJAMAS! Mom and I were sitting next to each other, and there was a tall barrier between our seats. We kept peeking over at each other, trying to talk but only seeing each other’s eyes. Then the flight attendant walked over, pushed a button, and to our surprise the entire barrier sunk away. Who knew??
The travel after that was mundane. We got to London, transferred to British Airways, and flew into Prague. We got in late at night and found our way using public transportation to our hotel. We woke the following morning (Sunday) to about five inches of snow!
We ate breakfast at a quaint bakery and I experienced my first European Latte. You know that delicious layer of foam on top of lattes in America, that you slurp off to reach the coffee? Well here, the WHOLE drink is that delicious foam, coffee and milk mixed perfectly. Woah.
We took the train to Ostrava in the afternoon and arrived uneventfully. My assigned “buddy” from the University met us and led us to the dorms. He helped me check in, because no one at the dorm speaks English. I got settled and spent the next few days very overwhelmed, confused, and sad. I had to go to many meetings to get all the required materials, learn about Ostrava, and more. I felt homesick, and like this would be the longest few months of my life.
I have made some friends from all over the world: Poland, South Korea, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Italy, Finland, Hungary, Estonia, and Czechia. My wing in the dorm is all girls from South Korea, except for me. They have accepted me into their friend group, and I call them my Korean family. They prepared a Korean dinner one night and invited me to join them. They are kind, funny, and wonderful.
I am the only person from the United States here (and I think the only person from the Western Hemisphere). Everyone seems surprised and thrilled to meet an American. Many of the students like to talk to me so they can practice their English and ask questions about the US. The professors and advisors have all asked “How did you possibly learn about and choose our University?!” Several people have told me that I don’t have an American accent.
My dorm room is small but nice. I have a room to myself, although these rooms are made for three people. I have no idea how three people could possibly all share one of these rooms, but I’m a lucky duck and get to live alone. I pushed two of the smaller-than-twin beds together and put cushions on top to create a cozy nest for myself. Campus is strange because, well, there isn’t one. All the university buildings are spread throughout the city, so it has been an experience trying to learn where everything is. I’m getting used to the buses, the buildings, and the language (and the inability to read signs or ask for help). Many young people speak English in the city, but few older people do. I am using Google Translate and hand motions a lot. I’ve learned some of the essentials: hello, please, thank you, good day, and coffee. As for food, beer, meat, and dumplings are plentiful and cheap in the Czech Republic. They are the staples that people survive on here. It is cheaper most places to buy a beer than a water. I have enjoyed a couple beers with my parents but am trying to keep my beer consumption to a minimum.
I have taken a couple of classes this week in preparation for the semester: Czech language, history, and literature. I have two more classes tomorrow. My school schedule will possibly only have class one or two days a week, so I am excited to begin my travels (once I get more comfortable here). The homesickness is passing a little more each day. I made it all day yesterday and today without crying! Baby steps, right?
My parents enjoyed the city, but have moved on to visit Prague before heading home. I saw them briefly for dinner each day they were here, and I greatly appreciated their support. It was hard to say goodbye to them as well.
Hopefully in future weeks I will have more interesting things to say. I haven’t done anything astounding yet but will do so eventually. Thanks for reading this far, and I will post again soon. “Czech” back next week to hear more! (Ha! Get it?)