Shrinking Fears and Growing Friendships (2/8-2/13)

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Mark Twain

On Friday, I took my last two classes as part of the Czech Language and Culture crash course.  My analysis: Czech is incredibly difficult.  It took all week for me to simply be able to properly say “goodbye”.  In between my two classes, I had some spare time.  I took off on a walk along the Ostravice River, which runs through the center of the city.  After a while, I reached a massive park, called Komenského sady.  It had beautiful paths, trees, and fields.  I am excited to see what it looks like when everything starts to bloom. 

Saturday I set off to do some exploring by myself.  I walked through the city streets and reached the bottom of the Halda Ema slag heap.  It was built in the early 1900’s from tons of extracted dredge from the mines in and near Ostrava.  Because there are exothermic reactions happening deep under the surface, the mountain produces its own heat. 

There are places where you can see steam coming from the ground and the vegetation differs from the rest of Ostrava because it has thermophilic flora and, in some places, a subtropical climate.  I climbed to the top fairly easily, struggling only with the icy and muddy trail.  The top presented a nice view of the surrounding forest and of Ostrava.  Again, I hope to return once things begin to bloom and the sun appears.

In the evening I went ice skating with a couple friends.  Ice skating is essentially the same here as at home, and I am equally awkward and terrible as back home.  The complete opposite of graceful, I struggled to stay upright while my friends gently floated atop the ice.

Sunday I joined the ESN (international student) club for an excursion into the old industrial region of Ostrava, called Viktovice.  We walked through the city and I was shocked and amazed by how much I enjoyed the trip. 

The old factories and machinery were astounding and I was impressed by how complicated and intricate the workings of the factories were.  We also got to go to the top of Bolt Tower, where we had an excellent view of the city.  It was a fun day during which I spent time with friends and got to see some of the historical parts of Ostrava.

Let me take a moment to talk about the people here in Czechia.  Collectively, they are the most laid-back people I have ever met.  People arrive places in their own time, ignore small issues, and lead the world in average beer consumption.  For someone who is known to certain loved ones (lovingly, I hope) as a “psycho planner”, you can imagine it is taking time for me to adjust to life here.

That being said, Monday arrived, bringing the first day of term with it.  What it did not bring, however, was communication from professors, a class schedule, or even a finalized list of the classes I’d be taking.  When I asked advisors and teachers for help figuring it out, the response was fairly relaxed and nonchalant, saying, “Everything will come together later”.  I was baffled because, in fact, the semester had ALREADY STARTED.  Alas, I waited, and Tuesday brought a vague idea of some classes I should attend, so I went to “Czech for Foreigners” in the morning, and a biology seminar in the afternoon.  After class, I decided to join my friends at a hockey match, where University of Ostrava played Charles University from Prague.  I enjoyed it, despite knowing little about hockey and not particularly caring about the outcome.  I laughed with my friends, tried to chant along in Czech with those around me, and joined the mob mentality.

Today finally brought more information about classes, and I think I got a schedule figured out.  I only have classes on Tuesday, so I should have plenty of time during the week to go adventuring.  Today I spent some time with a friend doing a walking tour around Ostrava. We got to see some nice historical sights and some beautiful nature.

I’m adjusting to my new life here.  I’m greatly looking forward to warming temperatures, blooming trees, and sunshine.  I am loving getting to know people from around the world and have already made some close friends.  My classes are interesting, but not terribly difficult (woohoo!).  Although I still miss home, I am getting accustomed to things here and feel optimistic about the coming months.  I love the small cafes I find in the city.  I love the coffee and the baked goods.  I love my growing friendships and my broadening knowledge.  Life here in Ostrava is pretty great.

Thank you for reading, and I will write again soon. You can find more pictures in the “Gallery” tab above.

Much love,


And so it begins…(2/1-2/7)

“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 love, Saul, 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.

Fine dining in first class

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.

Riding the train from Prague to Ostrava

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?)

Much love,