When I hear the bubbly friendly smiley Swiss flight attendant and I see the playfulness of him giving out different stickers, coloring books, and trinkets to children on the airplane during pre-departure, I know that I have left Prague and that I have left the Czech Republic before the plane has lifted off the ground. I can’t recall encountering such casual enthusiasm during my stay in the Czech Republic, though this is not a bad thing. So, yeah, my body and my mind are not ready to accept the circumstances that are laid in front of me, leaving a country that I am just getting to know, leaving people that I am just getting to know.
There’s a strong feeling, kind of like, if you’ve ever felt the undertow of an ocean when your body is in the water almost up to your torso and it’s strong, if you have ever felt the undertow of an ocean try and take your body in a direction that may be unwanted or dangerous and the current tugs and pulls at your legs and you know if you let your muscles relax, that you’ll be sucked under. Kind of like that. That’s what it feels like during the week and up until the final moments of me leaving Prague. Like I am going somewhere I am not supposed to go and where my body enacts resistance because it seems like it’s going in a direction it’s not supposed to be going. Except, I have to let the current take me, and it’s not dangerous like undertow. I want to keep my feet in Prague, but I can’t put a finger on the why.
It’s not about the program. It’s more about the people and the places. I’m just getting to know my host family. I’ve started to spend more time being with my host siblings (they are all super cool and there are 5 of them). I wonder if it would make it better if I stayed a month longer meandering around, losing time with friends and families. Would it just make it harder? I don’t know, but at least it would be more time. And now that I think about it, this program, SIT Czech Republic: Arts and Social Change, is about planting roots into some unfamiliar terrain. I’m immersed in a new culture and then taken away from it . Maybe it was that one cafe that one bar that one restaurant that I need to go to one more time.
To be honest, I don’t know how it happened, but I feel more certain about myself and about my future after this trip. The experiences I had were in a constant state of how to communicate in a different culture. In other words, I frequently was on my toes about how I interacted with the people in the country. This was done in relationship with understanding how I have been shaped by my country, because I felt that without reflecting on my own American identity, my interactions may have turned into a form of appropriation.
Earlier in the program we did regional stays in the outskirts of the country. I stayed in Melbrotice with a couple of my classmates at a family’s house on a farm. They welcomed us into their house, cooked traditional Czech meals, showed us how to milk cows, taught us about their community of 180 people in a small village, showed us the surrounding land, and taught us the history. We ate breakfast lunch and dinner with the wife and husband and their three children. We played games, talked about philosophy, and laughed, and learned from each other. I was there for around 4 days and got to know about Czech culture in a different way that is separate than a city life in Prague.
Another time I went to (stay with me) my host-sister’s partner’s parent’s house near Pilzen for his mother’s birthday. I was one of the only non-family members there. But they treated me like a family member and I spent two days eating, talking, celebrating and passing the time with people I just met. I suppose this can happen anywhere, and I was often told by these families that they were not the typical Czech family, but that doesn’t matter to me, because I was having an experience with them.
I met so many Czech artists, and the expressions that they created were amazing, and the conversations I had with them were awesome. I made expat and Czech friends as well. My French friend Roland was always so chill, and we spent days at Letna Park that overlooks the city. My British friend Nicol and I spent time in random places in Prague, both discovering and experiencing the country. My Czech friend Lucie who is an amazing, incredible singer; we had so many good conversations and saw some really great music.
It’s funny, I had an inclination when spending time in the city and I’d hear an American speaking and I always thought about saying “hello” or “what are you doing here?” or something stupid like one of those things, but I never did because it felt like cheating (plus, I didn’t know those people). I felt separated from them, and I think it’s because I thought that, just because we were both American doesn’t mean that we have many things in common besides being American. Though, I did makes some ex-pat and Czech friends. They were living in the city and not really trying to be tourists, which, I think was a part of the reason why we identified with each other. Plus, I thought they were cool people (that I personally liked).
So, I guess, my goal was to allow myself to form whatever relationships that naturally happened and to not reach for things that are familiar to me. But that made me start to create a different foundation of stability for myself. It made me create attachments. Allowing myself to experience everything in the country opened me up to becoming emotionally attached to the people and spaces that I encountered in my time there. The experience as a whole, definitely has made me think about and reflect upon American culture and my position in it. I feel less stressed about my place and I feel like I have gained more perspective on how I want to live in it. And that feels pretty good.
And I definitely need to go back to the Czech Republic to visit the people, family, and artists that I had experiences with. Here are a few pics.