Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Czech Language Camp

Language camp was a blast. It was wonderful to have the chance to meet nearly all of the other Rotary exchange students in Czech Republic. The work load was tough -- we had "class" from 8:30 in the morning til 5:30 in the evening. We worked from breakfast to dinner, with a break for lunch (of course) and 15-min breaks every two hours. I had a headache nearly every day of the week, which was unfortunate. I think it was a side effect of all of the learning I was trying to cram into one short week.

All three of the teachers were very good. We had to jump from subject to subject during class due to the time limit, which was incredibly frustrating for me. I plan to spend this week at school organizing my notes from language camp so that I can actually use the information. I still don't really understand the conjugating much at all. Czech has seven cases. Seven! Not to mention the fact that subjects can be masculine, feminine or neutral. Although I have a natural knack for picking up languages, Czech is proving to be more difficult than I had anticipated. It probably would have been better for me if I could learn Czech from an English-speaking teacher. It's pretty difficult to learn Czech in Czech. Saying the word over and over again does nothing unless I have something to relate the word to.

Following dinner every night, there was an organized evening program. Monday night, we all went out bowling. I'm not sure how I did it, but I was the girl with the highest score, so I won a prize (hooray for chocolate). The second night, we went sight-seeing around Třebíč. Wednesday, we went to a local school gym to play soccer, volleyball and/or basketball. I played volleyball with one of the chaperons who was really good. I didn't realize how much I missed that sport, but I played until my arms were bruised -- literally. Thursday night, a local band was performing at the hostel where we were staying, so we had the opportunity to relax and enjoy some music. On our last night, we walked to another local school and played bocce ball until 12 am! Anna (who is also from my district) and I were on a team and we had so much fun -- probably more fun than normal people would have playing bocce ball. :) Each evening program turned out to be fabulous and very tiring. My roommates and I had a theory that the program facilitators were purposefully picking activities that would tire us out so that we'd just go to sleep when we returned to the hostel. For the most part, it worked. The evening program also provided some time to get to know the other exchange students.

I was able to make quite a few friends in the past week. The best part of these new friendships is that these people are going through the same experience that I am, so they really understand what it's like. Being on an exchange isn't taking a trip -- it's nothing like a vacation. You have to create another life here for yourself, which is something that a vacation or short trip doesn't require. It's just nice to know that other people are experiencing the same struggle, though each person's story is distinctly unique. One common trouble among most of us was the lack of physical affection that is shown here. At home, I am used to hugs and other displays of affection, but the Czech greeting is usually only a handshake, unless it is between family members. This change has been particularly difficult for all of us, so there was a lot of hugging going on in Třebíč.

The language camp was a wonderful experience. I feel like I learned quite a bit, but I know that there is still so much to take in. One step at a time, I suppose. I am very thankful for the opportunity to make new friends and share my story with them, as well as hear their stories. I know that I made some very valuable friends.

I started struggling with my first little bout of true homesickness as I was leaving language camp. It seemed so strange to be leaving a camp but not to be going home. I've come home from so many camps in my lifetime, so this experience was just similar enough to make me miss the way it had always been in the past. But as we always say in Rotary, "Nothing is better or worse, just different".

I went back to school on Monday, of course. Two of my friends, Mary and Věrka, are in France right now with the choir and will be gone for the rest of the week, so I have been having a little bit of trouble finding people to talk to.

I'm still trying to find my place here, which is quite normal, I suspect. :) I'm looking forward to the time when I'll fit in like I've always lived here...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Welcome to Czech Republic!

After much prompting from my mother and various other sources, I have decided to start a blog documenting my stay here in Czech Republic. Forgive me if the posts are few and far between. I am anticipating a very busy year.
School had not started by the time I arrived in Czech Rep., so I spent the first week of my stay walking around Ceske Budejovice. My family and close friends know all too well that I am… “navigationally challenged”. Sadly, this quality has not developed in me overseas. In fact, I think that I am more confused now than I ever have been. For that simple reason, my first week was a challenge. I have tried to familiarize myself with Ceske Budejovice (with little success) just by walking and observing. My first task of my stay was to change some US cash for Czech money. Of course, it was hard enough for me to find the place where my host father, Pavel, had recommended that I change my money. Then I had to try to make myself understood. The first week passed without any troubles.

On Saturday morning, I attended choir practice in a nearby town. This one action proved to be the most beneficial of the whole week. I was fortunate enough to make friends before school began.
I started school on Monday, September 1. My friends from choir were there to guide me throughout the day. We talked to the headmaster that day so that I could be transferred into my friends’ class. That has made my life much easier. School is going pretty well, aside from not understanding much of anything that is going on. I get a little scared at the end of each class because I never know where the next class will be. The students move from classroom to classroom like we do in the States, but the teachers don’t stay in a specified room. They move, too. I’m still rather confused about the way that the classes are organized. I’m sure that I’ll figure it out eventually.

The classroom dynamics are very interesting. There are rows of small tables in each room, and two people sit at each table. In most cases, the boys sit on one side of the class and the girls sit on the other. There are some exceptions (I happen to be one of them – I sit with a boy at my table), but for the most part, the two genders are separate. I have no idea why. Everyone seems to get along pretty well in my class, which is nice – I can’t accidentally make enemies. Until very recently, the guys in my class almost refused to talk to me. I talked to one of my friends about it, and she said that it’s probably just because most of the guys don’t speak English very well, so they’re afraid to talk to me. I think that’s funny. They’re afraid to speak in a foreign language in their own country to a foreigner who should be adapting by speaking their language. Soon, I will be the self-conscious person speaking a language far out of my comfort zone.

I have three good friends at school right now; Mary, Věrka, and Barbara. Věrka and Mary are from choir. I met Barbara on the first day of school; she is one of Mary’s close friends. Mary was wonderful to begin classes with because she is so high-energy and speaks English like a pro. Barbara is slightly less outgoing, but knows English very well and is very helpful. Věrka and I have become closer during the course of the last week. She seems to find me after every class, whether or not we have the next class together. I think that she realizes how confused I am; Věrka is wonderful about pointing me in the right direction and showing me where I need to be every step of the way. I’m incredibly thankful for both of them. They have made the transition into school much easier on me. I couldn’t be happier with the way things are working out right now.

My family is wonderful. I am living with Pavel and Ivana Hanzlik. They have three children, Magda, Miša, and Petr, but all three are out of the house. Both Magda and Miša are adults and have their own homes and I have had the pleasure of meeting them both. Petr is on a Rotary Exchange in Oklahoma this year. Pavel and Ivana and I get along so well. It is honestly astonishing. Honestly, I anticipated a few conflicts – or at least one conflict! I have been pleasantly surprised. The other day, Pavel and Ivana said that they hope that I will be with them for Christmas. Tonight, as Ivana was making dinner, I gave her a hug and thanked her for doing so. She told me (in her wonderful broken English) that I was her fourth child. Then she said something to Pavel, which he translated for me: “Ivana said that she is already sad because you will be leaving us”. I feel so welcome and loved here. It’s like living with another part of my family. It all seems too good to be true sometimes…

I am incredibly pleased with the way that things are going. I hope that this positive trend continues as the year goes on. With the help of my wonderful friends and host parents, and with a little luck, it will.