Jack in Czech Republic: Souvenirs

January 5, 2015

I considered writing a simple reflection on my time in Prague in my penultimate post (I will write a finale right before I return to UR), but I figured the souvenirs I returned with could do a better job illustrating my last four months. Don’t worry, I got y’all a bunch of gifts too. Without further ado:

Football Ticket — I had to save my ticket from what was the greatest sporting event I have ever witnessed. One of the best, if not the best, nights I had in Prague came 48 hours after I arrived. Four other students new to Prague and I ventured to Generali Arena in hopes of experiencing the atmosphere surrounding a European Qualifying match between the Czechs and world-class-juggernauts Holland. Unexpectedly, we stumbled into five tickets, and witnessed a truly amazing game that the Czechs miraculously pulled out. I recapped the night in more detail soon after it happened.

Pilsner Mug — Spending a semester in Europe, and Prague in particular, comes with the stigma that it is a big, endless party, which is far from true. If your study abroad experience was just one big party, you wasted a non-replicable opportunity. At the same time, experiencing different bar atmospheres and meeting a wide range of people, both locals and other foreigners, at bars around the city proved to be an informative and fun way to learn about the local culture. Pilsner Urquell is THE beer of the Czech Republic, so I brought a mug home with me as a reminder of all the amazing people I met and all the fascinating stories I heard while drinking Pilsner Urquell.

Lucerna Ticket — The other souvenir from my nightlight adventures in Prague differs greatly in its meaning from the Pilsner mug. I brought home a ticket to Lucerna’s weekly 80s and 90s party, which was the spot for Americans on Friday nights. The playlist was top notch, consisting of throwback after throwback. Lucerna served as the perfect venue for our one last going away party.

Prague Beanie — Prague’s Christmas markets, like many other cities in Europe, were fantastic. There were many small markets scattered around the city with little stands full of Christmas trinkets, food and drink, and cute winter clothes. My one tangible takeaway from the markets is a bright orange beanie that I will excessively rock next semester.

Mike Tyson Energy Drink — I bought this energy drink when my entire program traveled to Krakow for a weekend. There isn’t a whole lot of significance behind this drink – I just saw an energy drink with a huge Mike Tyson face on it, so I figured I had no choice but to buy and save one.

Thanks for the energy drink, Mike.

Thanks for the energy drink, Mike.

Berlin Collage — The lone souvenir I bought in Berlin is a collage from a small art market that an expat American made. The caption, translated from German, reads, “You can’t buy culture.” Yet that was exactly what I was doing – buying a piece of art from Berlin that is linked to a cool story and interesting artist I met. I’m looking forward to hanging this collage in my room next semester, so everyone knows how cultured I am.

Warning: These next two items might be overly sentimental.

Czechoslovakia T-shirt — My pal Kevin and I stumbled into a sweet clothing market on one of our last days in Prague. There were a bunch of shirts that stood out to me, but this one light-blue shirt of a van with the caption “Made in Czechoslovakia” jumped out. I thought the shirt was cool, so I bought it – pretty simple equation, I know – but I began to appreciate it more in the coming days. “Made in Czechoslovakia” began to have more of a meaning for me. Sure, Czechoslovakia no longer exists and I wasn’t exactly “made” in Prague, but still, it fascinated me. Prague, in a way, shaped me. Any place where you spend a great deal of time will shape you in one way or another, and I can actually notice vast differences in my personality, views, and goals compared to who I was and what I believed in last August. I may not have been made in Czechoslovakia, but I was shaped in the Czech Republic.

Tattoo — My favorite souvenir, and the one that will stick with me for the rest of my life, whether I like it or not, is the tattoo I got in the final few weeks of my stay. I had a globe sketched into my right bicep along with the caption “Svét je náš”, which means, “The World is Yours” in Czech. The cheesiness here is obvious, but this quote, which comes from a movie I’ve never seen and a song that I like but don’t love, inspires me. My father has always preached to me that the world is much smaller now than it was a generation ago, but that never really struck me until I actually got to experience a new part of the world. And I don’t want to stop now. I love my friends, and I love my family, but I like Prague, and Europe in general, more than I like the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic of the United States. My time in Prague was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – how many times do you get to spend a few months in a foreign city with unlimited freedom and limited responsibility – but now I want to explore somewhere else. Grad school in Europe? Why not. The world is yours.

Is it obvious I don’t work out?

Is it obvious I don’t work out?

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

I struggled to find time to write a blog post in my final days in Europe, but I managed to find time when I really did not want to. On Dec. 24, the day I moved out of my apartment, I thought I’d be creative and send my suitcases down two floors in the elevator. I’ve used this shortcut before to make my life marginally easier, and I expected similar results. Instead, my bags fell on the elevator door, preventing it from opening. Two hours of waiting, $125, and increased loss of sanity later and the elevator door magically opened thanks to a repairman gracious enough to accept my cash on Christmas Eve. This is when I knew I was ready to come home.

I struggled to find time to write a blog post in my final days in Europe, but I managed to find time when I really did not want to. On Dec. 24, the day I moved out of my apartment, I thought I’d be creative and send my suitcases down two floors in the elevator. I’ve used this shortcut before to make my life marginally easier, and I expected similar results. Instead, my bags fell on the elevator door, preventing it from opening. Two hours of waiting, $125, and increased loss of sanity later and the elevator door magically opened thanks to a repairman gracious enough to accept my cash on Christmas Eve. This is when I knew I was ready to come home.

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Jack in Czech Republic: The Case Against Traveling

December 16, 2014

So far I have only traveled to Ireland, Krakow, Munich and two additional cities in the Czech Republic. “What do you mean only!?” you ask. Compared to a bunch of my friends, that really is not that much traveling. In fact, most people seem to be away nearly every weekend. And how could you blame them? Prague is in the dead center of Europe, and traveling in Europe is relatively cheap. Let’s get this out of the way – I am not anti traveling and I totally get why people dedicate much of their time in Europe to traveling. Instead, I want to emphasize some seldom-mentioned reasons for not traveling. Here are some the reasons why I am in favor of staying home:

$$$ — Traveling in Europe, albeit cheaper than America, still costs money. But, cost is only one factor to consider when debating the merits of traveling vs. staying home. In fact, I’d contend, which I assume other study abroad students would support, that cost shouldn’t always prevent students on this once-and-a-life-time opportunity. It’s not like I don’t spend money when I am home. Still, I have saved some money staying in Prague most weekends.

Learn your city — Since I have had plenty of open weekends in Prague, I have been able to explore many different parts of the city. Going to the same restaurants, cafes, and bars on weekends gets old after a while, so, in a way, I had to explore other areas of Prague. I now feel comfortable going practically anywhere in Prague. As I wrote in my first post, directions aren’t one of my strong areas. I have, however, improved my general sense of direction, thanks, in part, to my continuous exploration of Prague.

Independence — Because of the variety of everyone’s travel schedule, I seem to find myself hanging out with new people every weekend, which I have enjoyed. Each weekend seems to create some new, for lack of a better word, crew, of people to explore Prague with.

Internship — In addition to my course load, I work two part-time internships, so I generally work five-day weeks. Although “real people” work five days a week anyway, study abroad students aren’t necessarily “real [people”. Most students have either three-day or four-day weeks, making weekend trips easier to schedule. If you are going to one of Europe’s many major attractions, you want a full weekend; leaving Friday night and coming back Sunday makes for a short trip. My internships prevented me from traveling more than anything else – a tough tradeoff for sure – but I am happy with my decision.

I’m certainly in the minority group when it comes to traveling, which makes sense. If you were studying in the heart of Europe why would you not travel as much as you could? Plenty of my pals who frequently traveled have said they aren’t going to get to some of the places they wished to see. I would encourage anyone studying in this area to travel around some, but don’t feel compelled to have to go somewhere every weekend. My study abroad situation is not better or worse than the traveling hounds – it’s just different.

I still traveled though. Here are some highlights:

Despite the gross weather, The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland were absolutely breathtaking.

Despite the gross weather, The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland were absolutely breathtaking.

Oktoberfest was, uh, lots of fun!

Oktoberfest was, uh, lots of fun!

For my first trip of the semester, my program took all of us to Cesky Krumlov, which is pretty much a real-life fairytale.

For my first trip of the semester, my program took all of us to Cesky Krumlov, which is pretty much a real-life fairytale.

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

A lot of the students in my program finished finals last week, so Friday night at Lucerna, a 80s-90s dance club on weekends, offered the ideal going away party.

A lot students in my program finished finals last week, so Friday night at Lucerna, a 80s-90s dance club on weekends, offered the ideal going away party.


Jack in Czech Republic: Jack in Vietnamese Town While in Czech Republic.

December 8, 2014

One of my more cultural days in Prague opened my eyes to a culture far, far away from Prague. It came at Sapa, the largest Vietnamese community in central Europe. This day led to deep conversations about this minority culture, its conflicts with Czech culture, and how this divide impacts young Vietnamese Czechs.

***

Who brought you there? Numi, a local-Czech Vietnamese girl who immigrated to the Czech Republic when she was four. Mariah, one of my three suitemates, and I met Numi on our second night in Prague, because she was working at our hostel. We started casually talking about where we were from, what we do etc. “We go to a small school you’ve probably never heard of called Richmond,” Mariah said. Turns out Numi knew a thing or two Richmond, since she is studying abroad there this spring. I still can’t over how incredible it is that Mariah and I met Numi so early in our stay in Prague. We were so lucky to meet Numi, who helped us out with anything and everything we needed in Prague, and we are stoked our friendship will continue in Richmond next semester.

Why did you go? Numi had to try on a bridesmaid dress for her friend’s wedding, so we went with her.

No really, why did you go? Um…

Ok, well, how was the trip? It was so much fun. Although we were still technically in Prague, I felt like I was in a different country when I stepped off the bus. We met with Numi’s friend Oli, whose wedding Numi needed a dress for, at a coffee shop before heading to the dress store. After an incredible, thick Vietnamese coffee, I was ready to run a marathon, write a book, and wrestle a horse. Instead, we went to go try on dresses.

Believe it or not, I’m not a guy who gets stoked about dresses. This time, however, was different. For one, we were looking at traditional Vietnamese outfits, which I found more interesting than a standard dress. More importantly, though, is that I also got to dress up.

Jack girls dress up

Jack dress up
Yes, I know, we all look incredible.

Next up was the feast. We went to a restaurant, and Numi and Oli ordered everything for us. I’m not exactly a food connoisseur, so I was a tad nervous about what was coming our way. Five minutes after ordering, some waiters brought us way too much food for four people. There was duck, which I ate for the first time, pork, rice, salad, and tea. And all of it was great.

Jack food

Yea, we didn’t finish all of this.

After our meal, we were all stuffed. So, naturally, Numi told Mariah and me that we needed to try a Vietnamese dumpling. And we did. And we loved it. And we entered a nice food coma on our bus ride back.

***

I loved the coffee, I loved dressing up, and I loved the food. But my favorite part of the day was learning about the Vietnamese community, and its relationship with traditional Czech culture. The Vietnamese make up the third largest group of immigrants in the Czech Republic, yet I sensed a divide with mainstream Czech society. I asked Numi about this separation and, believe it or not, the divide is deeper than I imagined.

The Vietnamese flocked to then-Czechoslovakia in the 1960s with help from the Soviet Union. Many left after the fall of communism, yet a sizeable group stayed in the new Czech Republic. Naturally, the Vietnamese maintained much of their cultural norms, but these differences made integration difficult. In some ways, integration wasn’t one of their original goals anyway. For example, Vietnamese parents often push their children to marry someone who is Vietnamese. If a Vietnamese person is dating a Czech, they often need to hide the relationship from either their parents or the Vietnamese community, Numi said. As a whole, the older Vietnamese generation tends to stick together, making it hard for Czechs to get to know them well, she said.

The Czechs don’t seem to be the most welcoming either. Numi told us Czechs don’t typically visit Sapa, and I saw only a few Czech couples that Sunday afternoon. According to Numi, Czechs are scarred of Sapa because it’s, well, different then what they are used to. Oh yea, and then there are the fabricated rumors that Sapa is a dangerous place. Then, of course, there’s the whole bigots-throwing-cigarettes-at-my-friends thing. I asked Numi about xenophobia in the Czech Republic, and she said she had had faced bigots throughout her life, too. She stressed, however, that most Czech people are more than accepting of her differences. As is the case in any culture, it just takes a few bigots to cause problems.

People like Numi – local Czechs with Vietnamese heritage – are stuck in the middle of this divide. According to Numi, she is part of the initial second-generation Vietnamese community that is trying to fully assimilate with new, communist-free Czech culture while uniting these two distinctly different groups. And it’s not easy. First there’s the issue of upsetting your parents by swaying from traditional norms. “We are very different from of our parents,” Numi said. Then there’s dealing with the xenophobia, which could either be obvious, like the football game experience, or more hidden, like getting passed over for jobs for ethnic Czechs. All college students are nervous about getting a job out of school, but Numi has extra angst because she doesn’t know if her race will play a factor. To be honest, no one really knows how much of a factor race will be for this new group of second-generation Vietnamese people.

Trang, one of Numi’s friends who is also part of this linking generation, gave a Ted Talk (Sick, I know) on this topic. Growing up, Trang only had the chance to see her parents on weekends, because they worked so much during the week. She had a Czech nanny, which is not uncommon amongst Vietnamese families. She had a Czech childhood, consisting of watching Czech movies, eating dumplings, etc., which she greatly enjoyed. As she got older, though, her parents began to tell her she was too European. Too European? What does that even mean? If she wasn’t European enough how could she assimilate into Czech culture? At the same time, should Trang have to discard her family’s history to appease Czechs? People like Trang and Numi face the difficult task of balancing the two cultures. No matter how well they balance both cultures, some people will always be upset. Trang, however, views this divide more favorably. She is grateful for the chance to live in two very different cultures, so she can choose the most beautiful aspects of each, she said.

Trang closes her talk discussing the label “banana kid”. This label is used for people who are yellow on the outside (Asian) and white on the inside (European). “Many people do not agree to identify themselves as a fruit but others have no problem with this,” Trang said. Trang chose not to identify as a banana. “I perceive myself as a banana shake, which can be added by all kinds of flavors,” she said.

***

This post, by no means, is meant to be a slight toward either the Czech or Vietnamese cultures; it’s not like America is doing so well in the whole race-relations thing right now. In fact, my hope is that these sorts of experiences and discussions will allow me to develop deeper, more thoughtful feelings on American race issues, which are only going to get more heated in years to come. Observing two different cultures coexist will allow me to develop more thoughtful opinions on the problems back home.

I did not expect to have so many thoughts on Vietnamese culture before I came to Prague. Yet these topics, questions and realizations of the unexpected are what have made this adventure so worthwhile and enriching. My experiences with the Vietnamese culture in the Czech Republic have forced me to think deeper on race relations in the Czech Republic, in America, and in the world at large.

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Cliffs of Moher (Ireland) were all right, I guess. This selfie is from my last trip, which was in October. I’ll explain why I haven’t traveled much – relatively, of course – next time.

 


Jack in Czech Republic: Czech Football

December 1, 2014

I knew I would see some European football while studying abroad. Now, I haven’t seen any of the big-name club teams, such as Barcelona and Munich, and I won’t make it to London to catch an EPL game (sorry, Ed). I have, however, seen four Czech games – two Euro 2016 qualifiers, one league game, and one Europa game – at three different stadiums and in two different Czech cities. A quick recap of the matches:

2 Czech Republic – 1 Netherlands: 9 Sep 2014, Generali Arena, Prague

This was far and away the greatest sporting event I have been too. I knew then and there that my study abroad experienced peaked the second night.

2 Czech Republic – 1 Iceland: 16 Nov 2014, Doosan Arena, Plzen

The game itself was exciting, but the adventure of actually attending the game was even more thrilling. Doug and I bought a one-way train ticket to Plzen five hours before kickoff without tickets and a plan of how to get home. Luckily, we met a Czech fan on the train, and he helped us buy tickets. Similar to the Dutch game, the Czechs won because of another hilarious defensive error from their opponents. Everything worked out too perfectly.

1 Slavia Praha – 1 Hradec Kralove: 23 Nov 2014, Eden Arena, Prague

I had an open Sunday night last weekend, so I ventured to Slavia’s beautiful and relatively new stadium to watch a Czech league tilt. The stadium was far from full, but the Slavia fans, who all sat together behind a goal, were out of control. Because of their constant singing, dancing and screaming, they made a half-empty stadium feel full. While some fans celebrate goals by cheering, clapping, and high-fiving friends, Salvia and Kralove fans chose to light flares instead. So that was something.

0 Sparta Praha – 0 SSC Napoli (Italy): 27 Nov 2014 Generali Arena, Prague

Napoli, currently third in the Serie A and sporting world-class stars, such as Higuaín and Hamšík, is the best club team that visited Prague this fall. My friends and I had great seats; close but not too close to the rowdy Sparta fans. The Sparta fans were the best fans I witnessed, but, as I will soon mention, had some serious flaws. The game, however, was dull. Some scoreless games can still be exciting, but this was not one of them. The freezing-cold weather didn’t help either.

***

I have heard, read and watched many different things about European football, so I had certain expectations on the culture surrounding football when I arrived in Prague. Four games later, I am now able to assess my expectations:

Expectation: Czech fans would be rowdy, yet tolerant

Result: Not exactly

I almost wrote a post only on this — and still might – because of how shocked I was at the Sparta fans’ racism. I had a hard time cheering for Sparta after what happened to some of my friends at the game. A group of us wanted to get to the stadium early, so we arrived before a second group. At halftime, our other friends had still not shown up. Maybe their Thanksgiving dinner went late? Nope. They were forced to sit in other seats, because this section was too dangerous for Indians and Eastern Asians, they were told by stadium security. How bad could it be, I thought. After I heard that fans had already spat on and thrown cigarettes at my friends, we were all disgusted. What a disgrace.

Expectation: The fans would create an incredible atmosphere

Result: Duh

A crazy crowd for European soccer games? No kidding. But seeing the craziness in person is totally different than watching YouTube videos. What makes football fandom so unique is the unparalleled tension that football creates. Fans spend the whole game singing, cheering, clapping, but most importantly waiting; waiting for that one moment that can totally turn a game on its head.

Expectation: National games would have a wilder atmosphere though

Result: False

What I didn’t expect, however, is how much more intense club fandom is compared to national team fandom. That is the case in the Czech Republic, at least. While national team fans are certainly into the games, the club games have a much more raucous energy. Oh, and then there are flares, which, I’m sorry, are both dangerous and cool. Both club games featured multiple flares in the crowd.

Expectation: All Czech stadiums would be old and beat up

Result: Some are, but not all

I imagined Czech stadiums would be these small, beat stadiums, and two – Generali and Hoosen – met my expectations. They were both tight, and on top of the fields, creating an intimate atmosphere. I assumed all Czech stadiums would fit this mold. Slavia’s Eden Arena, however, is both gorgeous and modern. I can’t imagine it being too different than a new MLS stadium. In fact, it was almost too nice, for me at least. For some reason, I just love the atmosphere that older stadiums produce.

Expectation: Czechs love their football

Result: Not quite

Ok, so of course the Czech Republic isn’t like Brazil where everyone bleeds football. Still I’ve been disappointed with the overall lack of fandom. When I go out to watch either European qualifiers or Champions League fixtures, I always end up at an Irish pub. Don’t get me wrong, these Irish bars are quite fun, but I didn’t realize there would be practically no Czech options. The most disheartening games have been the two away qualifiers that the Czech national team has played since I have been here. Both times a few friends and I tried to find a good place to watch with Czech fans, but have been disappointed each time. I’m probably just naïve, but I’ve asked around and found nothing.

 

Expectation: Scalping tickets would be manageable

Result: Spot on

Scalping tickets has a certain thrill aspect regardless of what game you are buying tickets for. Buying tickets from people who speak little or no English is a different ball game, however. I anticipated it would be tricky but doable before coming to Prague, and both times my friends and I had little difficulty getting tickets when we needed to.

Expectation: The Czech National Team would be all right, but nothing too special

Result: I was wrong, but there’s no way I’m alone

My friends and I must be good luck charms, because the Czech national team has been on fire sense we have been here. The Czechs have surprised many, including their fans, I’m sure, and lead their table through four games of qualification. I’m expecting someone from the Czech Football Association to give me a call, asking me to stay here longer.

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

Trying on some traditional Vietnamese garb in Prague. Wait what? I'll elaborate on this in my next post.

Trying on some traditional Vietnamese garb in Prague. Wait what? I’ll elaborate on this in my next post.


Jack in Czech Republic: Freedom Then and Now

November 21, 2014

“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

— Vaclav Havel

***

People packed Národní Třída on the morning of November 17th for the Struggle of Freedom and Democracy Day’s celebrations. Beatles music blared as people mingled, listened to speeches, held signs, and chanted many things I couldn’t understand.

One of the first people I spoke with was a local street artist. Despite his broken English, he seemed to enjoy my company. He even offered me some of his breakfast wine, which he was drinking out of a beer bottle.

I asked him several questions about the holiday and his views on the Czech Republic’s current state, and he passionately answered each. As I was getting up to go, he had one more thing to tell me, as if he hadn’t made his message clear.

“Czech Republic is freedom,” he told me. “I am freedom.”

Although the Czech Republic may be, using his words, “freedom,” it is potentially facing another era of political instability, which was on full display on this holiday.

***

This year’s holiday had a greater significance than typical years, since it marked the 25th anniversary of the incident that led to fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. Parts of the city center were blocked off all day where a variety of memorials, musical events, and other festival-like attractions were held. At night, the festivities climaxed with an epic concert in the city’s most famous square – the same square where thousands and thousands of civilians rallied against the communist regime 25 years earlier.

Wenceslas Square, the Times Square of the Czech Republic, was as packed as I have ever seen it for the large concert on Monday night. But…

Wenceslas Square, the Times Square of the Czech Republic, was as packed as I have ever seen it for the large concert on Monday night. But…

Vaclav Havel, one of the greatest leaders in recent history, speaking to his followers in December 1989.

Vaclav Havel, one of the greatest leaders in recent history, speaking to his followers in December 1989.

 

November 17th marks the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. On Nov. 17th 1989, thousands of Czech students gathered in the city center to commemorate another assembly, one 50 years earlier protesting Nazi fascism that resulted in more than 1,000 Czechs being sent to concentration camps. The 1989 demonstration started off as a state-sponsored event, but it quickly turned to a riot against the current government. Violence ensued, policemen beat students, and the Velvet Revolution began.

The Velvet Revolution was, for the most part, a peaceful movement that resulted in the overthrow of the communist government. Led by Vaclav Havel, A Czech version of Nelson Mandela who was honored by America and placed in Statuary Hall on Thursday, Czechoslovakia moved into a new era. Less than a year after the Nov. 17th movement, the Czechs held a democratic election. The Czech Republic and Slovakia had a peaceful split in 1993, and moved forward into a much more open time period. And everyone lived happily ever after, right?

Not exactly.

The holiday’s demonstrations, the vandalizing of the Lennon Wall, and, most importantly, Miloš Zeman’s continued idiotic antics intruded on what was supposed to be a gleeful day of remembrance, while demonstrating the Czechs current political instability.

***

Let’s meet President Zeman. Since Zeman won the presidential election last June – I can’t comprehend how he won – he has found different, and sometimes innovative, ways to anger his people. I have yet to meet a young Czech person who has anything nice to say about their president, and for good reason. He’s not just a drunkard; he makes appearances in public drunk. He doesn’t just have a dirty mouth; he used, what Czechs have told me, the dirtiest word in the Czech language to describe the heroic Russian band Pussy Riot. He doesn’t just look the other way from oppressive regimes; he endorses them — he supports Russia and not Ukraine; he supports China and not Taiwan.

Czech people have had enough Zeman, and they made sure outsiders knew that when the world briefly focused on the small Central European nation for its historic holiday. The Czech people believe they have given their president enough warnings. He has, in terms of soccer football, already earned a yellow card. So on this day, thousands of Czechs assembled around the city to give Zeman symbolic red cards, representing their desired ejection, removal, explosion – whatever word you like best – of their president.

At a different event, some protestors took advantage of an opportunity to chuck eggs at Zeman. As you can see in the video below, his guards used umbrellas to shield Zeman as he spoke. I don’t have a word-for-word translation from his speech, but a Czech friend helped translate the speech for me. Zeman’s main gist: I’m not scared of you. You weren’t part of the Revolution. I was part of the Revolution. You cannot scare me.

http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ct24/nejnovejsi-videa/292682-zeman-nebojim-se-vas-jako-jsem-se-nebal-pred-25-lety/?page=2

You don’t need to even know what he is saying to sense the large disconnect between him and his people. Just listen to his unsympathetic tone and the passionate crowd.

Talk about a charismatic leader!

Zeman’s unjust rule and unfound sympathy managed to overshadow what was supposed to be a day of remembrance of all those who fought for freedom, especially Vaclav Havel.

And yet, Zeman’s actions were not even the wildest part of the day.

***

The Lennon Wall has served as Prague’s greatest symbol of freedom since the 1980s. Throughout his life John Lennon preached the importance of freedom, peace and liberty – a message that struck the Czech youth when, at the time, they lacked all three qualities. So students would graffiti the wall, at the risk of punishment, to illuminate their dreams. Even after communism fell, the Lennon Wall lived on, serving as a reminder of how lucky we, the Western world, are to have peace and freedom, how difficult freedom can be to achieve, and, most importantly, that many people still do not have their natural liberties. The Wall constantly changes, but it is always beautifully decorated with beautiful messages. That is, however, until the night of Nov. 17.

Here’s a picture of the wall before that night:

Lennon Wall Before

Lennon Wall Before

And here’s what it looked like after:

Lennon Wall After

Lennon Wall After

So many questions, fueled with anger, arose: Who did this? Why did they do this? Is the wall gone forever?

The answers, luckily, are much more positive than some people, including myself, feared.

Prague Service, an anonymous group of art students, painted the wall white and added the message “WALL IS OVER!” Their reasoning was, in the best interpretation, fantastically hopeful, or, in the worst interpretation, justifiable; in a statement, they said they wanted “to provide free space for new messages of the current generation.” In essence, it was a symbolic call to action for young people. If you don’t like your government, don’t sit back and complain. Make your voice heard, one way or another.

Two friends and I went to the Wall the following night, and, not surprisingly, many people were already leaving their mark on a wall that was no longer white. Was the Wall what it had been before? Of course not. But it was already well on its way back.

Less than 24 hours after the Wall had been erased, dozens of people helped start the process of establishing a new Lennon Wall.

Less than 24 hours after the Wall had been erased, dozens of people helped start the process of establishing a new Lennon Wall.

My friends and I hung around the wall for a while talking to some of the people there, reading the messages, and, of course, writing our own messages. While I watched people paint the wall from a few yards back, I began speaking with one of the young people there who brought out loads of paint for others to use. He offered me some of his beer, and I hesitantly asked, “Are you sure?”

“Of course,” he replied “It’s Lennon Wall!”

How could you not take a sip after that?

***

Monday was a day full emotions. Tears of joy and tears of sadness; cheers of ebullience and cheers of disdain. But, most importantly, it was a day of celebratory remembrance. Not long ago, Czechs would be severely punished for speaking out against the regime. And now they can hold mass demonstrations against their elected leader, jeer his speech, and, although probably not allowed, get away with throwing eggs at him! The Czechs may not be happy with the current administration, but at least they can voice their opinion – a right many people around the world still lack. Look at, for example, Hong Kong, where its current foundation of a revolution was somewhat inspired by the Czech Republic.

The Hong Kong Lennon Wall looks much different than Prague’s, but they both carry the same hopeful messages

The Hong Kong Lennon Wall looks much different than Prague’s, but they both carry the same hopeful messages

The Czech Republic is far from perfect (Is any nation near perfect?), but, at least, as the street artist told me, “Czech Republic is freedom.”

… It was nothing compared to the events that took place in the same square 25 years earlier.

… It was nothing compared to the events that took place in the same square 25 years earlier.

***

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

Doug and I bought a one-way ticket to a city in the Czech Republic where the Czechs were hosting Iceland in a Euro 2016 qualifier five hours before kickoff. We didn’t have tickets, a place to stay, or a way to get home. But, as you can see, everything worked out.

Doug and I bought a one-way ticket to a city in the Czech Republic where the Czechs were hosting Iceland in a Euro 2016 qualifier five hours before kickoff. We didn’t have tickets, a place to stay, or a way to get home. But, as you can see, everything worked out.


Jack in Czech Republic: I Go to School Too

November 6, 2014

I really don’t want to do schoolwork right now. So why not blog about school? Before I discuss the differences (or lack thereof) between Charles classes and Richmond classes, here’s a brief description of my five courses:

U.S. in the 1960s and 1970sRefer to Ohio by CSNY from my mid-semester mixtape to get my passionate thoughts on this course. The discussions in this class are consistently thought provoking and sometimes ridiculous, in a good way.

Introduction to Photojournalism – You know your photojournalism course is impacting you when you stare at a wall in a bathroom wishing you had your camera on you. This course has already forced me to view photography, Prague’s landscape, and, I guess, bathrooms in completely different manners.

Global Communication – The one course I am taking with an American institution taught by an American professor from an American university. Yea, there’s not a whole lot of cultural realizations coming from this course. Overall, it’s been a fun class, though. I get to spend the next five weeks defending China’s censorship, so that’s kind of cultural, right?

Here’s an action shot of Tim, who also gets to defend China’s censorship, working hard on our group project.

Here’s an action shot of Tim, who also gets to defend China’s censorship, working hard on our group project.

Czech for Beginners – Thanks to the Eastern Europeans, whose native tongue is somewhat similar to Czech, this is far and away my most difficult class.

Arms Control and Disarmament – This is a master’s level course on a subject I knew little about when I enrolled. So that should give you a sense on how difficult I find Czech language. Additionally, this is the one course that is vastly different than my Richmond courses. There are no assigned readings or written tests. Instead, students write weekly two-page research reports on one nuclear state (I’m the U.K.) that lead to our eventual end-of-class debate. My guess is that this class is different not because it’s in Prague, but because it is a master’s course.

With the exception of my Global Communication course, my courses are primarily composed of a mix of Czech students looking to improve their English and European students studying at Charles University for a semester. Despite the diverse composition of students, these courses don’t differ too greatly from my Richmond courses. There are, however, a few differences worth mentioning before I expand on how the two institutions’ similarities.

Punctuality, or lack thereof: At Charles, on time means 10 minutes late. And early means on time. It blows me away how many people show up to class late. My American history class, for example, always starts on time, yet it’s rare that at least two-thirds of the students are there when class begins. One reason for the constant tardiness could be that getting to class isn’t as simple as a five-minute walk from your on-campus dorm.

All around the city: Charles does not have a campus. Instead, the school consists of several buildings splattered throughout Prague. My five classes are taught in four buildings spread throughout the city. I still can’t decide which system I like better. I enjoy the different sceneries I’m forced to see, but the vast distances create more obstacles when going to class. Take, for example, when the city decided to change the tram lines without any heads up. Later that day I eventually realized my tram was not headed toward my usual Czech Language stop. I had to quickly get off and run through the city, so that I would not be too late. When I busted into class, out of breath and five minutes late, I noticed three or four other students in this small class had yet to arrive. Based on the students’ timetable, I was five minutes early.

Once-a-week classes: Except for my Czech language class, which meets twice a week, my courses meet once a week. I cannot overstate my love for once-a-week meetings. The workload isn’t too much different from Richmond’s, but having a full week in my grasp to spread out my work is fantastic.

Grading: I’m sure the grading at Charles is different from Richmond, since final grades are based on one or two assignments and class participation. I can’t tell you much more, however, because, well, I’ve barely received any grades. Typing that sentence gave me way too much anxiety.

Oral exams: Two of my courses culminate with oral exams, where I will have to speak with my professor about the course rather than filling in bubbles or answering short-answer questions. This feels like the biggest difference because I have no idea what to expect for an oral exam, and, well, it will be crucial to my grade.

So there are a few differences between the Richmond and Charles, but the most important aspect of a school – the way students learn – is quite similar. My educational experience – workload, types of assignments, discussion, professor availability, etc. – is quite similar to Richmond. Here’s the Spark Notes version of my classes’ syllabi: Do a reading assignment, maybe answer some discussion questions, discuss the reading in class, and ultimately take an exam/write a term paper/give a presentation. Strikingly similar to Richmond, I’d say. This certainly isn’t a bad thing – I love the whole reading/writing/discussing basis of my leadership studies and journalism majors. Additionally, I, like most UR students, I assume, didn’t go abroad for an out-of-this-world classroom experience. Sure, taking classes with a different faculty and different students offers a nice change of pace, but my true foreign education comes outside of the classroom. I came to Prague for a real-world academic experience – for example, meeting professional journalists and learning about the daily tasks of an online publication through my internships, traveling around Europe, and having to learn a city where English is not the first language. Hell, I’ve met a lot of fascinating people by having a couple drinks at Czech bars. I’ve been told for many years that learning doesn’t only take place in the classroom, but my time in Prague has given me a new perspective on that idea.

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

I was super happy to spend a day with this guy on his business trip. Thank you Teradata for sending my father to Prague!

I was super happy to spend a day with this guy on his business trip. Thank you Teradata for sending my father to Prague!


Jack in Czech Republic: My One-Month Mixtape

October 21, 2014

I’ve been in Prague for a little more than a month, and I can’t decide if that’s an eternity or a blink of the eye. On one hand, I feel like I just got here, and I am still in the process of learning the city. Yet midterms (yay, midterms!) are creeping up, which will in a way mark the midway point. At the same time, last week feels like, well, a lot longer than a week ago. Time doesn’t really make sense to me.

Originally I decided to write a one-month summary of my time in Prague. I then realized how boring of a post that would be. So instead, I figured I’d have my pals John Lennon, TLC, and some others help tell my tale. This is my one-month mixtape:

Small Town –John Mellencamp

I’ve lived in small towns for most of my life, so living in the heart of a large city has been an adjustment. So far, so good, though. My one complaint would be the constant noise coming from the street below my second-story window, but the accessibility of, well, everything and the constant activity makes up for the noise. I’ve heard cities are typically expensive, but…

Thrift Shop – Macklemore

Prague is like one massive thrift shop in the sense that everything is so cheap. This creates a problem, however, because since everything is cheap, I buy too many unnecessary things to embrace the cheapness. So because Prague is cheap, I’m spending a lot of money. Makes sense, right?

No Scrubs — TLC

People dress too nicely in Prague, which leaves me, a scrub, trying to keep up. So many sweet shirts, and nice pants! Ugh, all I want to do is go to class in sweatpants.

You Are a Tourist – Death Cab For Cutie

That’s right, Ben Gibbard. I am indeed a tourist. Since I’ve been here for a month, I try to convince myself I’m a local – but, let’s real; I’m not. I still get all googley-eyed walking around this gorgeous city. And the Czech students in my classes sometimes remind me I am a tourist. Thanks guys!

Imagine – John Lennon

Naturally, my favorite spot in Prague is a popular tourist attraction. The John Lennon Wall just has such a sweet aura, though. Students created the wall in the 1980s as a means of protesting against the slowly dying Communist regime. They would decorate it with Lennon quotes, Beatles lyrics, and practically any message of peace. People have continued sharing their messages of peace and love, and the wall seems to transform every few weeks. I’m looking forward to making my fourth trek to the wall this weekend when a few friends visit me.

Tie Up The Tides – Quilt

Additionally, the wall embodied Prague’s underground music scene that existed during the Communist era. Communism is gone, but the music scene remains. There seems to be some cool show every night. I’ve managed to check out a few places, and have yet to leave unhappy. Quilt was my favorite random show I’ve seen here.

Taking Care of Business – Bachman-Turner Overdrive

I swear I do some productive things too. For example, I intern at Transitions Online, an online publication covering Eastern Europe and Central Asia, two or three days a week. Typically, I write a piece for the site’s daily news briefing, which I love. In addition to the work, I’ve met some interesting people from around Europe and have been exposed to a part of the city I probably wouldn’t have explored otherwise.

Save Tonight – Eagle-Eye Cherry

We get social at Transitions, too. One night, a group of us did some trivia-night event, and had a blast. I didn’t help the team too much though. My one contribution: for a name-that-tune portion I nailed Save Tonight when no one else in the group knew it. Score one for Jack.

Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young

I go to school too, I promise. My favorite course thus far has been a 1960s and 1970s U.S. history course. Before registration, I knew I wanted to take some sort of American history course so I could compare it to American teachings. I pounced on this course as soon as I could, since this era is so fascinating. I hoped for a new perspective, and wow, did I find one. My ultra-traditional professor and my forward-thinking class constantly clash, which creates great discussion. In one discussion, he blamed the students for the Kent State shootings. In another discussion, he mentioned his distaste for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. So here you go professor, CSNY criticizing the government for the Kent State shootings.

Rather Be – Clear Bandit featuring Jess Glynne

Yes it’s cheesy. Yes it’s cliché. But right now, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Prague. The past month has been incredible.

Thanks for reading!

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

You’re in luck… Two selfies!

The only bad part about our trip to Krakow was the eight-hour bus rides. And even they weren’t terrible.

The only bad part about our trip to Krakow was the eight-hour bus rides. And even they weren’t terrible.

Doug slept, though. Lame.

Doug slept, though. Lame.


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