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21 posts categorized "Czech Republic"

12/22/2014

Fall 2014, Issue III

NewsletterBannerPrague686x101

The 3rd Issue of CIEE Prague Newsletter concentrates on the special projects which were prepared by CIEE students during the Fall 2014 semester. Students from our four programs, namely Central European Studies, Communications, New Media + Journalism, Film Studies and Global Architecture and Design, spent a considerable amount of time and put a lot of effort into creating those exciting and unique projects, which are discussed in this newsletter in detail.

Enjoy reading about those outstanding special students´ projects!

Central European Studies

Special Immersion trip

Special Czech Immersion trip is an optional 3 day trip that our students can join. We prepared this trip last semester and because it was so successful, we decided to keep it. This trip is specific not only because just a small group of students attend (max. 10), but especially because our students do not stay in a hotel. They are accommodated with local families in Vodňany, a town in Southern Bohemia.

Students are accompanied by one of our Czech language teacher on behalf of CIEE. By preparing this trip we wished to give our students another opportunity for their immersion. And what is better than to take them to a small town far away from Prague and let them live with local families for a weekend?

On Friday, students visit a local high school, meet up with local students and spend an evening together. They meet their families for the weekend and also learn more about our culture. This semester students learned more about our St. Nicolas traditions and even decorated typical Czech ginger bread cookies. Saturday is spent with the families that prepare the program for the day.

On Sunday, students are taken to České Budějovice where they have a guided tour around the town and a brewery visit. After lunch, it is time to say good bye and head back to Prague.

This trip is an exceptional opportunity for students seeking to get more out of their study abroad experience, and we are that several students take advantage of this unique opportunity.

Feedbacks from our students:

“Fantastic! It was very well-organized and there was also time to explore the town with family. The high school was interesting and I enjoyed spending time with the students.”                                    

“The trip gave me a chance to interact with Czech people that I have not had yet this semester.”                                                          

“The trip was well organized and very interesting.”                                                         

“I had a wonderful weekend, and I am very glad that I came on this trip! Výborně!”                                                   

“My best experience in Czech Republic so far! Thank you!”                                                      

“This was the most growing and learning experience I have had here so far and I am so thankful!”                                                     

“This has been the highlight trip since I have been in the Czech Republic. It was an amazing experience.”                                                 

“I learned a lot and loved staying with a family. It was nice experiencing what short stay would be like.”                                                         

“I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone in the program, it was so fun and a real immersion experience.”     

“Loved it! Had an amazing time. Everything was great.”                            

Immersion trip 1

Immersion trip 2

Communications, New Media + Journalism

Internships

Motus:

Victoria Macoul spent her semester as an intern for Motus, an organization “helping to create and present new performances and other creative acts, run debates and workshops, and initiate events beyond theatre: cultural development activities for an open democratic society” (Motus website). Victoria had many tasks, but one of her favorites was participating in the Dia De Los Muertos/Day of the Dead festival:

„Motus, in cooperation with Puppets without Borders, brings a bit of Mexico to the Czech lands this year for the ninth time. Against the romantic background of Stromovka park children and their parents can learn these traditional practices, participate in a parade of lanterns, hear real live Mexican music, see performances for kids, shadow puppets and installations made of food – to eat!” (Motus website)

“I think the best part about working at the festival was being immersed in a setting where there were people from every generation. Sometimes as a student you find yourself surrounded solely by people your age, so it was nice to have interaction with families and young children.” Victoria Macoul, Communications Major, Virginia Wesleyan College

  Day of the dead 1

Day of the dead 2

Český Rozhlas, Radio Prague:

You can learn more here about Jelani Spencer-Joe’s (Public Relations Major/Broadcasting Minor, Susquehanna University) work at her internship with Český Rozhlas, Czech Republic’s public radio broadcaster in operation since 1923.

https://www.radio.cz/en/section/letter/a-new-yorkers-experience-with-the-czech-language

https://www.radio.cz/en/section/letter/eating-isnt-my-passion-but-its-a-close-second

https://www.radio.cz/en/section/letter/i-have-to-pay-for-what

https://www.radio.cz/en/section/letter/its-just-a-wall

The Prague Post:

Mara Natale, Film and Cinema Studies, Lafayette College had a chance to intern with The Prague Post and write about her passion: film.

https://www.praguepost.com/cinema/42193-real-life-in-jihlava

https://www.praguepost.com/cinema/42845-film-festival-filmasia-hits-10-years

https://www.praguepost.com/component/content/article?id=42046:das-filmfest-returns

https://www.praguepost.com/cinema/42993-oko-marks-the-advent-in-adventure

Intercultural Communication & Leadership Course

Opened for the first time this semester, ICL is taught by Jana, our Center Director. Because the course touches on issues on intercultural communication issues, this course is offered as CNMJ course credit. Several CNMJ students took part and had to complete a „digital story.“ Alex Paxman, Communications Major, Bryant University would like to share hers with you:

 

The Happening

CNMJ’s very own Jake Weeks (Roger Williams University, Communications Major) was the Creative Director of The Happening and was instrumental in putting the event together. Here’s more about it in his own words:

“The first annual CIEE ‘Happening’ was a program for students to partner up with a Czech action artist and collaborate on a project. Cynthia, Ivanna, and I met with Tomáš Moravec, an artist turned viral video star after he hacked a wooden pallet to glide down the tram tracks of Bratislava, Slovakia, and over the course of the semester we carefully planned out our project. We would film the ‘action’; the students coming in and out of the CIEE door, and edit the footage together to form a construction. Later on the evening of December 8th, we projected this footage onto a cloud of steam outside the door to complete the reconstruction. The intention was to make a statement on how fast the semester goes, and how our time in Prague will soon fade away.” 

Insert video from Z:\CIEE Promotion\Newsletters\Fall 2014\Newsletter 3\CNMJ materials

Buddy Dance Video

“Honza is an awesome buddy for many reasons, but mostly because he's so fun to be around.  As you can see in the video, he's always a source of entertainment.  At the same time, I wouldn't have survived the first two weeks in Prague without Honza.  He was more than willing to drop everything at any time to help me find the post office, grocery store, or wherever I needed to go.  He is always willing to help and made my experience in the Czech Republic much easier and more enjoyable.” Joel Thom, University of California-Sacramento, Communications

 

Film Studies

Hafan animation studio workshop

Undoubtedly the most favorite excursion/workshop for the Film Studies program is HAFAN Studio Animation workshop. They split into groups of approximately 5 students and during one day they learn how to make a traditional animation short film with puppets. Only a couple of minutes of film can be created within the limited time, but all students agree it is definitely worth the experience.

Feedbacks from our students:

 “A great place to explore and helpful to get experience using professional expertize.”

“One of the coolest projects I got to work on!”

“Absolutely wonderful. I'd love to spend a day just watching the animators!”

See one of the outcomes of the Fall 2014 semester below:
 

Intensive Beginning Czech Language course

CIEE Prague makes sure that even the Intensive Beginning Czech Language course is designed specifically for filmmakers. Vocabulary and phrases learned are often time then used during the production process when Production track students occasionally get Czech actors to cooperate with them (if they choose to make their final film in Czech, subtitled to English). Our Czech teacher Luděk Brouček makes them work with the textbook Film Czech - Survival Czech Course for Students of Film and Photography published by Ilona Kořánová in 2013.

Feedbacks from our students:

 “It really helped with daily life in the Czech Republic and being able to at least try to communicate.”

“This was one of the best and most interactive language courses I have ever taken. We learned so much in such a short period of time.”

“I learned a lot in this course - Luděk is an amazing teacher and I was so impressed by how well he handled the whole class.”

To deepen the student experience, Luděk came up with a special video project: students had to come up with scenarios in which the got to use what they learnt. Again, see some of the results below:
 

 

Video blog

CIEE Film studies students are usually strongly motivated individuals with true passion for filmmaking. Therefore they often come up with short independent films during their study abroad experience. Aaron Barnett from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and James Cashman from Seattle University came up with a couple of videos for their CIEE film studies blog - do not forget to checkout previous entries:

Weeks 1-5 by James

Fall 2014 semester has begun by James

Film Studies Overnight trip to Písek: Kašperské hory hike by Aaron

Final films

And last, but definitely not least, - <List names> from <list film name> production gave us a permission to publish their 16mm feature film project they created as their program requirement this term. They managed to shoot this project within 48-72 hours. Enjoy a selection of what we saw on the Final Screening on Thursday, December 18th.

 

 

Global Architecture and Design

This semester´s final projects of Global Architecture and Design students explored the island of Štvanice and proposed various ‘‘Amphibious Structures'' for the new festival ground. <insert GAD  Photo Stvanice>  This area with lot of commercial and urban potential became quite isolated and unused over the years. Our students presented new concepts for its future development.

In particular, students focused on opportunities to use the island´s full potential, especially for commercial use. The main focus was on the entertainment aspect of the island´s urban development. Nowadays, festivals are becoming major contributors to local and global economy as they have the ability to revitalize specific urban context and internationally promote the city as a rich-program destination.

Each student was given a specific area which they had to research and present a new idea of its future development. They had to face several challenges. The necessity for self-sufficient public space and infrastructure of future cities, they succeeded to propose a unique typology and technological intervention that can have profound impact not only on local surrounding, but can be applied on any context with similar challenges.

During the three core courses of Global Architecture and Design, the students were taught new technologies, methods and ways of thinking by leading figures of the contemporary scene of Czech architecture in order to successfully complete their special tasks.

 

 

 

CIEE Study Center Prague wishes you Happy Holidays!

PF 2014

11/18/2014

Písek Hike

During the weekend of October 17th-19th, 2014, CIEE Film Studies program spent a weekend in Bohemia on an excursion. On Friday, we had a guided tour of the city of Písek followed by a tour of Písek film schools. Local students joined us for dinner and the Opening ceremony of the 14th International Student Film Festival Písek 2014 ended the day. Saturday was dedicated to film projections and on Sunday, students got some fresh air while hiking, geocaching and mushroom picking in Kašperské mountains. Enjoy a video that Aaron Barnett from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington shared with us:

 

 

10/02/2014

Fall 2014, Issue I

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The Importance of Being … Well Housed

Housing is an essential factor for a rewarding study abroad experience. Before coming to Prague, students fill out a housing survey which is crucial for their housing placement. Based on their profile and preferences, CES and CNMJ students are placed in one of the following housing options: homestay, dorm, or apartments. FS and GAD students’ housing is a little bit different in the sense that they have only the option to live in CIEE-administered apartments with other CIEE FS/GAD participants. This is due to the fact that they study outside of the CIEE Study Center (at FAMU/ARCHIP) and very often work on school projects together.

When placing students, we do our best not to place students from the same home university in the same apartment/homestay (dorm might be an exception) to make students get to know new people and not just hang out with their friends from home.

Czech Homestay

This housing option offers a truly immersive experience. Our families live in residential areas of Prague and most of them have been in the program for several semesters or even years. Homestay students have a great opportunity to get out of their comfort zone. Apart from an enriching study abroad experience, homestay students get two meals per day and a single room! They are also assigned a “homestay buddy”, local university student, who helps them during orientation and shows them around during semester.

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What do students say about their homestay?

What´s the coolest thing about your housing?

 “Home cooked meals.” (CES student)

“Amazing food and the feeling of being part of a Czech family.” (CNMJ student)

 What do you think about the buddy program?

 “I think it's a great thing.” (CES student)

“Buddies are great for showing us around the city and introducing us to the real lives of the Czech.” (CNMJ student)

 What you like about your neighborhood?

 “I like that it's quiet.” (CES student)

“It is close to the metro and very safe.” (CNMJ student)

 What advantages do you see from living with a host family?

 “A house to really call home.” (CES student)“I’m getting much more assimilated into the culture, and get great food everyday!” (CNMJ student)

Available to the following programs: Central European Studies; Communications, New Media + Journalism

Apartments

Our apartments arelocated either by the river close to the both the Study Center and the city center, or in Vinohrady, a neighborhood popular with locals as well as expats (approx. 20 minute commute to the Study Center by tram/metro). Each apartment houses two to six CIEE students (in most cases three) as well as a flat buddy. The flat buddy is a Charles University students who, in exchange for free housing, helps students during orientation, with practical issues as well as cultural immersion throughout the semester.

Students living in apartments are responsible for their own meals as well as cleaning. This housing option is perfect for independent students. Around 75% of CIEE students live in apartments.

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What do students say about their apartments?

What´s the coolest thing about your housing?

“I love my apartment and its location.” (CES student)

 “Living in an apartment gives me the independence and responsibility of really living in the city and all with the benefit of having awesome American roommates.” (CNMJ student)

“I have thoroughly enjoyed living with a Czech student. She has been so helpful in terms of adjusting to a new city and knowing a lot about the local culture.” (CNMJ student)

”Everything. I couldn't have asked for a better flat buddy and living situation. ” (FS student)

”The apartment and the people!” (FS student)

”I have a balcony in my room, that's great.” ( FS student)

Its roomy and has great qualities of light. Also it's nice that all gear has been provided (kitchen supplies, sheets, etc.)“(GAD student)

„The apartment itself/location has been great“ (GAD student)

What do you think about the buddy program?

“I LOVE my Czech buddy!“ (CES student)

„It's helpful having someone available who knows the city and the language to help if I need anything.“ (CES student)

“Love having my Czech buddy around.“ (CES student)

“Having a Czech buddy is a great way to avoid touristy destinations and discover local bars and restaurants.” (CNMJ student)

“I think the buddy program is great. It provides students with the opportunity to branch out and get to know some of the locals which otherwise might be more challenging.” (CNMJ student)

“I love my Czech buddy! They all make it so easy when you have questions and they are able to show you a "real" part of the city instead of just the parts where foreigners go.“ (FS student)

“My Czech buddy is awesome.“ (FS student)

 „I think it's great! They are so helpful and it's really nice having locals to spend time with. they make it much more authentic than other abroad programs.“(GAD student)

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What you like about your neighborhood?

 “Super close to a major public transportation spot. (CES student)

“It's charming and accessible to public transportation. (CES student)

“I love living in a neighborhood where I’ve gotten to know the local shopkeepers and I can used the Czech I’ve learned on daily errands.” (CNMJ student)

“I love how quiet my neighborhood is and how I can hear someone practicing clarinet every Tuesday. The woman from the minimart recognizes me and always makes an effort to communicate and smile at me.” (CNMJ student)

“I love the location! It is so easy to get anywhere in the city. Also, we are so close to the supermarket, tram stop, and metro.“ (FS student)

“Close to both tram and metro and parks.“ (FS student)

“Everything! “ (FS student)

It's a great location to get around the city by public transit or just walking about.“(GAD student)

„You can walk everywhere, and there's so much to do.“ (GAD student)

 Available to the following programs: Central European Studies; Communications, New Media + Journalism; Global Architecture & Design; Film Studies; all summer programs

 Dorm

The dorm, located within a 10-minute walk up hill to the study center, accommodates usually around 32 CIEE students. Some of the most significant advantages of living in the dorm, apart from the location, are breakfast and cleaning service Monday to Friday. Students who choose this housing option do this mostly because of location and the comfort and safety of being surrounded by other CIEE students. Five dorm buddies are placed in the dorm to, once again, help students with practical issues, share Czech culture with them and help them not get trapped in the „American bubble“. The dorm is located in a neighborhood with many nice restaurants, cafes, and shops.

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What do students say about the dorm?

What´s the coolest thing about your housing?

 “Close to school.” (CES student)

“Free breakfast.” (CES student)

“The dorm is very nice, and is centrally located.“(CES student)

“Having my own room and bathroom.“ (CNMJ student)

 What do you think about the buddy program?

 “It was nice having a student from the Czech Republic to help us get settled and show us around.“ (CES student)

“It's helpful having someone available who knows the city and the language to help if I need anything.“ (CES student)

 “Love it!“ (CNMJ student)

 What you like about your neighborhood?

  “Nice, safe, close to school.” (CES student)

“Safe, quiet, residential. Good food options around.” (CES student)

“There are endless things to see, I could wander for days on end and still find new things.” (CNMJ student)

 Available to the following programs: Central European Studies; Communications, New Media + Journalism

 

 

Weeks 1-5

James Cashman from Seattle University shared another video entry with us - enjoy his shots from Prague metro, Kutná Hora trip, Barrandov Film Studios excursion, and Prague's famous Václavské (Wenceslas) square.

 

09/10/2014

Fall 2014 semester has begun!

Summer holidays are over and CIEE Prague has new group of students on site. James Cashman from Seattle University was kind enough to share his first video blog post - enjoy the student's view on his first days in Prague (orientation sessions and walks, Prague Castle Tour, welcome dinner and more!).

 

05/06/2014

The Travelogue

By Griff Jones, Whitman College

April 15, 2014

With the semester wrapping up much more quickly than anticipated, I feel as though now is a good point to catch up with the going-ons of the past month and a half or so.  It has been a long while since I wrote for this blog.  In all likelihood, this will be my final post, but there may be one more to wrap up my experience this semester.  This one, however, will be a doozy, and I hope to cover the events since my last post.  Due to the scope, then, I apologize that depth may not be a priority, and a travelogue is what follows.

A month and a half ago, we pitched our films, which was a very nerve-wracking and frustrating experience (positive feedback isn’t a huge thing here, unfortunately) that led to a few weeks of work on our scripts.  Ultimately, after a lot of revisions and uncertainty, we arrived at a final product we like, and are about to actually film it.  Making a movie is a lot of work, and we’ve been incrementally working towards this production period the whole semester.  At the moment, we have a script, a storyboard, a technical screenplay, actors, and a crew, and we film next week.  Our film, due to our location, will be shot overnight two nights in a row, from 10pm to 8am.  Other films are shooting now – one is done, one starts tomorrow, and then there’s one more before we shoot.  At the end of all five groups production, the film is developed and transferred to a digital format which we then edit to a final product.  That is then sound-mixed and color corrected, and we premiere it on the final day of our program.  The day after the premiere, I leave for a trip to Rome, the Alps, and then Paris before coming home for one day and going to Jackson, WY, for a summer internship.  Life will be hectic, to say the least.  But it’s fun work, and keeps me excited!  

Anyways.  After the pitch, the rest of the weekend was spent at Hafan Animation Studio, which I was originally a bit unenthusiastic about. I generally enjoy the mandatory activities, but we have had a LOT of them, so I thought I was ready to be done. Actually though, this turned out to be the coolest. We split into two groups and went on different days, and then each of those groups split in half again. So Adam, Andie, Michelle, and I spent the first half of the day animating three puppets to create the first part of the short film our group made. It was so fun, and very informative about how difficult, detailed, and tedious old school frame by frame animation is. The attention to minutiae that animators have is insane, seriously. But, for 3 hours, it was awesome! The studio felt like an art studio and had a very bohemian vibe about it. The second half of the day we made facades with a window in them to get a feel for how the sets are made. It was basically an arts and crafts project; we sawed, painted, glued, and made some pretty cool looking “buildings.” It was seriously enjoyable. 

Krakow and Auschwitz

The following weekend, Adam, Michelle, Dominic and I went on the CIEE trip to Krakow and Auschwitz.  We met at midnight for the bus ride, which provided a fitful night of sleep before arriving loopy and dazed at Auschwitz.  The whole town had a sense of gloom to it, due partly to the cloudy weather and the sites we knew lay ahead.  We had breakfast at a youth hostel, and then sleep-deprived yet sober, we went to the former concentration camp.  Auschwitz is a collection of brick barracks, and each of the barracks had been converted into a museum.  The topics, while horrifying, were hard to comprehend in their entirety due to the sheer scale of the atrocities that occurred.  I can hardly fathom death as it is at my age, and the numbers killed there were difficult to morph to concrete, relatable concepts in my head.  The rooms full of human hair and shoes were telling in that regard, though, and difficult to witness.  After Auschwitz we traveled to Birkenau, which was even harder to believe.  It is huge.  The remains of the wooden barracks are marked by the still-standing chimneys that sprawl across a huge field.  Again, it was hard to fully fathom.  I appreciate having seen it and been present where such a world-defining event occurred, but being there didn’t get me any closer to understanding the events, I think, than reading about it had.  I don’t know what 1,000 people look like enclosed in a small barracks, only that I should be appalled by it.  It’s hard to relate to, essentially.  It was a very sobering experience – one I likely will not repeat, but I’m glad I did it.  I feel like it’s something everyone should do if possible.  

After a slightly detoxing bus ride nap, we arrived in Krakow later that afternoon.  That city…  It’s beautiful, and compact, and fun.  I really liked it, partly because it had a very college-y vibe.  And rightly so; a large portion of its population are students.  We explored the square, went on a brief walk around, and then took a break before going to an incredible sushi restaurant for dinner.  The restaurant was as hole-in-the-wall as I’ve ever been to, and we just told them what we wanted to pay and they made us whatever they wanted.  It was the best sushi I’ve had.  We then took a cab to the Kazimierz, or Jewish District, of town (which really wasn’t that far, but we were with a girl with a cast on her foot).  We bar hopped a bit and then went home, but it was really cool to experience some of the nightlife.  The next day was entirely in Krakow, and we had a tour of the castle and cathedral.  The cathedral in the main square in town has an altar totally plated in gold – it was gorgeous.  I had pierogies for lunch and dinner, because they were that delicious.  And we also went to the Oscar Schindler Factory, which is now a museum about Nazi-occupied Krakow.  That night I joined a group of people from the trip and went back to the Kazimierz.

The next day we went to the Salt Mines of Poland.  I did not have high hopes for this, as my main desire to go on the trip was to see Auschwitz.  I was blown away, though.  The Salt Mines were a functioning business for over 1,000 years, and only shut down large-scale production in the ‘90s.  In a two hour tour, we went through the top three levels.  Underneath lay at least ten more levels, all man-made.  This is after we went down something like 60 flights of stairs from the surface just to get to the first level.  The scale is just mind boggling!  And the air down there was incredible – they treat asthma down there in a hospital (still to this day!) and I could see why.  It felt balmy, but not humid, due to the salt in the air.  There were altars all over the place carved out of the salt, and the largest underground chapel in the world is there.  In that chapel, there are tons of lifelike sculptures and even a fresco of the Last Supper carved out of salt.  It was a blast – I had no expectations going in and it was one of the coolest places I’ve been to in Europe.  The scale and history of such a place is just so awe-inspiring.  

Tourist in Prague

The next weekend I took as an opportunity to explore Prague some more, and be a tourist here.  I went to the Mucha Museum, where Alfons Mucha’s prints are displayed.  I love his art, and going there inspired me to go see the Slav Epic, his magnum opus, displayed elsewhere in the city.  So the next day I went to the National Gallery and saw it.  The Slav Epic consists of twenty massive paintings, each the size of a two story wall, I would say.  They tell different stories from the history of the Slav people throughout Europe, and are just jaw-dropping.  The rest of the museum was meh, though…  I ran into a Whittie there, however!  It’s a small world.  I then went to DOX, the museum of contemporary art, which was also just okay.  But I was glad to explore the city some more and seek out new things I had yet to see.  

Vienna

The next week, Shannon came to town and we went to a few more places in Prague that I hadn’t been to, such as a museum by the castle.  We went together to Vienna that weekend, which is an incredibly gorgeous city.  I don’t know why, but German speaking countries are incredibly appealing to me.  I think just the slightly more American culture and laid back, bike riding demeanor of the people there makes them more relatable to me.  The Inner Stadt, where the Hapsburg Palaces are in Vienna, is one of the most gorgeous areas of any city I’ve ever seen.  On Sunday we went to the art gallery housed in one of them, which was a great gallery (partly because of the space it was in, no doubt).  It was also just fun walking around the city, which is very cosmopolitan, yet when you look up you realize that the buildings that house what is now a mall were originally homes to nobility and royalty.  The architecture was incredible there.  We also went to the Hapsburgs’ summer palace, not far from our hostel, and did a tour of it.  It was crazy how massive and ostentatious it was, but the crowds made it a less than ideal experience.  But seeing the splendor of that palace was worth dealing with them.  We then went to the zoo, in the massive park behind the summer palace.  On our way, we ran into another Whittie, who turned out to be the first of two from that weekend (another was staying in our hostel, and we met up and chatted on Sunday morning briefly).  That was crazy!  Anyway, the weather was gorgeous, so going to the zoo was a great choice.  The Vienna zoo is supposedly the best zoo in Europe (or self-advertised as such), and I would believe it!  It was really cool, and a fun break from cultural/historical Europe.  I would almost definitely visit Vienna again, along with Berlin.  

Olomouc and Uherske Hradiste

Then, now three weekends ago, our last weekend of travel arrived.  As part of our program, we went to Olomouc and another small Czech town, Uherske Hradiste, in Moravia (the Eastern region of the Czech Republic).  In Olomouc, we did a walking tour and then did a green-screen exercise with some students at the college there.  It was a quaint town, but quite pretty, and our hosts were very welcoming.  In Uherske Hradiste, we went to a museum about slivovice, or plum brandy that’s traditionally illegally distilled as moonshine.  We then went and had a slivovice tasting with a local family.  It was actually my first time welcomed into a Czech home, and they were very friendly and had a lovely house with a courtyard where they fed us delicious pastries and snacks during the tasting.  Afterwards, we walked around the town a bit and rested back at the lovely hotel we stayed at.  We had an amazing dinner off the beaten path, which was just one of MANY delicious meals we had that weekend.  To neglect mentioning the meals we ate would be criminal.  We had three course meals almost every day, and they were SO good.  We ate a ton, and all of it was amazing.  Go CIEE!  Later that night we had a private wine tasting with a man who made his own wines.  That was really fun too, and took place in his personal cellar where we spent a couple hours learning about wine and eating yet more tasty snacks.  On Sunday we went to a cave, where we went on a walking tour that transitions into a boat tour.  That was my second subterranean adventure of the semester, and while not quite as grandiose as the Salt Mines, it was super fun and very pretty.  Plus being in nature was a nice change of pace.  That weekend was in generally very relaxing, and a nice respite from the business of our workload.  

Fresh Eyes

Unfortunately, however, the next weekend I was laid out with what the doctor first thought was strep, but turned out to be mono.  So, that was a bummer, and sucked quite a bit.  But, I’m better now thanks to modern medicine, and when I reemerged from my sick, TV-obsessed cocoon, it had become spring in Prague!  So, with fresh eyes I’ve been re-experiencing the city.  It truly is gorgeous, and a very manageable city to live in.  I’ve dealt a bit with culture shock throughout the semester, however, and have discovered I just don’t like urban living a ton.  Add in the smoke that’s rampant here, destroying my asthmatic lungs, and I’ve had some times I haven’t wanted to be here.  But, newly healthy and with a rejuvenated perspective, I’m working on enjoying my final month here in Prague.  I’ll never live here, I think I can say extremely definitively, but I’ll definitely visit again.  I won’t close any doors in my life, but I think that extends to all of Europe as well.  Everything seems quite packed together, and the wide open spaces I’m used to and love from the American West don’t really exist in the same way here.  Which is fine, and I’m very excited to explore more of the urban centers in Europe throughout my life, as well as the Alps, but I think this may be my most extended stay on the continent.  But I’ll never say never! 

My classes are over now, except for four electives that I attend sparingly due to the demands of the production period. And now with nothing to do but make final arrangements for my shoot next week and crew on other shoots, it’s going to be interesting to study and work for my other classes’ finals.  But I’m going to try and be productive with my time and get in some final bits of exploration of the city.  

Anyway, with my travels over until after the program, there’s little to write about other than day to day activities.  Granted, those are going to get pretty interesting with the addition of making a movie of this level of quality.  So I hope to write one or two final wrap up posts about the moviemaking process and maybe my travels at the end, but my track record has been pretty pathetic with maintaining the blog.  Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my semester’s adventures to this point!  Thanks for reading!

04/28/2014

Spring 2014, Issue II

1

Ahoj from Praha, Study Abroad Advisors!

CIEE Prague programs offer plenty of trips and excursions, so we would like to focus this newsletter on these.

Central European Studies (CES)

CES academic trips are an inseparable part of the academic experience in Prague, as well as an inseparable part of the courses themselves. Each student has to go on at least 2 academic trips per semester. CIEE offers some 20 trips to various destinations, all accompanied by  teaching faculty and CIEE staff and all carefully chosen to help the students better comprehend the course topics and to provide them as much cultural immersion opportunities as possible. We offer one-day trips as well as overnight trips and show the evidence of history, the communist legacy and the transformation of the Czech society into a democratic member of the EU with its current social and economic challenges. Students can also choose from a variety of cultural sites important to historical events, literature courses, art and architecture or even current environmental issues.

2

The trips provide students a unique opportunity to explore sites outside of Prague, such as concentration camps and historical Jewish ghettos, which are connected to history courses and Judaism, as well as to courses focusing on psychoanalysis – e.g., understanding Nazi propaganda and the cult of Hitler.  Students also have a unique opportunity to have a deeper understanding of human rights, national identity and sociopolitical issues by visiting socially excluded localities and discussing it with local NGO and governmental representatives. In order to explore the communist past of the Czech Republic, students can visit and learn about the communist regime, the political persecution of that authoritarian regime by visiting former work camps with former political prisoners. Dealing with the outcomes of communist environmental policies, students learn about rural landscape changes. Last but not least, there are trips connected to a cultural immersive experience, where students have the chance to spend Easter in a village with a local family and to practice traditional (quite unique) Czech Easter customs.

Many trips and sites are so popular that they are run more than 4 times during the semester. A large number of students want to go to more destinations - beyond the CIEE academic mandatory requirement of taking part in 2 trips. Some trips maintain throughout semesters 100% positive feedbacks, and according to the students is one of the highlights of their experience in CIEE Prague’s program.

 Film Studies (FS)

Despite of the fact that Film Studies students are especially busy throughout the semester, CIEE Prague believes that studying abroad is about outclass academic exploration as well. Therefore we offer a number of excursions and trips designed specifically for the FS program.

Barrandov Film Studios excursion

On Friday, February 14th, FS Coordinator Ivana took students for a tour to the famous Barrandov Film Studios. As every semester, students not only got to visit the props, furniture and costumes department, but also some representational premises for filmmakers, a stage set of Tudors show and postproduction labs were seen. Furthermore, we got access to two film ateliers with shooting in progress, so students had a blast taking pictures in a train where Donald Sutherland acted in Crossing Lines (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_Lines). As always, a yummy lunch was provided. But let us share student feedback from this excursion:

 “Barrandov was truly amazing. It was so interesting and I felt like I learned a lot. I loved this excursion.”

“BEST TRIP EVER. The day was pretty exhausting, but overall it was a fantastic visit. It is a opportunity to visit the Barrandov Studios where such famous people have walked the halls. I liked the extra bit of tour that we got, thanks to Ivana. Hopefully I will be back there again one day making my own film! The lunch was fantastic, also.”

“I really enjoyed it! It was laid back enough so we could really soak it up, and we got to see a lot of the studios. The most interesting part was seeing the costumes and props. I also really, really appreciated the donuts given to us in the morning.”Barrandov 1photo courtesy of Jonáš Klimeš

Barrandov 2photo courtesy of Katie Ratcliffe

Hafan Animation Studio workshop

On Saturday and Sunday, March 1st-2nd, students split into 2 groups and each spent a whole day in Prague’s Hafan animation studio. They created traditional animated short film and had a blast!

Hafan 1

Hafan 2photo courtesy of Beth Winchester

  

Video animation students made together in 2 days

Karel Zeman Museum of Special Effects

On Monday, March 24th, CIEE 2nd cultural workshop was planned. We decided to connect it with an excursion to Karel Zeman Museum of Special Effects (https://www.muzeumkarlazemana.cz/en) which students enjoyed immensely.

  

video courtesy of Andie Eikenberg  Karel Zeman 1
on a Moon rose, photo courtesy of Katie Ratcliffe

After the excursion, we continued to Dobrá Trafika, an underground coffee place which looks like a simple news stand at first. Over a coffee/yummy milk shakes and cakes, academic, professional, social and interpersonal goals that students set for themselves during the orientation were discussed. And it was time for more fun too - students tested their knowledge of Greatest Czechs in a memory game and they all did quite good!

But hear it in their own words:

“Cool, interesting, creative excursion + great gift shop! Workshop was a nice activity - glad I knew more Czechs than I thought!“

„Very interesting and reminded me of a set on a George Méliès film.“

Overnight trip to Moravia - workshop in Olomouc, Palacký University, Audiovisual department

The weekend of March 28-30, FS Program Coordinator Ivana and Program Coordinator Eva took students on a weekend excursion to the Moravian Region. The trip started in the city of Olomouc, a UNESCO heritage site  - a local guide gave us a tour of the city center. After a yummy lunch we continued to Palacký University to join local students in the Audiovisual Department for a student television workshop. Students were given a simply task: introduce the city. You can see the result here:

  

 After the workshop, local students took CIEE Film Studies group to a local restaurant and they enjoyed an evening together, exploring the city independently.

Olomouc pic 1
Photo courtesy of John Kim

On Saturday, the whole group transfered to Uherské Hradiště, where a summer film festival is held annually. We checked in to Hotel Koníček, had lunch and continued to Vlčnov village, famous for its „Ride of the Kings“ (https://www.czechtourism.com/c/unesco-jizda-kralu/). After visiting a Home Distillery Museum (part of The Museum of Moravian Slovakia), we were invited to a local home by a Vlčnov family. Moravians are known for their hospitality and they truly confirmed this reputation of theirs. Mr. Mikulec told us about the Slivovitz distilling process and his wife surprised us with yummy Moravian kolatche and traditional Czech party sandwiches.

ON Trip pic 1Photo courtesy of John Kim

After this unique experience, we return back to Uherské Hradiště. Students were given couple of hours of free time to explore on their own and we met again for dinner. The local wine cellar visit followed.

ON Trip pic 2

ON Trip pic 2 b

On Sunday morning, we had a last site to visit: Moravian Karst with Punkva caves and the deepest gorge in the Czech lands: Macocha. Students were quite excited particularly due to the short train ride followed by a boat ride in the underground caves.

ON Trip pic 3

ON Trip pic 3 bPhoto courtesy of John Kim

More information from students perspectives can be found in FS blog (https://study-abroad-blog-prague-fs.ciee.org/).

Communication, New Media + Journalism (CNMJ)

Overnight trip to Brno

During a beautiful spring weekend in March, CNMJ Program students headed to Brno and other spots in Moravia with Amanda, Communication Program Coordinator. Our goal was to learn more about the media landscape in the Czech Republic and all by meeting local students and attending the human rights documentary film festival, One World (insert link: https://www.oneworld.cz/2014/ ).

Once we arrived to Brno on Friday, we stopped by Radio R at Masaryk University, Department of Media Studies and Journalism. Radio R is a very successful student-run radio station with over 100 volunteer moderators. They broadcast a variety of original programs covering politics, alternative music, and cultural events in and around Brno. CNMJ students not only had a discussion with student broadcasters, but also got to broadcast live themselves!

Radio R students on air

After our exciting live radio stint, we continued on with Radio R students and with hungry bellies to Výtopna Restaurant. Students were told there would be a surprise there. Výtopna is special thanks to a mini train which brings restaurant-goers their drinks! Surprise!

Our evenings in Brno were dedicated to the One World Film Festival, which is put on by the non-profit People in Need (in fact, we have one CNMJ intern working in their Media Department this semester). On Friday we saw The Great Night (insert link: https://www.oneworld.cz/2014/films-a-z/25305-the-great-night  ), which won the award for Best Czech Documentary at Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival last year. On Saturday, we saw a much more light-hearted film called, Everything is Possible (insert trailer?) about an 80 year-old Polish woman who backpacks around the world.

On Saturday we decided to explore the Moravian countryside and hung out in the village of Velké Bílovice. With 800 hectares of vineyards, it makes up the largest wine territory in the Czech Republic. So naturally after lunch, we walked through the village, greeting locals in Czech on our way, and ended up at a family wine cellar. After a short crash course in the ways of wine tasting, students were given several local samples to taste.

Lunch before wine tasting

Our last stop on Sunday before heading back to Prague was Moravian Karst (insert link: https://www.moravskykras.net/en/moravian-karst.html ). We enjoyed a tour of the caves, which included not only the impressive Macocha Abyss (the largest such gorge in Central Europe), but also a boat ride through the last part of the caves.

Students had a great time! For more on this trip from a student’s perspective, please visit our CNMJ blog:

https://study-abroad-blog-prague-cnmj.ciee.org/

CNMJ group

 

Global Architecture and Design (GAD)

Overnight Trip – Vltava Cascades

The very first academic trip for the Global AD program was planned to be only a few weeks after the student’s arrival so they could bond and get to know Adam Vukmanov, the ARCHIP Academic Coordinator, Petra, the CIEE Global AD Coordinator and other members of the ARCHIP faculty while traveling through beautiful sites of central and southern Bohemia.

  Hluboka trip2

The plan was to follow Vltava river cascades, starting at Lipno, which is very important hydro power plant built to protect the UNESCO site Český Krumlov and other towns and villages nearby from floods; we stayed at  Hluboká nad Vltavou, a beautiful little town close to Lipno and continued on the next day with touring 3 other dams – Hněvkovice, Orlík and Slapy.

Berlin Summit

Global AD program connects 3 European cities – Barcelona, Berlin and Prague. Students from all three cities were invited to participate in the Berlin Summit and aside from many other interesting things, to present what they have been working on so far. From March 26 to March 28, CIEE Berlin hosted students from Prague and Barcelona. It was a huge success and students left more educated, connected and satisfied with their achievements. Which city will host next? :)

Berlin Summit

  Cultural Workshop

On April 10, during the academic workshop lead by Alessio Erioli, an engineer and senior researcher at Università di Bologna, Petra took the group to a traditional Czech restaurant for a second cultural workshop. Alessio joined them as well. Aside from the amazing food and drinks, they all tested their knowleadge of Czech culture, especially what they knew of famous Czech people. Well, they still have a bit to learn. :)

Workshop

 Construction Site Visit

On April 11, the students, Adam and Petra visited basic construction sites in Prague that were in different stages of the process. It was a lot of fun and not only because we got to wear hard hats. We got a chance to see how different designing and building is in the Czech Republic and learn a lot about the specific constructions from top to bottom. Both were office buildings built by different companies.

Construction site
Working hard...

 

03/27/2014

PLAYING CATCH-UP, OR, THE RESULT OF FOUR HOURS OF TYPING ON AN IPHONE

By Griff Jones, Whitman College

February 23, 2014

I’ll try and keep this short, but I realize I haven’t given too many updates about Prague recently. In fact, for quite a while… I apologize, and I hope to be a bit more on top of it in the future!

Man, this is going back far, but I want to talk about it: about three weeks ago now we had a guided tour of a smaller town an hour and a half outside of Prague called Kutna Hora. While there we walked around it’s ancient medieval streets, visited a cathedral, and went to a place called the Sedlec Ossuary, otherwise known as the bone church. It has tens of thousands of humans represented in their femurs and skulls, all artfully arranged in a macabre yet hauntingly beautiful way. I actually touched a human skull. You’d think there would be some weight, some depth to such an action, but it was primarily cold. That’s not entirely honest; it was pretty eerie and felt somehow taboo. But it was also so irresistibly compelling. There aren’t many, if any, other opportunities to do that in life. God I sound creepy right now. But I think it has something to do with abjection; we’re simultaneously repulsed and attracted by things that are so deeply engrained as wrong, supposedly. I don’t find that to be true with most things, but maybe that’s what was at work when I decided to touch it. Also, when I say touch, I literally just put my finger on it for a split second. So nothing creepy. Anyway, moving on!

The timeline is so muddled from being so busy, but at some point, me, Andie, and John went on a night adventure to Petrin Tower, the Eiffel Tower replica on top of Petrin Hill. We ended up walking down through the park since the view of Prague at night was so exquisite. Another night we went to the ballet Swan Lake at the National theater, Narodni Divadlo. It was my first professional ballet. I can certainly acknowledge and appreciate talet and skill, which I did, but I think ballet may take some getting used to. But it was fun to dress up with everyone!

Gosh, sorry this is such an abbreviated version. A couple weekends ago we went hiking at Sarka preserve, at the very end of one of the tram lines. It was a really beautiful hilly, wooded area, with large exposed rock outcrops. It was so ridiculously rejuvenating to go hiking and breathe some fresh wilderness air. I needed that after so much city life. I love city life, but it’s not for me in the long run, I can tell you that now. At least big cities far from the outdoors. But it’s so nice being here right now and truly getting to experience it for the first time.

We also got out of the city a bit last weekend. We went to the outskirts for a tour of Barrandov Film Studios with the program. The film Amadeus was shot there, as well as on location in Prague. We got to tour their costume department in addition to seeing the sound stages and some behind the scenes buildings as well, such as the film developing lab where our own films will be developed at the end of the program. There was also an entire outdoor set for St Peters Square in Rome for the European version of the Borgias. It was actually so crazy impressive and looked and felt so real. It was a very cool experience, but having been to the Warner Bros studio tour this summer it was sort of hard to compare having seen such a top notch rich studio. Barrandov is very clearly leftover from Soviet Rule, with big, imposing modernist buildings. It felt very serious.

The next day was the best cultural experience to date. We went to Masopust, the Czech pre-lent celebration equivalent to Carneval or Mardi Gras, in a village just outside the city. It felt so medieval, with people in crazy, elaborate, quirky costumes milling about. There were beers, sausages, potato pancakes, and so much other mouthwatering food being made all over the square. There were so many dogs (tangent time! Czech dogs are said to be more like people than most dogs, and they are by far the smartest, best behaved animals I’ve ever encountered. Teachers bring their dogs to class, dogs walk unleashed everywhere, and they never ever misbehave. It’s incredible and I have no idea how they do it.). I was there with some of my group, our Czech buddy (who, like many, is actually Slovakian) and his new girlfriend, who he met through our group actually, and the girls who she’s the buddy for, also in CIEE, though in the journalism program. Sorry, that was the worst sentence I’ve ever written probably. I’m keeping it though. Anyways, a few of us bought masks to fit in better and get a souvenir. There were performances, and then, all of the sudden, the entire place started emptying out. Part of the celebration is actually moving from village to village as one huge mass, where everyone gets to be part of the parade. It was just unbelievably cool to be a part of. It was so authentically Czech, and the atmosphere was impossible to describe besides maybe joyous. Everyone was just enjoying themselves, and there was a lot of drinking going on. Perhaps the most memorable part though was when a girl whose costume somehow made her appear to be riding an ostrich quite convincingly approached us (no, I was not drinking heavily, it was a weird and very well done costume.). She came up to us, and in Czech-accented English said: “Since yesterday was Valentine’s Day, you should give a heart to someone!” She opened her hand and there was an actual heart in it, though what creature it belonged to I couldn’t say. Then: “Or maybe you would like a bigger one! It’s good luck!” Out of her costume came a plastic cup that, sure enough, had a slightly larger but no less real heart. Needless to say, we did not accept her offer and she galavanted off on her ostrich. It’s going to be hard to beat the feeling and authenticity of Masopust, honestly, but it made me even more excited to explore Czech culture. That said, Berlin made me realize how much touristy stuff we’ve yet to do in Prague. I haven’t even been to a museum yet! That’s absolutely going to change soon. I know I can’t do everything, but I can sure try to do as much as possible! Obviously I’m still taking care of myself, but my motto while here has become “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I don’t want to waste a moment.

Speaking of sleep, I sure don’t get a lot on weekends! Don’t worry, my concerned adult readers, I’m not going crazy! But I have had a couple noteworthy adventures, particularly one night when I ended up with a group of young adults from Vienna and went to the 5-Story Club, “the largest club in Central Europe!” While the experience was surreal, hilarious, and thoroughly entertaining, the club wasn’t great and I left after only a short visit. Another night I wound up in a club that’s in a boat on the Vltava, appropriately named Boat Club. It was much more authentic and local, and the river at night was very peaceful and beautiful. I do love adventures.

Classes are also going incredibly well. We’ve had two weeks now, and I love them all. The core classes are very practical and engaging, and provide an excellent supplement to my education at Whitman. The electives are really fun. In Script Analysis, we watch a movie one week and the next watch it again with the teacher’s commentary, and he’s super funny and insightful. Plus we get to watch some awesome, classic movies, and a fair amount of Czech movies! I haven’t had a Realm of Montage class yet as they’ve both been cancelled, which is a bit unnerving, but our professor is also our editing professor, whose class is one of the better core classes. Honestly though, most of the classes feel like carbon copies; editing, directing, screenwriting.. We basically just watch short movies and clips and analyze them in a pretty general way that doesn’t seem to apply super directly to the specific discipline being taught. They’re all fun, but it’s not always the most applicable lesson to what we’re going to end up doing. Sound also follows that format, but our professor is absolutely hilarious and on point, and is an excellent teacher. He doesn’t have a problem with specificity like the other classes. Plus he plays awesome clips… Acting is sort of hit or miss, and we’ve done some really good and not so good exercises with it. Our film language teacher is quite roundabout, but actually an incredible storyteller. Cinematography is pure information, and lots of it. Screenwriting is actually pretty great, and our professor is really really cool. We’re working on our stories now, and we pitch them this Friday to the school’s faculty. I’m in a group co-directing with my friend Beth, and my friend Katie is the director of photography. We’re working very well together thus far, and we’re really excited about our idea! I won’t give away what our story is, but if it passes the pitch, I’ll give a hint. Oh, and the final class I’m taking is Introduction to Producing, which is a super practical, business and creative approach to producing. Sounds kind of boring by that description.. But actually, after one class I think it’s already my favorite. The prof is HILARIOUS yet deadpan, teaches really straightforwardly, and is constantly throwing in life advice to his lessons. Also, he gave us a scenario where his “best way” to approach a situation ended up dancing on the tables drunk. So he’s pretty cool. Oh, and also really professional and experienced! People have actually used his final project, an entire plan for a movie that can be real or fake, to procure funding for (documentary) projects they wanted to make and made them. So that’s actually really really exciting that it’s so real-world and practical. It’s going to be invaluable I think. Oh, also, he told us totally seriously that you need to account for bribes for shooting in third world countries but can’t put it in the budget, otherwise you can’t get anything done. So that was an interesting tidbit!

In my free time I’ve been running up Petrin and going to the gym (rarely, let’s be honest..), and watching a lot of movies to attempt to better participate in conversations with my friends, who are all so much better versed in directors and movies of all sorts than I. So I’ve seen three Coen Brothers films since I’ve been here, as well as Nymphomaniac, the new (and my first) Lars Von Trier movie. It was very thought provoking, and no doubt provided tons of deep conversation (not that I’ll ever talk to anyone not my own age about it, given the nature it’s title suggests..). Which I really do enjoy participating in, so it’s actually pretty nice to have this peer pressure push to finally watch all the movies I know I should watch. I’m going to try and watch all the best picture nominees in the next few weeks, though I’m really not that far off already. There’s so much to do! Life is busy! Life is great!

I’ve also realized why people love Prague, I think! I mean, it’s cheap and easy to get around, yes, but why do people think it’s the most beautiful city in Europe? My hypothesis is that it’s because it’s totally medieval. Until my trip to Berlin I had no point of comparison, but I see now: if most European cities are like Berlin in this regard, then they don’t have so entirely ancient buildings and streets. Prague is seriously almost all that way, so it really does feel so old and authentic. Which it is, as it was largely untouched in the war. I guess I knew that, but only with a point of comparison did I fully comprehend what made it so much prettier (arguably). Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m generalizing, or maybe that should have been obvious all along, but that’s just a recent insight I had while in the “medieval” part of Berlin. I guess further exploration of European cities will yield more explanations. (For some reason that seriously pulled me out of the here and now just now and I had a huge “Whoa. I’m in Europe for the first time ever. This is amazing and hard to believe” moment…)

Well, I think that brings us up to date!

Bytes of Bohemia

By Griff Jones, Whitman College

January 21, 2014: En Route

I’m currently sitting in the Chicago airport, two hours away from my first solo international flight to Frankfurt.  I’ve never been to Europe, but later today that won’t be true.  Until May 16th I’ll be studying and making film in Prague, and then I’ll be taking a two week trip around Europe.  So at 4 a.m. my time, 11 a.m. their time, I’ll be landing in my new home.

I hope to use this blog as a venue for friends and family to keep up to date with what I’m doing, but also to ruminate upon and digest my experiences.  I’ll be getting a look at a culture I have little familiarity with and visiting places that I expect will broaden my horizons, so I’m sure there will be plenty to write about!  The program I’m in is a film production intensive at FAMU, the oldest film school in Europe.  The first two weeks I’ll be learning Czech, then take eight weeks of classes on everything and anything to do with making movies, and then end the semester with six weeks spent making a movie with one or two fellow classmates.

The first thing I realized despite the nerves and excitement as I sat in Springfield’s airport earlier, was that I don’t really miss anyone.  I don’t mean this maliciously, of course, I just wonder if the nature of missing loved ones or friends has changed these days.  I said goodbye to my parents, but I’ll be sending them an email or wifi text in a couple of days.  My friends back home are all reachable even though they’re an ocean away.  I understand that I should miss them, but when I can still talk to them and know I’ll be seeing them in a few months, it takes the weightiness of their absence away.  I’m reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a classic Czech novel, and Milan Kundera opens the book by arguing the merits of heaviness and lightness as opposite ways of viewing the world.  If I understand correctly, heaviness lends importance to any given situation as an event that is unrepeatable and therefore worthwhile; lightness makes life less serious, as everything will happen as it will and life goes on.  I’m not certain which perspective I subscribe to or prefer, but I think that relationships are made lighter with the connections that the modern world provides us.  Yes, I miss my friends and family, but I know I’ll see them again in a few months, and if I really miss them, I’m not separated from them really.  I wonder how much harder it was to miss a loved one, how much heavier parting and absence was, before the internet.  Which is so strange to think about: never having lived without the internet I feel so young and naive!

So, while you can reach me in any number of ways with the wonderful internet, I plan to live presently for this experience.  So I’ll probably avoid social media and excessive communication back home.  Prague, here and now (there and tomorrow, rather), is an important, once in a lifetime opportunity.  I’m excited to live heavily.

I’ll also be quite embarrassed if I’m misinterpreting Kundera!

 

January 26, 2014

It’s our first day off today, and we’re fully taking advantage of being lazy in my apartment.  Today is my fifth day in Prague… I think?  It feels like way longer, honestly.  It’s been an amazing week; the city is incredible and we’re getting more familiar with our area daily, and the people I’m with are wonderful.  I live with two guys, one is my roommate and the other has a single, and we live in a pretty nice apartment on the fourth floor of an incredibly central building.  As in the most touristy sites in the city are literally a ten minute walk and our school is five minutes away.  We cross the street to get to the national theater and are a block away from the river.  It’s crazy how lucky we are to be here.  There’s no end to the bars and restaurants and cafes in our neighborhood, and we’re discovering just how close and easy everywhere else is to get to via trams and metro.  It’s a totally new experience for me; the only other city I’ve lived in now was LA.  Which is completely different, as cities and culture goes.  No surprise there, though..

The people in my group are awesome.  Unfortunately, I’ve only met twelve of them, as the last three won’t be arriving until February due to visa issues.  When I heard that, while I sympathize because that’s awful, I definitely counted my blessings for getting here without any issues.  The number of people who warned me about lost baggage made me almost more than half expect to not have my suitcase waiting for me here.  But I’m here without a hitch!  

The first few days were spent familiarizing ourselves with the general plan for the semester and cultural studies, as well as some basic language.  We had two walking tours to the places that we need to be able to get to, and yesterday had a tour of the Hrad, the main castle from an energetic Czech woman who was a fount of local knowledge.  She even pointed us to the location of a headless ghost that’s supposed to appear at midnight, so there may be an excursion there at some point…  The castle itself, as well as St. Vitus Cathedral, were incredibly beautiful.  St. Vitus is the first cathedral I’ve ever been in, actually.  I acknowledge that I myself am a tourist, but the amount of tourists there detracted from any semblance of spirituality there, in my opinion.  Regardless it was beautiful and I plan to return before too long.  

The cultural differences are somewhat striking for me.  The Czechs LOVE their beers, which I can appreciate myself, but there is also a lot of smoking here.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that all of my clothes are going to smell like cigarettes at the end of the semester, unfortunately.  

So today, after almost a week of exploring the city and seeing the sites, we’re finally getting some downtime.  Naturally, we’re going to go explore the city some more!  But slowly.  We were out until 3:30 a.m. last night, experiencing some of the Prague nightlife, and it was so much fun.  

This week we start our full time Czech classes, and it’s going to be really nice to be better equipped to communicate with people.  Czech is hard to pronounce though.  Our street, V jirchářích, is pronounced “veer-ha-jeek,” and we’re still struggling with it sometimes, but luckily it’s supposed to be one of the more difficult things we’ll have to pronounce.  Oh, also, the other Whitties are joining us in Prague tomorrow, so it’ll be really great to see them!

I just can’t believe how little time we’ve been here.  I’m so, so excited for the rest of the semester knowing that this incredible week was only a tiny scratch at the surface and there’s so much more to do and experience.  And with such incredible people.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  

02/20/2014

Spring 2014 - Day 1: FIRST IMPRESSION

by Michelle Polacinski, Binghamton University

CIEE Film Studies - Screenwriting track

January 23rd

Hello. I made it. I am alive – so far. I woke up in the middle of the night of sleeping through my jetlag <3 and now I can’t go back to sleep. Yayyyyyy -_- So here I am and this is what happened on my first day.

So the plane rides were cool, partly because I watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 on the flight (it was pretty good, adorable, but not as good as the first one) and also because I used British Airways which means that everyone had an awesome British accent. On my flight, they served me food I surprisingly wasn’t allergic to and complimentary South African red wine. I also had an entire row to myself probably because a lot of people didn’t show up or couldn’t make a connection flight due to the snow storm. Even still I could not sleep on that plane. Speaking of the snowstorm, I thought we were all going to die on that plane. Boston was a windy, blizzard-y, cold wonderland that I fantasized would resolve in plane crashes. I thought this until I saw all the flight attendants smiling and the pilot explained that they were spraying chemicals onto the plane to keep snow from accumulating.

After a few miserable flights and meeting a nice girl named Charlotte from Rhode Island in a vacant Heathrow, I finally arrived, exchanged my money, and painfully made my way through an airport of people who basically only spoke Czech. No worries yet. I found my CIEE staff people and we made our way to our awesome apartments. These apartments are super large by New York City standards. Heck, they’re really nice by Binghamton standards too. Our doors are made out of carved wood. We have orange toilet paper that is orange scented. As it turns out, toilet paper in the Czech Republic is colorful and scented. I actually could not find white toilet paper in Tesco, the scary grocery store we went to (more on that later). U.S., step up your TP game.

Since I could not sleep on the plane at all, my brain felt like shattered glass. I was nauseous and I figured it would be best to take just an hour-long nap. Hopefully, this wouldn’t screw up my sleeping schedule. I don’t think it did, but then again, it’s 3:30AM and I can’t sleep. After my nap, we went to this lovely bar/restaurant about two blocks away from the apartment where I had this amazing garlic walnut pasta and the local beer, which, as it turns out, is cheaper than water at CZK50.000, which, in the U.S., is about $2.50. 100 Czech korunas are about $5 USD and that’s how I’ve been thinking about conversions so far. It’s so hard, having to do math all the time. I was never good at math. I need to use freaking math to figure out the temperature (Celsius to Fahrenheit), money conversion (Czech korunas to US dollars), and the time (military to NORMAL). Ughhhhh mathhhhh. So that’s one thing I dislike so far about living here. However, I think that once I adjust, I won’t have to think about conversions and I will just understand what the temp/time/money is automatically. Like when you finally figure out how to speak Spanish and it just flows from your mouth naturally.

(Damn, I’m craving some of that pasta now.)

However, unlike Spanish or English, I cannot speak Czech at all. In fact, I would feel way more comfortable living in France and not knowing the language than Czech because it is soooo hard. After my intensive Czech classes these next two weeks, I hope I’ll be a little less stressed, but for now, it’s a nightmare. Here are the Czech words I’ve learned so far:

ahoj – hello

ciao – hello/bye

cukr – sugar

pivo – beer

na zdraví – cheers

víno – wine

voda – water (which totally sounds like vodka…so I need to watch out with that)

slunečnice – sunflower

I also learned that if I use the English -> Czech translation app on my phone, it automatically says, “Did you mean …” and adds an exclamation point to the end of every word. Seriously. Try it on the Google Translate app. Google is excited that I’m in Prague.

Now, back to the scary grocery store experience. So after we ate dinner, Bara, our flat buddy, showed us Tesco – this grocery store filled with bustling Czechs. In fact, we were pretty sure it was grocery shopping rush hour when we went because there were SO MANY PEOPLE. Usually, I’m super pumped about grocery stores. In fact, I straight up black out when I enter a good health food store for the first time and buy everything new, strange, and organic. Here, even though everything was new and strange, not much was organic, but the U.S. is still worse in that department, so I won’t even go there.

It was chaos.

People bumped into us, muttering in Czech and seemingly flying off to a different section of groceries as if the world was ending and this was the last supply of food left on earth. It was a madhouse and most stuff was labeled in Czech, obviously. I bought a grapefruit, some eggs, bananas, honey (all honey is raw and organic in Prague – I bought honey that came from a forest oooooh), baking soda (which does not come in bulk like it does in the U.S.), and some healthy granola or whatever. Once it came time to pay, we went to a self-checkout area in order to avoid having to talk to someone at the register. I decided to pay with my credit card since I figured it would be easier than cash and my debit card has a 3% conversion fee. I had to dip my card into this machine, kind of like dipping a metro card in the NYC buses. Then this error came on the screen and an employee who spoke little English came up to me, first speaking in Czech and then after realizing I was a tiny American afraid of the beeping machine, tried to explain what was wrong in English. She kept asking me for my pin. Woman, this is a credit card, I tried to explain to her. Eventually, she punched some buttons and a receipt came out even though the machine was still beeping and blinking what I assumed were angry Czech words. She pointed to part of the receipt and I figured that’s where I sign it, so I signed the receipt and she looked at my card for what I assumed was a signature. The back of my credit card says “See ID” on it instead of a signature to prevent identity theft. I thought it was a good idea, but in this particular situation, it was not. I took out my ID and pointed at the signature on it. She laughed at me, whether it was because the photo on my license is ridiculous or just because I was being ridiculous, I was not sure, but it made me feel really bad. She mumbled something, said “pin” and walked away. Bara then came up to me and told me that in the Czech Republic, they have to give a pin. She pointed to a card slidey machine on a different machine that looked just like the ones in the U.S. and said I should have used that one. As it turns out, the machine I used only accepts debit cards . . . I think.

Anyway, that experience killed my spirits a bit – especially when I couldn’t find any sulfate-free and paraben-free shampoo or conditioner in the same store. I knew I should have brought more from the States, but I didn’t think it would be too hard to find some. Blah. Alas.

Prague is a beautiful, old, historic city. Bara explained that the Czech Republic used to be a part of so many other countries including Russia, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia (obviously). The buildings are a mixture of very old and very modern styles. There’s also a lot of graffiti everywhere (artistic and spray paint), but it’s actually quite beautiful. I’ll take pictures of some of it later. Dogs are everywhere and they are allowed everywhere – even in restaurants. It’s awesome. Smoking is also allowed everywhere and EVERYONE smokes – well except all of us Americans. I’m afraid one or many of us will crack and start smoking cigarettes, but we shall see.

Ugh. Goodnight/Good morning from a still exhausted Michelle.

(Sorry, no pictures yet!)