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:

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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.

 


Diana in Copenhagen: Christmas Spirit

December 2, 2014

Winter in Denmark is upon us. The sun doesn’t rise until eight in the morning and calls it quits early at about four. Temperatures are cold but that’s nothing compared to the wind that will nearly blow you over and make you cry involuntarily. As a Massachusetts native, I am no stranger to these facets of winter, but I have to say they do make days drag on a bit slower.

There’s one thing though, that makes the cold and darkness all worthwhile. Christmastime! The Danes don’t hold back when in comes to Christmas, and they enjoy celebrations early since they (obviously) lack the need to wait until after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season.

Christmas markets have popped up all around the city selling an array of goodies like fuzzy hats, honey, and glassware. The markets have a magical aura about them with everyone in the holiday spirit enjoying outings with their friends, families, and loved ones.

A display at one of the Christmas markets

A display at one of the Christmas markets

A personal favorite sold at the markets is a Nordic traditional holiday drink called gløgg. Gløgg is a mulled wine consisting of red wine, sugar, and spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves and it smells like Christmas in a cup. You can buy gløgg, hot chocolate, waffles, warmed nuts, and many other goodies for your stroll—there’s something for everyone.

Another wonderful part of Christmas in Copenhagen is the iconic Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world and it is truly a magical place. The Gardens close for winter but open twice to celebrate the Halloween and Christmas season respectively. While Tivoli is always characterized by beautiful lights and landscapes, its Christmas displays take things to a whole new level.

The main entrance to Tivoli Garden

The main entrance to Tivoli Garden

Tivoli is a winter wonderland surrounded by lights, fake snow, and rides for people of all ages. You can purchase unlimited rides with your entrance fee, buy individual tickets inside, or not go on any at all. I had already tried all the rides (multiple times each, in fact) earlier this year when the weather was warmer, but even the wind chill couldn’t stop me from getting on the swings on my latest visit. The ride is simple: a bunch of chain-swings that get raised up a tall pole that spins. While it’s not the most exhilarating ride in the park, the swings give a magnificent view of Copenhagen. The ride is most stunning at night when you have the best seat in the house to see the wonderfully illuminated park and city. Perks of the swings: the wind drowns out sound so you can sing whatever song you want up there and no one will know. My go-to has been Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” but “I Believe I Can Fly” and “I’m Like a Bird” are viable alternatives.

Inside Tivoli Gardens

Inside Tivoli Gardens

We were lucky enough to happen upon the light show that night as well, and it was a great way to culminate a wonderful visit to the Gardens. Every night, there is a light show over a pond in the middle of the park and the Christmas show was Nutcracker themed. It’s a Christmas tradition in my family to listen to the Nutcracker soundtrack when we decorate our tree at home so seeing a beautiful light show with spinning holograms and colorful shooting streams of water was an awesome experience that reminded me of my traditions at home.

It’s not just the Christmas Markets and Tivoli that make this Copenhagen festive though—the whole city is lined with lights and wreaths. The excitement is infectious, so much so that even Santa needed to pay a visit. Last Sunday, hundreds of people gathered in City Hall Square to celebrate the lighting of the tree. Enthralled faces watched as Santa climbed his way up the ladder and little children hopped frantically up and down believing it would help him light the tree. It really felt like I was part of a great community when everyone started counting down in Danish and the energy was palpable. At “en” or “one,” Santa’s wand sparked, the tree lit up, people cheered, and Christmas carols started playing. It was a beautiful tree and an even more beautiful moment I was lucky to enjoy.

If you’re looking to escape wintertime happiness and festivities, Scrooges of the world, don’t come to Copenhagen.

Happy Holidays everyone!!

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Diana in Germany: Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Policy

December 2, 2014

Two classes have passed since the last time I spoke in depth about the academic portion of my study abroad, so here’s what I have been up to in the classroom (and out!).

Environmental Ethics

My professor for this course was named Klaus. He’s a really silly guy who has a huge passion for his subject matter. Throughout the course he would make anecdotal quips about how his young sons confronted ethical questions in their daily lives. He would also explain some concepts or hypothetical situations in highly candid and casual ways. I left our first day of class feeling so excited about the subject matter. Never having studied philosophy before it was exhilarating to learn different codes of ethics, the arguments against them, and the counterarguments against those denunciations. I’m known to be “debate prone” which I like to call “debate loving” and the debates were written down right in front of me.

​Heeeere's Klaus!

​Heeeere’s Klaus!

We covered three main topics in this class which were:

  • Deontological vs. Utilitarian Ethics (do something to follow universal, moral law vs. do things to increase overall happiness)
  • Anthropocentricism vs. Physiocentrism (protecting nature for other people vs. protecting nature because it has value in itself)
  • Weak vs. Strong Sustainability (balance ecological, economic, and social needs vs. need to focus on ecological needs in order to fulfill economic and social needs)

Klaus took our class out for beer after our final exam, which is not an uncommon practice here. When I turn 21 in the U.S. I would like to compare how students and teachers socialize differently, with part of that analysis focusing on the role of alcohol. So far in the U.S. I certainly have hung out with teachers outside of the classroom setting, but never in a bar.

Sustainable Policy

The class I finished last Friday pertained to Sustainable Policy in the European Union (EU) and Germany specifically. Our first day of class I was struck by the energy and passion of our teacher, Sandra. It was also evident that the class would have interactive components in addition to lectures. Sandra wrote different topics on the board and asked us each to write our thoughts underneath. She also had us put different sources of energy production by the US in order and then showed us the real order. This method of teaching always services me more. I enjoy thinking first instead of being told first if possible.

​US Energy Generation​

​US Energy Generation​

EU Energy Generation

EU Energy Generation

Of course there were many topics Sandra had to simply teach us in lectures. Energy efficiency and renewables were two major themes of the course. For instance, two-thirds of the economic potential to improve energy efficiency remains untapped in the period up to 2035 in Germany. Then we learned in an increasingly specific fashion, scaling down from international policy, to EU policy, to Germany, to Freiburg and Freiamt.

The day we discussed international policy, we had a roundtable discussion on how to penalize countries who did not meet reduction goals. It is much more difficult to enforce emissions reductions on the international level, so the effectiveness of bodies like the International Policy United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (IPUCCC) is low. The Kyoto Protocol that resulted from their meetings was NOT ratified by the U.S. According to Bush, it would decrease our ability to build our economy, however we spent a lot of time in class discussing the numerous ways to be greener as a country. There is a lack of policy to encourage it and subsidies to non-renewable energies do not help because there is not an even playing field for renewable energy competition.

The next few days were spent on the EU Climate and Energy Package, which called for a  20% reduction in emissions, 20% increase in energy efficiency, and 20% increase in renewables energy consumption by 2020. The New EU Framework that was just ratified extends different goals out to 2030: a 40% reduction in emissions and 27% increase in energy efficiency and renewables consumption. Different member states (countries) within the EU get different targets of emissions reductions in order to meet the overall goal.

Germany plans to get at least 35 percent of its power from renewables by 2020, at least 50 percent by 2030, and at least 80 percent by 2050. This emphasis on renewable energy consumption is part of the German movement called Energiewende, which was in part fueled by the Fukishima nuclear plant disaster. Nuclear plant moratoriums began soon after the disaster. Nuclear power should be phased out entirely from Germany by 2022. Replacing this power with renewables instead of coal would help keep emissions down. One piece of policy that helps Germany become more green is the Renewable Energy Law, which includes feed-in tariffs for renewable energy. A feed-in tariff means that independent power producers have unlimited access to the energy grid and unlimited production of energy. If they feed their energy into the grid they are guaranteed to get paid for that energy at a set rate.

​Creating a model of a sustainable house in class

​Creating a model of a sustainable house in class

One afternoon class we were each tasked with exploring our village called Vauban. It runs on a cogeneration unit from natural gas and wood chips. This system enabled Freiburg to reduce its reliance on nuclear power from 60% to 30%. The famous Heliotrope, the house that rotates with the sun, is also located about 10 minutes walking from my house. The Heliotrope was the first home in the world that produced 5 times more energy than it expends: the energy consumption is emission-free, CO2-neutral and 100% renewable. The builder of the home, Rolf Disch lives there. Even closer (across the main road from my flat)  are the Solar Settlement, a low emissions planned community, and the Solar Ship. The Solar Ship is a business center with tons of solar panels on top.

​This model of an energy plus house is on my jogging route!​

​This model of an energy plus house is on my jogging route!​

​Skyview of the Solar Ship and Solar Settement. Look at all those solar panels!

​Skyview of the Solar Ship and Solar Settement. Look at all those solar panels!

One of our final days in class, we went on a field trip to a community called Freiamt. This community has 250 solar roofs, a biogas heat and energy generator we visited and also several wind turbines. At the biogas facility, 10 tons of corn go into the first tank. After the first step, everything foes into an anaerobic fermentor or 90 days. 1.3million kWh are produced at the facility we visited. Next we went to a farm with cows, solar panels, and a wind turbine. 65% of their income is from their cows, but 35% comes from selling their energy. They also produce schnapps from the energy they produced with renewables! During our tour of Freiamt we also stopped at several wind turbines, discussed how long the projects took, the sizes of the blades and height of the turbines, and also the financials of each project. We were even allowed into one of the turbines! To learn more about Freiamt, go to this link.

​Biogas farm​

​Biogas farm​

​Class Wind Turbine Photo

​Class Wind Turbine Photo

The major homework component of the Sustainable Policy class was coming up with a business plan related to sustainable energy. I will not disclose the specifics of my business plan since I may actually use it one day. We had to include unique selling points, risk assessment and mitigation strategies, financing, marketing, and stakeholders. The process the class went though though – practicing business pitches, presentations, and a final business proposal in writing – all really enhanced my skills and deepened my understanding of starting and running a business. This was a skill I never really expected to get over here, but it was awesome to have this practice. I’m not one to love group projects and this was all on my own. It made me feel that I actually accomplished something when I sent in the final business proposal.

I only have 1 class left, which requires 11 days in school. It’s my “Freiburg Green City” class that counts as an Environmental Economics credit. The class features 4 of field trips with one being a bike tour of Freiburg. After my first day of class today, it seems we will learn more about how the green image of Freiburg is merely a selling point rather than “reality.” A critical perspective Freiburg is certainly a new one, and I am excited to explore it further.

Next Week

Late fall and early winter activities!


Oliver in Spain: Traveling Solo

December 1, 2014

I just got back from my first major solo trip and, with the exception of a few hiccups, it was very successful! It was a three day trip to London, England in order to spend some time with one of my best friends from UR as well as see some family that is based around London. The best part about this trip was the feeling of independence that was running through my system the entire time I was flying or on a train. A semester studying abroad has this kind of independence but so far I had travelled with other friends on my program, so I was never truly by myself. They were a welcome crutch to keep me on track and focused. Additionally, when you are traveling with others you can easily split up the responsibility of various legs of the trip between each other. A great example of that was this past fall break with Will and Chris. Each of us were responsible for one of the countries we visited (my responsibility was Prague).

This time around it was just me booking flights and trains. It was a brief trip, only three days, but since I flew into Gatwick Airport (over an hour outside of center city) instead of Heathrow it had its fair share of drama. You don’t realize how reliant you are on having wifi or 4G internet access until it is taken from you. That is exactly what happened to me and it caused me all sorts of issues. However, even with all that everything was going smoothly until I had to catch a 7:30 am flight out of Gatwick Sunday morning. I’m going to summarize this by saying I had to take three different taxis to get there because the train station was closed and I had no other options. I have never been so stressed from travel then I was this Sunday morning. But thanks to Christmas music in my headphones and a refined travel sense (due to the 10 or so other trips I’ve done in the last three months), I managed to stay calm and figure it out. Needless to say, I took a long and deserved nap as soon as I got back into Valencia!

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With all that, I think I should probably talk a little bit about my weekend! Matt is one of my closest friends so I was very happy to see him again and spend a weekend in our collective favorite country in Europe. He’s always been an Anglophile for some reason, so we got along pretty quickly, considering my English heritage. This late in the semester he was happy I was visiting because it meant he didn’t have to do all of the cliché touristy stuff like Big Ben and the London Eye. We took a train out to my see my Grandpa Friday morning and see a little bit of a classic small English town, Ipswich. The rest of the trip was spent visiting various small pubs across the city. I couldn’t really have planned a more relaxing weekend in London. As much as I love the city, I would never study abroad there…my god it is an expensive city.

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I have only one more trip away from Valencia planned, and this semester has blown by. Next weekend I will be heading to Pisa, Florence, and Rome. I’ve been wanting to see Florence for years so I am already counting down the days. I’m starting to think study abroad goes so fast because mid week is spent looking forward to the trips on the weekend. After this weekend, I only have one more weekend in Valencia. Things are wrapping up here pretty fast so I have to get to that Valencia aquarium (biggest in Europe)!


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.


Oliver in Spain: Morella and Madrid

December 1, 2014

Two weekends ago I went to Morella on the last school organized excursion. UVA in Valencia had organized three free excursions for all of the students and I took full advantage of them. The first was to Peñiscola (a town on the beach about two hours north of Valencia), the second was to Xátiva (a small town about two hours south of Valencia), and Morella is a tiny mountainous town, two hours northwest of Valencia. Each of these three excursions presented an awesome opportunity to see Spanish towns that you would never visit otherwise. Whenever anyone visits Spain they only see Madrid and Barcelona but these small towns scattered across Spain offer a more authentic trip. The people who live in these towns do not have much exposure to tourists, so being almost conversationally fluent in Spanish (as I am) is a huge benefit. Each of these towns has history dating back to the 8th century and so we followed a tour guide around for a couple hours to understand the cultural history of each place. I think Peñiscola was my favorite but Morella was a close second.

Since Morella is so high up, the weather is awfully cold (and by awfully cold I mean about 50 degrees Fahrenheit…Valencia has made me weak to cold weather), but to be honest the cold breeze was a welcome change to the regular 70 degree, sunny weather of Valencia in November. Parts of this small town of less than 3,000 inhabitants date back to 1000 BC but the majority of it dates back to Moorish history of the 8th century (like the majority of Spain thanks to the Islamic conquest). The town had a quaint feel and after touring the fort on the top of the hill we sat down at a local café for some food and drinks.

A view from the fort on the top of the mountain

A view from the fort on the top of the mountain

I finally knocked Madrid off my list this past weekend after being on there since hearing about my acceptance into the Valencia program. Contrary to popular opinion amongst my friends, I actually preferred Madrid. I don’t know how to explain why, but it just felt more organized and put together. I think Barcelona felt too spread apart for me with no real purpose if that makes any sense. Then again, I was only in both of these cities for two days each. We blitzed Madrid by seeing the King’s palace, the cathedral, and retiro park (central park of Madrid). However, the best experience was the free tickets on the 7th row of an Atlético Madrid game. They won 3-1!

55,000 screaming fans

55,000 screaming fans

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I’m definitely sad to realize that this past weekend to Madrid wrapped up my Spanish trips, as next week will be London and the following, Italy. The end of this semester is now less than a month away and it is starting to fly by. My experience so far has been life changing. I always knew I could be this independent but to be thrown into a foreign speaking country three months ago and to see how I’ve come out of it on the other side has been a very rewarding experience. I’m growing as a person day by day and it feels amazing. That being said, there is no doubt that this weekend will be hard because I will be away from my family this Thanksgiving for the first time. A shout out to them: I miss you guys so much and I’ll see you in a month! These last four weeks are going to be a ridiculous whirlwind of good times.


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.


Diana in Germany: Halfway at Halloween

November 14, 2014

It’s halfway through my stay in Europe now and more than 65% through my actual classes. I took a week’s hiatus from blogging because the last four days of my Environmental Ethics class took a lot out of me. After all the sleep I caught up on this weekend though, I’m ready to tell you about the amazing trip I had to London!

Werewolves in London – Friday 
Waking up early in the morning is the worst idea ever… unless it’s to travel. That’s how my Friday started out, so I could catch my 10am flight out of Basel on time. The one hour flight I was in and out of sleep, hoping that the extra few z’s would fuel me through a full day of living in London. It worked! After landing, I had to sort out some confusion about getting into the city from the airport. I had preordered a bus along with my RyanAir ticket, but forgot to print the boarding code. Let me just say that after two and a half months surrounded by German, it was beautiful to communicate with native English speakers. I sorted through the problem in a few minutes and was on my one hour bus ride into the city!

The bus stopped at several places and on a whim, I got off around the corner from Regent’s Park. First wonderful decision of the day, which was quickly followed by another – Baskin Robbins for lunch. Shush. I do not want even a little judgement. Baskin Robbins…. it’s been a long time guys. I worked there one summer and spoiled myself with ice cream to the point that I have not visited since.  That Jamoca Almond Fudge really hit the spot as I continued on in the sunshine towards the park. Unlike my original plan for the day, I spent about 3 hours in that park and regret nothing. Regent’s Park has stunning flower gardens and gilded gates, water fowl sanctuaries and weeping willows. There was even an older couple reading on a bench together, which touched my heart.

​Regent's Park has gilded gates that caught my eye several times. ​

​Regent’s Park has gilded gates that caught my eye several times.

​The beauty of flowers in a park.

​The beauty of flowers in a park.

Finally I started to head out of the park as the daylight subsided. My new mission – find a place to Facebook message my cousin, Grace, who is studying theatre in London for the semester. Because my cell plan is not international, it would cost me a lot to call her and let her know I was there. On my way towards a section of London called Camden Town, I passed the London zoo. Through the gates I could see giraffes and hippos! Good thing because that place is really expensive at 20 something pounds for adult admission.

​Giraffe spotted in London

​Giraffe spotted in London

As I walked further I became hungry, and magically a deli and café called Melrose and Morgan appeared. There I accessed some Wifi and ate my first scotch egg. A scotch egg is s hardboiled egg surrounded by meat and rolled in breadcrumbs. Basically, it is breakfast all rolled into one. Breakfast is my favorite meal, so I was not complaining about eating this at around 4pm. I ordered mine with chili chutney, which added just the right amount of spice and sweetness to satisfy my tastebuds.

​My Scotch egg - a dining experience I recommend

​My Scotch egg – a dining experience I recommend

After this short break in walking I continued onto Camden Lock Market, which has a ton of international food stalls. I remember seeing Polish Sausages, Peruvian food, sushi, crêpes, and a stall devoted to mac-and-cheese (which had no vendor behind it much to my chagrin). My stomach was full from my Scottish egg snack, so I went with a fresh smoothie instead of any food. At this point I still had about two hours to kill before meeting up with Grace at her schoolroom, so I walked through Camden. It is obviously a very grunge artsy place, which I loved! There were tattoo parlors, people in Darth Vader costumes, a DJ Grandpa, and other hilarious costumes. At this point my stomach made its presence known once again, so I stopped in a lovely looking tapas restaurant called Jamon Jamon. I recommend it, especially on a Friday night for their specials.

​I feel like this would only happen in Camden - The Joker serenades three trick-or-treaters.

​I feel like this would only happen in Camden – The Joker serenades three trick-or-treaters.

Grace’s school was only a ten minute jaunt away. I waited outside for a few minutes and a woman came out who graciously let me in. Upstairs I found Grace and gave her a huge hug! Her friend Maggie who is from Baltimore was also there and we all walked for an hour back to where they live. The rest of the night was spent getting into costume, Cards Against Humanity, dancing, and junk food. My cousin Grace went as Sally from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and I decided to change from Peter Pan to Misty from Pokémon. Grace was sweet and let me go downstairs to sleep in her bed while she took the couch, which I definitely needed after walking around with my backpack on all day. It was a howl of a Halloween.

​Misty and Sally Skellington

​Misty and Sally Skellington

Operation Mega Tourist – Saturday
Ahhh how nice to wake up at 10am. Grace and I were refreshed and took our time getting ready in the morning as our only schedule was to make it to the Mayfair area of London by noon. When we arrived there we took a quick walk to see Buckingham Palace and then headed back to our real destination – Murano Resturant. Murano is a one Michelin starred restaurant owned by Angela Hertnett, protégé of Gordon Ramsay. I consider myself to be a foodie and also wanted to treat Grace for hosting me. This was the most memorable meal of my life so far.

​It was gorgeous weather in London but these men continue wearing their bearskin hats.

​It was gorgeous weather in London but these men continue wearing their bearskin hats.

Before we ordered anything, we were brought three kinds of bread, olive oil, parmesan crisps, fried truffles, and carpaccio. This seriously was their “free bread” portion of the meal. Are you kidding me. Pure heaven. For starters we ordered a tuna dish and a quail dish, and for mains Grace got the risotto while I got pork cheek. My main was such a homey dish it made me really feel like I was back home eating my mother’s pot roast. We both ordered desserts and we even got orange gummies plus chocolate raspberry lollipops after our real desserts! Overall, excellent service, value, taste, and presentation – everything I dreamed it could be.

​My Murano dessert. Chocolate cake with pear filling, pear ice cream, and pear pieces.

​My Murano dessert. Chocolate cake with pear filling, pear ice cream, and pear pieces.

To get rid of our massive food babies, Grace and I started a day long trek through the city. We passed Buckingham Palace a second time on our way to Big Ben and the Eye. We didn’t go up in the Eye because of how expensive and time consuming it is to do that. Our investment of time in lunch was much more worth it! After crossing a bridge, we saw the National Theatre where Grace has seen several plays and also saw the Globe Theatre of Shakespearean fame (though it is obviously relocated and remodeled). We went through some side streets and happened upon the original Globe Theatre site! This all took a couple hours of walking so when we reached Borough Market we both got a little sweet treat to tide us over until dinner. I got a lime mint cupcake while Grace got a scoop of chocolate and vanilla ice cream on a cone.

​The Eye and Big Ben

​The Eye and Big Ben

​The Globe

​The Globe

​Tower Bridge

​Tower Bridge

​Tower of London poppies

​Tower of London poppies

As evening approached, the rest of the tourist sites were in store. Crossing London bridge allowed us to view Tower Bridge. We went to see the Tower of London. Great timing because this was one of the last changes to see the gorgeous WWI poppy tribute. Trying to save our time we did not stay through much of the reading of the names. Instead we continued on to the Tube to Kings Cross Station for a picture at Platform 9 and 3/4. I wore my Hufflepuff scarf proudly. My cousin is a Hufflepuff too I think, but they only had one yellow scarf! This was my crowning moment as a Harry Potter fan, I have to tell you. To wrap up the evening, Grace and I got carry out Thai food and watched Footloose. The next morning I got up at 4am to catch the bus back to the airport for my 7am flight. What a whirlwind weekend in London!

​Quitting Muggle school. I'm goin' to Hogwarts!

​Quitting Muggle school. I’m goin’ to Hogwarts!

 

Next Week’s Post
Check out the blog post about a break down of what I learned in my Environmental Ethics class! This was my first time studying philosophy and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Oliver in Spain: Here come the Parents!

November 13, 2014

This weekend I was lucky to host my parents in Valencia! But, before I get into that I want to talk a little about my weekend in Barcelona.

Last weekend, along with 10+ friends on my program, I took a train from Valencia to Barcelona. While most of my friends rented an apartment for the weekend I stayed with my friend Tom, who has been studying there this semester (saved me about 60€). I had never been to Barcelona before and so I was thrilled at my first chance to head up the coast to this huge city. After spending the previous 6 weeks in Valencia, Barcelona looks like New York City and my eyes lit up at night. While in this city I checked off four big things: Park Güell (the mosaic gardens by Gaudí), Sagrada Familia (the crazy looking church), Camp Nou (CF Barcelona’s stadium), and a live Porter Robinson concert (A big EDM DJ).

Park Güell is located towards the North of the city on a hill with an unbelievable view of Barcelona. The park dates back to 1914 and is an example of the brilliance of Gaudí’s organic focus in architecture. The park, while brief, is full of mosaic tile walls, plants, and views.

View from Park Güell

View from Park Güell

Tile lizard by Gaudí

Tile lizard by Gaudí

Sagrada Familia is easily the most unique church I have ever witnessed in my life. After touring Europe for the past two months I have seen a whole lot of churches and cathedrals, but none of them looked anything like this one. It is another one of Gaudí’s organic works that results in a type of melting aesthetic with various towers and statues. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it inside the church, which I regret, so I will just have to come back!

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

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Seeing a CF Barcelona game had been on my bucket list since I started playing Fifa back in 2007. Finally, 7 years later, that dream came to fruition. Unfortunately Barça lost 1-0 in a less than spectacular game but the atmosphere of Camp Nou made up for it. This stadium is the fifth biggest in the world with almost 100,000 Catalans singing for their team. I’m glad I was able to check this one off the list. (P.S. Barça comes to la Mestalla on the 30th of November to take on Valencia. It’s a clash of top 3 teams in La Liga and I recommend you all tune in!)

Camp Nou

Camp Nou

Tom and I at Camp Nou!

Tom and I at Camp Nou!

Coming into Richmond, Porter Robinson was my favorite DJ out there. EDM music was everything, and is still huge, for kids my age so saying that this guy was a top tier talent is really saying a lot. After a two year hiatus, he released a new album with a more artsy focus. This was the tour he was on when I saw him live in Barcelona. The guy killed it. His live show lasted about four hours and it would have been impossible to even try to stand still in that club. Needless to say, I’m a bigger fan of Porter Robinson than I was before.

Now on to having my parents in Valencia this past weekend. I met Mom and Dad in the airport friday afternoon and could feel how excited they were to be in Valencia with me. It had been about two months since I had seen my parents, so naturally my mom almost cried upon seeing me. We had a busy weekend of sight seeing including the cathedral, the río park, the city of art sciences, the mercado central, tapas, and much more. All of that was a lot of fun but none of it compares to the Sunday lunch we had with my host family. My host mom cooked a four course meal and filled us up with local food and good wine. Acting as a translator between my two families was an unforgettable experience. Needless to say, we all had an awesome time and I am sad to see them leave. Mom and Dad, I’ll see you in a month and a half, but until then I’ll be hitting Madrid, London, and Budapest!

Parents and I in front of Palau de la Música

Parents and I in front of Palau de la Música

Mom and Mark!

Mom and Mark!


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!


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