Sunday, June 14, 2015

Back To Reality

11. Personal Choice

I have been back in the States for nearly 2 weeks now and for my last blog post, I am going to take some time to reflect on my readjustment back into the fast-paced American lifestyle. Of course, since I spent the last 3 months emerging myself in a completely new culture, living here is much different than it has ever been. Throughout my study abroad experience I learned so many lessons both inside the classroom and out. I know I’ve said this a million times now, but learning history from people who lived through it can really change your outlook on things. Most importantly for me though, it allowed me to open my mind and see things from different perspectives.

Spending time with friends and family, and sharing the wonderful stories of my experience has made it evident that I am not the same person I was before I left. It has been difficult attempting to integrate aspects of culture from the Czech Republic into my lifestyle here, but I know soon enough everything will begin to feel normal again.

Upon arriving at the airport in Minneapolis, I was thrilled to finally be eating the greasy-fried food that I missed while I was away. Despite how unhealthy it is, I generally prefer American food over European food. I also have been taking full advantage of free water, condiments, and public restrooms.

However, there are many aspects of the European lifestyle that I miss. I have found it strange not being able to hop on a tram or in a cheap taxi to get anywhere in the city. I also realized, at some point I became accustomed to the lack of customer service you received at restaurants. Now I find it rather annoying constantly being interrupted while eating and socializing.

In the classroom we learned a lot about European government throughout history. With the presidential elections coming up, I am excited to apply my knowledge of European politics and decide on the candidate I see fit to represent our country (especially since this will be the first election where I will be eligible to vote!)

Studying abroad was the best experience of my life and I learned more than I ever would have thought. I am so thankful for that opportunity, and am thrilled to use my knowledge to create a new lifestyle for myself in the US. I love the Czech Republic and it will forever hold a special place in my heart. I am counting down the days until I can return!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Budapest, Hungary

After completing finals on Friday, I was able to kick off the summer by visiting the beautiful city of Budapest, Hungary for the second time. After visiting the city for a weekend, we decided that we did not get to see as much of it as we wanted so we booked another trip back. I am pleased to say that the city was even better the second time.

During our first stay we experienced the Budapest baths. It was quite different than anything I have ever experienced, but it was a great time, nonetheless. We also spent a lot of our time at a market that was set up in the city center for the weekend. There were many stands with a variety of Hungarian trinkets for sale.

Upon arriving Friday night, we checked into our hostel and decided to check out the infamous ruin bars of Budapest. The ruin bars, are old buildings from the communist time period that were originally abandoned. It was a very unique atmosphere that I am so glad I got to experience.

The following morning we decided to tour the area near the Danube River. We started off by hiking up the beautiful Gellert Hill that overlooks the Pest side of Budapest. Despite not having our hiking shoes and clothes on, it was a beautiful view from the top.

We then walked along the river to the Royal Castle. It was the prettiest castle I’ve ever seen and looked as though it belonged in a fairy tale.

After that we crossed The Széchenyi Chain Bridge back to the Pest side, and headed over to the Parliament building. The parliament building was constructed using incredible architecture. It stands in front of the Danube. It is currently the largest building in Hungary and still the highest building in Budapest.

After viewing the incredible parliament building we made our way back to the hostel to get ready for our evening boat cruise down the Danube. It was yet again an incredible view of the city. It was amazing to see the city come alive at night looking over the river. It was an amazing day in Budapest.

We woke up the next day and walked over to Heroes square. Heroes Square is one of the major squares in Budapest, Hungary, noted for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important national leaders. After that we decided to visit AquaWorld, which is known as the best waterpark in Central Europe. It was a great way to end the amazing weekend in Budapest, Hungary.

I have arrived safely back in Olomouc, where I will spend my last night packing up for America. I will be traveling the next 12 days through the Bohemian region in the Czech Republic, and then my last week on the coast of Croatia before getting on my flight back to America.

Can’t wait to see you all in 12 short days!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cultural Comparisons-Part 2

5.Cultural Comparisons

I spoke briefly in one of my previous blog posts about a few cultural comparisons, however I have learned so much since then about the differences in Czech and American culture, I wanted to dedicate another blog post to it. Here are a few more aspects I have learned from Czech Culture:

The little things aren't free.

In America it is so easy to take for granted the free water, condiments, and bread we receive at restaurants, but I have learned very quickly that most restaurants in European countries don’t offer that luxury. I have, however, found it very reasonable after learning about the shortage of water in many American states, due to the free water we offer. I will admit though, I was taken by surprise the first time I walked up to a line of shopping carts at the grocery store and realized they were not free. And then again, once I had checked out at the grocery store and did not receive free plastic bags. However I was most shocked the first time I was stopped before entering a restroom and asked to pay a fee. This aspect of culture has taken me a while to get used to but I believe it has made me more resourceful as well as cautious of the environment.

The big things are free.

I was so pleased to be from a country that didn't charge for things such as water, public restrooms and condiments until I learned that in Europe they pay small fees for those items and receive healthcare and education free of charge, which would obviously save a lot of money in the long run. In the United States healthcare and education are 2 of the most expensive things we pay for. I felt bad for the professor that taught us about this subject, as we were all very bitter that we will spend the rest of our lives paying off student loans while the kids across the Atlantic Ocean will come out of college debt free. I always knew that the prices of education were much higher in the United States, however, I was unaware college education was free in other countries, and if they get sick or injured they do not have to worry about spending their entire life savings on a surgery.

Czech’s behave in a much calmer manner than Americans.

Another aspect of culture that took me by surprise was the manner in which the people of the Czech Republic behave in public. It became evident the first time we rode the tram in silence where no one said a word for 30 minutes that American’s and Czech’s were very different. From my time in the Czech Republic, I have noticed that the people here are much quieter and more serious. They obviously enjoy going out and having a good time, just like the rest of us, they just behave differently while doing it. When Czech’s go out for the evening, they generally have a couple of beers and chill. Americans are known for being loud. Prior to coming on this trip, I never thought that was true, however I can now understand the stereotype. Another difference I noticed was the lack of friendliness on the streets. They rarely say hi to strangers on the streets, and if you ask them how they are doing, you will get a very honest response. This is a very drastic difference from Nebraska, where you say hi to everyone, and always tell people you are doing well, regardless of the truth. My description might make them sound rather rude which was not my intention. I know there are plenty of Czech’s that are great people, however it was just more difficult to get to know them due to the difference in culture.

It has been difficult getting accustom to these differences in culture, but overall while living in the Czech Republic. However from this I have become a more open-minded person, and I am more than excited to take my new perspectives back to the United States in just a few short weeks.

Can’t wait to see you all soon!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Wait, you actually have class?!

2) Academic Life

Although our academic life differs greatly here, at Palacky University, than it does back at UNK due to the condensed course schedule we have, I still feel as though I have learned just as much as I would have back home. Our class schedule in Olomouc, consists of us in class 5 days a week. Monday through Thursday we are in class from 3-7 PM and Friday’s we are in class from 10:30 AM-1:00 PM.

We start our school day with guest speakers who always have something interesting to share with us. Our guest speakers have come from a variety of different backgrounds allowing them to share their unique perspectives with us. The topics usually range from The Holocaust to World War 2 to The Cold War. It has been very interesting to hear history taught from a Czech perspective as opposed to the perspective we get back in the United States. In the United States we have a very negative connotation with the word communism. Being here, I have learned that the communism was not forced upon all of the countries. Interestingly enough, the Czechs voted for communism in the beginning because the ideology behind communism had good intentions, however it was not successfully carried out. Learning from these professors that have lived in a once communist country has been an eye-opening experience.

After our guest speakers, we move on to our Czech language class. Learning a second language is always a difficult task, so we definitely have had our work cut out for us as we are learning one of the more difficult ones. We have spent our time learning basic Czech, however I know there is still so much more to learn. We have also covered pronunciation as well as some basic conversation skills such as, “Hello, my name is Emily. How are you?” and so on. We have also learned some restaurant lingo and a few different foods, which has been very helpful. It has been so useful to know basic levels of Czech while being over here since English is so rare in Olomouc.

Lastly, we finish off the day with our lecture taught by Jan and Martin, our program directors at Palacky. Martin and Jan have been very patient with us as well as helpful. I have learned so much from them in and out of the classroom. They know so much about history it’s almost as if they were alive to experience it. It has been very beneficial to have them around on our field trips as well. They are able to show us the best side of each city. They also do an amazing job of balancing history and fun on all of our trips. This trip would not have been the same without them.

Overall our academic life has been very beneficial while here in Olomouc. I have really enjoyed learning from different perspectives and all of our professors have been amazing. It really has made it worth while.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nerozumím Česky

4. Language Barriers

While it has been very difficult to overcome the language barrier, it has made me more empathetic and understanding towards those who do not speak English in the United States. From ordering food, to finding directions, to just everyday conversation my perspective of learning a second language has altered completely. Before I came to the Czech Republic, I never understood the importance of learning a second language. Nearly all of the people I have met around Europe, speak at least two languages, if not more. Coming here allowed me to realize just how beneficial it can be. My experience in the Czech Republic has me thinking very hard about adding a Spanish minor to my studies.  

In the larger, touristy cities you can almost always find an English speaker. However, here in the smaller, less touristy city of Olomouc it is much less common to find someone who can speak English. Coming overseas, I did not know a single word of Czech. I have picked up a few things here and there from seeing the language so much, and have learned a lot in my Czech Language class, however I still find myself pointing to things on the menu and hoping for the best. It generally works out fine, but I do miss being able to say “with no mayo,” etc. It has, however made me a much less picky eater.

The language barrier has also proved to be very difficult, when I am lost and in need of directions. Even in the United States, being lost is always a stressful situation. However back home there is always the option of using a GPS or phone to navigate. Here, we unfortunately don’t have that luxury. Asking for directions from a local is always risky. There is always the chance that they misunderstood and have pointed you in the opposite direction. Getting lost is never ideal, but from this I have learned to stay calm during these stressful circumstances. I have been late and very close to missing multiple events, yet eventually I always end up where I need to be.

Small talk with strangers is not something I thought I would miss, but after a while you start to miss hearing friendly chat in a language you understand. Being from the Midwest especially, it is very common to politely say hello or wave to strangers, however, we learned very quickly from some of the native Czechs that it is uncommon to ask how others are doing, unless you really care.
Overall the language barrier has been difficult, but I believe it has changed my perspective on many aspects for the better. I feel as though I am getting the full study abroad experience by living in a city with less tourists, and having to overcome the language barrier.

Thanks for reading,

Na schledenou!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Amsterdam, Netherlands & Berlin, Germany

10. Personal Excursion

After departing the beautiful Venice, Italy we arrived in Amsterdam, Netherlands Sunday night. We woke up Monday morning, ate our free breakfast, and headed off to the free walking tour. The lack of sleep over the past week was finally catching up to me, and it became very evident when I was introduced to our very enthusiastic tour guide bright and early. However I finally started to wake up and the tour taught me a lot about the city. We were taken to many of the main attractions. One thing that stood out to me the most is that nearly all of the tall, thin buildings in the city lean. We learned that if they lean in toward the street it is considered a “good lean” and is simply just the result of the city being built on a swamp. However, some of the buildings lean to the side, which is a bad lean, and that is just an architectural problem.
Amsterdam Houses
Amsterdam Canals
Amsterdam was similar to Venice in the sense that there are canals throughout the city, but it looks nothing like Venice. It is beautiful in its own unique way. Another thing unique specifically to Amsterdam is the amount of bikers. Biking seems to be the main way of transportation. I learned very quickly that walking in the bike lane is most likely more dangerous than walking out in the street in front of the cars.

We also took a trip to Keukenhof Gardens to see the famous tulip fields of Amsterdam during our stay. It was such an incredible sight to see.

Tulip Fields
Tulip Fields
Our last stop in Amsterdam was the Anne Frank house. It was such an eye opening experience to see the place where Anne Frank and her family hid during the holocaust. Seeing the holocaust memorials in person really changes one’s perspective. It is unreal how much of a difference it can make being able to see it in person as opposed to learning it just out of a text book. It was a very emotional day.
We left Amsterdam and arrived in Berlin, Germany that night. We checked into our hostel and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

The original bookcase that hid the passageway to the attic where they hid
One of the bedrooms in the Anne Frank House
We woke up the next morning and went on the free walking tour. We had an amazing tour guide, who told us stories about the Berlin wall that almost brought me to tears. It was so fascinating to learn about the Berlin wall and the Cold War considering how recently all of that took place. On our tour we saw the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the area where Hitler died, and the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The Berlin Wall
Checkpoint Charlie
The Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe
The Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe was so fascinating to me. We stopped there on the tour and learned a little bit about how it was a memorial designed to resemble a cemetery, however it is meant to be open to each individual’s interpretation. Our tour guide recommended we come back by ourselves in order to get our own understanding of the memorial.

We went on another tour of the city where we learned about Berlin, after WWII. On the tour we stopped in the death strip, which is the area that separates East Berlin from the Berlin wall. This area was guarded 100% of the time so no one could escape from the Communist East Berlin. The memorial in this area left me speechless. The stories of the people that died trying to escape clearly shows the desperation these people had to get out of there. It was unreal to be able to see all of this in person.
Standing in the Death Strip of the Berlin Wall
Memorial to those who lost their lives trying to escape East Berlin
Amsterdam and Berlin were 2 more great adventures to add to the list and I know I have many more to come

Bye for now!

4 countries, 2 weeks

8) Field Trip 2
The last 2 weeks of my trip have been filled with adventure and great memories. Last Tuesday, the group set off on our trip to Vienna, Austria and Venice, Italy and from Venice we all went our separate ways for spring break. Over the next week, Tess, Louie, Mei and I stayed in Venice an extra day and then ventured into Amsterdam, Netherlands and Berlin, Germany. However for this blog I am going to focus on Vienna and Venice.

Tuesday morning we hopped on our bus to Vienna. We arrived mid-afternoon and settled into our hostel. After freshening up from the bus ride, we began our tour of the city with Martin. Our first stop was the Maria Theresien Platz. There we saw the outside of the beautiful museum, Kunsthistorisches Museum. Also in the square was a statue of Maria Theresa. Maria Theresa, archduchess of Austria, Holy Roman Empress, and queen of Hungary and Bohemia, was the only women ruler in the history of the Hapsburg Dynasty. After that, we were given a break for lunch. We were starving so we walked into one of the first places we saw, which turned out to be one of the fanciest restaurants I have ever been to. It’s safe to say we stuck out like a sore thumb, but the food was amazing. It was quite an experience to say the least.

Kunsthistorisches Museum
Statue of Maria Theresa
We regrouped after lunch and walked over to the Imperial Treasury of the Hapsburg Dynasty. There, we saw a collection of rare treasures that were compiled by the Imperial House of Habsburg over the course of centuries. The artifacts in this place were stunning.

Imperial Treasury of the Hapsburg Dynasty
Imperial Treasury of the Hapsburg Dynasty
Imperial Treasury of the Hapsburg Dynasty
That concluded our group activities for the day so a few of us ventured over to one of the cathedrals we could see from a distance. On the way we ran into a beautiful park so we stopped there to admire the beauty for a while. We finally arrived to St. Stephen’s Cathedral which was breathtaking from the outside. I can’t even imagine what it looked like on the inside, and sadly I didn’t get to find out.

A park we ran into on our way to the cathedral
St. Stephen's Cathedral Exterior
St. Stephen's Cathedral
The next morning our group voted on attending the horse show, as White Stallions are supposed to be unique to the city of Vienna. It was a very classy horse show, much different than the rodeos we are used to in Nebraska.

The next day we were up bright and early and headed off to Venice, Italy. I fell in love with the city the moment we arrived. I have never seen anything so stunning in my life. The pictures are beautiful but they cannot even begin to do it justice.

We arrived late that afternoon after a 7 hour bus ride through the Swiss Alps.

Swiss Alps
Swiss Alps
We didn’t have time to do much that day, so Martin took us to the city center and gave us the evening to do as we pleased. Since we had nearly 4 whole days in Venice, my friends and I decided to just wander around the city and try to get a sense of it. This was one of my favorite days. There was an amazing view around every corner. We eventually found a place for dinner. That meal beat any spaghetti I’ve ever tasted. The noodles were homemade and the sauce was fresh. They even gave us free Italian bread to go with it!  

Canal in Venice

Spaghetti Bolognese
The next morning we woke up around 6 to explore before the other tourists could crowd the city. This was completely worth it. Venice was incredible even when it was filled with tourists, but it was breathtakingly beautiful when the streets were empty and the sun was just coming up.

View from the main island
A park we ran into in Venice
Once we met up with the group that day we toured the Basilica of St. Mark and the Doge’s Palace. The Basilica of St. Mark was filled with more amazing architecture. And the Doge’s Palace was remarkable as it was previously the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice. That night Martin took a few of us out of the touristy side of Venice, into a quieter side of town where we could eat a cheap(er) authentic, Italian meal in the peace and quiet. I got yet another plate of pasta and it did not let me down.

Basilica of St. Mark
View overlooking the Palace Courtyard
The next morning we attempted to wake up early for our Gondola ride, however waking up was progressively getting harder. We took a 30 minute gondola ride throughout the canals of Venice. The rides are a little pricey but 100% worth it. I kept thinking to myself it can’t get any better than this, and each new activity would prove to be better than the last one.
Selfie with the Gondolier
Gondola Ride
After spending a couple of days on the main island a few of us ventured onto the next island where we would continue our stay, and once again the view got increasingly better. Our hostel was oceanfront, and I could have sat outside looking at that view for hours.

View from the hostel
Our last day in Venice was spent exploring the island of Lido. We began walking after we arrived and shortly ran into a beach. It was the perfect way to spend the last day in Venice.

Lido Beach
Lido Beach
The city of Venice was beautiful in its own unique way. It was a bittersweet departure as I was sad to leave, but I was thrilled for Amsterdam.

Stay tuned. There is more to come about my week in Amsterdam and Berlin.