church

I’m not a religious person. Not anymore. I was raised quite Christian while growing up. My Dad was a pastor when I was small, and I’ve spent a ton of time in churches. I was always helping and attending and singing. I used to read my Bible every night and pray afterwards. That is all in the past though.

My disconnect with religion first began with hating the church. When my father left his last job at a church is probably when my parents’ relationship began to really go downhill. From that point on I started to notice the fragility of life. I guess at this point in time I can tell that maybe I blamed church for doing these things to my life. But nonetheless, I hated the idea of going.

I continued to read my bible and pray though. I figured that not liking to go into a church each week did not mean that I did not like God. And then that started to change too.

Part of it has to do with growing up. I was becoming aware and passionate about problems around the world. Poverty, hunger, human rights, etc. began to be things that were on my radar. With that I began to think how I could believe in a god that would let these things happen to people. Then my family began to fall apart at the seams and I prayed for it to stop. I prayed and prayed and prayed. No result. Then I was done with God.

For a while I started to say that I was agnostic. I didn’t really know if there was a god or not. I certainly hoped that there wasn’t a higher being that could prevent all of these horrid things from happening and simply wasn’t. Part of me still leans towards this. Growing up religious makes it difficult to suddenly become firmly atheist overnight. Yet, I’m also starting to stray from that path as well. We’ll see what happens.

So how does this all relate to my exchange?

Throughout my current stint in Europe, I have had the opportunity to visit quite a few beautiful houses of worship. Baroque and Gothic and mammoth places where people go to find…well I don’t know what. I don’t think you have to be religious to realize that these churches and cathedrals are beautiful. Yet, for some reason these buildings still have a deep meaning to me. I feel safe in them. I wonder about what goes through people’s heads when they walk in. What makes them worship something that doesn’t seem to do anything good for anyone.

I’ve enjoyed exploring the churches and cathedrals of Europe, and I will continue to. They may be shaping my view of religion more than I know. If you ever take a trip across the pond I highly suggest you look into a few. At the very least you’ll get some pretty pictures.

in Prague

in Prague

in Prague

in Prague

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four months

Wow it has been four months!

December has literally flown by. I feel like it was just last week that I was writing about my first three months here. This fourth month has had it’s ups and downs, but it is ending happily.

So what have I done in December? I suppose it’s more like what haven’t I done in December…

  • I went to the ballet with one of my friends. It was Swan Lake and performed by the Moscow City Ballet. God I wish I could dance like that.
  • I went to Vienna with one of my close friends here. It was absolutely beautiful. The Christmas Markets were warm and full of life. The architecture was stunning and unlike anything I’ve seen. I am so grateful to her and her family for providing me with that opportunity.
  • I went to Prague (again!) This time it was with Rotary for “Vánoce v Praze” (Christmas in Prague). There I got to see my exchange friends again, go to my first hockey game (Prague won!), take a language test (which went merely okay), see more of Prague, and have lots of fun. A big děkuji moc to Rotary and the Rotex who helped organize that great time.
  • I have officially experienced a Czech Christmas. My host family did a very nice job with the meal, tree, presents, etc. It made me feel like I was at home even though I wasn’t.
  • And finally I have taken a bit of time to reflect on 2014 and what 2015 will bring (keep your eye out for another blog entry in the next day or two).

My fourth month in the Czech Republic has most certainly been one for the books. I cannot wait to share with you my fifth month. I hope that you all had a very Merry Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or just a nice December. Happy New Year!

Here are some pictures… 🙂

The Rotary Youth Exchange students of the Czech Republic in front of the John Lennon Wall that was recently painted over but has very quickly been restored to it's original state.

The Rotary Youth Exchange students of the Czech Republic in front of the John Lennon Wall that was recently painted over but has very quickly been restored to it’s original state.

One of my best exchange friends. :)

One of my best exchange friends. 🙂

Prague skyline

Prague skyline

Ellie, August, me

Ellie, August, me

Beautiful (baroque?) church in Vienna

Beautiful (baroque?) church in Vienna

Christmas Market

Christmas market stall

Another church in Vienna.

Another church in Vienna.

At the Christmas markets in Vienna with my friend Anna.

At the Christmas markets in Vienna with my friend Anna.

Christmas Tree/Vánoční Stromeček

Christmas Tree/Vánoční Stromeček

Christmas Cookies/Cukrový

Christmas Cookies/Cukrový

three months

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and while I do wish that I was home with my family for this time, I must be here.

In the U.S., we take Thanksgiving Day to not only eat a lot of good food and watch (American) football, but to take at least a moment to reflect on what we are thankful for. I thought I would do that for my three month blog entry.

I’m thankful for…

  • Mom/lil D- I don’t know what I would do without you and your constant support and encouragement. I am so thankful that you were willing to let me go even though it’s hard (for both of us.) I miss you so much and I can’t wait for the time when I get to show you all of the places I’ve been here. Love you so so so so so much. ❤
  • James/Jamal/Jamie- I am so proud of you. I can’t believe that you’re an adult and almost 20 and living in your own apartment and cooking for yourself and other people and all of that. You’re almost halfway through college which is insane. I’m so thankful that you’re the big brother that I get to look up to and aspire to be like. Also can’t wait to show you around my adopted home sometime (with lil D). Love you lots.
  • Dad- We’re at an interesting crossroads but I’m still thankful for the years that we’ve shared together. I’m thankful that I had my dad around while growing up because a lot of kids don’t have that. I’m thankful that I can always count on you to help me logically solve problems (especially budgeting ones.) Thanks for your constant support and for always pushing me to try harder. Love you. 🙂
  • C.J- even though you’re a smelly beagle you’re the best smelly beagle out of them all. Also my host dog is insane and giant and I miss you.
  • my host family- I would not have survived these three months without you all and you truly have become like a second family. I hope that I get to return (more than once) after my exchange and have you all meet my family. Thank you for letting me into your home and providing for me.
  • my friends- Thank you all for dealing with me. Thank you for allowing me into your groups that have existed for years now, and for speaking to me in a language that isn’t your own. Thank you for helping me with Czech (even though you laugh at me most of the time) and for having patience. Thank you for being amazing people who have made my exchange so so great thus far. I’m so happy that I have met each and every one of you.
  • my health- I mean you know I have to throw that in there.
  • cheese- Although you make me fatter, you also make me happier.
  • bread- Same as cheese.
  • being able to read- I’m thankful that I get the opportunity to learn and read and write. So many young girls my age around the world do not have this chance.
  • black clothes- Thank you for always looking good and never going out of style.
  • twitter- Thanks for helping me stay connected to everyone here and at home.
  • The 1975- Matty Healy, thank you for existing. Along with Ross, Adam, and George. I don’t know what I would listen to without your music. (Probably The Neighbourhood but that’s not the point.)
  • Kavarna Daniel- s/o to Sara for taking me there first, it has made my life so much better.
  • Rotary- Thank you for allowing me to have this opportunity
  • Google Translate- I don’t think I have to explain this…
  • Mexican food- Although I miss you you are still in my dreams and soon we will be reunited.
  • cheddar cheese- WHY DOESN’T THE CZ HAVE THIS???
  • blankets- because cozy (except my favorite one didn’t make it across the ocean and I miss it)
  • Czech language- despite being a pain in the ass, it sounds cool and sometimes I can say things in three different languages (French, Czech, and English) and that’s nice.
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rpRESVC1O0 if you haven’t seen this you’re welcome
  • black and white photography- for being pretty and interesting and different
  • H & M- even though you take all my money you make me happy
  • hot showers- Thanks for keeping me clean and relaxed and being wonderful.
  • candles- I’m happy that these exist because controlled fire combined with good smells is just 🙂
  • fashion magazines- Thanks for just being really nice.
  • public transportation- This is particularly good where I am living right now so I’m a bit partial. But the fact that I can get anywhere in the city without having a car is so nice.
  • Time Magazine’s website- I can keep up with the U.S. because Czech news is hard to understand.

Finally, I’m thankful for all of this. For this chance and these days of my life. This constant happiness and excitement and joy. The lack of regret at the end of each day paired with the desire to wake up tomorrow. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me/that I have ever done. And I’m so thankful that this journey has seven more months to go. I’m thankful that it is not over yet, and that I will continue to have the chance to change and grow and learn. I’m thankful for everyone who took the time to read this. I love being able to share my experiences with you. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

prague (!!!)

Yesterday I got to go to Prague for the very first of hopefully many times. It also happened to be my first time on a train, which I said was “like Harry Potter.” It was just all very exciting.

My class and I had to be at the train station at 5:30, which meant I woke up insanely early. I got around four or five hours of sleep, but I was still super energetic and excited. We had a little less than four hours on the train, and then we walked around with our social science teacher to see some historical monuments around Prague. They felt it was important for the “amerčanka” to see these things, which I really appreciated.

After that we went to the Czech Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, which was interesting. I have been to Washington D.C. and seen our capital building, so I got to draw some comparisons. The Czech buildings were done in what I guess you can imagine if you think of “old European” architecture. There were lots of paintings around and everything was quite ornate. The buildings in D.C. are similar, but the style is a bit different.

I was also surprised by the size of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. There didn’t seem to be hardly any seats down on the floor. To me it was hard to imagine that few people help make legislation for an entire country, but I guess we can see from the U.S that more people doesn’t necessarily mean more effective.

Once we were done with our tours and stuff we had free time (!) Something interesting about Prague is that it didn’t seem all that big to me, which I know sounds really snobby. While it was definitely a large city, I was not overwhelmed by the number of people or buildings. Maybe this is because I did not go roaming around the whole city, or maybe a city with a little over a million people doesn’t seem inherently massive to me. I dunno.

This does not mean that I didn’t think Prague was amazing and beautiful, because it is. It is so different from other big cities in the U.S, but it also had lots of things from back home (Hooters, TGI Fridays, lots of Starbucks, etc.) My Czech friends and I hung out at a massive shopping mall before I got to meet up with two of my exchange friends from the U.S. (which was exciting and amazing and wow I already kind of miss them.) Then the wondering continued until I had to go 😦

Overall, Prague was one of those great experiences that I haven’t really processed yet. When I compare it to being back at school in Lexington doing the same old school work, I am so thankful for having the chance to do things like this. To get to hang out with so many cool people and see so many cool things. I can’t wait to go back again in December.

Here are some pictures from my trip. Unfortunately, most of the ones that I took aren’t very good, so I don’t want to waste your time with bad pictures of a beautiful place. Thanks for reading, and I’ll update you again soon!

Czech National Museum

Czech National Museum

DSCN0315

Taken on Charles Bridge

Clock and giant church.

Clock and giant church.

Astronomical clock. Unfortunately we missed the change.

Astronomical clock. Unfortunately we missed the change.

two months

I’ve been here for two months as of today. whaaaaaaat

Taking a moment to step back and think about these past two months, I can hardly believe how amazing they have been. I am so incredibly happy. I can already see changes in myself. I have become much more positive and independent. I have started to recognize the more important things in life, and I can see beauty in simple things.

I had my first pulkolona (think prom but less twerking and more waltzing), I hiked another mountain, I went to Poland for a cooking competition (I cook?), I’ve failed more tests, learned more Czech, become closer to my classmates, and consumed a ton of pasta.

Yet, these two months have still brought challenges. I’ve struggled with budgeting and trying to raise money. I have had a hard time with my family (the one back home not my host family.) My home situation is fragile and has a very complex dynamic to say the least. The past year of my life was spent having to deal with it on a daily basis. I’m away from it for now. But I probably haven’t dealt with it in the right way. I can’t remember the last time I skyped my brother who I am very close to. I try to keep contact with my family to a minimum and what is said lacks emotion. I do miss them, but I don’t miss the complexity of daily life.

And then there are my friends back home. I can tell that I’m changing way more than they are already. I am much more positive, and I can tell that going back home is going to be hard. I care less about school and getting good grades, and more about living life and gaining experiences. They aren’t going to have the same mindset.

So, I don’t think about home that much because the thoughts tend to be negative right now. I miss my home sometimes, but I love this new one that I have adopted. I love walking around, going to coffee shops with friends, noticing something different every day. Even though learning the language is going very slowly, it’s still kind of a fun process. My friends make fun of me because I talk like a four year old, but I still think it’s an improvement. I am so excited to see what happens in the following months, and I cannot wait to share those experiences with you.

EuroTour 2015- more information

Alright everyone I think it’s time for an update! I have some more information about what this EuroTour is going to consist of, so here goes…

To begin, EuroTour is from April 25th to May 8th and we will be travelling by bus. The countries that we will visit are France, Italy and Spain. Some of the sights that we will get to see are the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Colosseum, Pompei, Vatican City, Florence, Venice, etc. We also get to take a ferry from Spain to Italy, and get to take a boat cruise down the river Seine.

The cost includes accommodation, along with some meals, entrance fees into certain sights, along with paying for the bus, and finally paying for tour guides.

As you can imagine, this is an amazing opportunity. I may not get the chance to see these places again. The first payment of 200 euros ($252.51) is due in November, and I do not have half of that yet. Please donate if you can, and share this with anyone that you know. Again, I greatly appreciate your support, and will continue to keep you updated!

Here is the link to my campaign: http://www.gofundme.com/f6zk8s

eurotour

One of the many opportunities that I get as an exchange student is going on a two-week long bus tour of other European countries in the spring. I would really enjoy going on this trip, but it is unfortunately not as simple as that.

The trip costs 940 euros. This is approximately $1200. I have taken it upon myself to try and raise as much money as possible. The first payment for the trip is due in November, and is 200 euros or about $250.

I am using a website called gofundme.com It does not charge donors anything. The website simply deducts 7.9% from each donation plus $0.30.

I would greatly appreciate any help that you all could provide, monetary or not. I hope that you all are doing well, and thank you for taking the time to read this. The link to my campaign is below.

http://www.gofundme.com/f6zk8s

one month

A few quick things:

  • I would like to write something profane here, but considering who will probably read this, I’ll choose not to.
  • I’m writing this entry over the course of a week so by the time it is actually published, it will probably be very different from what it was in the beginning.
  • Some of my classmates are currently reading this which is terrifying because I want them to like me and blogging about them doesn’t seem to be the right way to go about that. (ha ha ha hi guys)

Okay okay on with the info…

One month. One month of this experience has already rushed by. I have met more Kubas (3) and Pavels (a lot) and people with really cool names that I can’t actually say than I could ever have imagined. I have gotten sick, and consequently homesick. I have tried new foods, and had so much bread and cheese that my arteries are probably ready to close up. And it has been the greatest month I could have asked for. 

It’s hard to describe how overwhelmingly grateful I am for this. But maybe this 100% true anecdote will help: I have lots of free periods at school because I don’t take physics, chemistry, German, or Spanish. During that time I go downstairs to our “vestibule” which has some oddly shaped chairs and fake-wood (or maybe it’s real wood, I dunno) tables and pass the time. The other day I was sitting there, drinking bad yet completely satisfactory vending-machine coffee and listening to Lorde. And then I suddenly get this wave of aggressive emotion and am getting all teary-eyed. In my head I’m thinking, “What the hell Allie pull yourself together it’s like 9:00 in the morning stop,” but I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool my life was and how I was getting to do so many things and agh it was just like that “aha” moment. That aha moment when you fulfill your overtly emotional teenage girl stereotype. (I’m back to normal now though.)

As mentioned earlier, I have gotten homesick. I had a bit of a stomach bug about a week ago, and consequently wanted to be at my house with my family. But once I got to get back into the swing of things it went away. It’s hard to find the balance between respectively missing my home while trying not to miss things too much. I know that the winter is going to be hard. I’ve already started to mentally prepare for the inevitable feelings of homesickness and guilt that are sure to come. Hopefully it won’t be too bad.

This month has been an odd juxtaposition of gaining independence whilst losing it at the same time. I can go into the city and back all by myself. I can go places after school. All I have to do is have some money, bus tickets, and tell my host family. These are things that I couldn’t really do back in the good ol’ USA because public transportation just isn’t as good (and I would get horribly lost, which is ironic). Yet it can be difficult to accept the fact that I am going to depend on people for the next little while as well. People keep telling me, “Learning the language is going to help so much.” Yes. I am very aware of this and I am making a serious effort to learn Czech. Yet it can be so frustrating. I can’t order my own food at a restaurant. I can’t communicate all of my thoughts and I can’t talk to my teachers. If someone tries to say something to me I have to sheepishly reply, “Nerozumim jsem Američanka.” (I don’t understand, I’m an American.) For someone who loves knowing exactly what is going on all of the time, and prides herself on being intelligent, this has been incredibly difficult.

And then there’s the ironic challenge that is English class. The kids at my school learn very proper British English, which is far more different from conversational American English than I could have ever imagined. Getting answers wrong in English cues a kind of bizarre embarrassment that I hate. It’s even better when the teacher says, “You’re wrong. But it’s okay. You’re American.” I like to think that she wasn’t trying to be rude but it didn’t really sit well with me. My classmates have to learn phrases and vocabulary that I haven’t even heard someone use, even the most proper speakers. I can’t use too much slang here, which has been harder than I thought. Onward and upward am I right?

I guess this is what an exchange is. Looking around and finding happiness in little experiences and new people despite all of the little frustrations. In trying not to let the down moments turn into down days turn into down weeks. Seeing opportunity all around.

This month has helped me to become more open and brave. It has helped me begin to move past some things and people that had been dragging me down for so long. I have gained confidence and a deeper appreciation for the life that I have. And oh my gosh do I miss Mexican food (it’s been an entire month since my last taco/burrito/enchilada and I might not make it much longer.)

I only have nine months left now. A pregnancy (oh my gosh that is literally the weirdest way to think about it I apologize.) I cannot wait to see what awaits me in the future, and I can’t wait to share it with you all. Take care.

Al out.

(Song to describe month one)

 

 

school (škola)

Although I have only gone to school for a few days it has been a massive adjustment. It’s odd. Flying from home to here, nearly 5,000 miles, seems like a piece of cake compared to school.

I’ve always been a good student. I only got one B during my three years of middle school. I’ve only gotten A’s so far in high school. I’m not a genius or anything close. Yet, if I have ever needed help or had a question, I knew what to do. Now I have absolutely no idea.

Not only do I not know how to ask for help but I literally have no idea as to what is going on. In one math lesson it seemed as though they were throwing random numbers on the board (which also looks like a foreign language because they write certain numbers differently from what I’m used to.) Teachers don’t really know what to do with me because they don’t speak very good English and I don’t speak very good Czech (or any Czech). I want to learn, but it is going to take time, and I’m not very patient.

It is all very frustrating and exciting at the same time. I’m making new friends (even though I don’t remember any of their names yet) and experiencing new things. So far I think that I like my Czech school schedule more than my American schedule. I guess the point of this exchange is to take the differences and not see them as good or bad, but as simply different. That’s all that I can try to do.

settling in

I have found the way people respond to the fact that I am an American exchange student interesting. Many kids my age feel bad for me that I got sent to their country and their city. Others wonder why I want to learn Czech. Personally, I think that it is a beautiful country, that Ostrava is a beautiful city, that Czech is an interesting language, and that I am very happy to be here. But I understand where they are coming from. I would feel the same way towards anyone who ended up where I live.

Update: My luggage did come on Wednesday which was nice. I got my room all sorted out and it kind of helps this place feel more like home.

So far, I have gotten to do several really cool things. On Thursday, I got to go to the center of Ostrava with my host sister and her boyfriend. First, I am very lucky that they are both such kind and helpful people with really good English. Also, they know their way around. We ended up getting to go to the top of the tower on City Hall in Ostrava. You can see the entire city up there. It’s amazing.

View(s) from the top of the City Hall tower.

View(s) from the top of the City Hall tower.

DSCN0019

I have also gotten to go shopping with my host sister. We went to a Czech shopping center (mall) in Ostrava to go to Zara. It was so much cleaner than the malls that I am used to. It’s difficult trying to figure out how many dollars things cost compared to crowns but at least I have a calculator on my phone. I’ve also gone grocery shopping with her at Globus. It’s similar to Walmart except larger and again, cleaner.

Friday night I got to visit Stodolni Street in Ostrava. Stodolni is a street lined with bars and clubs. It was very popular last night because it is the last Friday before school starts. Now you might be thinking, “Way to go Allie you got drunk during your first week.” But I did not. I am not supposed to drink on my exchange and I am not legally allowed to in the Czech Republic anyway, so that did not happen. All I had was a Sprite.

While clubbing is fun and exciting, it may not be entirely for me. I really enjoy personal space, people who smell nice, and not having to dance (because I am a terrible dancer.) Whether or not I will return to Stodolni Street in the future? I don’t know.

Stodolni Street (not my photo)

Stodolni Street (not my photo)

Finally, my host family and I went to a village festival this afternoon. It was really cool to see the way that the entire community got together and had fun. It felt like a distinct contrast between suburban American life (even though I don’t live in the suburbs in America.)

All in all, I have really enjoyed every moment that I have spent in the Czech Republic. I am grateful to my family, host family, and Rotary for giving me this opportunity. I can’t wait to see what the Czech Republic has in store for me next.