Friday, December 14, 2012

Mission Complete: Prague

This is it. The last day. I decided to wander into a cafe near Wenceslas Square to write this last blog post in Prague.  In less than 24 hours, I'll be up in the air, probably next to some foreigner, trying to watch a movie comfortably and peacefully.  I'm in shock at how fast the time has passed.  I keep having flashbacks to my final moments at Providence College last semester, my last days in Ocean Beach on Fire Island, and saying goodbye to all my family and friends that last day of August.  Now, I'm coming home, and it feels so good.  I miss all of it.  It's like I stepped out of my body for a couple months, did something unthinkable, and made it a wonderful experience.  But it was all me, all real, and all encompassing throughout my journey.

The past couple days, me and my wonderful classmates traveled to a little village in Janov (North Czech Republic) with our Academic Director, Sarah.  We spent Wednesday-Friday morning there, evaluating, preparing, and reminiscing about our experience.  Located in a little pension all by ourselves, we lounged in the cafe/restaurant downstairs near the fireplace, talking about our first impressions, the moments we've made together, the classes and work we took part in, and the excursions to other countries.  I can honestly say that I will never have enough time to do everything I want here, but for the semester-long time range, I think I did more than I've ever expected.  I was packing my things and came across all these tickets, pamphlets, and memorabilia that made me think of each moment here.  I'm keeping all of it.  I want to.  Even though I'm come home with another suitcase full of stuff, I have collected many things that will remind me of my time here.  In these last days up north, we (me and my classmates) enjoyed family dinners, funny moments, and Christmas movies throughout the day.  It was a great way to relax and enjoy each other's company as a whole, one more time.

While reflecting, I realized that this was my experience.  I can try to share as much of it as possible with all of you, but it will never compare to what I've felt, encountered, experienced, and lived with during the time I was in Prague.  The only people who can relate are my classmates, but I guess that's what makes it special for me.  It is my own experience.  A chapter of my life that has started and closed in the blink of an eye.  And I'm thankful for all of it, so much.  I want to send a special thanks to my mom and dad who supported me for this trip, this experience; something everyone should do at some point or another in their lifetime.  And I want to thank my Mema and Umpa, both who have inspired me to travel and explore the world.  There wasn't a moment that I didn't think about all of these people, and how thankful I am to have them in spirit with me while in Prague.

Tonight, I will pack the final things, enjoy a farewell dinner with my host family, and go out for one last round of drinks with the gang.  I also want to say how thankful I am to Jana and Petr (my host parents) for making this experience just as great, and opening up their home for me.  It will be hard to say goodbye to them, and my classmates tonight.  Tomorrow, I leave for the airport at 9:00am Prague time, and I'll be back in New York around 6:00pm (EST) (because I'm going 'back in time').  I can't wait to see everyone, so please, don't hesitate to contact me and meet up over winter break.

New York, here I come.

Me in the freezing cold town of Janov.  So much snow, I couldn't feel my legs.

The gang altogether for one of the last group photos. All smiles. Going to miss them.

The view outside my window in the pension.  So pretty and scenic. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Down to the Last Week

Well, the countdown has officially begun.  The last seven days of my stay here in Prague are starting now, and I couldn't be more happy with everything I have done here.  It seems like just yesterday that I was leaving my house, heading to the JFK airport and looking out the window on the plane to see the view down below.  When I first arrived, I had no idea what to expect, and there were so many questions unanswered for me: where would I be staying, who is my host family, where is the school located, what is their currency like?  Now, I can answer mostly anything.  Although my Czech language is only basic, I've learned to understand the culture in more ways than one.

Even though there are only 10 of us students in the program, I've enjoyed every minute with them.  They're great people, and I hope I get to see them at some point or another in the states.  We come from all over, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Colorado, Maine, Illinois, and so on.  It will be hard, but we're all going to stay in touch.  Apart from the group, I found myself becoming much more independent than ever before.  I thought my independence was challenged when I first left for college 2 years ago, but boy was I wrong.  I mean, yes there were challenges going away to Providence College, but I made friends, a new family, and I got to see my real family about once a month.  Today marks the 100th day I've been away from home (I just counted).  Since then, I have traveled into the city everyday, navigating the streets on my own, taking long walks along the cobblestone, popping into different bars and cafes, and looking at all that Prague has to offer.  School was school, and once classes finished, I spent almost everyday alone.  I woke up in the mornings, went into the city center, and always found myself doing something different.  I've learned to trust myself, rely on myself, and enjoy the time I've had alone.  When I first arrived in the Czech Republic, I was definitely nervous, being in a foreign country, with no idea how to speak the language, pay for a cup of coffee, or travel from point A to point B.  Now, I know the basic language skills to get me around, I have spent my money wisely throughout my stay, and I am more than confident with directions here.  It's interesting because I spent my days with my backpack and my thoughts, exploring the city, and becoming somewhat socially independent.  I'm the kind of guy that likes to make small talk with strangers, meet up with friends when I'm not busy, and plan all kinds of activities.  Here, all of that was limited.  I don't know the language well enough to make best friends here, the Czech culture is very direct so the strangers are very forward with you, and it was hard to find other people to meet up with, so there were many times when it was just me, myself, and my thoughts.  I had plenty of time to focus on my studies, work on my final project, and explore the city on my own.  I couldn't rely on anyone except myself, and that was okay.

Now it's the final week, and of course I am looking forward to having some of my independence revoked.  I miss my family and friends, my house, being able to drive, planning get-together's with friends, etc.  I'm giving everyone a fair warning, because once I'm home, there is a part of me that is going to be released, and I'll want to be around someone all the time.  It's hard being on your own, but it also makes you appreciate everyone and everything that is valuable to you.  And I can say, that has been one of the most important lessons I've learned here.

7 days. <3

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

One Month, and Counting

So, I apologize for the no-so-updated blog posts.  I really just don't what to write about these days.  I mean, the touristy things are over, classes are done, no more excursions, and no more work, right?  Well, I am in Prague, and I have been trying to make the best of it.

As of November 9th, I finished my classes at SIT.  I managed to cram a lot of work with 4 classes [Czech History, Arts, and Social Change I / Czech History, Arts, and Social Change II / Intensive Czech Language / and Field Study Seminar].  This last month I have been developing a project proposal for my final project.  It is counted as a class, but in reality, it is not a class, but an independent study.  That is what I have been working on since classes ended, and the final project will be presented and written just a few short days before I head back home to NY.

My project incorporates NGO activity, multicultural studies, and czech education.  I am representing the Multicultural Center of Prague in a project they developed called La Ngonpo.  I am traveling to schools in the Czech Republic to see how the project works in a class setting, observe the cross-cultural atmosphere in Czech schools, and evaluating the project with my own observations and questions.  I am traveling tomorrow to a city called Brno to attend my first class and I am very excited!  I'm not so happy about waking up at 5am though, haha.  As far as last week goes, I have been confirming these trips, visiting the Multicultural Center, and catching up on some sleep and sites in Prague.  So, needless to say, I have been taking it easy a bit, but now it's crunch time.  Less than one month and I will be back home in NY with my family and friends.  I sit here now, reading all the statuses and messages about Thanksgiving break, and I'm very jealous.  If you're smart and know your history, that whole Indian & Settlers meal that took place in America, yeah, that's where the holiday was created.  So no, they don't celebrate it in Europe.  However, me and my classmates are getting together to have our own little Thanksgiving feast on Thursday (I'm making the sweet potatoes).  I am looking forward to a nice, traditional, American meal.  The good news after that, my Uncle Vic is coming from London to visit! He'll be here all weekend and I'm VERY excited to see him and enjoy the funny martini-filled nights.

Some other little tidbits to entertain:
-I visited the club where Rihanna shot her "Don't Stop the Music" music video. Radost FX is the name.
-I attended my first film festival in Prague to see a collection of international films.
-I signed up for a gym (finally) in Prague.  It costs about $45 USD and takes me 45 minutes to get there, but it's worth it.
-I intern for the Multicultural Center about twice a week, reading articles, proof-reading English-translated publications, and evaluating projects.
-I spent a good portion of the past weekend blowing my nose, going through countless amounts of tissues, and coughing up a storm (a.k.a. I was sick).
-I witnessed some guy puking his brains out on the tram.  The driver stopped the tram, came out behind the wheel, and yelled at the guy, delaying us about 15 minutes in traffic.
-Another person fell on me (not on the tram) but on the bus.  He was covered in construction filth and left my lap covered in god-knows-what.

Well, that's pretty much my latest update.  I'll have more to talk about after my visit to the school in Brno, my Thanksgiving dinner, and my weekend with Uncle Vic.  But for now, 25 days until I'm home!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy for President

"Stranded" here in the Czech Republic has forced me to watch all the Hurricane updates from overseas. What a tease.  The biggest hurricane that hits the Northeast in 100 years, and I'm in Prague. I can't say I'm disappointed though, because unlike many of my family and friends, last night I had electricity and wasn't concerned about my safety.  I was too busy thinking about the safety of others though, friends, family, loved ones, etc.  Now that the storm has passed, I am glad to say that everything at home is okay, but watching the news feed last night as an outsider really shocked me.  I saw everything LIVE online, as it was happening.  What a different experience it has on me, not being present for the storm.  I did have my own storm here in Prague though, on Saturday, October 27th.  There was quite a lot of snow that coated Prague, my host community, and those around.  But hey, I can't complain about it, because what happened to the Northeast this week will go down in history books.

The view outside my window Saturday morning. SNOW!
Today in class, we had a very interesting lecture/debate about the election coming up in the Czech Republic and in the United States.  There were two representatives from the Czech campaign, who are assistants to the candidates, who came to our classroom to give an informal discussion about the election history and the views of their candidate.  The two candidates for president mentioned in today's discussion were: Jiří Dienstbier and Karel Schwarzenberg. It was a very interesting discussion today, because the politics and government here in the Czech Republic are very different from that of the U.S.

Since it is election season both here and in the U.S., here are some notes on what I learned today (skip to the bottom of the page if you're not interested in the political bulls**t):
  • Eligibility for President: at least 40 years old, Czech citizen, participate in a 5 year term
  • Election/Voting details:
    • Direct vote/majority vote
    • Two-round runoff voting
    • New law of election passed in July 2012
    • Election days are January 11th-12th this year
    • Candidates register 66 days before election
    • Candidates need 50,000 signatures in order to be a valid candidate (unless nominated by their party platform)
  • Czech Constitution details:
    • The president does not hold executive power like the U.S. president does
    • Strong role in foreign policy
    • Ratification process can only happen through the president
    • The president does not have the role to be a "free leader of the world"
  • Problems with the election and process:
    • This is the FIRST time that the Czech public is directly voting for their president. Previous presidents have been appointed by the Parliament or the Communist regime. Therefore, it is hard to foresee how the election will go
    • People are confused as to how the president will be represented (i.e. will he have a role in domestic policies, environment, negotiations, attending certain conferences, signing different documentation, etc.)
    • This year, there is approximately 10 candidates who will run for president in the first round, all who have the mandatory requirements to run
    • There is confusion in the public as to what each political party stands for
    • Media plays a majorly low role in the campaign and events after the president is elected, which is unfortunate because the communication between media and the government is weaker
    • Since it is the first time for a direct vote of the public, this may bring more instability to the government system
    • National identity is unclear when it comes to the presidents opinion and the public vote
So, without further due, the title of my blog post Hurricane Sandy for President.  I was in a very political mood after everything that has happened today, and it made me question both campaigns (in the C.R. and the U.S.). First, the campaigns will definitely be put on hold in order to recover the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  I think it is a very responsible decision of Obama to focus on that, because he is still president of our country and needs to attend to the need of the Northeastern region.  With all the talk about Hurricane Sandy, politicians in the C.R. are also aware of the situation in the U.S., commenting and forcing candidates to talk about the issue as well.  So as a result, Hurricane Sandy really is the talk of the country, especially with elections and campaigns going on.

Well, thanks for reading, and if you're reading this, I assume that you Northeasterners have power back. Here is a photo of me and my friend John Cody from this past weekend. He's a great guy, working and traveling across Europe since he graduated this year from PC. 

P.S. Ahoj is pronounced "ah-hoy" like the sailors say. NOT "a-hoe".... mom. Haha

Me and John in Namesti Miru. Notice the snow. Haha.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Save the Last Dance for Me

With everything that's been going on lately, I have barely had any time to catch up on things. No, wait, that's a lie, I practically slept this whole weekend, so I had plenty of time.  Well, I'm blogging now, and I have a couple things to catch up on.

First off, I thought, going in, that Slovakia was going to be less of a favorite (out of all the places I've been so far).  Turns out, I enjoyed myself a lot trying to learn about the culture.  The key idea, is to want to have a good time.  I had all these negative thoughts going in, but once I volunteered for activities and opportunities, I found myself having a really great time. The trip there was intense, winding up and down hills and mountains in a van, getting really motion sick, but I battled through it.

So, upon arriving, Slovakia was very foggy, misty, murky, what have you, and you could barely see 5 feet in front of you.  The place where we were staying was up on a hill, so the weather was heavier.  However, we were staying on a farm, a farm ran by this wonderful family who sustained a life there for about 27 years.  They run a camp/community center where they try to assist locals and neighboring visitors with fun activities and events of all sorts.  The father, works all day on the farm, and altogether, produces fresh milk, makes homemade cheese, jam, bread, etc.  All of the food was delicious, especially the fresh milk from the cows.  On the farm, they had 3 pigs, 1 pony, 4 horses, 3 cows, 2 goats, 4 dogs, 5 cats, 1 rooster, and 8 chickens. Holy cow. I was not ready for all that animal.  But, it was very enjoyable, especially the farm dogs and the cats.

Some of the activities over the past couple of days included:
- Attending the cultural center in Černy Balóg
- Making handmade leather bracelets
- Visiting a traditional Slovakian home
- Weaving cloths
- Trying traditional Slovakian food
- Attending a historical lecture on Slovak "loggers"
- Taking a train to the logger workshop
- Taking part in logger activities
-Walking through a nature route
-Learning the traditional Slovak dance

Me in traditional Czech clothes. I know, get a good laugh now, because it won't be funny later.
Dora and I sawing the log. Pretty clean cut we had.
The view from the farm on the last day. After all the misty weather, the sun finally showed.
Now, according to the title of this blog, "Save the Last Dance for Me", I have done a lot of dancing in the past few days (no, not the hip-hop/pop kind either). The song in the title, is sung by none other than Michael Bublé, my idol.  I found it appropriate because it came across my iPod during my trip there in Slovakia, and I was always one for volunteering the dance portion of my stay.  For a good listen, Click Here. So, at the traditional Slovakian home, me and all my classmates, danced around and around, learning the moves, and dancing to the accordion.  The next day, we had a professional Slovak dance team come in and teach us a dance.  Personally, I did really well, and led most of the group with my dancing.  The instructors were very impressed, and if all else fails in life, I'm running off with them to Slovakia to dance in a Slovak costume, haha.

To sum up the trip, we stopped in another Slovak city called, Žilina, where we visited a "reborn" train stop for artists and people alike to express themselves in a new medium.  We also participated in a book-making workshop, where I crafted 2 book covers for these small notepads.  It was a lot of fun arts and craft time.  I ended my trip this past Friday, and I met up with the most fun-loving girl out there, Kelly Allen.  She and I are on BOP together and I continued my dancing with her as we attended the Lucerna Music Bar for the 80's & 90's Music Video Dance Party.  What an amazing time. So much fun. So, on this music note, I'll leave you with another song, not Michael Bublé, but a shout out to someone special. Enjoy. Click Here: Ho Hey - The Lumineers

Kelly and I at Lucerna Music Bar. We're so abroad.