Claire, outbound to Czech Republic

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Well the new year is already upon us, and I haven't updated since August…. Sorry! I always judged the previous students, wondering how hard it really was to update everyone, well know I get it!! I have been bad at updating on all my social media, its almost as if I disappeared, but I didn’t! 

I have been totally immersed here, which at times is overwhelming, but now it feels like home. I thought the holidays were going to be hard, and at times I longed for my family, and our traditions, but being here, and learning Czech traditions, overshadowed any sadness. 

How normal everything feels constantly blows my mind. My ability to seamlessly move through my village, town, and school, surprises even me. When I talk to my sister, or parents back home I am reminded how I am almost living a double life. I have activities, friends, and even a family, they know little about. My daily life is so different than before, but I love every second of it. 

I recently switched host families. I moved December 2nd, and it has been a wonderful change. My first family was great, and they took care of me, but I did not feel fully a part of their family… But with my new family, I almost feel too much a part of it, haha. Before I came I could never imagine calling a virtual stranger ‘mom’, or ‘dad’, or ‘sister,’ but here I am! My host sister is easily one of my best friends, she has amazing english, and for the first 3 weeks I was here we spent almost every free second together. Every night I have to move my stuff back into my room because throughout the day we have just been together doing homework, or binge watching netflix. My host parents know almost know english, which was a terrifying prospect for me before moving in, but in reality has gone very smoothly. We learned how to communicate, and my Czech gets better everyday because I am forced to use it. 

Because English is such an international language, it can be very easy to get by with only English, but honestly theres always a wall between you and your family or friends when you don't speak their language. Czech is difficult, but everyone here has been so kind to me, and really supports me when I speak. There are always mistakes, like during my presentation on faraday, I called his mother fat, instead of caring, everyone got a good laugh out of it, including myself. Mistakes are inevitable, and they can be embarrassing, but you have to be able to laugh at yourself. 

A common phrase I heard before arriving was “colder the country, colder the people.” But I have only seen the opposite. Czech people can get a bad reputation for seeming cold, and people blame it on their communist past, but they don't act very differently than other Europeans. In the USA there is this polite standard, of smiling if you make eye contact, even if it is with a stranger, or having empty “Hello, how are you? Good? Good, and you?” with almost everyone you encounter. Here, (for the most part) all of that is cut out. Why waste the time and air if you don't really care how the other really is. I love that in Czech if someone asks you, they genuinely care, and want to start a conversation. It was surprising at first when people would respond with negative things that had happened, or if they felt good, they had a full explanation as to why. It feels more meaningful here. Though at times I miss the “American” way. 

I know many people are reading this after recently finding out their countries, so congrats! Exchange has been such an amazing blessing. The people I have met, from Florida, Rotary, my classmates at school, and other exchange students from all around the globe, I have all been able to meet because of RYE, in Florida and here in D2240. If you ask people around the world, Florida is recognized as one of the best, because it is; and I am so lucky and proud to represent 6970, and Florida RYE. 

For those of you who received Czech Republic, or Slovakia, I want to tell you a little more about them, because so often it seems that know one really knows much about them! 

The Czech Republic and Slovakia are individual countries, and have been since the fall of the USSR in 1992/93. Czech Republic and Slovakia very much live in the 21st century, they are not like the idea many people have of previously communist countries. Most homes here look like they are straight out of an ikea magazine. Czech and Slovak are mutually understandable, the only difference is spelling and a slight accent. 

People here are some of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met.
Most of the younger generation (below 30) are learning, or fluent in English, the older generation however is usually fluent in German, or Russian. But many still know some English, and many are also fluent. While you shouldn't rely on English, and in many places you cannot, I understand that it is comforting to know it will usually be there. 

Czech people will blow their noses loudly, and everywhere, and no one will bat an eye. They also almost always have a pack of tissues on them, or near them. Soon you will too. 
Kofola is a Czech version of coke, and almost everyone drinks it constantly. Czech Republic is one of the only countries where Coke Cola is not the number one soda. 
Czech people tend to have very dark or black humor, communism is a very popular topic to joke about, but do not add in your jokes unless you know the people well, it could come off as rude. 

You will become weirdly patriotic during your exchange, and you will appreciate the USA, and target, and many other things you didn't think about, but over all you will adapt 
cold sick. When they eat you eat with your fork and knife, fork in left hand, knife in right, and when you are done, you put them parallel on your plate. Many times since you are from the USA they will give you more food, and while Czech people do not like wasting food, you do not have to eat it all, it is not rude.

If you have any more questions please reach out to me, or other outbounds, we want to help! And congrats on your exchange, it will be the best year of your life.