Back to School

My semester has officially begun. This week was the start of my CIEE courses. After some switching around throughout the week, I ended up with 5 classes: Collective Identity in a Totalitarian Regime, Psychoanalysis and Society, Czech Cinema, Art & Architecture, and Czech Language.

Collective Identity in a Totalitarian Regime sounds like it’s going to be really interesting. It focuses on the ordinary citizens during the communist era rather than on the leaders or political dissidents. The teacher is really enthusiastic and is a lot of fun to listen to, so I’m pretty excited for her lectures. What’s also cool is that she lived in the Czech Republic during the communist regime so she can give us first-hand examples of the things that she talks about. It makes everything a lot more tangible.

Psychoanalysis and Society focuses on the basic understanding and concept of different psychoanalytic theories and their relation to the Czech Republic. I know close to nothing about psychoanalysis, so I’m excited to learn about it. I think it’ll also help explain a lot about the Czech Republic’s historical and contemporary issues, which is cool. However, the class seems to have a lot of reading which I’m not too thrilled about.

Art & Architecture is mainly about Prague’s architecture and urban development. On Mondays we have a lecture about whatever topic we’re covering that week such as Roman art, Gothic architecture, etc. Then on Wednesdays we go out for a tour and the teacher shows us examples of the art and architecture around the city. It’s cool because although I’m technically at school, it doesn’t really feel like it since I’m basically getting a free tour of different areas of the city. I feel like I’ll get a lot out of this class so I’m excited. It’s pretty rare that you get to experience and see first-hand the different styles you learn in class.

Czech Cinema is all about Czech films from the 1960s onward. I don’t know if it’s a well-known fact that there are quite a few Czech directors and films out there, but I wasn’t aware of this before I applied to the program. Once I learned of this, I really wanted to take a film class to see what they’re like so I’m glad I get to take this class. We’re going to be discussing movies like “Happy End,” “Daisies,” and “Firemen’s Ball.” In all we’ll be watching ten movies I believe. This is my first ever class about films, so I’m eager to see how I like it.

This week I also had an interview with the Bohuslav Martinu Institute, which is an educational center for the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. Basically, anyone who is interested in Martinu or would like to read about him, get his manuscripts, photographs, etc can come to the institute or go to their webpage and get access to all things Martinu. They have offices in Prague, Switzerland and Japan… which is where I come in. They are currently trying to increase promotional efforts of Martinu in Japan. I suppose the director saw on my resume that I have Japanese background and thought it would be a good match. So, today I met with their social media manager and talked about what I would be doing. Apparently classical music is huge in Japan (something I was unaware of), so they are looking for ways to expand awareness and appreciation of Martinu by reaching out to various key players in the classical music world via social media. Along with using social media to increase Martinu’s presence in Japan, my job is also to develop a new social media strategy and come up with new ways to increase awareness. Going into the interview I thought that this internship would mainly be proofreading their newsletters and such, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they had an entirely different plan for me. As an aspiring public relations professional, this seems like an amazing opportunity to improve my skills and learn more about the public relations world. This is also the first time that my Japanese has proved useful outside of a Japanese context, which is really cool. I always thought that the only time my Japanese would be utilized would be in Japan or at a Japanese company/organization, so the fact that I’m in the Czech Republic and have the opportunity to use Japanese is so exciting.

I’m definitely looking forward to the coming semester as I learn about Czech history and culture through my classes and internship and I can’t wait to get started.

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A Weekend In Berlin: Condensed

Last weekend I took my first trip outside of Prague and went to Berlin. Here’s some of what I learned and experienced:

1. The international trains in Europe (or maybe just the German trains) are set up like in Harry Potter– a set of six people sit in their own compartment. I kept waiting for the trolley to come by and offer us some chocolate frogs but it never came.

2. German people are really friendly and smiley, which was refreshing since Czech people are a lot less friendly in comparison.

3. Berlin is huge! It made me appreciate the close proximity of everything in Prague. So many metros… so many metro fares…

4. German beer is pretty damn good.

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Beer from a local brewery

5. There is a pretty big alternative scene in Berlin which I wasn’t aware of. Lots of second-hand stores, flee markets, grungy bars.

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Flee market

6. History is literally everywhere in Berlin. WWII and its aftermath has definitely left a huge impact on the area, and I felt it wherever we went. We saw old Nazi buildings that are now used by the government, the Holocaust memorial, Berlin wall, and much more.

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Berlin Wall

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Holocaust Memorial

7. The street food of Berlin should not be overlooked. My best meal of the weekend was a doner kebab from a street stand that cost me 3.5 euros.

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Currywurst

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The amazing kebab

8. Berlin is really diverse! I did not know this. A lot of the bakeries and little shops were owned by Muslims, and there were people from all over the world in the city. I know Prague is a homogenous city, but this really put it into perspective.

9. The train inspector people that check your ticket (Germany uses the honor system, so you can hop on the train without buying a ticket at the risk of being approached by an inspector and having to pay a hefty fine) are under cover. We got asked for our tickets by a man who legitimately looked like a drug dealer. He was wearing acid-wash, multicolored jeans with a grungy shirt/jacket combo. It was weird and freaked me out a little. But also made all that money spent on the metro tickets worth it.

10. I would definitely like to go back to Berlin and other German cities. I feel like it has a lot to offer and I loved the culture and the people there.

Some more photos:

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Gendarmenmarkt

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Whole roasted fish at the flee market

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Me with a huge cheeseburger 🙂

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Brandenburg Gates

Learning, Navigating and Eating

Čau! (Czech version of Ciao) I’ve been so busy for the past week I haven’t had the chance to sit down and write a post, so I’ll give a short rundown of what I’ve been up to.

Last weekend I went on a trip with the program to Kutna Hora, a historic town about 65 km outside of Prague. We saw a huge cathedral called the St. Barbara’s Cathedral as well as the Italian Court. We also went to an ossuary that has lots of decorations made out of real human bones that were dug up centuries ago when there was no more room in the churchyard for more graves. It was really weird and creepy but nothing like I’d ever seen before, so it was cool.

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St. Barbara’s Cathedral

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Inside the cathedral

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Inside the ossuary- chandelier made of human bones

This week was filled with learning Czech verbs, vocabulary and grammar. I learned about 30 new verbs and their conjugations this week, which was a lot of information but I feel like I learned it at a good pace so it wasn’t too bad. Today I had my final written and oral test for the two-week intensive course. It was pretty simple so I think I did pretty well. I have the same teacher for the semester-long Czech course, which is nice. She’s really sweet and easygoing, so I’m looking forward to a few more months with her!

I also joined a gym (finally!) that is reasonably priced, in a good location and has what I need so I’m happy. I’ve gone there a couple times now and I feel like it’s a whole new aspect of immersing myself into the culture. It’s not really a gym for ex-pats, so the staff don’t speak English and all the gym members are Czech. It was a pretty funny experience when Liz and I signed up to become members, as we had to do a lot of pointing and we had some communication issues. For example, when the receptionist gave us locker keys we got really excited as we thought these were keys for our own individualized locker. I put them in my bag, thinking I’d get to keep them for the duration of my membership. However, after taking us to see the locker room area the receptionist asked for the keys back in Czech. Liz and I looked at each other confused, but eventually we realized that she had just given us keys to try out the lockers and not for for permanent keeping. Whoops.

I also had some good food this week– some spicy Thai glass noodles, a matcha cappuccino, pho, and my Czech teacher took our class to a Czech restaurant near the Prague Castle. My dish was pretty good– I had rotisserie chicken with a  coconut curry sauce and rice. I’m not sure if it was really Czech food but the sauce was super good. I also went to a bar that serves free sangria on Tuesdays for ladies, which was awesome! I’ll definitely be going back there again.

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Pho!

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Matcha Cappuccino

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Bukowski’s

Tonight I went to see Don Giovanni at the Estates Theatre, which was an awesome experience. It was my first opera and I knew nothing about the plot but the singing was beautiful and I was mesmerized by the whole production as I watched. Mozart composed and premiered this opera at the Estates Theatre in 1787, which made it all the more special.

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Estates Theatre

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Tomorrow morning I leave to go to Berlin for the weekend. I’m so excited to explore the city and eat German food! I’ve been hearing about their amazing sausages, french fries, and kebabs so it’ll be a weekend full of artery-clogging food but I am so looking forward to trying it all. I’ll let you all know about it when I come back! Auf Wiedersehen 🙂

The Ever-Elusive Fitness Center

Today, after a long morning at the Ministry of Interior for some bureaucratic mumbo jumbo to declare a change in address, one of my roommates Liz and I decided to look for a gym to potentially become members of. We’ve been researching different gyms for over a week now but have yet to find one that we are willing to join. We first walked to this fitness club called Asketa Fitness that I had spotted on one of my runs. It’s pretty close to our apartment and when I looked it up online it seemed to be relatively cheap, so I thought this would be a good one. When we got there, we realized it was in an apartment building so we rang their buzzer to be let in. We rang about 5 times to no answer. Then we saw a sign that said it was “in the courtyard,” so we went around the block to the other side of the building to see if there was a courtyard. Nothing. We went back to the front and called the number displayed. No answer. We decided to have our Czech buddy call again later, and began walking back up to our apartment. On the way we stopped by a hotel that had a fitness center advertised on the front, hoping that they had some sort of membership service for non-guests, though we knew it was a stretch. We walked in and awkwardly approached the concierge about our request. Unsurprisingly, he told us the gym was for guests only. I decided to ask him if he knew of any gyms around, and he got out a map and circled the metro station “I.P. Pavlova” which was only a couple minutes away, and told us there was a gym called BBC Fitness there. We left excited and grateful for such a helpful concierge and got to the station in no time.

Once we were there, we didn’t know which street it was on so we just walked around the area. After a few minutes of roaming we decided to walk into another hotel to ask if the front desk staff knew the whereabouts of the gym. The woman at the desk told us that we were in the wrong area, and that we had to go to Vinohradska street. Vinohradska is a relatively big road that goes from the area where my apartment is and keeps going for a few miles (most streets in Prague are pretty short). We took the tram a couple stops and got off at the bottom-end of the street and began walking up, searching for the fitness center. We spotted a fitness center that was not BBC but decided to go in and try it out anyway. It was a tiny gym with no cardio machines, only weights and strength training machines. We decided this wouldn’t work for us since we mainly need a treadmill. We continued on our search for BBC when we spotted another gym. This one was next to a club and looked a little sketchy but we decided to check it out anyway. We approached a staff member, told her our situation, and she took us around to show us their various services. We were led into a dark room with a spiral staircase. We walked up the stairs into a loft-type room that overlooked a boxing ring (yes, you read that right). It was very dimly lit and had one treadmill and a couple other cardio machines. The loft led into a different, much brighter, room with various strength training machines. The set up was very strange and made me feel really uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want to go there alone but the fact that there was only one treadmill would make that pretty hard. So, we moved on.

We kept on the same street, hoping that we would soon find the mysterious BBC. We walked for a few more minutes and slowly began losing hope that we were in the right place. We walked into a sports goods store to ask for directions once more. The storekeeper told us that the fitness center was two metro stops away. I started to wonder if this gym even exists or if it was a phantom gym. It was no longer worth even checking BBC out since it would be so far from our apartment that we may as well join one closer to school if anything. We took the metro back, frustrated and confused as to why it is so difficult to find a gym in a city like Prague. Now our options are to either join a more expensive but fully equipped gym right near our apartment or try to find a gym close to school. Although it was fun seeing a new part of the neighborhood and interacting with various Czechs, the experience was pretty frustrating. I feel like it should not be this painstaking to find a decent gym. Don’t take your fitness centers for granted, people! I guess I’ll have to stick to running outside for now.

Dobrý den, já jsem Anna.

So I guess I’ll start out with my weekend…

Friday was our final day of orientation, and after that ended all of my roommates and I decided to go up Prague castle and check it out. It was pretty close to the Charles University building that we were at so we decided to walk there. Once we got to the area it immediately turned into tourist central. The most telling sign of this was the fact that everything—the shop signs, menus, and directions– was in English, not Czech. I heard so many different languages around me which was pretty cool. I clutched my bag as to not get pick pocketed as we climbed up the hill toward the castle (the CIEE orientation session about safety has made me very paranoid about getting pick pocketed). We got to the top and entered the castle area, which led straight into an overlook. The view was absolutely breathtaking with red roofs everywhere. I’m pretty sure almost every postcard of Prague is taken at this overlook. We then continued into the courtyard area which had various buildings and even British-style guards! I was pretty excited about that. We also saw a man protesting in front of the gate into the castle, and when some other tourists asked what he was protesting against he said that he’s protesting against the corruption of the Czech government. He’s apparently been protesting everyday in the same spot for years. We went past the gate and walked into the cathedral, which was beautiful. It was full of detail and amazing architecture. Once we got out of the cathedral we walked around a bit more and then went back down the hill towards downtown. I’m not sure if we got the full experience of the castle since we didn’t know the complete history behind it so I’m excited to go back next week for the CIEE-provided guided tour.

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The street leading up to the castle

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St. Vitus Cathedral

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Prague Castle overlook

Afterwards we were pretty tired and hungry so we decided to search around for a cute café near our apartment. The one we ended up choosing was this adorable dessert café with TONS of different types of cake and treats. They only had a Czech menu (with corresponding pictures thank God) so we had no idea what was in the items we were ordering. I got the waffles, which turned out to have almonds on them that I had to pick off one bye one. I think I need to learn how to ask “Does this have nuts?” in Czech. That night I cooked my second meal in a row! I made grilled chicken and vegetables. I have no idea what I’m doing in the kitchen but the food is edible so that is good enough for me. That night we all went out to this club Lucerna. They were having 80s/90s night, which meant that they only play music from those decades with their corresponding music videos projected onto a huge screen. This was by far my favorite night so far. It was so much fun dancing to throwbacks!

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My home-cooked dinner (grilled veggies and chicken)

On Saturday I got up pretty late so I made myself some brunch and then went out for a run in the afternoon. The blue sky was out for the first time since my arrival, and it made for an amazing run. I decided to run by the river and there were so many people out and about. It was a great atmosphere with the shining river, clear sky, geese, dog-walkers—not to mention the beautiful buildings all along the river. I had to stop a couple times to snap some pictures; I figured this would be the last clear day for a while. After I got back from my run I went right back out to go ice skating with friends. But when we got there, we found out that the rink was closing so we decided to walk around the area instead. We ran right into the upscale shopping district, then to Old Town Square where we were just in time to hear the astronomical clock chime. I’m still getting used to the fact that Prague is a relatively small city (I’m used to the massive, sprawling city that is Tokyo) and that you can walk pretty much anywhere. After a couple hours of walking around we were ready for dinner. We tried out the famous Café Louvre, which is pretty close to our apartment. This place is amazing. It’s quite fancy and trendy, yet it’s cheap and cozy. I got the vegetable (read: potato) pancakes with a side of grilled vegetables and a cappuccino. All three were delicious. I can’t wait to go back and try their other items.

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A view from my run

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Another view from my run

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My vegetable pancakes from Cafe Louvre

On Sunday I got up at 6:30 to go to Karlstejn Castle, which is about 30 km outside of Prague, with a big group of CIEE students. It was a tiny village with cute little restaurants and bakeries. We walked around for a bit and then hiked up a trail to an old quarry called “Small America.” Don’t ask me why it’s called that. The hike was quite a challenge since it was all icy. There were lots of near-deaths along the way (not really but people were slipping everywhere). After we got back down it was time for lunch. We went to a restaurant with typical Czech cuisine. This one also had daily specials of their “wild catch,” which included rabbit and deer. The ordering process was quite an ordeal since the menu was all in Czech so we had to have one of the Czech buddies translate everything for us. I got the beef and vegetables, which turned out to be a huge mound of beef cooked with onions and peppers with heavy sauce. It wasn’t my favorite but maybe I just ordered the wrong thing. I’ve come to realize that I really miss spicy food. The people here don’t really seem to eat spicy food, which is really disappointing. It’s so hard for me to find spicy sauces and things like salsa in the grocery stores. I’ve also found that the vegetable selection in grocery stores, at least in downtown Prague, is quite limited. I’ve been on the hunt for asparagus for a few days now and have yet to find it. Maybe I need to go on the outskirts of town to find a real variety.

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Karlstejn village and castle

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“Small America” quarry

Anyway, after lunch we went up to the castle for a guided tour. King Charles IV and his family as their summer home occupied the castle in the 14th century. It has undergone three reconstructions: in the 15th 17th and 19th centuries. It was cool to see what the different rooms were used for by the king. I also thought it was pretty funny that the king’s bed was so short vertically since people from the 14th century were a lot shorter than they are now (the tour guide said the average height was 150 cm). After a long day of walking around I was excited to rest for the night and prepare for the week of intensive Czech language classes ahead.

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Part of the castle

Today was my first day of Czech class. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be; I haven’t learned a new language in so long that it was kind of fun to learn something from scratch. We learned basic things like how to say, “My name is…” and “How are you?” We also learned how the pronunciation works. The Czech language is insane. There is this hat symbol that completely changes the pronunciation of several different letters. Our teacher tried to get us to learn it by drawing a diagram of the mouth with the proper placement and shape of the tongue in order to get the right sound. I’d be surprised if I get the pronunciation right by the end of my stay here. We also learned how to count from 0-10. The number four is the worst. It is “čtyři.” So it is basically all consonants and has TWO of the hats. It’s pronounced something like “shteji,” but I’m probably completely off. Although it was fun learning how to pronounce things and learn basic words for the first day, I can tell that I will have to learn quickly and practice a lot in order to really get it down pat. The cool part is that once class is over, Czech is all around me and I can keep practicing. I have the rare opportunity to really be surrounded by the language I’m studying and I hope I will take advantage of that. Just a few days ago I was too shy to say thank you (děkuji) to waiters/strangers/whomever because I was afraid I would mispronounce it, but now I’m not afraid and I feel confident when I say it. I guess that’s pretty minor but I still think it’s progress. We’ll see how the rest of my week goes and if I’m still as excited about the language by the end.

Oh, and the title of this blog post means, “Hello, my name is Anna.”