A month of visits & the spirit of Thanksgiving

I picked up my phone and checked my trusty transportation app, IDOS, for the 10th time wondering how I’d screwed up and trying to mentally beg the train to move faster. It was a Friday afternoon and I had rushed from work to the gym to my apartment to the train station, confident that I would have enough time to make it to a nearby city, Ostrava, to meet two other Fulbrighters. We were planning to catch a bus to Frenštát, a mountain town described in my last blog. Unfortunately, due to a train delay and a mistake on my end, it was looking like the 30 extra minutes I had planned between my train arrival and the bus’s departure was going to end up being more like 5 minutes. 

Thankfully, my fellow Fulbright friend Madison generously offered to wait for me at the train station in Ostrava so we could run for the bus together and meet our third comrade, Lars. I exited the train nervously and saw her, and she immediately broke into a sprint for the bus. We had 4 minutes until the bus’s departure. Weighed down by luggage and a few more extra pounds than Madison, I huffed my way across the pedestrian bridge in Ostrava.

The bus was in sight, and the only thing between us and making the bus was a big grassy hill that sloped down towards the station. 100 feet, 50 feet…and then with 30 feet to go and before I knew what was happening, I slipped and my feet were in the air and my butt was sliding down the rest of the grassy hill. Not to be deterred, I sat and gathered myself, now laughing and huffing, and then finally, finally, we got in the line for the bus, hands still shaking from the adrenaline rush. 

Once safely on the bus and after getting possibly overcharged due to our minimal Czech, we were headed to Frenštát to attend the town’s St. Martin’s Day celebration. St. Martin’s Day is celebrated on November 11th each year and marks the beginning of the winter season. Additionally, the legend goes that St. Martin once cut his cloak in half to give a beggar warmth during a snowstorm. One of my favorite things about the Czech Republic is that their many celebrations of history and cultural events. They even reenacted St. Martin’s arrival and had a man ride into the town square on a white horse surrounded by an entourage of knights.

Frenštát’s celebration is well-known throughout the area, and people from nearby villages travel by train or bus to attend. After the chaotic public transportation experience while traveling to Frenštát, we made it to the celebration and the weeks’ stresses were immediately lost in the smells of hearty food and the sound of Czech folk music. We walked around the unusually crowded town center, enjoying the displays of local products and a large variety of food and hot alcohol available in stalls and later met up with a friend I had met the last time I was in Frenštát, Omar.

I ended up leaving Frenštát 30 hours later than originally planned, my heart full and happy after a month filled with visits from friends and trips taken to nearby places. Although my original plan was to stay in Frenštát for only one night, I ended up extending my visit with two new friends, Omar and Dorin, who left me feeling energized, inspired, and like a kid again. I have found that my Fulbright experience is constantly encouraging me to be more flexible, embrace the unknown, and enjoy the moment both professionally and personally. After stressful and jam-packed university years, it feels good to “unlearn” perpetual busyness or the need to always be productive.

We spent our time sharing stories about our experiences working and traveling abroad, laughing at Youtube videos, exploring Ostrava, dancing to Latin music, and riding a ski lift to an area called Pustevny that had a really cool SkyWalk and area with trampolines. I think that my time spent with them can be best summed up by a quote from a book called Thank & Grow Rich that I skimmed through at Omar’s apartment.

“Life is having comrades to have fun with, to enjoy beautiful food with, to have fulfilling, meaning conversations with. Because, if you’re not having fun in this lifetime, what’s the point? Why bother?” – Pam Grout

In my opinion, one of the best parts of being abroad long term is the connections you make with others that might seem random, but become so meaningful. For example, I originally met Omar at a restaurant, and although we are both living in the Czech Republic, he is from Mexico and lives on the border, and is frequently in Texas. Similarly, Dorin is from Romania but lives in London, where he first met Omar. Cheers, or na zdravi, to new friends!

These moments of friendship and connection are especially welcome since Český Těšín is beginning to feel more dark and on some days, quite dreary. On many days, the sun sets at 3:30pm! I am trying my best to stick to my normal daily routine, especially in the evenings. Luckily, I have great social interaction at the school and then on various afternoons, I either hold extra English clubs or have my Czech lesson with my mentor. Additionally, I have joined a local gym and have started attending yoga classes and lifting weights on my own. So far, thanks to fun weekends and busy workdays, I have not been feeling too lonely, but know that it will be harder in the winter due to darkness and short days.

Another great weekend was spent with a good friend from Elon, Abby, who is spending the semester in Prague and came for a short trip to my town, Český Těšín. We explored the Czech and Polish sides of town, ate pierogi, and compared our experiences in the Czech Republic.  It was so comforting to see a familiar face and although we were both missing Homecoming weekend at Elon, we had a “homecoming” of our own. We even accidentally stumbled upon a bar that was having a “Halloween” event, which was quite the treat since Halloween is not widely celebrated here! 

Since I’ll also unfortunately miss celebrating Thanksgiving at home this year, I’ve been taking the time to reflect on the things that I’m thankful for this month of November. Addditionally, I’ve been teaching about Thanksgiving to all of my classes and even cooked a Thanksgiving meal yesterday alongside a class of hotel and tourism students.

One of the things that I’m most thankful for is my parents’ visit to the Czech Republic at the end of October. I’ve been struggling with how to encapsulate my parents’ visit into words, because it was such a special and wonderful experience for us all. Before they arrived, it felt almost unreal that they would actually be here with me, and now, it feels a bit unreal that they have already come and gone! Our trip was a mix of exploring places together that are still new to me (Olomouc and Prague), and then spending time in places that have become more familiar to me (Český Těšín and the nearby Beskydy mountains). 

We began our trip in the beautiful mid-size city of Olomouc, where we joined some of my students on a trip to a historical cheese factory known for its “smelly cheese.” Afterwards, we walked around the various squares and sights in Olomouc and reveled in the very “European” feel of the city. We were blessed with near-perfect weather throughout their stay, and it was such a treat just to have their company as we tried new food, discussed Czech history, and caught up on life.

Prague, as always, was stunning and full of life. We hit the main tourist spots first, but also visited many places new to me including Petrin Hill and spots in Prague’s “New Town.” Most memorable for me was being able to share my new developing new knowledge of Czech language, history, and culture with my family as we explored places I have come to love.

Back in my town, I was able to have my parents over for dinner at my apartment for the first time, show them some of my favorite spots in town including some cute cafes and a sushi place in Polski Cieszyn, and spend a day in the mountains. Special memories like these make being away a bit easier! 

As always, thank you for reading! I’m planning my next post to be focused on a more detailed reflection of the differences between Czech schools and US schools, so if you have any questions or requests, please let me know! 

Below are a few more photos from recent trips: namely, a Media Literacy Fulbright Seminar in Prague, a visit with students to a local handmade paper factory, a visit with students to a fish harvest, and more time spent in Ostrava with Madison.

This blog, TasteTravelTeach, is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.  The views expressed on this site are entirely those of Courtney Kobos and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.

Čau!

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