I’m going to Ecuador?!

During the end of my past Fall semester, a time when students are often beginning to brainstorm their summer plans, I had an idea. I was beginning to miss my semester abroad in England and started daydreaming about going abroad again. My mind started whirling – I have always been interested in learning Spanish but have never had the opportunity to be truly immersed. I set out on on a mission to find an opportunity to travel to a Spanish speaking country for the summer, teach English, and practice my Spanish. I believe that the best way to get prepared for my future teaching jobs is to throw myself into new places and greet new opportunities with open arms.

A quick Google search led me to World Teach’s home page and I instantly felt called to apply. World Teach sends volunteers all over the world to teach English and other vital skills and they had a placement in South America – Ecuador! I had a feeling that this was the program for me. I did my research on the organization and then quickly applied. To be honest, I didn’t really have a summer back-up plan.

I was thrilled when a few weeks later, I got an email inviting me to join the Summer 2018 Ecuador team. On June 17th, I’ll be leaving for Quito Ecuador where the team will spend 1 week training. Then, two other volunteers and I will head to Riobamba, Ecuador, which is 4 hours south of Quito and nestled in the Andes mountains. Our placement in Riobamba will last for 6 weeks. This will be my first time visiting South America and I am eager to immerse myself in Ecuadorian culture. The weather in Riobamba should be nice and cool and I’ve been told that the hiking opportunities are incredible. While in Riobamba, I will teach at a summer camp for 4th-10th graders Monday-Friday. My class will be one of many stations and will focus on English and language skills. The program will commence with a volunteer-group trip to the beach.

In Riobamba, the other volunteers and I will be living in a community center with two priests!  I am getting more and more excited as my flight gets closer. I am absolutely overwhelmed with the support that I have recieved from family, friends, and Elon professors and staff. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart! If you would like to keep up with my experiences and adventures while I am in Ecuador this summer, please follow this blog!

 

 

Ecuador

How to flip your classroom

So, you’ve decided to flip your classroom! Congrats! As stated in my previous post, this does NOT mean you need to flip every lesson or every unit – especially if you’re in an English classroom. Some content works better “flipped” than other topics, so make sure that you are thinking critically about what should stay in class and what be pushed to homework.

 

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What information should I “flip”?

When deciding what information works best in a “flip”, you should consider following Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s policy for “Backward Design.” 

  1. Think about your unit goals and standards. What do you want the students to ultimately learn?
  2. How will you assess students’ understanding to make sure that they have achieved your goals? What will your evidence be?
  3. What learning plan will allow students to work towards your goal? Plan learning experiences and instruction.

IF, you believe that you have a lesson that could be taught and assessed at home in order to best help your students achieve their learning goals, then THIS is information you should flip!

Questions to consider:

1 – What skills do students need?

2 – How will I know they learned those skills?

3 – What questions do I need them to start thinking about?

4 – What skills can be best taught on video?

5 – How will I encourage them to ask their own questions?

6 – What technology do I need to learn about?

7 – How can I tie the homework I assign to the lesson the next day?

8 – How will I accommodate technology struggles?

9 – How can I promote student independence?

How do I film a video?

Full disclosure: filming a video is not easy! Deciding to flip your class 100% of the time would be absolutely crazy because creating content takes planning and time. Instead, think of one or two lessons that you can flip every month and build up your video base over the years. Additionally, consider finding videos that already exist and either inserting clips of yourself or designing your own questions.

Useful tools

For filming, a newer iPhone camera typically works just fine. Make sure that you stabilize your phone or camera so that the video clip is not shaky (Linked is one of the best Flipped Videos on Youtube I came across – an introduction to Brit Lit). For math, science, computer, or history folks, Kahn Academy has a wealth of videos that you might assign or use as examples for your own videos. Flippedlearning.org has a great article on 12 ways to create your digital content.

Think about where you will upload your content. Sites like Ed Puzzle allow you to upload content and ask students to answer questions on the site. Then, you can assess students’ answers and give them feedback all in one place. Or, you might upload to YouTube and send out a Google Form for question responses.

iMovie works as a basic editing tool and is relatively easy to use. You can insert music you own on iTunes, overlay photos on top of videos, and make voiceovers in the program. There are lots of YouTube tutorials about using this software.

Plan it out

The video you film will probably not be perfect on your first take. Every video-maker needs to develop their own “filming personality.” Filming with a friend can help with this because you don’t feel as crazy talking to a camera.

Script out writing and plan what clips you’ll film before you sit down with a camera. Refer to UBD strategies to ensure that you are teaching content that fits your larger learning goals.

Try to keep videos under 10 minutes! Break up topics so that students do not become bored and overwhelmed and include breaks where students pause the video and do some writing, Googling, or chatting with a friend.

Accessibility

As with utilizing any form of technology of the technology in the classroom, you need to brainstorm roadblocks that might come when you decide to implement a “flipped lesson”. Perhaps, you need to campaign to your school’s library and computer labs to stay open before and after school. Consider sending out an email to parents to allow them to access flip content. Additionally, subtitles are extremely useful, particularly for students who either are hard of hearing or need to watch the videos in a public place where they cannot use sound.

For students who do not have internet access or cannot download videos at home, think of ways that they can still access content. Perhaps, offer an opportunity for students to bring in a flash drive each week so that you can download video content for them on the school wifi.

Time stamps are also a useful tool that allows students to refer back to particular parts of the video without having to scroll through the entire thing.

How do I make the video engaging?

Before, During, & After Activities

In order to keep your students engaged throughout the video and ensure their understanding, you must ask them questions or ask them to take specific notes during the video. Flipped learning doesn’t just “happen”. Students should have actions they take before viewing the video, during the video, and after the video. Tell students ahead of time how much of a time commitment you expect from them. This shows students that you respect their time and allows them to plan ahead of time.

Using technology to encourage communication

Troy Cockrum has a great post on how he uses technology to help his students communicate with each other. Consider having your students complete weekly blog posts and comment on each other’s writing. Word Press is FREE and encourages multimodal learning because students are practicing writing skills and basic web design. Flip Grid is another way to assess students’ understanding. On Flip Grid, the teacher can create an “educator” code and request video submissions from students on a particular topic. Students can also make videos commenting on each others’ content. Video making allows students to practice public speaking, assesses understanding, and incorporates multimodal features.

How do I know that I “flipped?”

Because I do not yet have experience “flipping” my own classroom, I sought out a list created by a well established flipped classroom teacher and blogger, Cheryl Morris.  

Check out her post for a wealth of information.

Morris explains how you know that you’ve flipped as follows:

–your students are excited about learning, and their curiosity drives the learning, and possibly even the content
–you use technology when/where appropriate to do direct instruction
–you change how you structure class time so that students can work with the expert (the teacher) in the room
–you help students see real-world connections between what you’re doing in class and what they’re doing outside of class, and what they will need for their future
–you find that you know your students better because of the increased amount of meaningful contact you have with each student

Ultimately, there’s no “right way” to flip. What matters most is student understanding and self-reflection. If you find that you can make “lower-order” learning more engaging through assigning it at home in video format and it opens up class time for higher-order thinking, then do it! Always utilize student feedback and assessment scores to help you design your lessons. I’ve also come across bloggers who also have their student make content videos – I love this idea! #Sharethelearning

What comes next?

Tying learning at home into class

The topics covered at home in “flipped” videos need to be made applicable to work done in the classroom. Before watching, students should know how long the assignment will take, what they are learning about, and what information they need to come to class prepared the next day. Hopefully, the video is something that they will return back to at a later date.

At the beginning or end of each video, provide a list of questions or ideas that students should begin thinking about before your next class. Homework is not only a continuation of what happened the day before but a preparation and precursor for what they will learn about the next day. 

Any tips for me?

If you’ve come across this post and have tried flipping your classroom or plan on flipping your classroom, I would love any advice you have! When student teaching next semester, I definitely plan on flipping the occasional lesson and seeing how the students react.

If you would like to check out the Youtube video I made for this project, you can check it out here.

Uncategorized

What is a flipped classroom?

Hey, y’all! I am almost done with the Fall semester of Junior Year! My placement this semester has been with a classroom of high school seniors at Western Alamance High School and I have absolutely loved it. Western Alamance experiences significant technological challenges and I have found myself wondering how I would deal with technology struggles if I had my own classroom there.

Therefore, for my final project in “Teaching in 21st Century Classrooms”, I decided to research Flipped Learning. In a series of three blog posts, I will be filling you in on what I’ve learned and linking you to the valuable resources I have come across. In compiling this information, I hope to provide a resource that will be valuable to my fellow education majors as we take on our own classrooms in the next couple of years.

What is Flipped Learning? 

In their book Promoting Active Learning through the Flipped Classroom ModelJared Keengwe, Grace Onchwari, and James Oigara provide a comprehensive discussion on the flipped classroom and the challenges and benefits it brings. The authors state,

The flipped classroom is an instructional approach that educators use to turn the traditional classroom lecture model into a more active learning classroom. In the flipped model, the traditional practice of spending class time for direct instruction and completing content-related activities for homework is “flipped”.

In other words, flipped learning is all about combining face-to-face instruction with online instruction. In most flipped classrooms, teachers film themselves teaching or find videos on a certain subject and assign the video as homework. Then, in class, students have time to work on what traditionally would have been considered “homework.” This might include solving math problems, reading Shakespeare, or working in groups on a project.

6th grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher Cheryl Morris (linked) has one of the best blogs I have found about what it means to really flip your class. Morris gives a TON of ideas regarding flipped lessons, data on her first flipped class, and feedback from her own students. Additionally, a wealth of information can be found by searching the hashtag on Twitter #flipclass

Flipped learning has gained a lot of attention among educators recently. While it is not a “silver bullet” fix, flipped learning has the potential to increase student understanding when it is well planned, focused, and implemented on lessons that best fit with the “flipped” method. In this series of blog posts, I’ll be letting you know some benefits and challenges to watch out for, how to get started when filming, and what to do in class the day after flipped content.

 

What are the benefits?

Great for classroom management and conferencing:

Many teachers try to schedule weekly or twice weekly conferences with each individual student to touch base and allow students to ask questions. The best method for classroom management is rigorous and engaging coursework. If lectures and memorization activities are moved outside of the classrooms (and filmed in an engaging way), then more class time frees up and can be spent on engaging and interesting material.

Allows students to work at their own pace:

Stacey Roshan writes about the must-have tools that she uses in her flipped classroom. Students can listen to the lectures and re-watch them at their own pace at home. Additionally, teachers can set up online quizzes that give students immediate feedback. Online sites like EdPuzzle help teachers cater to individual student needs.

Encourages active learning:

When flipped lessons are well planned, the lesson both encourages active learning at home and in the classroom. As I will expand on in my next blog post, flipped videos should require the students to take notes or answer questions during the video. Most importantly, content learned at home must be connected to the next classroom lesson. Students should come to class prepared to participate in engaged inquiry, discussion and debate, cooperative learning, and reflective learning.

Maximizes class time:

If the “lecture” is moved to homework, then class time is freed up for more teacher-student and student-student interactions. Teaching strategies like Project Based Learning work together well with a Flipped Classroom because students are able to get the teacher’s help and ask questions during class.

What are the challenges? 

So far, all research I’ve found has suggested that only some content works well “flipped”, and therefore it is best to only flip some lessons. Additionally, while research shows that some students do report being more engaged and scoring higher grades when the flipped method is implemented, it is not yet supported or confirmed by long-term research.

Content:

The best information to teach at home is content that can be memorized or will need to be referred to at a later date. In a math class, explanations of formulas make for great flipped content because students can review them and rewind at any time. In an ELA classroom, reading and writing strategies, grammar videos, or lesson introductions make for an easy “flip.”

Not best for every student:

Students with technological challenges or a strong preference for in-class lectures might not like “flipped units”. In order to cater to the most students, only flipping some units and lessons is best. Both teachers and students may be hesitant to branch out and rely on technology. While this should not be a complete deterrent, it is a factor that should be considered.

Might perpetuate lecture model:

Some scholars worry that flipped learning perpetuates the lecture model by asking students to sit at home and watch videos where the teacher transmits information to them. They argue that in this model, the teacher is still the “holder of knowledge”. However, I believe that if the flipped lecture video acts as a foundation and resources for students to ask questions and engage with the material in class, then it is a beneficial tool. Teachers should offer multiple resources for students to encourage not only learning the material but ultimately learning how to learn.

 

So now you want to flip?!

Watch out for my next post to learn how to make a flipped video and how to best integrate the information into your classroom!

 

 

Class Projects Uncategorized

Summer Internship – Fort Worth Sister Cities

Way way back in November of 2016, I started scouring the internet for internships. Since I was about to go abroad, I decided to start looking super early so I wouldn’t be stressed. However, there were hardly any internships even online yet. I was looking for anything and everything: English related, Sociology related, Education related…

After a few weeks of searching, I finally hit the jackpot. I distinctly remember googling “dfw” “internship” and “international” together. Immediately, I knew that this was the place I needed to be!

Fort Worth Sister Cities International

Although I had heard a little about Sister Cities programs before, I didn’t really know what FWSCI was all about. I live 30 minutes from Fort Worth and am therefore a little bit outside of the area they typically reach.

FWSCI has 8 amazing Sister Cities, all of which I’d now love to visit. Fort Worth Sister Cities International is also the only program in the U.S. that focuses heavily on youth programs and exchanges. Our 8 Sister Cities are:

  • Reggio Emilia, Italy
  • Trier, Germany
  • Nagaoka, Japan
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Bandung, Indonesia
  • Toluca, Mexico
  • Mbabane, Swaziland
  • Guiyang, China

The Sister Cities movement began in 1956 with Dwight D. Eisenhower, who hoped to link cities around the world to promote cultural understanding, the economy, and general relationships. This summer I fell in love with both FWSCI as an organization and Fort Worth as a city! Hopefully, I’ll be out exploring our Sister Cities someday soon 🙂

 

Spanish Immersion

My first project in the office was Spanish Immersion Camp. Each summer, Fort Worth Independent School District and FWSCI pair up to put on an amazing summer camp for FWISD elementary school students. 10 university students from our sister city in Toluca, Mexico fly over to Fort Worth for two weeks of full on immersion teaching. Elementary school students from 1st grade through 5th grade can enroll in this two week program. At camp, they are only allowed to speak Spanish! These are students who are enrolled in FWISD’s dual language program during the year and take classes regularly in both Spanish and English. I was absolutely amazed at these small kids’ level of Spanish! They are absolutely incredible and grew so much throughout camp.

My intern office duties involved planning activities for the Toluca college students to participate in after the school day. From the Fort Worth Stock Yards to the Modern Art Museum, they saw it all! I also helped at the elementary school during the two weeks to ensure communication between FWISD and FWSCI was going smoothly.

I had so much fun helping out these campers and meeting our guests from Toluca, Mexico. At the end of camp, the two professors from Toluca gifted me with beautiful handmade shot glasses from their hometown. I will treasure them forever!

ILA

When I interviewed originally for the office internship with FWSCI, my boss recommended that I also interview for a spot as an ILA (International Leadership Academy) facilitator. I am so glad that I did! Getting to actually participate in camp after months of the office “planning” side of things was incredibly rewarding.

ILA camp has been going on for 28 years in Fort Worth. Top students from all 8 of our Sister Cities travel to the United States to participate in this two-week leadership academy, held at TCU, that aims to promote both cultural understanding and leadership skills. It was such a privilege to work with these young adults. This year, we had about 60 students.

Throughout the two weeks, I got to know my 8 group members (as well as my co-facilitator from Toluca!) particularly well. Team Dream High, you will always hold a special place in my heart! Thank you for all of your hard work!

After classes, we ventured out as a large group to many places around DFW including UNT, Group Dynamix, the Water Gardens and the Fort Worth Stockyards. I had so much fun showing people from all over the world my home here in Texas.

It was also an honor to get to work with so many amazing faciltators, who hailed from Toluca, Mexico and Nagaoka, Japan. I miss you guys!

Home Hosting

After camp was over, my family hosted two students from Swaziland who needed a host family for one night before their crazy 24 hour travel day back to Swaziland.

My family had a blast welcoming these girls into our home. We went to church on Sunday morning, had Torchy’s Tacos for lunch, visited the Gaylord Hotel and Grapevine Lake, and had a wonderful family dinner night. America’s Got Talent was a favorite for us all.

Thank you FWSCI!

I would like to thank everyone associated with Fort Worth Sister Cities for making this summer so memorable. It is such a privilege and a blessing to make friends from all over the world.

In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower himself,

 “Accomplishment will always prove to be a journey, not a destination.”

Thank you all for being a part of my journey!

 

Reflections United States

Tips and stories: Transitioning back to reality

I’ve now been back in the good ol’ US of A for about a month – a month filled of happiness, great food, and some confusing transitioning moments.

Happy times back in Tejas

So far, time at my lovely home in Texas has been filled with some great moments. I absolutely love spending time with family and I have missed my parent’s home cooking! Yesterday we celebrated Father’s Day in our traditional Sunday night way – with a cookout. Afterwards, we headed over to Steel City Pops for the best popsicles in the world.

This summer, I’m also working at my first ever big-girl internship for Fort Worth Sister Cities! The Sister Cities Program basically functions as the international department for Fort Worth. I even get my own office in the City Hall Annex Building downtown! This month, I have been working hard on planning for FWISD and Sister Cities’ Spanish Immersion Camp. Currently, 10 college-age facilitators from our sister city Toluca, Mexico are visiting Fort Worth and teaching a group of 70 FWISD elementary schoolers Spanish! The students are so extremely intelligent and speak incredible Spanish – I’m jealous!

I also got to take a little getaway trip with my boyfriend, Harrison, for his birthday trip. I found this adorable Airbnb out in the country in Texas on a cattle ranch. We spent the weekend exploring the property, cooking some great food, feeding the animals (INCLUDING AN ALPACA NAMED PERCY), and doing yoga on the backporch. It was such a relaxing getaway!

Transitioning back home

Time abroad was an absolute whirlwind of challenging classwork, meeting new friends, traveling to new places, and figuring out things independently. After the best 5 months of my life filled with adventure and extremely difficult moments alike, finding my “place” back home has had its trials. “Reverse culture shock” is an actual thing. America is quite different than Europe as a whole. People work more, everything is open later, there is little public transportation available… among other things. Even though classwork abroad was challenging, I appreciated it because I was always growing and learning and changing as a result of the challenges I was faced with.

At home, I am not quite as carefree and independent as I was abroad. I don’t have the luxury anymore of hopping on a plane and landing immersed in an entirely different culture for $50. The stress of working full-time is much different than the stress of balancing schoolwork and travel because its not all as enjoyable. 

However, time at home can be just as exciting as life abroad, it’s just up to you to make it that way! Here are some things I’m focusing on to seek out the adventure in my own daily life:

1) Creating new adventures

At home, it is easier to get caught up in the monotony of life than when you are abroad and forced to adventure. I love going into Fort Worth or Dallas for dates with Harrison, going to the lake, trying new restaurants, or searching for cool Airbnbs in the area!

2) Starting a new project

Quite recently, I spontaneously bought a Fujifilm Polaroid-style camera and I am a bit obsessed. There is something about these cameras that capture moments in such a different, nostalgic, and real way. You only get one shot and it better be good! I’m trying to take one photo each day all summer. Memories captured can be special moments, people I meet, or “boring” things turned interesting by the camera capture. Check out how handsome my boyfriend is – this was my first Polaroid shot attempt! If you are interested in following along with my project, you can find me on Instagram at @Polaroidsdaily !

3) Remembering to make time for things I enjoy

Sometimes, after a long day or week of work, I am so tired  that I become complacent. But, I actually feel better when I keep pushing myself and participating in the summer activities I enjoy. For me, these include yoga, reading, lake time, and sand volleyball! Activities that you love often have a cool ability of re-energizing you!

4) Getting involved in the international community here at home

One of the reasons I love my internship at Fort Worth Sister Cities is because it allows me to still connect with the international community right here in DFW! Volunteering is another great way to get involved.

5) Listening to people

Just the other day, I met a fellow co-worker at Lifetime Fitness who recently moved to America by herself from Honduras. Her story, filled with emotion and the sorrow of leaving her family behind in Honduras was extremely powerful. People are so interesting! Through listening to peoples’ stories whether in person or through books, we can interact, learn, grow, and challenge ourselves.

 

 

Whether you’re adjusting to life back home or just seeking renewal and rekindling, remember to make time for the things you love – adventure is out there!

 

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what is is, go at it full speed, embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all, become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.” – Ronald Dahl

Reflections Study Abroad 2016 United States

Berlin

I cannot believe that Easter Break is over already and that we only have two more weeks left at St. Clare’s! Time is flying by and it is extremely bittersweet. While I’m so excited to be at home with family and friends (and tacos), I will really miss being abroad and being able to hop on a train and get anywhere.

Reflecting back on Easter Break as a whole, it is amazing to see how much better we’ve all gotten at planning trips and how we have grown as people. I’m super proud to say that we planned and achieved an incredible two-week backpacking trip all on our own!

Now, on to talking about Berlin! My Amsterdam post will come soon 🙂

Berlin

If you’re wondering why I have so few pictures from Berlin, it is because IT SNOWED while we were there. While I packed lots of layers, I did not bring gloves or a hat and therefore my hands were WAY too cold for photos. We toughed it out in the rain and snow and still had an amazing time!

Out of all the places we visited, we all agreed that if we had more time in any place, we would’ve picked Berlin. Our friend Alexa back at Elon gave us absolutely amazing recommendations (she was lucky enough to study abroad in Berlin) and she did not lead us astray!!

Unfortunately due to the way our travel and trip worked out, however, we had a very limited amount of time to explore and I already want to go back!!!! If you’re going to Berlin, definitely stay more than a couple days because there are an infinite amount of options. If you’re a student looking for a great hostel, stay in The Generator! It was in a prime location, cheap, and SO nice with a great lounge and bar attached!

Berlin caught my attention because everything seems new and unique and fresh. It is still a city very much discovering its own identity – and it is so cool! After all, the wall was only taken down in 1989. I really appreciate how much Berlin accepts its history and keeps the important things at the forefront and refuses to acknowledge that which does not deserve to be. For example, Hitler’s bunker is unmarked while other various memorials lie throughout the city.

Here’s what we did during our limited time:

Day 1:

On Day 1, we were extremely exhausted and decided to take it fairly easy and sleep in, then head to the Turkish Market for lunch.

The Turkish Market is on the Eastern side of Berlin in a fairly Middle-Eastern neighborhood. The incredible smells draw you in and the views along the river are gorgeous! We spent an hour or so wandering through the market, snacking, and enjoying the weather (which would not last!)

Afterwards, we headed to the Jewish Museum. Learning more about the Holocaust and the history in Berlin is an absolute must. I definitely recommend the Jewish Museum. It is huge, comprehensive, and extremely well-done. The first exhibit focuses on making you feel in order to understand. As you walk through, the floors are sloped, everything is grey, and you feel uncomfortable. Subtle design choices really force you to think.

The museum itself is huge. We spent about 3 hours going through and probably could have spent even longer. Although we were not able to visit a Concentration Camp during our trip, I’m really glad that we got the chance to visit this museum.

After the museum, we were pretty much wiped out. We went back to our hostel for a short nap, went to a lovely dinner and explored the central historical city, and then got some much needed rest! Traveling sure is exhausting!

Day 2

Day 2 in Berlin is one of the most memorable days of the trip for me because of the free walking tour.

The three of us met up with a group right in the middle of the city to embark on a three-hour walking tour through the sleet and snow. In a way, these unideal conditions made learning about Berlin’s history even more real. I was absolutely blown away as we stood at the spot where Hitler shot himself (now a parking lot surrounded by apartment complexes), stared at a remaining piece of the wall, and got a glimpse of the reconstructed Checkpoint Charlie where the famous tank standoff occurred. Even though I had learned about these events in school, I was completely unprepared for the impact I would feel by actually standing there. Our guide did a fantastic job of keeping the group engaged and knew exactly how to set the mood at each “stop” along the tour.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews cannot be encompassed by photographs. While a bunch of ugly huge concrete slabs in the middle of a city might seem strange, the effect that one feels makes complete sense. Our tour guide stated: “The Holocaust is not easy to understand, so why should the memorial be easy to understand?” Quite simply, this memorial works because it is controversial. It is not a statue that you see and take a picture of, but something that you experience and then talk about. As you walk through this memorial, you are forced to walk in straight lines, almost like you are soldiers or maybe prisoners marching. When you are walking, you can still hear the eerie noises and sounds from the outside: children screaming and playing and cars zooming by. As you get closer to the center, the concrete slabs get higher and the ground slopes. Again, you are uncomfortable. Once you enter, it is impossible to find your family or friends until you exit on the other side. Finally, you may meet again.

This is something that everyone needs to experience for themselves! Our tour wrapped up in the spot where books were burned. Here lies the quote, “Where they burn books, they will in the end, burn people” – Heinrich Hein 1821, years before the Holocaust.

I am extremely thankful for my country, my ability to travel, and for freedom of press and speech. Let us not forget nor repeat history.

 

Germany Uncategorized

Prague

After much deliberation, I have to say that Prague is probably my favorite city that I’ve seen in Europe so far. I’m not quite sure what it is about the Czech Republic but we were all completely enamored. After hearing good reviews from our friends, we decided to book an Airbnb for 4 nights and I’m so glad we did!

Our Airbnb was a quick tram ride down the river from Prague’s Old Town. The public transportation in the area is absolutely stellar and SO cheap. I’m not sure if we have just adjusted to Oxford prices or if everything really is that cheap, but either way, we were happy gals. The 72 hour tram pass will only cost you about 11 USD and a normal lunch runs from 4-7 USD. Beer is cheaper than water in this town!

Day 1

On Day 1, we decided to orient ourselves in our favorite manner – a Free Walking Tour! As I’ve said before, this is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to get familiar with a city while getting some of the history in. I think that one of the reasons I love Prague so much is because of my Eastern European ancestry. Visiting has made me all the more curious to learn about my family’s past! Our tour explored Old Town, New Town, and the Jewish Quarter. The tour guide did a wonderful job of switching the mood from light, to funny, to serious. She told stories about the horrors of the Jewish Quarter – where Jews were forced to live in the low, flooded, slums. Disease ran rampant and few jobs were available to them. The Nazi’s sent cars of Jews from here away to Poland where they were murdered and many children were left without parents. Now, you can tour a museum full of these children’s’ drawings expressing their emotions during these times.

Before the war started, Czechoslovakia was betrayed by their allies and handed over to Hitler who did not just take back German lands, as he had promised, but took over the whole country and set up a base in Prague. As a result, the city was completely untouched during the war and therefore, a large portion is original. This is completely different from many other European cities that I have visited and the contrast is stark. Prague is stunning – a mix of 11 types of architecture built along the river. When you walk around, you must look up and simply admire everything.

Now, the Jewish Quarter has been raised above river-level and is beautiful. Today, it houses many of the city’s rich inhabitants. The history in the Czech Republic is very fresh. After the war, they turned towards communism in attempt to rebuild. Our tour guide’s parents were actually deeply affected by communism. Her grandparents refused to “vote” for the communist President (which was mandated by law) and as a result, lost their jobs and their daughter’s place at her university. Despite these barriers, the grandparents stayed strong in their beliefs and continued to stand up against communism with many other Czech people. The Czech’s escape from communism is referred to as the “Velvet Revolution” and their split from the Slovaks as the “Velvet Divorce”. These splits hold a lesson for all of us – peace is possible.

After our long morning tour, we crossed the absolutely beautiful Charles Bridge to the John Lennon wall which, to be honest, was a bit disappointing! It is much smaller than we expected! However, it is still a must-see spot for first time tourists and a great photo opportunity. Truly, the best part of Prague is just walking around and soaking up some sun.

Next came nap time and after that, a traditional Czech meal. The only way to really describe Czech food is delicious, savory, and heavy. Think meats and bread dumplings drowned in gravy and delicious sauce. Duck and schnitzel are of course, also popular items. This is definitely the type of food that stays in your stomach all day! We tried to taste some Czech cuisine throughout the trip but alternate with some lighter meals.

In the evening, we Czech-ed (haha) out some of Prague’s nightlife which of course included some delicious local beers.

Day 2

For our second day of the trip, we signed up for a group day trip to the nearby town of Kutna Hora! For only about 20 dollars a person, we got a nearly all day tour that lasted from 12-6! This was a great way to do something unique and experience a smaller Czech town. After about an hour train ride, we arrived in the town of Kutna Hora. Our first stop was a tour of the Church of Bones, also known as the Sedlec Ossuary. I don’t even know how exactly to explain what this is other than to show photos. The chandelier has every bone in the human body.

The Church of Bones was decorated with, yes, real human bones of about 40,000 people after the town’s graveyard got too large, largely because of the Plague. First, they dug up the bones and placed them underneath the church, but someone eventually decided that they should be cleaned and used as decoration.

Walking through was more eerie and creepy than we expected. Nothing is really blocked off either – you are standing face to face with dozens of human skulls.

In addition to touring the Bone Church, we also got to see the beautiful St. Barbara’s Cathedral and some of the town!

Day 3

Easter Sunday! When we woke up, we were confused to find that no one really seemed to be celebrating Easter. We brushed it off, knowing that the Czech Republic is the most atheist country in the world, and decided to head to a Catholic Mass anyway. The church was absolutely stunning (as most European churches are). While I missed being home with family, celebrating with my friends was so much fun!

Later in the day, we actually realized that the Czech Republic celebrates their Easter on Monday! Their traditions are quite interesting. Men walk around with braided sticks which they use to bop women. Then, the women must thank them and give them shots of alcohol and food. Supposedly, this prevents the women from growing old. When we were headed out on Monday, we did see quite a few men wandering around with these braided sticks!

Day 4

On our final morning in Prague, we decided to book a Castle Tour! The weather was absolutely atrocious but we toughed it out in the freezing rain! The Prague Castle is the largest in the world and it does not disappoint! Really, it is more of a collection of large palaces and a couple churches. St. Vitus’s Cathedral is particularly gorgeous (and was a safe haven from the rain). While we didn’t get to go in a ton of buildings, the tour did a good job of explaining what you needed to know. You could definitely spend a whole day – or more – here going inside museums and other buildings.

After the tour, we enjoyed a great overhead view of the city and a last delicious Czech meal before heading to our next stop, Berlin! By the way, the Czech language is SO difficult. The only words we learned are hello (ahoy!) and cheers (na zdravi!).

Thanks for the memories, Prague!

Czech Republic Uncategorized