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Meghan Edwards – Czechia

 

Ahoj! Jsem Meghan Edwards a jsem z Columbus, Ohio. I’ll soon be a graduate of Hilliard Davidson High School and the Mosaic humanities program, and then I’ll be off to spend a year in the Czech Republic and Slovakia! I am already indebted to Rotary Youth Exchange for helping me grow through my summer 2015 short term exchange to Jundiaí, Brazil. Rotary has instilled in me a passion for cultural exchange and languages, which I hope to transform into an International Studies major after my exchange. I also love backpacking, bicycling, writing, and theater. I am excited to experience Central Europe and to become fluent in not just the language, but also the culture and the history there. I am incredibly grateful to have had not one, but two opportunities to travel with Rotary, and I am prepared to make the most of my ten months with District 2240!

 

 

December 1, 2017

I am writing from my host family’s living room couch, enjoying the warmth of our cat and feeling cozy because today, for the first time, there was snow outside! I was so excited about it that people started asking me if it was my first time seeing snow- it was hard to explain that no, Ohio has plenty, I just really love the first snow of the winter.

I first saw signs of the holidays here the week before Halloween, but now the season is truly in full swing. České Budějovice is known for having one of the best Christmas markets in the country, and I instantly fell in love with the square in all its holiday glory, packed with stalls selling handmade socks and scarves, gingerbread, traditional Czech comfort food, and of course, Christmas punch! (Thankfully there are some delicious non alcoholic varieties.) This weekend a skating rink will open around the central fountain, and one of my future host families has skates I can borrow.

Because music has (almost) no language barrier, I am learning to appreciate it a lot more here and I spend a lot of my time doing musical things. This month I went to a soustřední, basically an overnight training, with my school choir, Mendik. It was one of the best times I’ve had on exchange so far- 24 hours of sing-a-longs, dancing, and making new friends in the choir while we learned the music for our Christmas concerts. We also gave one concert at a church service for a hospice support group- it was my first time performing with Mendik.

Of course, I had no Thanksgiving turkey this year. But the week before Thanksgiving, my host family and I celebrated the feast of St. Martin- a day which supposedly marks the beginning of winter. The feast of St. Martin in the Czech Republic is just as filling and maybe even more delicious than an American Thanksgiving! We had goose, knedliky (dumplings), and red cabbage, preceded by an appetizer of goose-meat paste (the Czech name for it, paštika, sounds nicer. It was really tasty) and followed by a dessert of warm pear strudel with pudding! On Thanksgiving day, I tried to bring a little bit of the holiday abroad by making a made-from-scratch pumpkin pie (there is no pumpkin puree in the Czech Republic.) It was my first attempt, and I was pretty proud of it, especially since I had pureed the pumpkins sold around Halloween and frozen it just for the occasion.

I really like the tradition of doing something charitable around Thanksgiving, so I went out of my way this month to find a service opportunity. Unsurprisingly, one of the first service projects I found had been started by a RYE rebound, Michaela Krejčová, who was in Wisconsin last year! We and some of her friends spent an afternoon walking through the many beautiful city parks, picking up any trash we saw. We all had a lot of fun exploring the city together and of course, it’s always great to meet other exchange students.

Another highlight of this month was visiting Linz, Austria with my Chemistry class. We went to the Wurst-Alpine steel plant, and lucky for me, our tour was in English. I think of my family as coming from the rust belt, and it really interested me to see such a huge steel plant in operation, making materials for everything from Volkswagens to space helmets. Plus, the trip included 2 hours of free time to wander Linz, which is smaller than Columbus but feels much bigger.

One of the things I miss here is theatre- I was fairly involved in it in school, and it’s not an easy thing to get involved in in a language you’re still learning. So it was a huge pleasure this past week to go to see a classic Czech play performed in English at the South Bohemian University. The audience was a mixture of Czech students looking to improve their English and foreigners like me, and everyone seemed to love it. It was a comedy called “The Stand In,” by Jára Cimrman. Jára Cimrman is a legendary and beloved Czech playwright who wrote many fantastic comedies and was said to be talented in everything he tried. Streets are named after him, most Czechs know his sketches by heart, and in 2005, he was voted in a nationwide poll as “the Greatest Czech of All Time.” This is all extra impressive when you consider that he never existed. All told, it was wonderful to laugh at a comedy performed in English and, at the same time, get a taste of the Czech sense of humor!

Oh, and I almost forgot Prague! It was a really good month. I got to visit the capital city for the first time with the two other exchange students in my city, from Argentina and Thailand. We were there for the Thai student, because in the evening a group of Thais living in Prague held a celebration of Loi Krathong, a Buddhist ceremony which (to greatly simplify)  involves setting floating candles down the river along with a small offering (usually hair and coins) to symbolize a letting-go of one’s negative aspects in order to make space for the good. It was a beautiful international experience, setting our candles afloat down the Vltava river in sight of the Charles Bridge. And, completely by chance, we were also in Prague on the Day of Open Doors- an event when, twice a year, the state rooms of Prague castle are open to the public.

I am really looking forward to December- Christmastime here promises to be beautiful. Thank you all for your continued support, and I hope you all have a wonderful season!

 

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