Ever since she was a girl, Jana Dvořáková had an interest in her heritage and international ventures. Her grandfather’s death in 2006 woke her up to the reality of how short life is–and thus, motivated her to pursue the things she had dreamed about.
In 2009, Jana went to the Czech Republic to see distant family and to learn their language–for it was also her language. Her grandmother (the wife of Jana’s late grandfather) was Bohemian/Czech, and Jana always identified with this branch in her family tree. She enrolled in a Czech for Foreigners program at the Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies, Charles University in the Czech Republic’s largest city, Prague.
While away, she sent emails home to family and friends. Ahead is part 1 of a story arranged (with added pictures) from Jana’s emails from her year away–an individual in a foreign city, pursuing her passion.
September 6, 2009
Family and friends,
Alas, I am in Prague and registration for school is already tomorrow. I have had an eventful week and a half since arriving in the Czech Republic.
My first week was spent visiting my Great-Grandmother Dvořáková’s family near Humpolec.
Nearby, their village is in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands southeast of Prague. The area has industry, farming, and many forests. My relatives have grown up here. They all live in houses, several of them living in houses with two-stories, with one family living on the first floor and a son or daughter and their family living on the second.
The family is doing well. The children are growing fast. I was so happy to see my older cousin Lenka. (She could be my second mom.) I was able to accompany Lenka, her daughter-in-law Markéta, and several of Lenka’s grandchildren to the forest for an afternoon of houby (mushroom) picking.
Mushroom picking: Czechs have a pastime of picking mushrooms in the forest. They pick them, slice them and dry them for eventual use in their cooking. Mushroom soup, mushroom sauces, mushrooms fried in butter and eaten on Czech bread or rolls… All ages participate. It is a time for families to be together and is a part of their culture and regularly-scheduled lives.
I do have to admit that it was intimidating to be told by the children whether or not the mushrooms I had picked were edible or not. It was all very confusing to me. So many colors and shapes. Oftentimes, the children added their mushrooms to my basket instead of their own so it looked like I had picked more. I tried to explain that in the United States, if we want mushrooms, we go to the store.
Among the food I had with them was a traditional meal of duck, sauerkraut and bread dumplings. It was great. There has been no shortage of beer and Becherovka, a cinnamon-flavored Czech liqueur.
The weekend with the family ended with a soccer game, where Lenka’s son Josef played for the town’s team. There were some serious soccer players. I spent most of the time drinking and visiting with the family on the sidelines. I ended up being entertainment for the townspeople who were interested in an American. We had a night of laughs, and I learned a handful of new Czech words after I had a number of beers.
I arrived back in Prague on Wednesday and registered with the police as required. (Foreigner students have to register when arriving in the country.) Then I moved into my new home, a concrete dormitory named Kolej Na Vetrníku (“Windmill Dormitory”). It is located in the neighborhood of Břevnov, which is the northwest part of Prague formally known as Prague 6. The area is not located on a typical Prague tourist map. It is far away from the city center.
There are about 20 rooms on my floor, filled with both men and women university students. There is a locker-room style shower room. So daily we all wait to see who reaches the room first and then are patient to take our turn. Several students attend the same school as I, and others attend different universities throughout Prague.
As of now, I am living by myself. I have met only one person on my floor, a Czech student who knows a little English.
On Wednesday I followed two students out of the dorm, hoping they would lead me to the tram. For those of you who are familiar with Prague, I am located near tram line #18.
I found the area of Charles University campus, near Albertov, where I will be attending class. The tram ride will take about 45 minutes. Every day on this commute I will pass Pražký Hrad (Prague Castle), Národní Divadlo (National Theatre) and Karlův Most (Charles Bridge).
These are three well-known tourist excursions.
I still have a lot of exploring to do before I become acquainted with the city. I’ll tell you more about the city and my school in my next email.
We’ll share Jana’s next story next week. If you’d like to share a travel story on The Periphery, please email me at Brandon@ThePeriphery.com. We’d love to hear all about your adventure.