A guest post by CIEE Session 1 student, Biz B.
Settling in and pear juice
Going into the program I was nervous. What if I don’t fit in with my peers? What if I can’t go on adventures with everyone else because of my disability? Between fellow students, I found so much joy, despite my initial concerns. I’m not the best at socialization, but I wanted to make an obvious effort at being close with as many of the people on the program that I could. In the airport, I tried to memorize everyone’s names as soon as they got there. I’d say I was pretty successful.
There’s a couple people I immediately bonded with because of shared interests and excitements. I tried to check in with people, asking how their flight was and how they were feeling. I know that for some people, including myself, flying can be intimidating, especially alone. Some people had never flown before, or like me, had never traveled to Europe before. We were all excited, but emotions were scattered. I wanted to be a comforting prescience in what might be an uncomfortable situation. On the plane we all exchanged glances and gave thumbs up back and forth. There have been late nights full of card games, movie watching, dancing, and laughter since settling in. We found shared love for Czech salted caramel cookies and pear juice.
Deep conversations and weekly bouquets
My roommates and I share stories about our families, are on a rotating schedule of buying groceries, and admire the weekly bouquets we buy together. I was worried about being the only non-binary person in my room originally, however my roommates have been more than accepting and kinder than they need to be. Our room is a safe and comfortable place, full of love and respect for each other. We’re always sure to hype up each others outfits and make sure no one is left alone. Of course there is still conflict and confusion, but the spaces we create allow for honest and easy conversations on hard topics. I stood at a tram stop with one of my peers, and we had a long conversation. We had different views on gender diversity, but came to a conclusion where we can continue to grow and develop newer and more welcoming opinions.
We were told to be prepared that Czech locals aren’t necessarily super friendly to strangers, however some bonds were created quickly. Across from our accommodation is an art and jewelry shop, run by two very kind women. We went in on the first day and bought souvenirs, but more than that, we frequently go in just to talk to them. They are open to talking about both Czech and American culture, while sharing our passions for art and supporting creatives. They gave us free charms and told us to stop back in with coffee sometime, just so we could chat with them. They wave at us from their shop when we walk by and it’s comforting to know that our presence isn’t just a nuisance to the locals.
There’s a pho and sushi place in our neighborhood as well and while paying for my meal, I professed my enjoyment for their Vietnamese coffee. It’s a hometown favorite for me and we had a nice conversation about the brewing process. I learned that Vietnamese people are one of the largest immigrant groups in Czechia while talking to the waiter who has been their both times I came in. They said they were returning to Vietnam very soon to visit family, and asked how long I would be staying in Prague. I said 2 more weeks, and they said it was unfortunate, as they would have brought me back some coffee. This second show of generosity was heartwarming and provided me hope for returning for my college studies.
Our first week we had painting. Our painting instructors were nothing short of amazing and showed so much interest and dedication to complimenting our work and helping us grow as artists. With such a large range in skill level, their job couldn’t have been easy, however they never failed to assist us in any ways possible, from buying more supplies to having long conversations on art techniques. I’m a painter, so this week was special to me. I learned a lot and made two paintings I’m especially proud of, both featuring fellow CIEE students.