Czeched Out (Exchange to Prague)

Authored By:

Zoe S.

Checked out: a term to describe when a person’s mind has disengaged from their surroundings. They may be physically present, but their thoughts are elsewhere. 

It has now been ten months since I and so many others stepped on the plane headed to Germany. As the days pass by in the blink of an eye, I can only think of one German phrase that seems to capture the feeling of it all: 

Jetzt geht's richtig los. 

(Now it's really starting)

In between the anxious moments spent planning for the next year and trying to fit every possible lifetime experience into the span of a few weeks, I had the opportunity to travel to Prague in the Czech Republic with my youth orchestra. My host sister and I spent a week living with a lovely host family, trying to speak Czech, and eating a probably unhealthy amount of ice cream. I am so grateful that I was able to have an experience like this, and I know it will be tucked among those many lovely memories of this exchange year that I have collected. 

This being said, the first few days of the exchange in Prague were very strange for me. It was like dreaming of waking up, only to actually wake up a few seconds later. There's a strange, alien kind of feeling that washes over you and makes your stomach flip a little. I distinctly remember waking up on the first day, thinking of my room in Germany with its little window on the ceiling, and immediately afterwards I was overwhelmed with the image of my room in the USA. I guess it must be one of those side effects one has doing an exchange on exchange. ;)

Our host family was exceedingly lovely, especially my (second?) host mom. We spoke German with the host parents, English with the kids, and I tried my best to talk with the youngest daughter, Mina, who could only speak Czech. Here is a representation of my conversations in Czech with Mina: 

Me: Good morning! How are you?

Mina: Good!

Me: Good!

We repeated this conversation at least ten times during the week, but I like to think our souls came to an understanding outside the limits of these five words. 

Aside from the daily excitement of our new host family, the actual city of Prague was so beautiful. We were able to take a walking tour and saw as much as we could in a few short hours, from the Berg to the Prague Orloj. Prague is a huge city, and even after hours of walking, there was still so much to see. Everywhere around us were little stores, museums, and so many people. Every corner of the city was overflowing with people. On the Charles Bridge, we squeezed past jazz musicians and street vendors to cross to the other side. At one point on the tour, I spotted the Franz Kafka Museum. Like many cities in Germany, Prague is full of history, every stone in the street carrying years of stories. However, the culture in the Czech Republic is an entirely other experience. 

The week I spent in Prague felt like it had when I first moved in with my host family in Germany, all those months ago. I immediately felt the urge to absorb and learn about the culture as much as I could. It’s such a special thing to be able to understand a new culture. When I learn about other cultures, I always feel like my mind is expanding. I start to think things like, “Wow, I never thought of seeing it like that”. It makes me realize how little I know, and how many other things there are in the world that I haven’t discovered yet. 

In the few days I have left in Germany, I can’t help but think of what it will be like when I return. Sitting in class, I catch myself imagining things from home; the apple tree in my front yard, my friends who I haven’t seen in almost a year, and my family. One of the goals I set for myself for the rest of my time was to live in the present and not worry too much about what’s ahead of me. I don’t know now if such a thing is possible, but I suppose it’s only natural to feel a little anxious about returning.

If there is one thing I'll be sure of when I return, it's that I spent my time here in Germany well. There are so many unexpected things that happened over this year, and I’m unbelievably thankful that I had the opportunity to have this experience. A small part of my heart will forever be in Germany, and I know I’ll be back again soon. So until then:

Ciao for now,
Zoe Schauder