Hands on Learning

My courses at Charles University were my favorite part of the trip… says nobody. But really, they honestly were! I took two classes: Czech and European Art & Architecture and Literature of Central European Cafe’s. What I enjoyed most and had not realized prior to starting the program was that we took field trips almost everyday. Throughout the four weeks I went to a plethora of galleries, churches, cathedrals, cafes, multiple visits to the Prague castle… It was so amazing.

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                                Cole at The Jerusalem Synagogue       Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Castle

For a creative, artistic person like myself, it was so inspiring for me to be in such an environment. I learned about a certain art form, or read a piece of literature and then went to an area in Prague where that style existed or was created. I cannot express how tremendous my feelings were in those classes… they were like no other, really.

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                          Fellow classmate admiring / becoming art        Stained glass in St. Vitus Cathedral

Similar to Cardiff University, there are not many things riding toward your final grade though. Granted we only had four weeks, but the bulk of the grade consists of a midterm and a final test/paper. This proved a challenge for me just as it had in Cardiff because I place sooo much pressure on myself because I know how important it is, which caused me to ask for extensions on my papers. But, I completed them, and that’s what matters.

Even if I don’t come home with the A’s I had hoped/planned for, I have come back with so much knowledge of Czech history, culture, and even a bit of the language. I  enjoyed the courses so much that I am considering doing my Master’s at Charles University.

A New Voicelessness

“Who am I? A mere shadow on the wall? A dark invisibility? Do you see my face? Can you hear my voice? Can you understand my language? I don’t think you can… I don’t think I do. But I will project myself until I am seen, heard. I am done living in silence.”

Jay Higgs


Exactly 2 weeks after arriving in the Czech Republic, I was ready to leave. I had already done all the touristy things there was to do in Prague, I had the Czech food and beer, but what I hadn’t done was understand nor fit into Czech Culture. Perhaps it was egotistical of me to assume that I should be welcomed and accepted in a culture I had been immersed in for a mere 14 days, but it really hurt to feel like such an “other.”

“Feeling ‘other’ is something that I feel often in the United States, so shouldn’t I be used to it?” I shut that idea down quick, because to say I should be used to it is to affirm the hatred and discrimination that exists not only in the States, but in the world. To say that is to perpetuate self-guilt and insecurities that I experience all too often. But, the feeling I had in Prague was still very different than it was in the US.

The first two weeks I walked around Prague with a smile on my face and awe in my eyes; it was unbelievably IMG_2643beautiful. When my gaze was not taking in the serenity around me, it was searching for connection with the locals. There was none… no connection. It seemed the harder I smiled, the bigger the scowl I received.

At first my natural reaction was to internalize the negativity as something to do with me personally (again with the egotism). “Could they tell I was foreign? Was it because I was Black? Did they see me as a mere tourist?”

The answers to those questions were in fact “yes,” BUT there was way more depth to it than that. Just like there is way more to me than my appearance, the history of the Czech Lands is the main cause of the Czech peoples reserved attitude in public. To make a long story short, back when the Czech Republic was still a part of Czechoslovakia they were taken over by communism in 1948. The effects of being overtaken by communism: secret police, paranoia, lack of trust, and ultimately the stripping of identity, caused Czech people to be a reserved, distant, and in my opinion, bitter people (and rightfully so). Communism fell there in 1989, four years before I was born, thus it began to make sense why the mentality I was experiencing still existed. Most of the people who were alive at that time are still alive, especially the children and teenagers whose childhoods were effected by such a reality.

I realized I am more similar to Czech people than I had originally thought. Granted I may not walk around scowling or judging harshly, but I too was rendered voiceless by a society and by myself. That voicelessness was heightened though in a non English speaking country. I felt trapped within myself screaming “even if I could talk, they wouldn’t understand… even if they did talk, I couldn’t understand.” It was exhausting and it made me realize that a privilege was taken away: my privilege to speak and be understood. It made me aware of the power I have when I am in an English speaking country. I had not realized, but speaking is a beautiful privilege and I have it when I am in the States, and it frustrates me that things like sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc. almost made me believe that I was unworthy of such a privilege.

A big part of traveling is learning and being immersed into different cultures. Whether negative or positive, it is a profound experience because one learns about others, oneself, and learns to navigate the differences that exist amongst both. For the mindset of healthy living and positivity that I was creating for myself, Czech locals were not the best people to be surrounded by, but the serenity that surrounded us all was perfect. I plan to take my new knowledge, my voice and raise awareness of the realities which hide in shadows.



Kutná Hora, Czech Republic

An included part of the program was a day trip to Kutná Hora: a city situated in the Central Bohemian Region of Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. Whilst there we toured the famous Bone Church, St. Barbara’s Cathedral, and crawled through the Silver Mines.


Coat of Arms of the Schwarzenberg family that is made of bones

The story behind the Bone Church, more correctly called the Sedlec Ossuary, is that, in the 13th century, Jindřich, the abbot of Sedlec monastery, returned from a visit to Palestine with a pocketful of soil and sprinkled it on the cemetery surrounding the Chapel of All Saints. Seeing that Israel is seen as the holy land, this direct association with the soil of the holy land led to the graveyard becoming a sought after burial site among the aristocracy of Central Europe. At the time of the thirty years’ war in the 17th century, the number of burials outgrew the space available, the older remains began to be exhumed and stored in the chapel, and it’s estimated that the chapel now contains the bones of up to 40,000 people. Although this church was very eerie, I thought it was wonderfully dark and cool. Definitely the best part of the day for me.

Next was the cathedral. St. Barbara’s is known as the most spectacular gothic cathedral in the Czech Republic, a land IMG_2237noted for its Gothic cathedrals. In the late 1300s St. Barbara’s was founded by the rich mine owners of Kutná Hora. St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners, and many of the interior adornments reflect mining life. Stained-glass windows and frescoes depict winches, ore-trading, and medieval minting techniques, and the ceiling murals include depictions of the miners’ guild coat of arms. It was very awe-inspiring and a nice introduction to the mining history that we’d soon be immersed in.

Let me first start by saying I am claustrophobic… I do not like tight clothes, spaces, let alone narrow, dark tunnels 35 meters (114 feet) under ground. Fear was crawling all over my skin just thinking of touring the Silver Mines. The tour begins in the courtyard of Hradek, with a small display of mining equipment and then progresses to the massive horse-powered winch that was used to lift a ton of silver ore at a time to the surface. We then got dressed in white cloaks and helmets with torches on the top.


Our tour guide giving his first tour in English and doing a great job.

The first part of the tour is a climb down a modern steel staircase of 160 steps, approximately equivalent to a six-story building. The tunnel grew smaller and smaller the further we went and the lowest point was around 120cm/4 feet. I liked my helmet more and more every time I scraped my head along the top of the shaft. The tunnel opens out into another small cavern where the guide stops and asks everybody to turn off their torches, and then almost covers his, to show what poor light the miners worked in, and why their coats were white. He then turns his torch off completely to demonstrate complete darkness, which is unsettling no matter how much the logical part of your mind tells you it’s OK. We were in complete darkness in this chill cave for like 5 minutes which felt like 50 minutes. I spent this time practicing breathing exercises and avoiding thinking logistically about the predicament I was in.

I am actually practicing my breathing exercises as I write this, but I am so pleased because I really faced a huge fear and that is always a reason to be proud of myself. Making it through that tour, one which is so unique and important in the history of the city, really set the tone for why I came here—to the Czech Republic for this month: to get out of my comfort zone and really live, be alive. This trip has already changed my life and it’s only been four days! I hope I can handle all the rest that’s in store.

Czech Please

I aim to be as authentic and original and completely me as possible in these blogs, but I have to start off by saying Prague is amazingly beautiful! It has been three days and I feel like I have done so much:



Prague Astronomical Clock

Day 1- 24.6: I had a personal escort from the airport to the dorm which was pretty sweet. I met fellow peers of the program who had actually been to Prague before, thus they invited me out and we walked into the Old Town. On the walk I saw the Pražský Hrad (Prague Castle), the Karlův most (Charles Bridge), and the Pražský orloj (Prague Astronomical Clock), as well as a gorgeous view of the whole city, red rooftops galore. I was not warned about how hilly Prague is, but at least I can look forward to toning my legs. I walked around this city speechless, wandering behind two friendly strangers and felt as if I had actually jumped into a postcard head first, mouth open. I wasn’t actually here. After 2 hours of walking around and picking up some hygiene supplies, we began the trek back up the hill we came down from earlier. This took 50 minutes, most of which was nearly straight up… Phew, but I made it.


Since I had not slept the entire night prior I decided to nap before our Housing Meeting. IMG_2043Yeah… I accidentally slept through the whole thing, but luckily I awoke in time to go to the Meet and Greet Dinner. I sat with three girls from the National University of Singapore who were very nice. I tried a traditional Czech dish: Vepřo-knedlo-zelo, which translates as pork with sauerkraut and dumplings. It was tasty aside from the fact that I popped out a filling in my tooth trying to floss the pork out. Ha, only me!

Day 2&3  25.6-26.6: These two days were mainly dedicated to getting mentally acclimated to the Czech culture and language. Within these two days, I went through an eight hour survival Czech course, which was very exciting for me since the IMG_1993language barrier was what I was most afraid about when preparing for this experience. On the evening of day 2, we actually went on a river cruise on the Vltava River—the river that goes right down the middle of Prague. The cruise served a delicious dinner and let us get up close with the Charles Bridge; it was a great introduction to the city!

Day 4 would consist of a day trip to Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, which deserves its own blog post entirely. Until then!

Layover in London

I arrived in London on the evening of June 17th. This having been my third time in flying into Heathrow International, the return was comfortingly familiar. I exhaled joy when I made it through the border and consciously strolled to the Underground, emphasis on strolled, because I was ready for the change of pace that Europe always offers. I got on the Piccadilly Line toward Borough, my final destination, and smiled when I heard the British operator announce, “This is the Piccadilly Line toward Cockfosters, please mind the gap.” The chuckle of a clear novice London traveler made me reflect back on my first time catching the Underground from the airport just 6 months earlier. “I remember when I had my first beer,” I smirked.

I arrived at Borough station and walked nostalgically toward Shrabani’s flat. Shrabani is my amazing friend who I would be spending the week with. I studied abroad with her in Cardiff, Wales just to be captivated by her kindness, generosity, work ethic, and her positive outlook on life. Cardiff was actually her second time studying abroad, so she helped me a lot in my transition being a pro traveler at the time.

Anyhow, I was scheduled to be spending this week before Prague with this phenomenal woman, and she was nothing short of a wonderful host and supporting friend: she cooked me amazing meals, showed me many tourist sights which I had not seen on prior visits to London, introduced me to her friends and favorite clubs, had heart to hearts with me and gave great advice, encouraged me to follow my dreams and gave me ideas aiding my future goals, while simultaneously working on her dissertation for her Master’s Degree at the London School of Economics and applying for jobs. If that doesn’t prove how exceptionally multifaceted she is, I will send you her resume (which I asked to read).

Aside from spending time with Bani, who was also a Peer Counselor for the Center for International Programs (CIP) and is featured on the CIP website, some of the highlights of my trip were the sights.


First, was the Tower Bridge, which I had always called the London Bridge, but it turns out the London Bridge is just a plain Bridge right next to the infamous Tower Bridge and is really only good for giving a great view of the Tower Bridge, the real star. This was great information to learn since I had known it as the London Bridge all my life (as do most people). It was breath taking, really. The lights, the architecture, the history… it was magical. Bani and I arrived around sunset as well, thus adding to my enamor. We walked across, back, found a loo, then sat on lawn with a side view of the bridge and enjoyed some ciders and the view. We watched people pass and made up possible stories for who they were, where they were going. The London rain and chill was the only reason to ever leave.

Next, was a double whammy! The Leake Street Tunnel and the London Eye… like what!? Okay, so the Leake Street Tunnel  was something a New Paltz professor had mentioned at the Take Back the Night event on campus this past May. She had mentioned graffiti art and how feminist activists often tag there, but I was sold at graffiti art in a tunnel. I told Shrabani I wanted to go and she made it happen. It was so awesome! So diverse, creative, and raw were most of the works. And what was even cooler was that I saw three artists in progress. Next time I make a trip to London, I might tag something on the wall too, even if only a poem.

So after 30 minutes of walking through this tunnel and taking pictures, being inspired, we walked a bit, turned two corners and BAM: The London Freaking Eye! “Holy cow, OMG, WTF” and all the other cliché American phrases was all I thought as my chin dragged across the ground. I don’t know if it was the sudden, unexpectedness of it or its utter beauty, but I was floored. Wow! I had seen it when flying into London just like the Tower Bridge, but geez I didn’t think seeing it up close would be so profound.

View of the London Eye from where Bani and I sat.

View of the London Eye from where Bani and I sat.

Bani and I set up shop in the Southbank Center right next to the Eye, which was also hosting a university graduation. She transcribed interviews while I read The Color Purple; it was perfect. We eventually took lunch outside where we found a bench with an epic view of the Eye, thus we continued our work outdoors.

Another highlight was all of the food experiences, whether prepared by Shrabani or at a restaurant. Also, this cool restaurant and nightclub Bar Salsa which offered both Bachata and Salsa lessons. Studying and reading was another highlight of the week. Bani is an exceptional study partner and motivator. Ugh, it was amazing; a great layover before my trip to Prague.