Volunteering in Prague

So this semester, I have been volunteering at a Czech high school called Gymnázium Jana Keplera (Johannes Kepler Gymnasium) conveniently down the street from my dorm where I get to spend time each week with a group of Czech students. This school is actually well-known as being one of the best schools not only in Prague, but in the Czech Republic. From what others have said about it, it seems to be a prestigious school.

I work with three other students in my program and we meet every Wednesday with students who are in 11th grade. When we are with the students, we do various activities and talk about the differences between life in the Czech Republic and life in the U.S. Sometimes, the teacher plans activities for all of us to do like looking at the difference between the U.S and the Czech Republic in terms of city life, what we do for fun, food, and politics. We found that the student knew all about Donald Trump and our current election season while we knew of their current president, Miloš Zeman and their opinion on him. I have found out that the students have no idea what macaroni and cheese is and I’m perplexed by this because it’s so popular in the U.S. and this made me realize what I was missing from my life. Additionally, they were really interested in the sports that we have in the U.S so we each gave presentations on football, hockey, basketball and baseball. In turn, because we wanted to know about the kind of music they listened to, they presented us with various types of music ranging from rap to punk. Another time, we made our own lesson plan where we had different speaking activities like word association games and pictionary.

Today was so different from any of the other times we were at the school because when I walked up, there were decorations everywhere and everyone was dressed up! We got to have a little taste of one of their many special events that they were having this week for a festival called Majales.  A student, Martin, was guiding us through what was going on. He told us that each year the 3rd years (Juniors) come up with a theme and then plan events around the theme. Each grade has a different theme that goes with their class. The themes included birds, television, inquisition and prisoners (for each of the 4 grades). I saw the bird theme and their decorations all along the front hallway. There was origami hanging down from the ceiling and a birds nest in the lobby, and even a girl dressed up elaborately as a chicken. Martin walked us around and told us about what was going on with the different events. We walked through the school to the other side and went to a park where they had tents set up and there was room for a small field where the next match was taking place; rugby. When we got there, there were no teachers around and only students. This most surprising thing was that at the tent they were selling food and even beer! It’s so perplexing that students could actually plan out this own event on their own without the supervision of teachers and have beer at this school event. This is so vastly different from the U.S. This only vaguely was compared to spirit week at my school but I feel like it doesn’t even compare. While we were there, I actually got a chance to throw around a football with some of the students and I just enjoy the atmosphere.  At the end of the week, after all four grades have competed against each other through different events, the students will vote for the class that did the best and they will get a special prize. The coolest thing that I find about this festival is that the students get to be creative in their own way and plan things out for themselves. It felt so free and they weren’t censored in anyway but it wasn’t like the students were going crazy either. It was just so cool to be a part of this weird, but exciting experience.

Volunteering and getting to know Czech students is a really interesting experience and I feel like I’m learning a lot. I’m making friends with the students too through learning about each others cultures. It’s pretty awesome looking at the differences from their school life compared to mine like the ones in the U.S. It is definitely a unique experience and I recommend volunteering to other people who are planning on studying abroad because it gives you a different outlook and perspective on the country you’re living in!

Alyssa, a psychology major with a concentration in psychobiology, is excited to spend the semester in Prague, Czech Republic. In the hopes of adventure, she wants to meet new people, learn a new language, try new foods, and travel whenever she gets the chance. She can't wait to experience the culture of a different place!

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