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Experiencing the Czech Republic

Deep in the heart of Eastern Europe lies Czech Republic. With approximately 10.5 million inhabitants, Bohemia is home to breathtaking sights and extensive history. This summer I was able to experience such an incredible country firsthand as an exchange student. I experienced various European countries including Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic with my Danish host family. Spending time in Czech Republic was an unforgettable experience that really changed my life.

I arrived at the airport in Copenhagen greeted by a foreign family that I had never met in person. I could never have imagined how close I would soon become with them, but the moment they gave me a big hug, I felt an instant connection and a part of my new international family. During my home stay, I lived with my Danish family, which included two sisters age 14 and 15 , my host “dad” and host “mom”. My host mom was a refugee to Denmark from Czechoslovakia in 1968. Their family story of life behind the Iron Curtain was absolutely incredible. I was going to be spending my summer with a family that is living history of what Eastern Europe has endured. The lessons I had been taught in history class were coming alive too. And so we traveled to ?eská Republika, where I was able to meet their Czech family and witness an endless love that has survived through the tests of time.

To begin my Czech adventure, we spent nearly a week in Prague. I remember the first night we arrived at our pension along the Charles Bridge. Glowing lanterns lit up the cobblestone streets and the shadows of breathtaking architecture cast over us. As we took a stroll over the bridge, I could see in the distance the Prague Castle, watching over the city. The warm July air enveloped my skin and I felt a soft breeze. I could hear traditional Czech songs playing down the narrow roads and I instantly felt at home. It never felt as though I was a world away. Everywhere you looked there were countless nationalities, all exploring one of the best cities in the world. Prague isn't like anything I have ever experienced before. It was like I was living in a dream.

I definitely didn't see the city as a typical tourist. I got to see the city from a perspective of a native Czech. Everywhere we went, my host “mom” would always speak Czech to the local people. I didn't seem like a foreigner, but rather a guest into my European family's international world.

In Praha (as we say in Czech), everything was spectacular. We dined at authentic Czech restaurants and ate national delicacies like Schnitzel and Knedlíky. Some of the highlights of my stay were exploring the Prague Castle, taking a climb to the top of the Petrin tower (which resembles the Eiffel Tower), shopping in the main square of the city, visiting cathedrals, going to a Vietnamese market, and spending time at the Jewish Quarter of the city. Being in the Jewish Quarter really affected me. It was hard to keep back tears as I stood in the Pinkas Synagogue which is a memorial to the 80,000 Jewish Victims of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia. I walked along the white walls inscribed in red and black with my host mother. She took me to the part of the memorial where her hometown in Czech Republic was listed. My heart sank as we read the list of all the lives lost from her city. Putting the face of a real family to a story was so powerful. I felt like I was part of the Kaderkova family now and that Czech Republic was a part of me. My heart was broken to imagine what this country so dear to me had been through. Afterwards we sat in a Synagogue and I reflected on everything that had happened in history right where I had stood. For one moment in time, I felt like I connected with an entire race. Looking deep into the eyes of the lost in such a holy place like their synagogues was so overpowering. I never expected to connect with humanity in such a unique way.

While in Prague, we visited my host family's extended family. When we had dinner together, I could just feel the endless love radiating from each one of them. The Iron Curtain had separated them for so many years, but seeing them happy and safe together was one of the best feelings in the world. Just the simple feeling of having your brother and sister by your side is something so many of us take for granted. It’s something that has been robbed from so many over the course of history. My host sisters do not speak the same languages as their little cousins due to growing up geographically divided. Even simple things like communication have been hindered due to the lasting effects of the Soviet Union Era.

Our next stop across the Czech Republic was a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a city called ?esky Krumlov. As we drove toward the city, which was not too far from Austria , I could see announcement speakers along street lamps from where the Communist regime once gave daily orders. It was eerie to see them still lined up on the streets, no longer used, but a constant reminder of the country's past. However, aside from that, ?esky Krumlov was a fairytale city with exquisite old buildings and rolling hills. My host sisters and I ran around the Royal garden, sharing laughs and taking in the beauty of the landscape. We climbed castles, ate zmrzlina (ice cream), visited a Czech puppetry museum and went river rafting on the Vltava River. In the Czech Republic, the sleepy city of ?esky Krumlov is a must see for its exquisite views.

Our last stop on our trip was visiting my host family's mountain cabin in the Jeseníky Mountains along the border of Poland. The quiet little village was very cozy and friendly. There was one local restaurant that we ate at that was extremely inexpensive. I could eat like a queen for under $5. With ice-cream costing 40 cents a scoop, it was hard not to indulge. We took an hour ski lift up to the top of a Mountain in Czech Republic. You could see for miles on end the picturesque view of villages scattered around Poland and the Czech Republic. It was incredible!

I fondly remember one chilly night under an endless starry sky, sitting with my host family and Czech neighbors singing along to Czech Songs. I began to believe that language isn't a barrier that prevents us from becoming friends because everyone was smiling in the same language. On that night, I felt as if we were all speaking the same language. I was laughing with elderly Czechs who couldn't speak a word of English, but we still understood each other. I sat there looking at the stars, looking at Poland, looking at my new international family, and I saw that we as people aren't actually that different. I felt like I was being a tolerant, global-minded 15 year-old ambassador for the United States. My host family that I had met just a few weeks ago was so similar to me, especially my host sister Carolina, and we have continued our international friendship. in my opinion, life is a chance to experience the wonders of the world through global friendships.



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