As I write this, I am sitting in the middle of the Soběslav square, as the sun sinks lower in the sky. The middle of the town sits a mere 12 steps from my apartment, making me feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be living in such an accessible place. I am sitting on a dark grey bench made of a solid sort of wood that gives off the impression that it has been here for centuries. In fact, the whole town gives off the same sort of vibe. There are brightly colored shops, from pharmacies and grocery stores to restaurants, surrounding the square in every direction. Next to me, there is a couple enjoying a late afternoon snack, another couple having a conversation in the shade, and a family just taking in the fresh air. Children run across the cobblestones, screaming for their parents to lift them up into the air. In a sense, this could be any small town in America, but in some of the most important ways, it really couldn’t. Besides the obvious difference of everyone speaking in Czech, there is rich history here that underlies not just the architecture and visual elements of the town, but also the attitude of its people. It is difficult to not sit here and imagine what the town must have looked like centuries ago, what sort of stories lay hidden, as the clock tower rings out. But I know that with each person I meet and each new place I visit, I am even more intrigued and interested to learn more.
I have been in the Czech Republic for four full days, and just in this sort period of time, I have experienced the full embrace of Czech hospitality. This started when I was met at baggage claim at the airport by my mentor, Romana, with a sign in her hands and a smile on her face. We had spoken numerous times over the summer to hammer out details of my journey, but this was the first time we had met in-person. She was and has been lovelier than I could have expected. She has an infectious energy and excitement about her, and you can’t help but smile when you’re around her. She has been absolutely invaluable, and there are not enough words for me to express my gratitude to her.
The second person to welcome me to Czechia was Adéla, my landlady. The details of my housing had been coordinated over the summer through WhatsApp, and Romana sending pictures as she went apartment hunting. The apartment we chose is located right on the square and is the perfect space for me to come home to after teaching. Adéla reassured me that she and her sons lived in the flat downstairs and that if I needed anything at all, she was just a call away. She suggested that if I wanted to go for a walk or was coming back from somewhere after dark, that she was happy to come get me to make sure I got home safe. Living in a different country, away from everyone you know, inherently feels a little scary, but Adéla has helped me feel safer. She brought me tomatoes from her garden yesterday, and it is these casual acts of kindness that really warm my heart.
I spent most of Wednesday in a fog of jet lag, but Thursday, I felt much better. I went on my first run here, following a trail that Romana had recommended, and only getting lost once! Baby steps for the win. I then went on a guided tour of Soběslav that Romana and Adéla had coordinated for me. My tour guide was Michal, an enthusiastic history buff and recent graduate of the secondary school that I will be teaching at in a few weeks. He provided me with some much needed historical and cultural context, walking me through the two main churches in the town and the castle. We dove deeper into the conflicts between Catholics and the Hussites, the patronage of the Rosenbergs in Southern Bohemia, and the impact of World War II. Suffice to say, I had a grand time and emerged from the tour with a better understanding of the town I will call home for the next ten months.
Friday was a long day. It was the day for the “Czech Triangle.” This was the name that Romana had come up with to describe the geographic relationship of the towns Soběslav, Bechyně, and Tabor. These towns are all about 20km from one another in a somewhat triangular shape on the map. I spent early morning in Soběslav, the afternoon in Tabor, and the evening in Bechyně. First item on the agenda was to meet with Petr, the school’s headmaster, and David, an English teacher at the school. It was great to see the inside of the school for the first time and to meet Petr and David. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by just how open, welcoming, and kind everyone is. David, as the hockey coach for the local youth teams, offered to show me and Romana the ice hockey stadium. I had seen the rest of the sports complex— massive soccer field, track, sand volleyball court, two small sided soccer courts, basketball court, and numerous tennis courts— the day before on a walk with Romana. Walking inside the hockey center and hearing David proudly talk about his daughter who plays with the local boys team, I was reminded of a book I read a few years back called Beartown by Fredrik Backman about a small hockey town in Sweden. I watched the last 10 minutes of the ongoing match, found myself thrilled to be watching live sports again, and knew this was absolutely the right town for me to indulge my love of both playing and watching sports.
From there, Romana and I drove to Tabor to figure out if we could set up a Czech bank account where my stipends would be direct deposited and to also purchase a Czech SIM card. The bank account was being opened by one of Romana’s friends, Pavla, who worked really patiently with us, because opening a Czech bank account as a foreigner is no cakewalk. After two hours, Pavla told us the processing of the account could take awhile, recommended that we go ahead with lunch, and promised to call with updates. From there, Romana and I walked through Tabor first seeking out an O2 shop to buy a SIM card before looking for a place to eat. Tabor is larger than Soběslav, with more shops and restaurants as well as more vegan/vegetarian options. We chose a nice bistro that agreed to remove the meat from their penne for me, and met one of Romana’s friends, Jitka. She is an English teacher in Tabor and had actually hosted a Fulbright ETA there in 2020. Note another casual act of kindness: Jitka brought Romana and I each jars of black currant marmalade fresh from her garden. She also had a lot of good advice and recommendations for visiting Tabor in the future. We explored for awhile, traversing the info center and bookstore, before stopping to get some ice cream from a place that Romana insisted had “the best ice cream ever!” I got mango sorbet, and I’ll admit that it was fantastic! We then made our way to a coffee shop that had a really great aesthetic appearance, with lots of plants and bar tables and colorful couches. From here, we split ways with Jitka, and headed back to the bank to pick up Pavla and drive to Bechyně, where both Romana and Pavla live.
Reaching Bechyně, we stopped at Romana’s house so that I could meet her boyfriend, Vojtěch, before we headed out for a walk around town. Bechyně was really beautiful, with these large bridges overlooking the river Lužnice, and a lively town square with many restaurants and outdoor dining. I also loved getting to know Romana’s dog, Amy, and her lively and playful demeanor. Before soon, the sun was setting, and Romana brought me back to Soběslav to finish out the day of the Czech Triangle.
It has been a busy few days, but I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to explore and find my bearings. Everyone I have met has been lovely and welcoming, and there is so much natural beauty around me to admire. Tomorrow morning, I head off for orientation with the other Fulbright ETAs where I will spend four days, getting to know them better and also receiving some preparation for the start of the school year.
The sun has slid lower and live acoustic guitar has started to echo through the square. Time to go pack my duffel for the orientation!
See you in the next one.