Orientation Week in Liblice

So I’m a little late in writing this blog post, which I attribute to getting caught up in the start of the Czech school year! However, before the start of school, I spent some time in Liblice, a literal castle located about an hour from Prague, with the rest of the Czech Fulbright ETAs for our four day in-country orientation. We all met at the train station Praha Hlavni Nadrazi (Praha hln) where a bus drove us to the castle.

Some planning beforehand was required to figure out how each of us would get from our towns to the Prague station. For me, there usually is a direct train that runs from Soběslav to Praha hln. However, there has been some construction work being done on the tracks right now so the goal was to take one train to Benešov and then switch trains there.

This was going to be my first attempt at navigating the Czech public transportation, but luckily, I was not the only ETA taking this particular train to Prague. Michaela and Hunter are the closest ETAs to me, with Michaela only a fifteen minute train ride away.

Long story short, the first train was slightly delayed and as such, we were collectively concerned that we would miss our connection in Benešov. We decided to stay on the first train, taking it as far as it would go to Praha Holešovice, and then getting on the metro in Prague for three stops. Oh, and the kicker? We had to reach Praha hln by 1:15pm or we would miss the Fulbright bus to Liblice. Definitely stressful for a bit there, but we reached there on time (hallelujah!) and I feel more reassured in the concept that most things generally work themselves out.

We arrived in Liblice to find out that the chateau we would be staying at was an ornate and beautiful castle. We composed the majority of the guests staying there, so it’s safe to say that we had the run of the place. The castle was bordered by a garden and a park that more than a few ETAs, including myself, took advantage of for walks and runs.

We all arrived on Sunday, August 22 and stayed till Thursday, August 26. On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, we had long days of programming and training that filled the days. From security plans to teaching tips to mental health seminars, there was a lot of information that was covered. As someone who does not come from a teaching background, I found the trainings helpful in providing guidance as it relates to teaching with lesson plans and learning different co-teaching models. We had fantastic people leading the trainings— with Tomaš, Bara, and Iva from Charles University— who offered insightful bits of wisdom that I will certainly take with me as I go into the school year.

We had our meals in an ornate dining room or in the outdoor patio, and the Fulbright Commission had taken special note of those of us with dietary restrictions. There were some great vegetarian meals even with traditional Czech cuisine!

The evenings were marked by time that the ETAs got to spend with one another, chatting, playing card games, and just letting loose. It was nice to hear that most of the concerns I had about moving to a country where I did not speak the language were shared by others too. Over the course of the orientation, I was grateful to learn that the other ETAs are grounded, well-intentioned people with interesting backgrounds and life stories. It seemed like everyone I talked to was accomplished, eloquent, and brought a breadth of diverse experience to the program. The ETAs I met are teachers, athletes, intellectuals, musicians, and much more. We even have an ETA this year who has done Peace Corps in West Africa, has teaching experience in Thailand, and is now with us in the Czech Republic!

On Tuesday, we also experienced my favorite part of the orientation: an 8-mile round trip bike ride to a Jan Palach memorial. We split into two groups and rode through varied terrain— through fields, mud, rocks— we really got to experience it all. The memorial itself was sobering and impactful, learning about how a 20 year old had set himself on fire in Prague as an act of protest to wake the Czech people up to the Soviet invasion in 1968. Even with the serious and saddening history, it was still nice to be able to do something active and in nature, after having long hours seated in lecture halls and conference rooms.

On Wednesday, all of our mentors joined us at the chateau in Liblice. We had separate programming throughout the afternoon, but dinner was a nice opportunity to meet the other mentors in the area. For example, I had pleasant conversations with Michaela’s mentor, Martina, and Hunter’s mentor, Luboš.

Thursday, we went our separate ways with our mentors, and there was a certain melancholy in the air about going back to being the only American in our respective towns. But there was also an anticipation seeping through as well; we had been preparing for teaching and getting to know our communities for so many months and the moment had finally arrived. The only thing to do now was to dive in and start!

See you guys in the next one.