At this point in my exchange, I have spent a lot of time in my host city—Rakovník. With a population of approximately 16,000-17,000 people, the city is small, but has so much to offer. One of my favourite parts about the city is the square. It is so unlike anything that we have in Canada. Although there are still a few streets with shops (similar to what we have in Canada) there is a large square that is lined with stores, restaurants, a church, and a school along the edges. Everything that you would need is in walking distance, which is also something new for me. I am now growing accustomed to not having to drive everywhere—in fact, it would take less time for me to walk than it would to drive in some cases. For example, in Canada, I had to take a half hour to 45-minute bus ride to school every morning. Now, it is less than a 15-minute walk. This week, I started with a trip to Karlovy Vary, I went to school, and started in a musical ensemble. I hope to maybe highlight some of the differences between the Canadian and the Czech school system in this post.
I had the opportunity to take a trip with my host family to see the Loket castle as well as the city Karlovy Vary. We went by car for approximately an hour and a half to Loket. We walked around the square and went up to the castle. It was on and off raining so we ended up eating inside at a Chinese restaurant. The Loket castle is set on a massive rock surrounded by the Ohře river. It is a 12th century Gothic style castle. It once served as protection to the merchant’s path from Prague onto Erfurt but then began functioning as a frontier fortress. We spent some time looking at some towers and at the castle. After, we went to go find a canoe rental place. We decided to canoe to the nearby city Karlovy Vary. It was only a 10-12 km canoe ride and the weather had improved. The river is very calm and the ride was very peaceful. Surrounding the river, there was lush green nature with some big rock structures on the sides of the mountains. The water was very shallow and often, our canoe would scrape against the bottom. When we arrived to Karlovy Vary, we actually ended up getting a ride from one of the workers of the canoe place to Loket to pick up our car. We then drove back to Karlovy Vary. During the day that we were in Karlovy Vary, there was a huge triathlon. We got to watch some of the athletes and got to see the city. It is very colourful and I absolutely loved the architecture. Karlovy Vary is very famous for its hot springs. There are 13 main springs and 300 smaller springs. During our stay, there were many stops where people were drinking the water from the hot springs. We also got to see a geyser!
After my trip to Karlovy Vary, I had to prepare for school. I had previously met with someone from the school to discuss my timetable. The school that I attend is called Gymnazium Zikmunda Wintra. I am in a class called C3A and there are 17 students. This class stays together during the entire day and moves from classroom to classroom. The school day starts at 7:50 and ends at 3:45 on a typical day. There are 9 periods, each are 45 minutes long. On Wednesday my classes end at 1:15 and on Friday, my classes end at 12:25. On Mondays and Thursdays, there are specialized lectures for students to prepare for graduation. These lectures are not obligatory for me to attend, so on those days, I will end school at 1:05. There are several periods during the day when students can choose which class they would like to attend. For example, in the fifth and sixth blocks on Wednesday, I can either go to a double block of Math or a double block of something like Social Studies. It feels odd to go from 80-minute classes to 45-minute classes. The timetable that we have is set for the entire year meaning that there are no semesters. Because this week was the first week of school, there were many special days. On Monday, there were only two hours of class. I had luckily already met some of the members of my class and they helped me during the day. The first day, we spent only with our class teacher. There were a lot of times when I knew that the class was talking about me, but I could not understand. It was awkward because the teacher would point at me and say words like “Canada” and “English” and everyone was staring at me. I have grown accustomed to this every time we go to a class with a new teacher that hasn’t met me. Tuesday, there were only four hours of class then on Wednesday, our class went on a trip to Prague with our Chemistry teacher. We went to a Chemistry fair then to a lecture for an hour about meat!
I feel very welcomed by my classmates, though at first they were all a bit shy to talk to me. They have made several efforts to invite me to spend time with them. Between classes, I have been able to have very basic Czech conversations with some of my friends and they have really been helping me with the language. During classes, I still don’t know what is going on, but I have been able to pick up more and more words every day.
This Tuesday was also my first Rotary meeting in a nearby city called Beroun. The city is unfortunately one hour away. Because of this, the other exchange student and I will only be able to attend one meeting per month, but will still be able to participate in all of the Rotary events. We were hoping to go to more than one meeting, but because of the issue of transportation and the rules of traveling in the district, it won’t be possible. Although this is true, our experience in the meeting was amazing. The club is very small, but the people are extremely kind and very fun. This meeting, we got to know each other. We talked about the different Czech foods and about the culture. We also talked about our experiences thus far and places we want to see in the Czech Republic. I prepared a short presentation partially in Czech and partially in English. I introduced the Salmon Arm Rotary Club as well as District 5060. I also described why I am on exchange and what my goals are. We had some good conversations during the meeting; I look forward to continuing with my involvement in this club.
Finally, yesterday I was able to start at the music school. There was a French horn available and a small ensemble that I could join. Our first rehearsal was yesterday (Friday) and rehearsals are every Friday from 6pm to around 8pm. I look forward to practicing with this group. There are two girls that attend my school who play the violin. There is a third violinist, an oboe player, a keyboard, and I. It is an interesting ensemble, but perhaps in future rehearsals there will be more musicians. After being very lost in the Czech language over the past week at school, it felt refreshing to play again and actually be able to understand what is going on! (haha). I look forward to rehearsals every week.