A Remedy for Homesickness: A Weekend Homestay in Hlinsko

April 1, 2019

Photo Credit: Megan Mathieson 

 

Studying abroad has been an amazing and intensely rewarding experience so far, but I’ve definitely started to miss some parts of home: the charm of a low-key rural town, driving around on deserted backroads and, most of all, enjoying delicious home-cooked meals. Dinner doesn’t quite have that same warm and fuzzy feeling when I spend two hours trying to make a recipe that said it would only take half an hour, especially when it still doesn’t even taste that great. Thankfully, going on the Hlinsko homestays cultural immersion trip gave me the chance to recapture some of these familiar phenomena that I had started to miss from home.

 

The trip began on a Friday morning at 7:30 a.m., when a group of 12 students, myself included, left Prague in a bus and headed off for Hlinsko, which is about a two-and-a-half hour drive away. Honestly, I had passed out for most of the drive, but when I woke up we were approaching a high school in Hlinsko at around 10:30 a.m. We entered the faculty lounge of the school to find about a dozen Czech students, aged 15 to 18, sitting around two tables. We went through a quick round of introductions and spent about half an hour chatting with them and enjoying the desserts and snacks they had made. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but in a good way! I ended up sitting next to a girl named Lucie, and we hit it off really well from the start.

 

Photo Credit: Zoey Schilling

 

After we all mingled for a little bit, the Czech students took us on a tour of their school in small groups. The school was old-fashioned and the students seemed bored out of their minds. (Clearly some things are culturally universal.) I’m not going to lie, it kind of gave me hives to walk around a high school again, especially because we would interrupt classes and end up staring at the students as we observed their classes, and they naturally returned the awkward favor. I felt like both an animal and a visitor at a zoo.

 

Next on the agenda was lunch at a local Czech restaurant, where we found out that we would get to pick who we stayed with that night. Lucie and I agreed that I’d stay with her, which was a huge relief for me. I had found my homestay host without hassle!

 

After the pairings-up and lunch, we all went to a ceramics workshop in a house in a very rural part of the town. The woman who owned the house was a professional artist who had designed many things in her home, including the countertop in her kitchen and the tiling of her bathroom. My ceramics creation was an attempt at a crescent-ish plate, so maybe it’s not quite as impressive as her work, but I guess it’s the thought that counts, right?

 

Following our wholesome and peaceful experience at the ceramics house, Lucie and her friends took me and another NYU student to a restaurant-slash-tourist attraction called Peklo Čertovina, which literally translates to “Čertovina Hell.” (Čertovina is an area not far from the center of Hlinsko.) How welcoming. Despite the ominous name and décor, the place seemed pretty cute and fun — I would have loved to explore if we had had more time to hang out there (apparently the building has seven floors underground!). 

 

Photo Credit: Zoey Schilling

 

After visiting Peklo Čertovina, Lucie took me back to her house in a nearby town called Skuteč. She gave me a walking tour of the small town of about 3,000 people, which was a nice change of scenery from the comparatively bustling center of Prague. Her mother had prepared a traditional Czech goulash meal for dinner. Neither of Lucie’s parents spoke English, and I’m still barely getting by with what I learned in the Introduction to Czech crash course we took during orientation week. I’m pretty sure I just kept repeating said “dobrý” and “děkuji,” smiling and hoping I was making a good impression as I waited for Lucie to translate my gratitude. At the end of my stay, they kept insisting that I come back and visit whenever I’m back in the Czech Republic, so I think they liked me.

 

On the following day, after having the biggest breakfast I’ve had since coming to Prague, I had to say goodbye to Lucie and her family. Though I had just met them less than 24 hours ago, I was sad to leave them. Lucie and I have kept in contact in the short time since the trip, and I’m excited to send her the most ridiculous postcards I can find once I get back to New York City.

 

Once everyone said goodbye to their host families, we all visited the memorial site at Ležáky, a village that was destroyed under Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II. The village was never rebuilt, making the memorial site an especially moving and important place to experience. It was a tragic and strangely serene site, a humbling way to end our cultural immersion trip with the Hlinsko students.

 

Photo Credit: Zoey Schilling 

 

I would highly recommend the homestays trip to any NYU student interested in really throwing themselves into Czech culture, even if it is just for one night. If nothing else, it’s a great way to meet new people and feel like you’re back at home for a moment when a wave of homesickness washes over you in the middle of the semester.

 

 

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