“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” -Mark Twain, American writer, humorist, 1835 – 1910
In 2009, my husband and I, along with our three sons, packed up our things, sold our house and cars, and moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Prague, Czech Republic. The reason? My husband’s job. But as everyone who has lived as an expat overseas knows, living overseas for a job is much more …
We couldn’t have known what we would learn, how we would change and grow as individuals and as a family, and how we would come to love so many things about a foreign country and the foreigners we meet and are friends with now. Our more than 18 months abroad have taught us so many things–I’ll share ten here with you (I promise they’ll be fun) …
I have to admit that it now feels normal to go 100 km/hr coming head-on with a massive Tatra truck, on a road with no lines or lanes and only a 1 inch shoulder before a drop-off. Add signs written only in Czech, trams and buses careening at my car whenever they please (because they always have the right-of-way), roads so pot-holed they look like they’ve been through a war, and the hardly-plowed winter conditions. I have permanent white-knuckle marks on the steering wheel to prove it …
2) The European Kitchen:
When we left the US, we had one of the huge double door refrigerators, a normal size oven, and a nice sized sink. In Europe, they believe in miniature. I have learned to successfully store food for a family of five in fresh and creative ways. The sink is hardly large enough to wash carrots and the oven fits a half of a cookie sheet. Good meals here are the result of much innovation, which is always a good thing, right?
My grocery shopping habits have changed dramatically. In the US, everyone rolls in with a dump-truck sized cart, fills it up with yummy goodies, pays, and relaxes while baggers help bag the food. In Europe, it’s like shopping in a gas station quick mart. Do I really need a cart for the average Czech person’s five items? Besides, do I really want to buy more than 5 things when the cashier prefers to throw food at me and bark in Czech as she throws it on the floor? I feel good when I leave a store NOT slathered in sweat like an NBA player.
I never imagined how meaningful it would be to live in a place with such an amazing past. Prague is a wealth of everything. I can’t get enough. An article I wrote on visiting Prague for Gadling.com: Prague, Europe’s Most Authentic Capital.
From ballet to opera to symphony to fine dining, Prague is the place to be for it all. It’s cheap, it’s gorgeous, and it lingers in the mind forever. Even the hockey games are events to see. Well, and the beer here is much cheaper than water. Really! Love it!
In more modern countries, retail stores are usually enjoyable places filled with tantalizing arrays of things to buy. Here, it’s the complete opposite. Living here is a good money saver. Really.
This could be the reason why shopping is unbearable: the post-Communist scowl is everywhere, and exhausting. We could use some of the yellow smiley faces that WalMart has bouncing around …
8 ) Travel:
Clearly, this is one of the best perks of living in a Central location in Europe– everywhere is drivable. Rome, Stockholm, Vienna, Paris. Despite the high cost of petrol and diesel, traveling by car is my favorite way to experience Europe. It’s truly all of the side roads and nooks of old and new Europe that bring the places to life. I can’t get enough!
The biggest benefit I could have never anticipated by living here: all of the rich friendships. We have friends from all over the globe, and cherish the time and outings and experiences we get to share with our friends here. So so so grateful.
10) Freedom / Hope:
It’s been 21 years since the Velvet Revolution and the Wall fell for Czech and the countries surrounding it. I have learned so much from watching the struggle here toward freedom and hope. And in light of what is going on in the middle East and Egypt, I hope that their time to move foward will come as well. It takes generations for the oppression to work itself out. Every year brings more hope and a better future. I’m so glad to be here, to learn.
I can’t leave this one out– so I have 11 … Living abroad in a post-communist country has not been easy. But it has been good. So good … I hope that, as Mark Twain said so well, that the time of walking in many other countries and cultures will help me to see with different eyes and a mind wide-open to possibility and love. Because in the end, our similarities are most important. And the truth is, above all, that wherever we are, whoever we may be, WE ARE ALL ONE.
A big thanks to everyone who has supported us as we live overseas … we are grateful for you all. Have a great week! -JK